Angel Wings and Herb Tea

Life after loss; healing through creativity, writing and art

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Birthday boys

Its birthday time in our house. September is busy that way. Leo and his dad, Lily and her dad, Leo and Tansy’s granny, Fred and Lily’s step mum…yeah its complicated…..and busy!

We kick off with Leo and Hugh, who share the 8th and a love of boats and fishing. So guess what we did…grabbed the canoe, and a kayak for Fred and went out to sea again.

We had a late start. The birthday table for starters…laid out lovingly the night before with cloths and flowers, candles and presents, paintings and cards. Then there was the bowl of raspberries dropped on our doorstep by our lovely neighbour Ruth which inspired me to whip up an enormous batch of banana pancakes with cream. That took some time. Then there was the birthday song, composed by Fred and me while wandering round  the National museum Wales  in the summer holidays and performed live in the sitting room. And did I mention we didn’t get up until..hmm about nine o clock?

Finally the vessels were strapped on the car and, as the veteran of one whole sea canoe trip I felt pleasantly excited rather than mildly terrified like last time.

The sea was calm and clear as a green marble and we canoed hungrily from Paignton to Brixham for birthday pasties with five turnstones and several gulls.

And birthday cake…

There were no fish biting this time, and the youngest birthday boy nearly slumbered over his fishing line. His newly acquired five years (is that right? My youngest child five?) not enough to carry him through the long paddle home!

It’s always strange to have the two boys share their birthday, working out a cake suitable for both, staying up late to finish paintings and birthday stories, trying to find a day suitable and acceptable to both. So far Leo has not ever had a party, his birthday activities centre around crabbing and water based activities, fishing puppet shows, boat shaped cakes etc.

It’s also a strange time because there is always the knowledge of Lily’s birthday just days away and what do we do about that?

I usually try to put it out of my mind while I prepare for Hugh and Leo, and then there are the days that follow when dove and angel cards start to appear  in the post and I start to think about the horse cake I made when she was two.

But for Saturday it was the boy’s day

And two of these….seals for those may struggle to see…made their day!


But someone might die!

Last weekend, something wasn’t right. I woke up on Saturday with my day planned out. Admittedly it wasn’t particularly thrilling….getting a mammoth laundry into buckets, catching up on craft projects, mending, a walk, some firewood… But I was happy to have a quiet day at home and felt content.

At breakfast, Hugh bounced in,
‘let’s take the canoe out to sea and catch some mackerel’ he cried
Tansy and Leo dropped their porridge spoons with a clatter and started cheering and something in me contracted. I reasoned that it was my day’s plans being disrupted, however dull!
Sandwiches were busily prepared and our canoe strapped to the roof of the car. I plodded on with my laundry, conscious of dragging everyone’s mood down. Adult bickering commenced.

The car wouldn’t start. After a lengthy effort with jump leads and a neighbour’s car we were off, my mood becoming blacker and more morose the nearer we got to the sea.

‘Can’t we just canoe down the river as normal?’ I may have said, a few times.

We parked up to unload the canoe with the intention of moving the car to a pleasant spot that doesn’t cost £8 to be there.
We unloaded the canoe. The car wouldn’t start. No money for parking. My back was having one its low days and I wasn’t relishing carrying a big canadian canoe several hundred  metres to the sea. In a rather untimely way, I started to fret about suncream, which we had forgotten, on one of the two days this summer when it’s actually been sunny enough to need it. I started to fret about carrying the canoe with a bad back, and about having to call the car rescue service at the end of a long day in order to get home.  I mentioned canoeing in the river again, until it was pointed out that as the car wouldn’t start and we were at the sea, this wasn’t an option.
Adult bickering continued, with renewed intensity.

I ran off to the cash point to get parking money and calm down. I was feeling really really anxious. I considered going off on some adventure of my own after visiting the cash point.  I felt unhappy and obstructive and I knew everyone was getting frustrated with me.

While I was waiting in the shop to buy a newspaper to get change for the parking, I idly glanced down at the headline on the local paper which sat on the counter.

‘Record number of rescues by lifeguards this year off the coast of Devon……parents are being warned….the sea is a dangerous place….etc’
Boom! Of course. That was why I was feeling so anxious it was like I had a ball of wire in my stomach. I was afraid another of my children was going to die.

There’s something about the sea, perhaps because I was raised by land loving, sea fearing folks, that scares the hell out of me. Its majestic, beautiful, inspiring, breathtaking, but my childhood was punctuated by drowning dreams and I’ve never been someone who would pull on a wetsuit and go tearing head first into an enormous wave. Unlike my seriously water obsessed-grew-up-a-minute-from-the-beach partner.

I will happily swim about in a very calm sea on a warm day, and I love collecting shells and I don’t mind going on a ferry, but a little canoe, out to sea, with my children?

Visions of them being thrown from the boat and tossed about in dark stormy waves filled my eyes with tears and my heart with terror.
You see I have seen Death. Head to head with the terrible awesome finality with which it strikes. The speed, the shock, the suddeness, just another sunny day with the kids. Pottering about, eating pancakes, thinking vaguely about what to do next, washing up, then I’m in an air ambulance with my daughter in a coma, then I’m in a hospital ward with a dead daughter.

And I can’t be the relaxed chilled mum any more who thinks everything will be fine and things like that don’t happen to us only to other people and usually only in the newspaper or at least in another town.
Because they happen to anyone, any time without a moments warning.

But we’re still here. We survived. But we are changed.
If some one is later than they said they’d be and hasn’t let me know they’re ok, I’m not very relaxed.
Walking on a street or a pier or a river bank with small, impulsive, quick children is hard for me and my shoulders drop when we are away from traffic, deep water, danger.

Back at the carpark, I tried, not very eloquently to say that I was anxious, but I was shown the flat, calm expanse of water ahead of me and promised a calm, quiet, windless weather outlook for the afternoon.

It was, in the end a lovely day, of which I took many photographs which unfortunately are on a memory card somewhere around Brixham harbour, being nibbled by fish. My muscles gradually smoothed themselves out, we picnicked on a beach with egrets and oyster catchers nearby, Tansy and Leo caught seven silver mackerel, and I swam in a beautifully cool refreshing and calm sea. It  wasn’t dangerous, it was really really lovely and I’ve got to just keep doing stuff even though I’m terrified.
Because I’m alive and I’ve got to live. And so have my kids

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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!