This week we celebrated Beren's sixth birthday. A fellow April, autumn baby, he is full of wonder for creatures big and small, adventure stories, board games, jumping on the trampoline, space and lego. He is learning to read and do sums in his head, scrub the dishes and write words, not to mention loosing those baby teeth left, right and centre! He is passionate and tender, quick to make friends wherever we go, giver of big cuddles and asker of curious questions // It was extra special to celebrate his birthday dinner with two sets of grandparents present as last year we couldn't see them! He requested "a chocolate six cake with raspberries and eggs".
God bless all your days Bear xx
Easter this year was brimming with sunshine and activity - a stark contrast to last year when we were at the beginning of a long state-wide lock down and all public celebrations were cancelled // I made a double batch of gluten free hot cross buns and quince tart tatin to share with friends who visited on Good Friday. We went for a rambling walk down to the river and made simple crosses from palm fronds which we let fall off the bridge with simple utterances of thanksgiving // My sister and her partner visited on Saturday and there was lots of happy chatter, trampolining, autumn leaves, carting water to chickens, checking on newborn calves, cups of tea // On Sunday I helped lead a celebratory church service which included a treasure hunt, puppet show and making these colouring books based on "I am" statements of Jesus for the little folk to fill in. Afterwards we came home to a chocolate egg hunt that my sister hid for the boys, and the afternoon was slow and sweet.
"Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee"
All through Lent I pondered these words of T. S. Eliot from his poem "Ash Wednesday", I prayed for fresh perspective, for peace in His will, and thanksgiving for everything my hands and feet touch that reminds me of my creator, rock, fortress and deliverer //
He is risen indeed!
Woman with a garden inside her is the title of this astoundingly beautiful watercolour by my friend and artist Adam Lee. I think it sums up well how I feel today, on this my 32nd birthday. I have been blessed with the most sublime and sunshine filled autumn weather, blue sky and green grass and leaves begin to golden. I have been surprised with a smoke bush tree to plant and the most beautiful hand written card from my husband. I have filled a jug with flowers from my local green grocer and various things from my own garden. I have felt the soft fibres of wool and silk and mohair in my hands as I make slow progress on a cardigan. I have listened to and read birthday wishes from the dearest of friends and family. I have drunk tea outside, twice and soaked in the goodness of the earth. I am glad to be alive //
Early autumn is a glorious season of crisp mornings and warm afternoons, of dappled light and shadows, days shortening. When mama cows beginning to calve and there are rich colours all around us: tomatoes ripening, hedges awash with hawthorn berries, sycamore leaves yellowing, sedum and pig face and calendula flowering. I feel the urge to sort and knit and drink my tea in the sun. I feel the excitement of my tiny house arriving; a bespoke egg cleaning and packing space long dreamed (and saved) for. There's a pair of quilted slippers on my feet made entirely of scraps (using this wonderful pattern) and shawls around my shoulders. And the first round of colds and stomach bugs and sniffles, first batch of elderberry and honey syrup, savoured spoonfuls. There's jobs to be attended to: beehives to prepare for winter and firewood to cut and stack.. It's not cold enough yet for the mosquitoes to quit waking us up in the middle of the night. We collect wild quinces and eagerly await the rain. The pace of early autumn is unlike any other time of year. Studded with busyness, birthdays and Easter - laden with work, beauty, anticipation, rest and celebration //
there is life in the vine
in each and every season
our growing and remaining
a place to dwell in love
in autumn as the leaves fall
when mornings grow darker
fruit is stored for what will come:
cheer, loss, communion
winter brings frozen things
ground, breath, tired limbs,
when we are slow and needy
of every clear sky, of warming
springtime flush of green
life budding from branch and tree
and the steady hum of bees,
of children in bare feet
in summer work and play,
beating heat and flowering,
when days begin to sprawl
each raindrop brings relief
there is life in the smallest leaf,
in stretching and growing,
ripening and rotting,
in pruning and resting,
refreshing at the roots
each season is necessary
its own kind of beautiful
when we remain in love,
there is life in Him.
Summer tends to be the season with the most reading for me - something perhaps about those long, light-filled days and the prickle of heat that makes me want to put my knitting away and stare at pages with the fan gently humming. Maybe there's a part of me, a learnt pattern in my body, that associates summer with reading - as mum would always gift us books for Christmas. Reading never feels like a chore in summer, a bit like walking at night: the very air of summer ushers permission to be consumed with words and breeze.
