Been a long time away

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in a dark valley.
I am somewhat prone to winter depression anyway, and I have had a strange and challenging winter this year.
Our work and slender means of survival are very seasonal, and in darkest winter, there is no work, and no money, and a tense struggle against panic and despair. Every year I know that faith is what I need. And every year, I fail.
This year, it has been especially bad. January seems to have been one long battle against simply staying in bed. Which would of course be cheaper ...
But now the days are perceptibly longer, and although we are forecast an icy blast, I can feel the earth turning, I know that spring cannot be far behind.
But in these dark days are dark things. Yesterday, my brother died. How strange those four words look, in black on white. It cannot be me that is writing them.
Yesterday my brother died.
My brother was clever, and funny, and much loved. He had some issue with me, lost in the ire of our youth, and I had not seen him for thirteen years. I don't know why. When I was a child, I worshipped him. It inevitably made me cry. So eventually, I learned not to love, and therefore not to cry. This link survived for thirty or so years. It was broken by Jesus, and by my husband. But I still only cry alone.

He leaves behind a wife and two daughters: four grandchildren:two sisters: two nieces and three nephews who loved him: and two nieces who never even knew him: sundry great nieces and nephews, and I am sure many others, by marriage, whom I never knew.
He will be terribly missed. He was sixty years old. And I will never know the answer now.
He was not, to anyone's knowledge, a christian. But I never count on knowing these things. I wouldn't put it past him to be making the angels laugh.

Decade - Pt3 - No2 to West End

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The move from No 1 has to qualify as our most bizarre. The house next door, that is to say the other one of a pair of semi detached cottages, came up for rent. It had a lot going for it – the unattaced end of our cottage faced north, was overshadowed by the old forge, now the village shop, and was damp and dank – whereas the end of No 2 was south facing, and had a large lawn, and an apple tree. It was in better repair, had central heating instead of an old coal fire, and was generally a nicer house. It only had two bedrooms, but that was because it had a lovely upstairs bathroom! Not the one in the back yard.
So we moved next door. Most of the houses in our village are owned by The Crown Estate, so we didn't change landlords, we just moved!
I might add that when we came to move out, we found that the loft hatch in No 2 was considerably smaller than the loft hatch in No 1, and since we had just shoved our stuff across the loft, we were unable to extract it! We had to call on our neighbours, who thankfully were friendly, to get it out through their house!

While there, H started school, Boo started preschool, I registered as a childminder, I had some minor social life, and Neil ran a rather successful garden contracting business. We rented a field for the sheep and Buttons, and acquire Maggie, a miniature shetland, for Boo. I taught part time for some of the time, at a local Riding School. We were reasonably normal.
But H hated school. She was bullied, she was not well taught, she started to react very badly to all manner of foods, and life situations. Poor little H, so full of quirks and character, was having all the edges knocked off. And it wasn't working for her.
We prayed about how on earth we might manage to homeschool her? Where would we get books, for example? Days later, the school, having fundraised and fleeced parents for months to obtain new books for its new library, emptied the contents of its old library into three wheelie bins. Not to Oxfam, not to the Third World, not even to the village jumble sale. Into the trash can.
With permission, a shocked friend and I emptied the bins, and we had a school library. That's called a direct answer to prayer!
So at around the time that I made a final comittment as a christian, I also made the commitment to homeschool. And at first, it was sheer joy. We 'did' Beatrix Potter, we drew rabbits, we read and wrote and learned about Herdwick sheep and the National Trust and the Lake District.
And eventually, Neil took on a full time job as a head gardener, and it seemed we were set.
After two years, yet another cottage became free. This was on a friend's (still Crown Estate) farm, and was out of the village. I'd coveted it when my niece lived there, it had more space, a Rayburn stove, and was much, much cuter. It was further from the field but it was also away from the village school.
When we first moved to the village, the school had been a major attraction, it was small, cute and all Miss Read. I had been moved around a lot as a child, and wanted my children to stay put in one school, with one set of friends, for their entire childhood. However, H's experience in the school, which doubled in size, and built all over it's idyllic tree shade playing field in the year she began, was totally awful. And now, living right opposite it, but having deserted and maligned it, we often felt a bit threatened. So for the fifth time, in H's seven years, we moved. We moved to West End, and the hardest bit of the journey so far.

Cherry Bites

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Cross posted, this, from my homeschool blog. Because they're nice!
Cream together 4oz of margarine or butter and 5oz of caster sugar, mix in an egg, beaten, 10oz self raising flour (or in our case, plain flour and 1tsp baking powder) and a tsp of vanilla essence. Mix until smooth, then weigh into half ounce balls (these made the small ones, and we were destined to make way more than the intended 20, so we made ours a bit bigger). Roll each one in porridge oats, then put onto a greased baking tray, flatten with a fork, and add a quarter of a cherry (we went mad, and used half) Bake in the centre of a moderate oven (gas mark 4, 350F or 175C) until golden brown.

Gosh, I'm inaccessible ....

