Monthly Archives: August 2010

Reading: A Shepherd’s Life

I realized the other day that though whatever book I am reading acts as a quiet undercurrent in my life I have never really mention what I am reading. So i thought it might be nice, every so often, to do a little post on whatever I happen to be reading at the time.

These days it’s A Shepherd’s Life by W.H Hudson. The book tells the story of shepherd Caleb Bawcombe and describes life in the county of I started this several times but somehow never got off the ground with it. This summer I picked it up again and began reading it, and this part I think is crucial, OUTSIDE, and that has made all the difference!

Of course, the landscape described is markedly different from what surrounds me, but somehow sitting with grass beneath and sky above me makes me appreciate detailed descriptions of the land. The author’s knowledge of every plant and bird makes me feel as though we all should know our places in the same way and be able to name and understand the life around us. The book is infused with an intimate knowledge of place and of land tied to history, something I never get tired off. A Shepherd’s Life was first published in 1910 and as Hudson records the stories of the characters, and the stories of their parents and grandparents one has a sense that what is now quite “ancient” history is closer somehow, tangible. I am only a third of the way through the book but so far two of my favourite moments are when the young boy Caleb  frees a bird being held captive under a hat while two boys fight over who is the rightful owner, and an abandoned baby who is baptized  Moses Found by his adoptive parents .

I can’t expect everyone to be as excited about this book as I am – I do have a rather odd fascination with this kind of things, and have just finished reading John Seymour’s The Countryside Explained and enjoyed the descriptions of historical farming practices…but, this is me!


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Gary came to play his trumpet for my “Colour of Music” art class last week. There was much excitement over the “special guest” and I loved seeing them discover the instrument.  After the visit we made our own trumpets out of foam-core. As they drew we revisited what we had learned about the different parts of the trumpet, and how many valves it had and how it is essentially a long tube that has been curled up, and you can really see this in their drawings.

Gary’s trumpet is silver but I didn’t have any silver so we went with yellow (we had a book with a yellow trumpet in it, so they thought that was ok). After drawing the trumpets we made “fanfare flags” just to extend the activity a little. The trumpets were very popular and the kids spontaneously  began marching about the room “playing” their trumpets. (And they would have kept going if I hadn’t had to stop them after a while!)

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Colourful Music

I have been a bit absent this week and have yet to post anything about my class, The Colour of Music. Here is a little activity I did  that is very simple but pleasing, in so many ways.

I filled some jars with water and arranged them from high to low. (If you had the right space and plenty of time it would also be interesting to let the kids experience how more or less water changes the sound but this has the potential to be messy. ) To add colour to the water I used watercolour, for reasons that will become clear. Then I played the jars with a wooden spoon. After some initial exploration I told the kids I was going to “write a song”. I used a long, narrow piece of watercolour paper on which I drew a line with permanent marker from one side to the other. Then I made “notes” – circles – all along the line. I used a palette of watercolour paints, the exact same colours as the water,  to fill in the circles. The song could then be played by starting at one side and playing the colours or notes in order. And then it was their turn!

Even my youngest friends (3) were able to do this.

And of course we named the songs:”The Happy”, “A Rainbow Ignition” and “Tweet” being just a few. The kids loved this and to my surprise showed a remarkable ability to understand the idea.  They had a great time playing their songs on the jars. I almost didn’t do this activity because I just wasn’t sure but I’m so glad I gave it a go!


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It’s That Time Again!

What time is that, you ask? Well, it’s August, which means there are peaches, and basil, and so it’s time to put them together! Oh, and add a little honey. A sublime taste combination. Since the peach season is short I recommend eating a lot of this lovely trio. And if you can take it on a picnic, so much the better!

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An Embarrassment of Riches

We have an embarrassment of riches, as far as blackberries go. I mentioned we made blackberry jam, and apple/blackberry butter, but so far my favourite use for them is blackberry chutney. I’m  a big chutney fan, and I recommend giving this a go, even if it sounds surprising. I did find, however, that as the blackberries are very juicy, you need to simmer the fruit for much longer than the recipe specifies, so that you can get it down to a thicker chutney consistency. Chutney is best if it is left for a few months but I’ve sampled the leftovers and already it is quite delicious!

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Often, one of the first things I do on arriving at Good Cheer is to pick some flowers for the house. Well, if I am truthful, sometimes I first have to throw out the old dried up flowers from the last time. But then I go out and wander about, looking for flowers, plants or grasses for “arrangements”. I wish I had documented this more deliberately but I did notice quite a few photos of flowers while browsing through pictures of our times there. I think I feel that no matter how sparse (or non existent) the furniture, having flowers in the house makes it feel instantly more lived in.


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Stinging Nettle Yogurt Cheese

I almost titled this blog “Nettle Yogurt Cheese ; Because You Can!” Thing is, even though it may not be the simplest or even most practical approach, I find something very satisfying about gathering “wild food”. Even though I can grow my own food, or get my vegetables at the market, there is something special about locating a wild food plant that makes me want to use it just because I can.

When my aunt pointed despairingly to a large clump of stinging nettles in her garden something clicked and I remembered that you could eat them. Apparently, if you roll the leaves the right way, you can eat them raw, but I was not about to try that. What I had in mind was some stinging nettle cheese I’d sampled once. I haven’t yet made cheese but I’ve made yogurt cheese and right away I saw the possibility.

So, suitably clothed and gloves I approached the stinging nettles and cut off the freshest leaves. (I’d say the spring is a better time to do this, but I was not going to be dissuaded.) Back at the house I steamed them for a full five minutes until they looked like cooked spinach. Then I simply mixed the nettles and some salt and pepper into some yogurt and continued as for yogurt cheese. The result is a nice little spread, perfect for crackers.

I’m not sure the nettles taste so very different from spinach but the notion that I have tamed the stinging nettle into something you can put in your mouth is quite pleasing.

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