Archive | January, 2013

In majesty of mud

28 Jan

I’m reaching that age in life where some people buy fast cars, dye their hair, wear age-inappropriate skirts, give up high-stress careers to weave baskets in Hawaii (is that an option?  feel free to send me leads) … and take their health more seriously.  Hey, I can’t spend all my time baking.  What does this crumpet do, when the tick of time beings to tock very loudly?

774843_4783409657292_610856118_oGet muddy.

It’s a great way to get to know England just a little bit better.  The camaraderie of a muddy trail run is hard to beat — even when you are at the back of the pack, like me.  (Back of the pack may be an exaggeration.  I’m more like a whole other pack, all my own, that trails behind the real pack like a lost asteroid.)

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A muddy lost asteroid.

All the fast people are well, well along ahead on this trail.  More mud left behind for me!

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See those logs right there?  I came up over these little hills and thought to myself: “I didn’t realize there were obstacles on this course.  Cool!”  And I clambered over a few of them … before I realized these were not obstacles.  These were permanent fixtures for horse jumping.  Because this is a horse field.  And I jumped over them because I am a moron.  But, hey, extra exercise, right?

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This particular hill was about five miles long.  (Okay, maybe 400 meters.)  And it took me seven years to get up it.  (Maybe four minutes.)  But look at the sunshine glinting off that snow!  Yup, I was definitely feeling alive.

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A shoe full of icy water put a giant smile on my face.  Even seeing my closest ‘competitor’ shrinking in the distance didn’t take away the joy of splashing in puddles, sucking in fresh air, and enjoying the challenge of putting foot in front of foot until your mind says stop.

(Yes, I did pause my run to take photos for my blog.  Because I’m that kind of crazy.  I probably lost two minutes altogether taking these photos, but it was such a lovely day, I didn’t mind a bit.)

I had such a great time on this particular run, and was so pleased with the organization and the cheerful encouragement of the race marshals, that I want to give a proper shout out to F3Events, who organized this series of trail runs.  Check ’em out for a 5k, a 10k, or even a duathalon or triathalon.  Whoo-hoo!

Now don’t get too excited about me running marathons or triathalons or nonsense like that.  I’m happy to be ‘running’ 5 kilometers.  (More like walk/run a la Jeff Galloway.)  I’m thrilled to be seeing more of England through a variety of smaller running events.  It’s been great to feel the welcome from more experienced runners who could care less about country of origin or anything at all besides the willingness to get out there and go.  And if you’re looking for a muddy run … http://www.muddyrace.co.uk or http://www.mudrunner.co.uk might give you some ideas.  While you’re out, if you happen to see a roly-poly woman who smells like muffins and is laughing in the mud, give her a high-five.  She’s splashing through Camelot.

That’s rubbish

26 Jan

I haven’t updated you on my love-hate relationship with English rubbish removal recently.  I’ve become largely resigned to the monthly trips to the landfill/recycling centre to remove the rubbish and recycling the city is too precious to pick up.  Inured to the occasional bin-tipper who just dumps all their household trash into a city rubbish bin, where it sits for weeks and weeks.  The rejected yogurt pots removed from my recycling bins and tossed back on to my driveway.  I’m still on good terms with the jumpsuited fellows at the recycling centre, which looks nice and frozen this time of year.

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Now, remember all that snow we’ve been having?  This part of England is not really cut out for snow.  No plows, not much salting or shoveling.  Mostly a lot of staying home or stepping gingerly over icy walkways, waiting for the inevitable rain to return and melt it all away.  And, apparently, these conditions mean our delicate rubbish men are unable to retrieve our rubbish.

20130125_120634Look at those terrible road conditions, several days out from our major winter storm!  How … um … what?  Really?  Rubbish collection — which only happens once every fortnight, anyway — has been canceled for this round because of the road conditions?  These road conditions?

What does this make me think of?  Hmm, what was it?  Oh, right, the last time our trash removal was delayed in the States:

img_0467Delayed.  Not canceled.  Darn it, England, are you just not trying?

img_0473I thought I’d include this shot of our mailbox, from that same storm.  You know why the mailbox is open?  Because the mailman delivered the mail.

