My Lockdown holiday - a break from drawing and more creating
It had been 3 months since I saw my partner last, and it's been quite a while since I had a holiday. With Lockdown still on for the most part (and we're certainly not allowed to travel anywhere in our camper), we weren't going anywhere.
A holiday at home it was to be! I was looking forward to seeing Warren, taking some time out and restoring some much-needed balance. As a person of extremes, this can be difficult for me.
So I put drawing aside for the moment, and as I love to create things that have a practical rather than purely sensory use, this was a great time to try some new activities.
Scents, glorious scents
In our van, our products have to be biodegradeable so a couple of years ago, I made a whole lotta soap.
But there’s only so much soap you can give away.
It also lasts a really long time, so I haven’t had the need since, and I still have a lot of supplies in date. But now I have my new studio space, I’ve been thinking of ways to make it a really pleasant and harmonious place to work.
Bring in the aromas.
So I started teaching myself basic aromatherapy using my essential oils.
My partner prides himself on his great sense of smell (must be those nostrils), so I designated him chief Scent Sniffer. It was really fun making up different blends and seeing how different our olfactory senses can be, and the whole experience felt like a great exercise in mindfulness.
The spoons in the pic are ones I hand-carved a few years ago, and I remembered the story of how I'd found each branch so they were very dear to me.
Then mycelium made its way out of a branch I’d stored in the same box as my tools and spoons, and colonised the lot in just 6 months! I was met with a scene like something out of Alien when I prized the lid off. If the spoons weren't half eaten, they were so brittle, the slightest pressure snapped them. A rookie error.
Rusty tools, decomposed spoons, and a broken heart. These were the only ones I managed to save and I’ve not done any whittling since as my tools are now defunct ☹ I still have my beautiful axe though!
But back to the ambience…
How about some candles?
Playing with fire
A while ago, I bought my first Yankee Candle after someone suggested that the top makes a good baren for handprinting (it doesn't).
I loved the little flickering glow in the corner that cast dancing shadows up the side of my bell tent, so I started researching new ones to buy.
But yikes! I didn’t realise how toxic standard candles can be as it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about.
My Yankee Candle love affair quite literally went up in smoke.
Putting the paraffin problem aside for a moment, it got me thinking about just how much synthetic fragrance and associated nasties we’re subjected to practically every day.
In my last job, people were constantly wiping down their keyboards and monitors with these chemical wipes and sprays. And then there were the synthetic air fresheners, and a room full of chic and perfumed ladies and gents.
With all this going on, combined with a lack of natural light, I now wonder if that’s why I felt general malaise, nausea and exhaustion for days on a regular basis – as if I was coming down with something but never did.
I came across the book “The Case Against Fragrance” by Kate Grenville, so if this is a topic you’re interested in finding out more about, this looks like a good read. I’ve added it to my ever-growing list.
So what to do when you can’t find or afford something you want? Do it yourself.
Here’s my first ever candles made from soy wax – still not an ideal solution but much better than paraffin as it's from renewable sources vs. petroleum, and burns cleaner and for longer than paraffin. This particular wax (unlike some other brands) comes from soy grown without genetic modification, and is scented without parabens, phthalates or CMRs, and is cruelty-free!
The more developed our society gets, the harder is it to make ethical decisions and get transparent information in terms of the products we buy...but we can try.
I’ve since fired off several emails to various organisations and I think I’ve now found a wax that is the most eco-friendly of the lot and still vegan! Once I’ve finished with this batch of soy, I’m going to be trying it out.
I’ve also been making my first wreath from a bunch of dried twigs from a dead tree my mum felled recently. It’s certainly rustic! I can see why people use willow with its natural bend – this had virtually no bend at all so frustratingly, it kept snapping.
I’m going to try attaching it around the central pole of my studio with some candles hanging from it so I’ve been learning some macramé box knots.
Don’t worry. The tent is fireproof 😉 I’m not though so I’ll have a bucket of soil at the ready.