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blog readability test


Tall Pines in the Garden

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Winter Days

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Once again, everything takes twice as long, everywhere is incredibly beautiful, and no horses got exercised!





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We are out cutting peasticks and bean canes for the garden. It is cold, bright, and the sun though incredibly beautiful, is fragile and short lived. Nothing thaws.


The Atheist Bus Campaign

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7813812.stm

Why do some Christians get so het up? I mean if they WANT to spend tens of thousands writing on buses, let them get on with it. Will it change anything? No.

OK, I don't have a prize, but I crave your suggestions - if any christian group were daft enough to waste money sticking posters on buses, what would you suggest should be the response?

I mean, if they were right, it would have to be sheer coincidence that they chose now to spend £140,000 on telling people to stop worrying and enjoy their lives. I mean NOW?! Have they even heard the news?

Oh my, but God has a sense of humour.

Not THAT frost tolerant

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Half a row left of my wonderful savoy cabbages, much beloved of the Dig For Victory campaign, and a real winter standby. We've loved them, despite never having thought of a 'savoy' as a separate entity before, we were total converts. And of course they're frost hardy.
Well. Maybe normally they are. But -9 seems to have done for them.
Even my purple sprouting looks as if it may be struggling. What an extraordinary winter we are having.
Still. Now I know. If I grow them again and it gets this cold, I can fleece them.

Here is the News

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And what a jolly day it is.
First up in today's selection, happy news for people who took out mortgages based on overstretched imaginations, and flimsy jobs. It seems the government, er that would be me then, is going to pay their mortgages for them, if the going gets tough. Not by way of a loan, which would be reasonable, but by way of a gift - so that when, inevitably house prices once again start to climb, they will be able to sell their houses at an enormous profit.
Well that's nice then. And those people who decided against borrowing beyond their means, and are now forced to pay extortionate rent? (In fairness, I do not have to pay extortionate rent, having a very reasonable and lovely landlord.) They can just go right on paying rent, I suppose. Granted, if they lose their jobs, they will get a little help with the rent. But they won't get a handout to help keep them in a lucrative property market. And if they don't lose their jobs, or they get on their bikes and get other jobs, well they can just chip in to prime the next bunch of property millionaires, while never having any hope of owning a house themselves. Worth being sensible then. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

Secondly, apparently, youth is depressed. Especially (and apparently shockingly) 'NEET's (those not in employment, education or training).
Well there's a discovery. Sitting on your backside doing nothing makes you feel miserable. How much did it cost to work that out, I wonder. An early 'Facist Thought for the Week', for me, then. How about some of the poor dears clean up all the litter, clean the hospital wards, talk to the lonely elderly, you get the picture. Maybe that would cheer them up.

Mind you, if they are in education, look what they have to look forward to - if you needed any more persuading that the state is taking control of our children, try this for size.

Well, OK, I turned into Victor Meldrew over night, and I am not normally this Browned off (did you see what I just did there?) on a Monday morning, but honestly. I think I shall give up listening to the News.

Here is our News - there is snow (not as you know it, though, Jane! about a teaspoonful!) - and it is cold and clear and beautiful. As part of our new rhythm, I was up at 5.30, half an hour after Neil, and have made bread for the next day or two, soup for lunch, and beef casserole is in the slow cooker for supper. The children are back at their school work, by a roaring woodburner in the sitting room.
Sadly at the weekend, their pet chicken died.
However, on the upside, God is very good to us - we were given a couple of dozen laying birds and they are already laying about a dozen eggs a day, so our sign can go back up outside!
I have all but one little thing ready for Guides tonight, and so do not need to panic, unusually.

And now, this all being the case, I can walk away from this computer, lunch is ready, supper is ready, Guides is ready, and I can go and learn with my children. Who are not listless, or depressed, but in fact very busy, and will not be exposed to any interfering governmental influences on their intimate lives either now or later. And though rented, our little patch is quiet, and warm, and blessed with great abundance, beyond our dreams.

Good News, eh?

As Captain Beaky famously said

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Well I'm blowed!

Look at this!

What ever next. Just as well we have second hand book stalls and our own old dictionaries.

'Decade' - Part 2 - The Farm, and Number One.

