Janice Issitt                    Life and Style

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18 Sept 2020

Home grown from Old Suffolk Cottage

Greetings from the Old Suffolk Cottage. As I've said before, lockdown was a very productive time for me and the husband, and I'm not pretending for one minute that we didn't drive each other up the walls but there was one project that became a resoundingly successful joint venture and that was the vegetable patch.

Luckily for us our best friends and neighbours are a few more years ahead of us on the 'moving from town to country' game so we had good advice and inspiration from the start. When we saw the fenced veg patch at our friends old farm we decided to do the same. You need to put some fencing round your raised beds in the country as the deer and rabbits often wander in and have a nibble, it's probably advisable when planting out new shoots and seeds to also string up some kind of bird scarer, I just strung old bunting across.

It has most definitely been a learning curve and I will do things differently every year as I discover what works and what is a waste of time. 


Not only do we have three raised growing beds but we are also surrounded by mature hedgerow so on top of the chosen vegetables and fruit trees we also discover bonus things growing. Having only moved here two years ago we are still finding what is growing around us as we clear the weeds and let in light to some overcrowded trees. Also some fruit trees only produce every other year so that's possibly why we didn't notice them before.  We were surprised to find a plum tree amongst it all and had just a small bowl of edible plums this year, so we just ate them straight from the tree. I also found what I thought was Sloes only to discover they are wild damsons neither of which should be picked until about October so I shall hang on a bit to use them in Gin.

hedgerow blackberries also a contender for crumble

For the raised beds we didn't dig up the grass but just laid layers on top of it. First we made a wooden frame the shape of the bed. Then laid cardboard down on top of the grass inside the frame. On top of that we put a layer of mushroom compost bought by the digger load from a local mushroom farm. The final layer was normal garden compost bought in bags from the local garden centre. Charles Dowding gives good advice about the 'no dig bed'.




I started a few things off in the greenhouse, like pumpkins, fennel, artichokes and tomatoes. The rest was small plants found on honesty stands and donated by friends because the garden centres were still shut at that time. I ended up with far too many tomato plants but thought I'd always do something with them and generally I just reduce them down in batches for pasta sauce which I add other things to. I tend not to freeze it but just eat it over a few days and then make another batch. We are a bit crazy for the spelt pasta from Waitrose so I just do different variations of sauces to go with that. 

The courgettes were the biggest surprise of all. Not only did I have a huge success with them, most of them grew into marrows of enormous proportions, with one 'courgette' being enough to feed a large family for a week. One type were particularly gorgeous and tasty, a very nutty flavour, and that was Romanesco courgette. It's ribbed in shape and slightly prickly, and I can't say that with a straight face. Anyway, sniggering aside, I had to find some good recipes for the courgette glut of 2020. Other than just frying them and adding to the tomato pasta sauce I also found a Riverford recipe for reducing a large amount of just courgettes into a thick sauce with creme fraiche stirred in at the end, oh my word it's totally delicious. 

Another great way to use up the courgettes is in a soup with peas and basil. This recipe came from the Ottolenghi Simple book.



Aside from the tons of tomatoes and courgettes we have had massive cucumbers too and luckily our friend showed up this fantastic pickle recipe from Riverford which is slightly sweet and makes a perfect accompaniment to tuna, cheese and cold meats. It's not a recipe that takes hours of boiling either and I was really quite surprised how lovely it is. 






I was all over the place with the tomatoes, I did do a bit of pinching out of side shoots, but to be honest, there was so much watering to do and I didn't want to risk pinching out the wrong thing. So it ended up being a tomato jungle which, once the fruit was getting large, I took all the foliage off so that they would get maximum sunshine to ripen. In the process of doing this a lot of green tomatoes fell off and so I needed to find something to do with these. This time I opted for a chutney, I just googled up one that suited and this is now all jarred up and ready for Christmas. 



Another tree which has suddenly born fruit out of nowhere is an apple, tucked away down the side of the house and there's only one thing for it - crumble. I could eat crumble every day and yes, sometimes I really do cheat and buy the ready made bag of crumble topping so that I can have it ready in just ten minutes. 