There, there by Tommy Orange (2018)
Christmas book from my sister, the first novel by Tommy Orange. It read almost like a play, dramatic and atmospheric. I found it a refreshing read and haunting in some scenes and dialogue that have stayed with me long after finishing. Highly recommend.
The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper (2008)
I wanted to read this as soon as I finished Chloe Hooper's other brilliant book The Arsonist. Hooper writes masterfully, poetically, with such clarity, sensitivity and humanity around issues that are so difficult - like this: the death of a young Aboriginal man in custody on an island I'd vaguely heard of. She paints the landscape and the characters of Palm Island with nuance and freshness that help you feel it all deeply, and not easily forget. The Tall Man is investigative writing on crime, racism, policing, history and mythology in Australia of the highest calibre. I didn't want it to end, and I longed for an ending that never came. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
10 Reasons to quit your social media right now by Jaron Lanier (2018)
I had to read this even though I could think of thirty of my own reasons to quit. Jaron Lanier is a computer engineer, philosopher and musician. His "reasons" for quitting are sensible and intelligent and is definitely worth reading and pondering on.
You are not a gadget by Jaron Lanier (2010)
I enjoyed this longer manifesto of Lanier's even more than the one above. He wrote it almost a decade ago and is uncanny in his accurate predictions and concerns for what social media platforms and technologies were becoming - and have become - forces for immense social, cultural, political and economic upheaval. Highly recommend.
The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall (2020)
A speedy and enjoyable read. The plot is quite thrilling and fascinating, and while I didn't feel totally convinced by the main characters and the ending felt a bit clunky - there was something very poignant and timely about the near-future reality in which we are all micro-chipped and answerable to a global governmental system, as well as the over-reliance on digital devices, threats of constant surveillance. Critics mentioned a likeness to Atwood and I felt that too. Definitely worth a go.
The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer (1997)
Have you ever begun a book only to fall in love with it on the first few pages, only to struggle to finish it half way and then fall out with it completely by the ending? I guess my reactions with this one was as capricious and changing as the clouds. Yes, there are some really clever, beautiful sentences, and the descriptions of the Blue Mountains at the turn of the 20th century is quite mesmerising, but something fell flat and unsatisfying half-way through. If you love Ondaatje you will probably enjoy this one...
The Twilight of Democracy by Applebaum (2020)
Oh this was a fascinating read. Insightful and frightening. I asked my local library to purchase a copy of Applebaum's book after I heard her interviewed on the New Yorker politics and more podcast. I'm glad they were able to get it in. Applebaum has been watching and writing about (and living) politics in Central Europe for decades, but has much to say about her place of origin USA too. Highly recommend.
Water my Soul by Luci Shaw (2003)
A re-read. Shaw explores the rich, interior life of faith through the seasons of the garden. Beautiful, wise, timeless. Highly recommend.
Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird (2006)
Read for my course in contemplative faith. I'd never heard of it before. I love the way Laird weaves in personal stories, poetry, literature and wisdom by the great Christian mystics along with more practical tips and exercises for cultivating a prayer-filled awareness of God's loving presence in everyday life. I would definitely recommend this one for anyone starting out on the contemplative journey //
What have you been reading lately?
in summer I can walk in the evening light
when little people have gone to bed
when dishes have been washed and dried
each step a kind of devotion
a prayer for being alive
in summer I can walk in sandals
and feel the breeze under my skirt
coolness and dust and grass seeds
anoint my summer skin:
tanned hands and dry feet.
in summer I can walk at a slower pace,
follow tracks of who came before me:
rabbit, horseshoe, tractor tred
I wait for kangaroos hopping down the hill
and lean in to hear the frogs croak,
and crane my neck for the goshawks,
I can never tell if they are hunting or playing.
in summer I can walk and gather
dried grasses in my hands,
elderberries off a twisted old tree,
blackberries from a thorny vine,
I reach for dancing thistle fibres
and hear my son's voice:
"Mum! Look at all the fairies"
in summer I can walk in the moonlight
when the stars begin to shine,
and I let my feet do the praying:
each step breaking bread
each breath thanksgiving
It really is! We are going through so many plums at the moment as we are getting them fresh in our CSA fruit box each week. There is nothing so nice as locally grown (without chemicals), seasonal fruit that tastes and feels as it should! This is my gluten-free adaptation of Stephanie Alexander's frangipane tart in her cookbook-to-rule-them-all, A Cook's Companion. She doesn't call for plums, but of course they work perfectly alongside almonds and the buttery shortbread base. It works just as well with nectarines, peaches, apricots, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, mulberries, raspberries, pears, poached quinces or apples or rhubarb. Basically most fruit!