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We spent eighteen months at the farm.
It began blissfully – the 'village' or little town, where the Co-Op was a symbol of freedom – none of the major supermarkets considered it a profitable place, so we had a rural Co-Op store. The school and preschool, the pool and leisure centre, the marvelous church and 'Little Fishes' – the village preschools where I made such good friends.
After three months, we celebrated my freedom from cancer. I was well again, we decorated, we went to country shows, we dug a huge vegetable garden. Alexandra was conceived, and Neil began to pick up gardening jobs to fill in the non farm time. We went to Chelsea, I planted hanging baskets, heavy with child, and Neil drove around housing estates, and sold the lot.
The steeply sloping car park of the Co-Op made you feel like you were in a seaside town. The air was good, and I was normal.
A long hot summer progressed, and I sat whale like in H's paddling pool, I had a friend, a real one, called Dawn, and she sat with her feet in the paddling pool. Dawn was married to Jim and they managed a fish farm, owned by Roger Daltrey, of 'The Who' – no really. They went away, eventually. It was a strange time. I met Jemima, whose daughter Tamlin was homeschooled – I think she may be in school now – and so many other people. I felt alive. I joined the Mothers' Union with a lovely Scottish lady, I hung out with church friends.
We bought sheep! Oh, that was the time. Long phone calls resulted in free quota from the National Reserve, we juggled irresponsibly with finances when the house sold, and we bought SHEEP! Twenty North Country Mules, with a lamb apiece. We rented land and we stood and gazed in awe. Sheep! Actual sheep. I still remember that feeling like it was yesterday, my heart bursting with joy, we'd done it, we'd really done it - when Neil was busy working somewhere, I'd strap my toddler into the superannuated Land Rover, and heave my huge bulk behind the wheel, and we'd drive off and check our sheep!* I can't explain that feeling. I only know I want it back.
I dreaded the trip to Salisbury to have my second child, as it was predicted that Solar Eclipse traffic would cause gridlock. It didn't. Boo was born early, on 6th August 1999, and I was bathing her ready for her trip home on the day of the eclipse. It was no big deal.
She was a beautiful, bonnie baby, who ate and slept and did not much else. The midwife said I didn't even look like I'd had a baby, never mind a c-section (which she was, a very dramatic emergency) and life was so GOOD.
But, never happy, I didn't like the semi isolation. I love village life – all the hellos and how are yous and oh you NEVER did's ... and I like isolation, the peace and quiet and wildness of a lonely place. But to be all but isolated, in a clique of people who speak to each other, but not to you? And poor Neil, who worked from 5am each morning in winter, doing all the rough jobs, in the simple hope of learning the ropes, dairy wise .. but was landed with a fierce South African overseer, who had revolting racist views, and frankly thought that this new underling, skin colour notwithstanding, should be equally grateful to do the dirty work, and ask nothing in the way of learning ... it was a hard place to be, in some ways.
We bought Buttons, the skewbald shetland cross who still shares our lives, and H learned to ride on him. She went to Pewsey Carnival Horse Show, aged three, and won the Thelwell Lookalike, hands down. Remember that when she rides in the Olympics!
Then, we decided, we had to move. We looked at houses to rent. (we should have stayed another winter, and saved) but B was getting too much for Neil. He was a hateful man. His wife, whom I'd befriended and baked bread for, not much better.
We saw a house in Cannings, and said 'no' - it was a hideous, damp old shack. Then we saw a house in the Manningfords, and we lost our hearts, we so wanted that house. We knew we would live up to it.
However. A lovely public school boy, whose initials are GB, employed by a worthy estate agent, decided we were not the right type, and avoided our attempts to rent the house in the Manningfords. Knowing what I know now, I do so hope he was heavily into derivatives, and hopefully, also up to his neck in American sub-prime mortgages. I am not normally vindictive, but George, I hope you fried.
Insanely, we decided to apply for the tenancy of the damp old shack. It was opposite a Miss Read school, and in a picturesque village, and since, as a child, I'd been moved here, there and everywhere, and I swore that once the children were in school, they'd stay put, forever if necessary, it suddenly seemed more appealing.
A freezing bathroom half in the back garden, with an ailing toddler and a little baby? You're right. It was a mad move, and destined to end in depression, but into 'Number One' we moved. And I rue the day.

*Our ewes were well past lambing, and I was mainly only head counting. Please don't get involved with ewes who are pregnant, or recently lambed, if you are pregnant yourself. It's an absolute no no.

Ring in the new

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In the bleak midwinter indeed. Freezing fog once again did not lift – the girls rode out in two lots, round in circles on the perimeter of our turn out paddocks! The roads were icy, and visibility too low to go out, the fields too frozen to turn out in, and the ground to hard and rutted to do more than walk with great care. The horses hadn't been out of their stables for three days, so it was a necessity, and we all froze nicely, despite taking a flask of hot tea with us to thaw out between 'lots'.
After a warming soup and toast lunch, our family new year planning session took place – we talked a lot about the garden, our schedule, how we want things to be – I think perhaps we avoided adding the endless proviso of the moment – 'depending on the economic situation' We have a great belief in what we're trying to do here – just sometimes the big picture gets swamped by the detail.
Our goals for 2009 are – to simplify, to be more frugal, everyone to keep up with personal Bible reading, to keep up our family devotion and sharing time, to keep on top of chores daily, and to keep the big picture in view.
For myself, I need to take hold of my creativity, and bring it to bear on life, to create and bring forth those glowing moments of realisation that this is IT! It's really, really not a rehearsal! To cherish and indulge in the seasons, the seasons of the year and the seasons of our life, to give them over to God and watch them turn golden and bejewelled, to grasp everything, to do everything, to stop worrying and preparing and procrastinating. To cherish and celebrate a twelve year old and a nine year old, never for one moment wishing they could be three again, or were older and wiser.

My word for the year is NOW!
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