I'm saving the pumpkin story for another post as these have triumphed and grown out of their enclosure and currently making a bid for freedom down the garden. Now I know how well them climb I will be doing something different with them next year.

The beetroot I planted directly just never really came to anything, and the fennel is producing great feathery tops, but as yet, I've no idea what is going on below the soil. The artichokes looked to be doing well in the greenhouse then I planted them out and it's not looking great for them. Lettuce was a huge success, I grew these from small plug plants from a garden centre, again, we had too much of these for just two people and I soon realised I much prefer rocket to lettuce anyway. I've been growing rocket from seed and had some success with that although I think I planted it out too late. I will try harden with the rocket next year and not bother with so much lettuce. The rhubarb was another monster plant which takes up so much space I might change it's position next year and also learn a bit more about when to pick it - it's another great contender for crumble! 

I've also had a few peppers growing in the greenhouse but they haven't produced enough to warrant taking up so much space and needing to be watered every day. I actually don't like peppers and would rather have a crop of garlic so now I have to look at the time to plant these out and get into a year long plan of what happens when. Because we started all this growing during lockdown and because garden centres weren't open I've been playing catchup a bit, having said that I consider it a resounding success so far and my diet has never been healthier if nothing else. 




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10 Sept 2020

Wood Burners - A Beginners Rough Guide

It's been a funny old year hasn't it? I haven't been able to face blogging or taking photos for many months now. I have been one of the people considered to be at high risk from Covid due to having had chemotherapy which reduces the immune system. The panic of yet another life threatening illness was too much to deal with. So we locked in and built a vegetable patch and grew our own food over the months. I hope to blog about my learning curve of that another time.


The summer seems to have flown by, and suddenly there's a definite change in the air. I have to admit to lighting the wood burner once already and it got me thinking that perhaps I should just share a few basic pieces of knowledge that we have discovered since it was installed just before lockdown.



I always found it odd that when you are looking to buy a house they make a big deal out of it already having a wood burner. Now I know why. 

Firstly there's the cost. Not just the stove itself but in the installation which is likely to be more than the cost of the stove. It's really worth getting a lot of quotes on both the burner and the installation as these varied enormously. It's also worth asking around on local village forums for recommendations as the I discovered a better deal on both and neither had come up in google searches. 

When you go looking at stoves they will want to know the size of the room because then they can work out what size you need in terms of heat output. We basically got the biggest one you can get because the inglenook is so massive. We also chose the one with a large glass door because this is easier to clean than one with detail on it. You can get an eco fan to stand on top which blows the air out of the fireplace and I might get one of these to get the heat moving around the room. The fan is driven purely by the heat of the stove and is free standing and needs no power. 

Try to get the installation done during the summer months because as it gets cold these guys are super busy. Also the installation may bring up issues with your chimney so it could have a knock on cost as they have to put a liner inside your chimney so that it doesn't catch fire. For safety reasons they have to put a metal liner in your chimney, and a cap on the top of it. 



I discovered after one year of an open fire, that most of the heat goes up the chimney and not into the room. A wood burning stove is made of a heavy metal which itself becomes very hot and therefore radiates heat. They can be bought made of two different materials, the older ones being of cast iron, but the newer ones are just as effective.  The burning of logs becomes much more efficient as the stove has the ability to increase the heat and control it. You have sliders on the front which increase the pull of the air so when you first light the fire you have it so it pulls the flames up more fiercely and once going can be turned down. 

Having this extra heat source which keeps the chill off the room can save a lot on your central heating especially if you only need the one room heating at a time. It still feels like sitting around a cozy fire but much cleaner. There is only a small amount of ash with each burn and the stove works best when you leave about an inch of ash in the base. It is so much easier to clean out than an open fire too, plus you don't get the black dust and soot landing around the room. 


So let's talk about fuels. A log is a log isn't it? Well maybe you would think that until you try to burn damp ones. The reason that the log sellers make a big deal about them being 'kiln dried' or 'extra dry' is that this makes a massive difference. In an emergency we picked up some logs from a roadside chap and wondered why they took ages to get flaming and the burner just didn't heat up. The stove should become so hot that you can't touch it with bare hands, hot enough to boil coffee pots on, so if your logs aren't heating it up then chances are they are green, or damp. There is now a law against burning green wood I believe in the UK.

