Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Long, Long Life of Trees

I recently enjoyed reading Fiona Stafford's fascinating book The Long, Long Life of Trees, in which she gives detailed descriptions not only of the history of some of our best loved trees, but also the story of how they fit into culture, art and folklore.

Trees shape our lives and our world.  I thought that it would be interesting to reflect on three of my favourites.

How could I even contemplate a list that didn't include the oak tree?  Majestic oaks have been a part of our history and culture for generations and some of the oldest oak trees live beyond 1,000 years.  Just imagine the stories they could share if they could speak of their history!  I love them for their distinctive leaves and the little acorns which appear in autumn.  Great oaks from little acorns grow.  I love the sheer grace and majesty of the oak's soaring height.

One of my favourite broadcasts was The Oak Tree on BBC Radio 4.  It was a fictional history of an thousand year-old oak tree in Northumberland from tiny sapling to grand old age.  This programme was first broadcast about ten years ago and until fairly recently, was still available.  I had listened to it each autumn over the years and enjoyed it immensely, but sadly, it is currently unavailable.

Another of my top three is the horse chestnut.  This tree has such spreading boughs and beautiful leaves which provide a shady spot in which to sit on a summer's day.  In spring, it is in blossom with the most wonderful white candelabra and in autumn, green spiky globe appear which ripen and fall off and split open to reveal their treasure within - shiny brown conkers.  Conkers always remind me of crisp autumn mornings, going back to school and the conker fights which took place in the school playground.  Simple pleasures at a time before technology took over the lives of children from a young age.

My third choice is the apple tree, or more specifically, the Bramley.  How I miss Bramley apples!  Apple trees generally don't have a long life in comparison to other trees, but what bounty they produce.  The Bramley is the perfect cooking apple and my favourite apple dessert is apple crumble.  Perfectly cooked apples with a hint of sweetness (but not too much, as the crumble topping contains sugar) and a crumbly topping made with brown sugar for that slightly caramlised consistency.

I suppose my list is incomplete without mentioning an eating apple too (although this may be considered cheating, as it is another tree!). Anyway, my choice is the Cox's Orange Pippin, which is yet another apple variety which I greatly miss (although I was fortunate enough to come across some a year ago - what joy!). It has an aromatic intensity and depth of flavour which is second to none.  Other apples pale into insignificance.

My dream is to one day have a house with a garden which is large enough for a small orchard of Bramley apples and Cox's Orange Pippins.  I can't imagine anything better than being able to step out into my garden and pick my own apples and then store them safely away from any passing mice, to enjoy during the cold, dark days of winter.

What could be more perfect than a chair by the fire, a good book like The Long, Long Life of Trees and an apple to munch whilst I am reading?

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Walk 1,000 Miles - Week Two

Two weeks into the challenge and I've been walking alone for the past three days, as my walking partner sustained a knee injury (surprisingly unrelated to our walking challenge).  It has been a tough week, as I chose to walk in the neighbourhood, only to find that I came back with severe wind-burn due to the cold, and because it is so much harder to walk when bundled up in multiple layers and winter boots.

I returned to the mall yesterday just for some relief from the cold and did a respectable 7 laps, but I was late arriving and so the second half of my walk was spent dodging shoppers.  I walked far too fast and ended up very hot and bothered as I tried to find a path through the congestion.  It is much easier walking earlier before the shoppers arrive, but at least I wasn't cold!

My total for this week is 26.27 miles, making a running total of 52.35 miles.  I'm very happy to break the 50 mile barrier and to see my progress tracker climbing.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Spark Joy

I thought that it would be fun to post about Joy, which is my word for 2017.  This week, there have been a few things that have sparked joy: the children returned to school and spent their break times building snowmen, igloos and snow angels.

My Gardeners' World 2017 calendar arrived, so I can look forward to the joy of beautiful flowers each month (if only on paper).  My heartfelt thanks to my family, who kindly forwarded it to me.

The last piece of Christmas cake, which has been absolutely delicious.  I savoured this with a cup of tea.

I was fortunate to find a copy of Country Walking online, as I understand that it has sold out in many places.  This came with the 1,000 mile challenge information and access key to download my progress chart. 

And finally, completing my seaside cushion cover, which was intended as a Christmas gift, but better late than never.  It was a joy to present it to the recipient and to know that it will be treasured.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Walk 1,000 Miles - Week One

The week got off to a cold start, with daytime temperatures of -11 C with wind chills of -20 C: hardly inspiring thoughts of outdoor activity.  We ventured out a couple of times, but it was just too cold to stay out for any length of time.  How were we ever going to walk sufficient miles for the week?