Sigh.  Since the sweet, helpless, osteoperosis-ridden grannies who pick up our rubbish (I assume) are too dainty to collect when there is a spot of snow on the road, I’ll be off once again to haul my own rubbish and recycling to the local out-of-town recycling and landfill centre.  Because, apparently, I am more hardcore than the professionals.

Rubbish.

Snow soup

24 Jan

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On a day that probably should be a day off school for the kids (but isn’t) you might find yourself quietly at home with no particular obligations (because you canceled them thinking it would be a snow day) — and the question of what to have for lunch will inevitably arise.  There’s no one at home to make a fuss about whatever strange thing you concoct on the stove (in Britspeak the ‘hob’ — why they think they cook on hobgoblins I don’t know).  You want something that will help you carry on in your quest to embrace these snowy winter days.  For me, the choice is obvious: homemade mushroom soup.

IMG_3779I may be the only person in my family who likes mushrooms.  Such a treat for me to toss handfuls into the pan for a nice saute with some shallots and leeks.

IMG_3783And mmmmm, when they start to look like this I add in some sherry.  (Only today I didn’t have sherry, so I added in brandy.  I love cooking for myself.  I never complain about substitutions.)

IMG_3782Since I had some pretty lentils, I added them in, too.  And since I happened to have one lovely hamburger leftover from the weekend’s grill, I sliced that up to add in as well.

IMG_3792I could have eaten my ‘soup’ just like this out of the saute pan.  But …

IMG_3799I managed to get it into the broth, and eventually in to my bowl.  With a wedge of soft cheese in the middle, of course.  Because when I cook for myself, sky’s the limit.

This soup has the benefit of being dairy-free (if you don’t garnish with cheese), gluten-free, relatively low-carb (lower if you ditch the lentils), and has a good amount of protein if you add in the beef.  I’ve been caring about that sort of thing lately, and have fallen in love with the Recipe Calculator from sparkpeople.com that lets me add up my ingredients then gives me a nutrition breakdown for home made meals.  Brilliant.

Ingredients:

About 2 cups of chopped mushrooms (whatever kind you like)
About 1 cup of sliced shallots
About 1 cup of sliced leeks
About 2 ounces of cooked ground beef
About half a cup of lentils
2 tbsp sherry (or brandy.  or whatever)
1 tsp each of rosemary, tarragon, parsley, sage (adjust to taste or use different herbs)
10-12 whole pepper kernels
2 cups of beef broth  (Or chicken, or vegetable.  Wouldn’t recommend fish.)
1 cup water
salt to taste

Saute shallot and leeks in butter (coconut oil if you are avoiding dairy) until soft, add mushrooms.  Saute everything until it starts to look brown and lovely.  Add herbs, add sherry, wait a moment, then add beef and lentils.  Reduce heat and let everything simmer together for a few minutes.  While this is simmering, bring broth to a boil in a soup pan.  Once the broth is very hot, add everything from your saute pan to the broth and let it return to a boil.  Pour water into the saute pan to get all the juices and flavor from that pan — add this to the broth as well.  Cover, reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer until it looks good.  (Half an hour, if you’re in a hurry.)  Garnish with a soft cheese, a spoonful of greek yogurt, or nothing at all.  Enjoy!

Mysterious mysterioso

22 Jan

For no clear reason aside from poetry and whimsy, this view over my children’s school play fields struck me as: beautiful, cold, neolithic, hopeful, and a bit fairy-magical.

20130121_153232See the dozens of snow figures?  And all the circling tracks as children ran and rolled their creations into being?  Some figures people-like, some like houses, some just … efforts to raise a monument amid a world of winter.  The strange balls in the trees (I’m told they are invasive mistletoe) could be nests, or decorations, or more dreams.  Such a clear sky behind all those clouds, and the snow is turning from white to blue as the sun goes down.

Perhaps the alchemy of the post-solstice Rollright Stones and the frosted walk last week have helped me turn a corner.  I know spring is coming.  I’m trying to love winter just a little bit longer.