I find that a combination of fuels works the best and all of these can be delivered from one company - Lekto Wood Fuels 


I really like their firelighters and hardwood heat logs for getting the fire going with one match super fast. You can break the hardwood logs (the compressed round logs with the hole in the middle) by tapping them on something like the fireplace edge, and when in smaller pieces this helps to catch the flame quicker. Then there's their Extra Dry Easy To Light wood logs, always look very attractive piled up next to the fire too. For overnight they make a compact night brick. 

It's a worthy investment if you plan to stay in the same house for several more years as the installation cost will be spread out. The ashes gather inside and are contained in the bottom. I always clean my glass window with a specialist cleaner so that the flames are visibile and not hidden behind a thick layer of soot.

I hope this helps if you are trying to decide to take the plunge. Don't forget - get lots of quotes and  buy only kiln dried logs. 





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14 Apr 2020

Holy Week Poems

During Holy Week I have been collaborating with my good friend Emily who is in training to be a priest. She has written a poem for every day of Holy Week and asked me to accompany it with a photo. We enjoyed our quarantine collaboration project and here are the results in full.  I hope you enjoy, I think Emily's poems are really moving and the perfect reflections of Easter during lockdown. A reading of each poem can also be found on youtube. 




Palm Sunday
 

The Unmade Bed

The absent, the loss from this unmade bed
A mirror-like soul threw the hot blanket back 
The shape of a naked skull here in the pillow
Soft feathers that smell of human-like sweat

The stains of bodies and twisted dreams 
White sheets that one day become a shroud
Pale fluid from acts of love or lost life 
Fevered dreams that claw in the belly of time.
The mattress that never can yield to the weight  
For all of the tossing and tide of the night
The tepid, rejected limbs chills in morn
The moment of lust, that leaves hollow a breath

The dog that would sleep at the end, if allowed
The morning that only comes, after collapse. 
Rising like ghost Lazarus, barely alive
And yet, I am known even in this half state
Tuck me in warm, fill bottle and cup
In your soft lullaby I sleep calm like that dog,
The unmade, is made, only in Christ

I am such a bed until sleep becomes death.    




Death of a Tree 
In root and core, the rot runs deep
In peeling bark, in fruitless bud, in brown mould leaf
What form could take this sin and weep
A tree, a tree a blameless thing 
In blacken branch, it’s cursed word
A touch that steals all youthful gifts
Damned by all sweetness known in man
In human form, in Genesis. 
Low, low the branches bow
The weight of these rejected hopes
Spring forth from death those gleaming jewels
In sinless dance, in seasons blessed. 

Holy Tuesday
Prayer

To prayer we drift in sleep, foam, feathers, snow. 
A divine blanket of air grows fat about us. 
And there we begin to sweat, dragged on tides to skies of pricked gold. 
A warm sunshine, blinding eyes and caressing cheeks. 
Then like a ripe egg, we crack open and everything we are flows …
in a swollen river of communion, breaking its banks. 

In drowning, we learn to swim in our calling. 



Holy Wednesday
Tools 
A hammer to breakdown a door 
a lens to observe the world 
a chisel to carve across 
sand to wear down a wool 
Like wind, like rain, like sound 

an axe to cut out Deadwood 
oil to grease old wheels
a flask of hot tea for the bad days 
a pair of comfortable shoes 
some oil, some bread, some wine 

glue to fix broken hearts 
ink to tattoo his name on their skin 
a whistle to play a good tune 
scales to weigh out my time
love, faith and limitless hope 



Maundy Thursday

The Flex

Combs of wire, tearing and dragging the flex
That breaking sound is all about your parting
Long years of love, forgotten in rage
Exhaustion and somewhere between, a child

One pulling apart, eased by thick lanolin
The other clinging on for dear life 
As oiled fibres slip though fingers 
There is somewhere between, a child

But what is softer and stronger than the flex? 
The child forgotten, the lamb betrayed?
Hold fast dear friends, these times will pass
Remember the child. Remember the lamb

Carding out the thorns, smoothing the flex
Making it good, to be weaved again
Weaving now, a newness in love
He will give you his fleece, if you ask  



Good Friday 

In Deep Wounds

In deep wounds lies our Lord. 
In stardust, in trees, in the gutter. 
In the words, ‘it is good to be here.’
In the little death of dogs, in the mighty death of Mother. 
In the baby that did not breath, 
in the birthday cake and the cold shoulder. 