Wandering in the woods
For some chilled woodland air in the heat of the day and for some time with nature, we made a couple of trips over to my local woods. This is Norsey Wood where I used to play as a kid (and get up to mischief as a teenager).
It was one of the last strongholds for the Peasants Revolt and even has a Bronze Age Burial Mound.
A lot of the wood has lost its unspoiled nature over the years due to the over-coppicing and the laying of concrete paths with clear signs of machinery damage, though it is now more accessible. It’s rare to take a walk around without running into at least one dog walker or jogger, and it definitely receives far more visitors than it did when I was younger due to the town’s growing population to accommodate London overspill.
Speaking of dog walkers, one of my biggest gripes is those black plastic dog poo baggies.
They are everywhere.
People even hang them from trees. I kid you not.
I’d rather people just fling their dog poo into the undergrowth or better yet, take it away. I don’t know if they’re biodegradeable but either way, it’s a form of litter, and one that seems to have appeared in England in the last 5-10 years, spoiling the countryside.
For readers outside of the UK, do you have these too?
But enough ranting. I just want to make my feelings on these black bag monstrosities known!
Come Autumn, the wood is absolutely fabulous for mushrooms. I didn’t expect to find any but came across this Chicken of the Woods which I’m going to paint in my nature journal.
By this time, the bluebells are have just died out, and now the Forget-Me-Nots, Foxgloves, Honeysuckle and Elderflowers are in bloom. I wanted to have a go at making Elderflower cordial but I think I'm too late again! Perhaps I'll try for Hawthorn Jam later in the year...
The wood is home to grey squirrels, deer, and allegedly some rare albino badgers after some hairs were found by a local conservation group, and I feel very lucky to have this little slice of woodland nearby.
A yummy breakfast
The hot weather continued over the week, which took me back to our time travelling in Asia. We’d been talking about having a go at making Gurung bread for years and we finally got around to it.
We first sampled this while trekking the Annapurna Sanctuary route in Nepal in 2013 and while not exactly healthy, it is absolutely delicious and was such a wonderful breakfast to have in the chilled air looking over at the mountains.
Or just about anywhere.
I asked a Nepalese man to show me the recipe while we were at Base Camp but I lost my notes (so typical of me)! Scroll to the bottom of the post for the recipe which I’ve adapted from the one here. My first attempt was too dense so I reduced the baking powder to flour ratio, and the recipe below gave me a light, fluffy and chewy bread.
So overall, a really enjoyable 12 days of both rest and activity and now back to work, which is fitting since we’ve got rain forecast for the foreseeable future.
Stay tuned for a post I’ll be writing within the next couple of weeks about nature journalling 😊
Thanks for reading,
P.S. Let me know how the Gurung bread turns out for you!
Nepalese Gurung Bread Recipe
Ingredients (makes two medium sized breads)
- 200g organic plain or all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp baking powder (for readers in North America, to avoid confusion, this isn’t the same as baking soda. Baking soda is our bicarbonate of soda and isn’t interchangeable with baking powder, though there are some baking powder brands available in the US)
- Cold water for dough
- 1 tsbp sugar
- Pinch salt
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
- Combine the flour with sugar, salt and baking powder in a bowl and add just enough water to make a firm dough
- Knead for about 5 minutes or until smooth, and leave under a teatowel for 20-30 minutes
- Heat vegetable oil in a wok or large pan until it reaches around 220 degrees Celsius.
- Divide dough in half and roll out each piece in an oblong shape to a thickness of around 3-4mm and make 2-3 slashes in the centre with a knife
- Very carefully place one piece of dough into the hot oil
- After a couple of minutes, gently lift up one corner to flip the bread and cook on the other side until both sides are a light golden brown and have puffed up. Repeat for the other bread (you might need to wait until the oil has heated up again)
- Drain on kitchen towel and serve immediately with drizzled honey, or maple syrup/agave for a vegan option.