Worth waking up

17 Jan

It’s been cold. Overcast. January.

I can feel the turn of the seasons already, and that is A Good Thing.  The sun is up earlier in the morning.  The kids come home in a ever-lightening twilight gloom, rather than pitch blackness.

But still, I’ve been doing a lot of shivering.  Huddling by the fire.  Shoulder hunching against the seeming permanence of winter.

In the past few days my corner of Camelot has been glittered and frozen with a transcendent frosted fog.  The temperatures are below freezing and the cold is sharp right to the bone, but if you happen to be out walking and come across a river full of ducks and trout, a small wetland sculpted by frost, and the famous Arlington Row in the Cotswold village of Bibury …

IMG_3488… you might not care at all.

For the first time I feel the beauty and poignance of winter here in Camelot.  Not just a season to survive but something of value on its own.

IMG_3589Even inglorious weeds become graceful white ladies bobbing over crystalized fields.

IMG_3694Ending a cold walk with with a warm mulled cider fireside at a cozy inn?  Perfection.

 

 

Day out: Rollright Stones and Pi=yum

6 Jan

Stonehenge is the famous circle, of course.  Or Avebury.  But north and to the east, along the border of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, another late neolithic stone circle sits just a few feet from a winding B-road:  the Rollright Stones.

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These are the King’s Men.  Legend has it that a king and his army were walking around (or marching, whatever) when they came upon a witchy woman with the power of prophesy.  The king asked the witch if he would be king of England and she replied: “Seven long strides thou shalt take, and if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be!”  As his faithful knights waited in a circle — and a small band of faithless traitorous knights whispered off to the side — the king strode boldly forward, declaring: “Stick, stock, stone As King of England I shall be known.”   Seven strides later, a hill obscured his view, and the witch laughed: “As Long Comptom thou canst not see, King of England thou shalt not be!  Rise up stick and stand still stone, for King of England thou shalt be none; thou and thy men hoar stones shall be, and I myself an elder tree!”

IMG_3388The witch is still there.  HOW HOLY CRAP COOL IS THAT?  Above we see the King stone and a modern art form of the witch, gesturing.

IMG_3393This is Harry Potter level of awesome.  Tolkein style stupendous.  I still haven’t seen the new Hobbit movie and I don’t even care, now that I’ve seen this.  The sculpture is made from steel wire and  local Wellingtonia limbs which were ‘dead’wooded’ and donated to the project.  The artist is David Gosling, who is known for his environmental art.  (Check out his page: he’s pretty cool.)

You can read a series of poems about the stones online, in the 1900 publication The Rollright Stone: history & legends in prose & poetry by F.C. Rickett.

IMG_3334Although this is an outdoor site with no guides or tour office, it is well marked and very well maintained.  There is a limited amount of free parking in a lay-by to the road.  Informative signs like this one greet visitors near each area of the site.

IMG_3340Here are more of the King’s Men.  Legend says you won’t count the same number of stones in this circle twice — or legend says it is bad luck to touch them — or legend says if you do count the same number of stones twice your wish will be granted — or legend says you’ll be cursed.  Legend is basically completely psycho.

IMG_3349These are still-living stones.  Apparently this circle is now more known for healing and positive energies of some kind or another — here see one of the King’s Men crowned with a holly wreathe.  I’d love to come back here on solstice and see what I could see.

IMG_3381The stones are smoother on the inside face of the circle than the outside, but all appear to be eaten by cosmic worms and covered in ancient lichen.  (Actually, I’m not kidding about the lichen — it is speculated that not only are the stones over 2,000 years old, the very lichen on the stones may be up to 400 years old!)  Many of the stones are hollowed with peep-holes.

IMG_3353A short (but today, chilly) walk down a well-kempt path takes you to the Whispering Knights — remember them?  The disloyal knights who were plotting against their king.  The enemy of my enemy is not my friend, according the the witch — she turned them in to stone, too.