Plum Frangipane Tart
For the base:
200g plain gluten-free flour (or 100g each of rice flour + 100g tapioca/arrowroot starch or cornflour)
1 tablespoon sugar
100g cold butter, sliced into small cubes
1 small egg
2 teaspoons cold water
Blend flour, sugar and butter in a food processor until crumbly. Add egg and water with the motor running and blend together until a dough forms. Roll out onto a piece of floured parchment paper (I might this minimises mess and stickiness). I do not bother chilling the dough as specified in the recipe - I simply roll out a disc shape to fit my pie dish which is about 22cm in diameter (with enough size to line the fluted sides).
Instead of greasing and flouring the dish, I lift the dough with the baking parchment and place both of them in (the paper of course creating a barrier between the dough and dish). This ensures simple lifting out of the tart and cleaning of the dish. Feel free to grease if you prefer! Once dough is pressed into the dish, use a fork to mark a number of pricks on the base of the tart.
Bake in a low-moderate oven (160'c) for 25 minutes or until lightly golden. Again I don't bother with weights or rice for the baking, the dough seems to keep it's shape well enough.
For the frangipane:
150g white sugar
120g unsalted butter
200g ground almonds
1/4 cup brandy or similar (this really gives it a delicious something else, but can be omitted)
1/4 cup flaked almonds
5 small-medium sized plums, pitted and halved or sliced into wedges. You may need more/less depending on the size of the plums to cover the surface of the tart.
Cream together butter and sugar in a food processor. Add almonds, eggs and brandy if using and mix well. Spread over tart base and arrange pitted and sliced plums on top of the tart. Bake in the oven (180'c) for 20 minutes. Oven oven and pull out tart so you can scatter with flaked almonds and a tablespoon of white or raw sugar (you may omit this if you wish). Cook for a further 15 minutes (or until tart is golden brown and the centre feels springy to touch - the size of the plums and moisture in them may increase cooking time). Cool in the tin. Serve on it's own or with some double cream.
Lovely things bringing colour to my life: golden fennel flowers, profusion of pink hebe and the zinnias about to open // in my hands a top I'm knitting for my sister in the most theatrical and luscious yarn, a row added each morning and evening as the kettle comes to boil // on the table flowers for my son, to mark his 9th birthday and also balloons and a giant fruit mince pie (as requested), holding this beautiful human tight and delighting in him reading, snug in my hammock, as the sun sets // the sight and sounds of the farm's not-so-little and very enthusiastic goat kids, nibbling our hands, tickling, bleating for oak leaves (or anything really) // cutting fresh plums in half for tarts, eating them whole, stewing them slowly // savouring the summer rain and mild mornings, the return of school, beginning of kindergarten and my weekly studies, sandal wearing and overnight-zucchinis and everything this season brings...
Above the bookshelf sits an accordion
a birthday gift, she's older than me
but we're alike in dusty ways
leathery, blue, spiny ways,
weathered with sounds
and unspoken ones
for six years I've played a melody
of a painterly, light filled life:
beautiful squares to return to,
contain and be contained,
and stare into
I hold the accordion in my hands
pull out a slow, long wheeze
and contract into myself:
yet necessary thing
I have given birth three times
surged, panged, sore and singing
a song as old as life itself -
three living bodies
emerged from my own
I prepared myself for the labouring
for expanding, expectantly,
but it was afterwards,
with babe at breast
I felt my body do a strange and painful thing:
my womb contracted,
retreated in completion,
and so I think it is with all creative work
we puff up and shrink, concertina-like,
we make and miss notes, we glimmer with
goodness, dust and who knows what else:
we grow, birth, contract, rest
again and again and again.
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...