After searching online, I came across a heart health website and mall walking.  You would be forgiven for thinking that walking in a shopping mall does not count as exercise, but in this case you would be wrong, because we walk before the shops open.  Yes, the shopping mall allows walkers to come in early and have proper aerobic exercise with wide open aisles allowing for a good pace and a decent circuit, so that it isn't too monotonous.  The total for our first week (even though we only walked six days out of seven): a respectable 26 miles.  Only 974 miles to go....

Sunday, 8 January 2017

One Stitch At A Time

My handmade gift made slow progress as Christmas approached, so I had to accept that it wasn't going to be finished on time.  My sewing machine does not do freehand embroidery, so it has been challenging adding the stitching details.

The break has been longer than anticipated, but I finally got my machine out again yesterday and set to work.

I'm doing the detail now, so it is quite a tedious process and more so because my sewing machine doesn't like the long stitch setting or the slow speed at which I'm sewing, as I try to manoeuvre round those curves.  It is a learning curve in many ways, as this is my first attempt at a project which is all my own work and without the assistance of a printed pattern.

Friday, 6 January 2017

In The Kitchen

Twelfth Night has been and the Christmas decorations put away, but I thought that I would share a couple of photographs of my Christmas baking with you.  My Christmas cake came out really well and I iced it a couple of days before Christmas Eve, when we had our first taste: it was absolutely delicious!

I also baked my Spruced-Up Vanilla Cake (Nigella's Christmas recipe).  It looked so festive with its icing sugar dusting - like fresh snowfall on the alps.  This is such a large cake that I sliced it up and put most of it in the freezer, to enjoy at a later date.  Although a relatively plain cake, it is perfect with a cup of tea.  Anyone care for a slice?  

Monday, 2 January 2017

Welcome to 2017

January has arrived at last!  After a year which can only be described as my annus horribilis, I was glad to see the back of 2016.  The old year was full of trials and tribulations and more than a little unexpected change.  Mr Candytuft was in a car accident in January which saw my car written off in a head-on crash on the highway (no central reservation on the Trans-Canada Highway in rural parts of Canada), but thankfully he walked away shocked but uninjured, as did the other driver.  I had to stop work in Febrary due to work-related stress and subsequently left my high-stress job, which impacted our lives, forcing us to give up our home and make yet another move (this one across Canada in winter).  I spent the rest of 2016 trying to get over the trauma of workplace bullying which had gone on for more than three years, until I threw up my hands and said 'I can't do this any more'.  We had to tighten our belts and completely change our way of living with the loss of my income and I had to deal with the enormous amount of guilt that I felt for putting us in this position.  Added to this mix was a health scare through the summer, then surgery in November and the relief at receiving positive news when I had my follow-up visit for the results.

During the last couple of months, I have noticed a shift happening - a huge sense of relief.  It is as if I were on a countdown as the end of December approached.  I couldn't wait to see the back of 2016.  The new year seems full of as yet undiscovered promise and possibilities.

I have decided to undertake the 1,000 mile challenge, which you can learn about here.  The goal is to walk 1,000 miles in 2017.  How hard can that be?  It is actually about an hour per day of walking if I can motivate myself to go out every day (not always easy in this climate), or I suppose that I can plan to do some longer walks if necessary and avoid the worst of the winter weather.  My biggest fear when walking in winter is ice - especially after two bad falls last winter.  Still, after investing in some grippers for my boots, I am at least better prepared.  Of course, walking in winter boots brings its own challenges, as they are not really intended for distance walking.

I am also going to spend some time reflecting on the year ahead with the help of Susannah Conway's Unravel Your Year workbook.  (If you visit her site and sign up for her newsletter, you can access this.)  I used this tool in 2016 and the Find Your Word  course: my word for the year was joy.  As the year was somewhat lacking in joy, I have decided to continue with this word for 2017 and see where it takes me.

I'm still working away at my proofreading and copy-editing course through Chapterhouse and I'm hopeful that I can complete it before the end of the 12-month enrolment (that's if I can get myself motivated again after a Christmas break).  Time is running out and I had little idea when I signed up that it would take me a year to complete, but life got in the way.  At least I have the option of extending if I don't achieve February's deadline.

Keeping with the literary theme, I have also signed up for Open Learn through the Open University, as I would like to have a go at their free writing courses.  I've been saying for a long time, that I would like to write, so I thought that it was time that I did something about it.

Now that I've come through those dark days, I can finally see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.  Here's to a very Happy New Year!