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Another version of the legend suggests these gentlemen may have been off to the side praying.  For what, who knows.  The more scholarly information signs describe this as a portal dolmen.  If you check out that link above to the book of legends and poems, you can see a photo of this grouping from over a hundred years ago — the stones were slightly more upright, then.

IMG_3359This would have been the lintel at the top of the dolmen (I think), since fallen.  A hollow in the top face now collects offerings from visitors.  (Reminding me of Odda’s Chapel and Trumpan church in Skye.  Always have your pence handy if you’d like to honor the local gods in the UK.)

IMG_3358Here are three knights, frozen forever.

IMG_3364I think this one is a Nazgûl.

IMG_3396Way back over by the King Stone, the remains of a smaller dolmen sit peacefully.  Someone has been scattering seeds in the center.

I could have easily spent more time here, but it was a bit chilly this early-January day.  The kids had a great time running in circles around the King’s Men, trying to count the stones.  For some reason I have a different version of the legend of the stones in my head, but I have no idea the source (I told it to my kids, anyway).  In the version in my head, an arrogant king and his court refuse to give proper courtesy to a Fairy queen.  When the king turns his back on the queen, she turns them all to stone.  Whatever the legend, I remember the poem:

Go visit the Rollright on such a night
When the Stones are lit by the pale moonlight.
Softly tread so that none may hear,
Speak not a word there is naught to fear.
Thou shalt see
Fairies wee,
Elves that ride on the Bumble Bee.
Pixies free
Full of glee,
And a Witch that looks like an Alder Tree.

Now, what could be better, before or after a visit to the Rollright stones, than a visit at one of my all-time favorite English pubs?  puddingface at the Crown & Tuns in Deddington is just 20 minues away from the stones by car, and serves the most amazing pies you will ever eat in your life, anywhere.  Seriously.

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This is a venison pie with a shortcrust crust.

20130105_125536Here a pork pie with sage stuffing and apple sauce and puff pastry.  No, really, it’s all in there.  Hook Norton is brewed just up the road a bit.  Nom nom nom.

20120513_150821If you can possibly stuff anything else in your body, try an apple pie with a scoop of ice cream on top.  One apple pie can easily serve four.  They make a nice cappuccino, too.

So what I’m saying is: it’s all in the circles.  Circles of stones, circles of puff pastry, circles of pie, circles of ale.  Here at the circling of the year, it all seems to make sense.

They Flee from Me

1 Jan

IMG_2811That’s one of my kids.  You know I don’t do photos of my kids on this blog, but I don’t think she’ll mind this one when she is a teenager or running for President or whatever.

I had written a whole lovey-dovey post about bittersweet changes in season and watching my children grow into their own independent people.  How I treasure their self-discoveries and know that while they still need me, one day they will fly free and far beyond my reach.  How I embrace them now and am filled with hope for the people they will be. In that post I sounded calm, rational, possibly wise and like such a good mother.

Then I spent several days exploring with those same children, and spent a good part of most all of my time like this: STOP RUNNING STOP JUMPING WATCH OUT NO NO NO NO NOT THAT DON’T TOUCH INSIDE VOICES HANDS TO YOURSELF DON’T POKE YOUR SISTER ZIP YOUR JACKET CALM DOWN COME BACK HERE YOU ARE GOING TO GET RUN OVER BY A CAR OH MY SWEET SUGAR STICKS GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW BEFORE I LOSE MY MIND — NOW YOU WANT CHOCOLATE? NO!

So, you know, I thought I’d better re-write that post because, well, reality can’t be denied.  I love my children dearly, and all-in-all we do pretty well, but sometimes holidays and traveling — even just little day trips — can make us all insane.

I know it’s a slightly strange connection to make, but a poem by Thomas Wyatt comes to mind:

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
with naked foot stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle tame and meek
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Busily seeking with a continual change.

(http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174858)

Wyatt is setting the scene for a love poem, but love is love, isn’t it?  And nothing is more wild — or gentle — than children — or mothers.

Many happy wishes to you for the new year, bloggy friends.  Continual change is coming, like it always does.  Enjoy!