In deep wounds like salt and dirt lies his promise. 
He will come, looked for like Christmas snow
… forgotten like old razor blades. 
Ever glorious and shouting out a good tune. 
He will come without warning withered and old … shiny and new. 

In deep wounds, I will see him reflected in the bowl of a spoon, 
a cut lip, a lost love. 
In days, in prayer, in pus and earth,
in the empty cot, in the stone cold tomb.
In rot. 

In deep wounds like sleep, hot and naked, 
a retreat. Forgotten, 
unlooked for, forgiven, complete. 
In dreams of death, in a light footed dance, in breath and water. 
A blood stained sheet. 
In a splinter or a long hard week. 
In deep wounds he will come and seek us out. 
In deep wounds he will wait for our return
In deep wounds like balm, like cooling ice
lies our Lord … The Christ. 


Saturday Vigil

Mary’s Lament

Where is my heart? 
Lost, lost
lost in a dark 
hidden and lost 

Forgotten in din
buried deep in the fog 
cracked in the stone
alone, alone

Where is my Lord? 
Silent and calm
Waiting in rain
in grass that is long 
found found 

found in my pain 
in cycles of loss 
lost lost 
my heart a blackbird,
wings beating hard 

where is my heart 
held like a lamb 
crucified, stabbed 
with each little death 
lost lost 

In this night of grief
tears in the tides 
where is my love 
lost from my sight 

Where is my heart?
the heart of the Christ 
held safe but not won
lost in this night 
Lost lost   



Easter Sunday

Silver Webs

In cracks between sliver webs, spy holes between dew and light. 
His whole looks back, in unblinking eyes, soft, soft, endless sight.
Christ Jesus King, in the gaps not the sparkled thread.
In the broken wings of dried flies caught, drunk and dead.  

Held in his gaze, eyes fixed and riveted mine
As a fly in the web, I am mesmerized by a journey divine
Gently he bundles me in sliver twine, swaddled as a babe
And bleeds me of all my sins, as he once bravely bled

Suspended I sleep, cradled in hands and wrists that weep
Awaiting my resurrection, to rise again to his need
In faith of his people, to carry like stones their pain 
I bleed out, as fly to spider, in a raging desire to live again.  




Easter Monday

Formation 

Does it start in the marrow? In the bones, in cells? 
In grey matter or in the gut? 
Are we blocks of stone, carved by Christ?
Or are we thrown, slippery as a newborn on a wheel? 

It is when we begin to delight in the little. 
The specks, the light in leaves, the piping hot cup of tea
It is when we fall in love with the world
Slowly sinking into joy and pain, like comfortable sleep 

In a happy day, when gratitude becomes a tear
When the soft scent of rose and wood smoke is in the air 

We are formed in love, turned inside out by it
We know the suffering of withdrawal, when we return
Taking only a tiny speck of the gold with us. 
And the knowledge that at any moment we can turn back. 

For he waits for us, eternally. 


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5 Apr 2020

Lockdown Quarantine and Long Term Illness

This is going to surprise you (unless you are a self-isolating ninja already) but certain aspects of this global pandemic lockdown quarantine is actually making the everyday better for some of us. Life has become so full again I've ended up writing a blog post after about three months!






Aside from moments of complete meltdown and panic, I'm bouncing from  the deepest depths to the highest highs on an almost hourly basis. I was handling it relatively well until I needed to visit the hospital last week for a blood test.  Whether it was the fact that I hadn't left my property for about a month, or the fact that I had to enter a high risk situation, but the trip to pathology brought back all the feelings I had when first told I had stage three breast cancer.

Receiving a diagnosis of a life threatening illness is kinda similar to the situation you are all finding yourself in now. Firstly there's the shock that this is actually happening, you are unprepared, this wasn't your story, you had a plan which now you can't follow - albeit for a short time or forever. Then there is the reality that you have to stop work.  Ok maybe there will be help from the Social Services - ha good luck with that, because maybe there won't. Shortly after you find out that your treatment will involve long periods of feeling unwell and you are likely to not be able to leave the house, also, because you have a compromised immune system you had better not go anywhere public or let anyone visit you if they have a cold or cough or anything slightly unhealthy. So - how long will this go on for, not being able to work, staying at home all the time, not seeing anyone.  Well they can't actually tell you that, it depends on many factors. 




See where I am going here. Shock and panic all ensue and it takes a long while for your mind to come to terms with 'this is the shit hitting the fan' for real. After many many months, or even years of receiving treatment you may find yourself in the lucky situation of being able to beat the illness, although the chances of you ever being completely back to normal are reduced even if the scars are only mental.

Eventually the panic dissipates, (well it has to really or you would kill yourself with shock), but of course there will always be triggers that bring back the reality and take you back to that early stage of anxiety at the confrontation of your own mortality. 
This pandemic will probably have done that to many people with long term illness even though they are well skilled by now at being on their own in the house and keeping the anxiety at bay.  Once that shit has hit the fan you are heightened to the fact that now anything can happen, that it's not always going to be happening to someone else.  




So you ask, why did I say that some aspects of life are now better. I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that it would have been great to get this much support when you found out you had a life threatening illness. We sat at home alone while everyone else was at work, too busy, on holiday, going to parties, going for days out, going to restaurants and on and on. We sat there staring at social media wondering if anyone had a bit of time to message or read our posts, or put something entertaining up online. 

And now there's never been so much to occupy us, it's the busiest and most entertained I've been in years. Theres my daily yoga sessions with Adrienne, my weekly creative writing group via Zoom with Clare, my collaboration project with Emily for Holy Week and hourly podcasts and videos from celebrities like Miranda Hart and Tom Allen. I've been sung to by so many celebrities and everyone, I mean everyone is on social media 24/7. I've got photos to take for one project, seeds to plant for a challenge and then theres the home cooking and DIY which I now get a hand with because husband is stuck here with me. By now us 'long termers' have binged watch all the tv shows, read all the books, learnt the new craft, knitted ten jumpers, and I'm not even exaggerating, so we finally have some bloody company, even if it's via Zoom or House Party. 

Because I am in a high risk 'vulnerable' category I now get priority with my shopping. Nowadays everyone is careful about spreading their germs, good God they are even wearing masks now and gloves, oh I dreamt of that when I had no white cells - the day when other people would take care not to give me their germs. I remember on so many occasions - once complaining to the woman serving me in the bakery that she had a bad cold and maybe she shouldn't be serving food. That went down like a lead balloon. After one visit for a hospital test I ended up with shingles, I suspect because a person with a cold wasn't wearing a mask or washing their hands or something of that ilk.


Things are going to change a lot after all this. In so many ways it's not possible to comprehend. I am truly gutted for all of you who have had your dreams dashed, the ones you've worked years for because I know how it feels. But one thing I do hope is that now everyone has experienced the isolation and the need for caution, that perhaps there will be more awareness for what it is like to have a long term health condition, because, dear people, there are some who do this all the time. Your 'new normal' is just 'normal' for thousands who have illness, disability, no support network or finance. 

If anything good comes out of this I hope that true empathy will now be experienced by a large number of people. I pray that the sense of community and support for fellow humans will continue. I pray that the inequality of wages between non essential jobs and those that have kept us alive (whether it's nurses, cleaners, delivery drivers, supermarket workers) will be re-evaluated and there will be a new found respect for anyone who put themselves at risk to stack the shelves, drive the bus, shop for a friend.  





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9 Nov 2019

A Norfolk Country House Interiors Christmas Event

I've kicked off my Christmas build up with the most amazing and unique event at an Elizabethan Country House just south of Norwich in Saxlingham Nethergate, Norfolk. Situated just 20 minutes up the winding country roads from me you can find this stunning house set in 17 Acres of landscaped gardens, complete with a thatched summerhouse and a swimming pool and not only can you rent it but you can also visit and shop on one of the events held during the year.



Owner Janine and her family open their doors a couple of times a year for an event they call Country House Interiors (you can find them on instagram). They invite local antique and interior makers and sellers to display their goods around the vast manor house for a very atmospheric experience.  I was hoping to have lots more photos to show you but as I wasn't feeling very well I took my eye of my camera for a minute and it fell over and smashed.

Currently residing with the makers, I'm hoping my lens is fixable but it's just confirmed to me that I really need to get a lighter compact camera for this sort of occasion as my left arm still has a way to go before it works again. I actually burst into tears when I phoned the camera repair centre such is my current state of health. After over 20 treatments of radiotherapy I feel absolutely bloomin terrible and I'm looking forward to doing nothing much between now and the New Year except making my house look festive and cozy.

We found many many many things we wanted to buy but tried to keep to my shopping list of things that will work on a bedroom I'm tackling at present. Top of the list was some mounted antlers which I laid eyes on straight away from Mike of Ruby Rose Antiques who also has a large amount of Kokeshi Dolls for sale and I'm terrified that if I buy one it will start an obsession for owning every single one I see. However, Mike has plenty of other stock that I can be justified in buying, because of course antlers are an absolute essential for a country house interior design. Mike is involved with Blackdog Events around Suffolk and Norfolk too and his fathers shop in Halesworth is always worth a visit.

Norfolk Pickers owner Clare provided a lot of temptation and we were won over with a huge brass cooking pot thingy which will hold logs and coal in our enormous inglenook fireplace.  Heaven forbid we ever move to somewhere small. Clare had so many gorgeous things, lots of lovely French items like those lovely frilly edged glass lampshades, kitchenalia and home accessories. 



It was a real pleasure to also meet the lovely couple behind Massingham Antiques of Briston and are the sellers of that gigantic birdcage above, which if I had a space big enough I would absolutely love to own it but what a statement decorators piece that is; interior designers please note !! It would look incredible with a huge houseplant inside. I hope to meet up with them again next year and have a play with their stock and do some photos, meanwhile I am trying to work out how to incorporate that bird cage in my life.

There will be more photos over on my stories in Instagram as my phone had to take over after my camera broke. Those lovely little natural wreaths at the top and the decoration of the big fireplaces around the house was by Jo Flowers Official who is based in Norfolk and I'm hoping to track down her husband's reclamation yard Morways just the other side of the Thetford Forest Park.




Another of the many sellers around the house are my lovely friends James and Joanna who make so many high quality pieces for the home, from bath boards to lavender bags. I treated myself to one of their Christmas stockings which I hope to feature in some photos soon and should point out something they sell which is great for crafters. Currently they are expanding their stock of block printed items, usually in a red print onto vintage French linens, they not only sell items made with the hand printed designs, but also squares for you to incorporate in your own craft project. This is perfect for some cushions I want to make out of left over French Metis sheet scraps (after making loose covers for my chairs). I'm adding some embroidery around the block printed letter J, also in red and it's been the inspiration for many items I hope to make over Christmas. 

James and Joanna take over the 'Children's room' in the house and decorate it full of their white linen items. I also had to have their little hand made angels made from wire, lace and crystal which you can see on their instagram feed.

Other sellers worth a note are Alicia from Mrs Clarkes in Harleston who brought her Plum & Ashby range.  Sugden and Daughters had that adorable collection of white vase planters pictured above - don't they look great grouped together? Bungay shop Mouse Design also popped up with a great range of items and they can normally be found in Earsham Street (my favourite shopping street in this area), well worth a trip. 

I know I've missed out a lot of people, apologies, if you are one of the sellers who would like a mention then pop me a message on Instagram.

In the meantime, check out my stories for more shots around the Old Hall Norfolk and a big thanks to Janine for hosting it

My next event coverage will be with good friend Liz who is hosting her barn sale in Wangford on 23rd and 24th November, please be sure to put that in your diary and maybe I can see you there for a mince pie and a cuppa. 


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