I’m Busy

Yes, as usual, I’m busy. And I don’t think it is just a case of Parkinson’s First Law which states that work expands to fill the time available!

Since Steve Jones of Chapter 39 in Newtown, Powys challenged me to think about, and plan for, the year 2050 I have been doing so. And one of the results is a decision to have the chalet in the garden, originally built as consulting rooms for our Counselling business, refurbished as somewhere someone could live rent free in return for helping me in the garden and woods. Time was John and I would have done the work between us but he is dead and I am older so I have employed a builder to do the work that I feel unable to do. But he still needs me to make decisions, source things like the small woodburner that will heat the place and to pay the bills. And I am doing the jobs I can manage like decorating and building the carcasses for the kitchen units. It all takes time.

Because I am doing so much thinking and designing (the chalet is only the start although probably the most expensive  item on my list of changes) it seemed only sensible to get some credit for it and in the process have someone else to look at and comment on the plans. Therefore I have signed up for the Diploma in Permaculture Design which is a self directed course of study in which I have to submit 10 designs for land, house, lifestyle or whatever. I get the support of a tutor to guide me so that I meet the criteria for standard of work. Unfortunately there is no fixed time scale so I can prevaricate to my hearts content! And all those ideas, thoughts, musings have to be transferred from my head to paper in a form which makes sense to someone else. I must be mad! Why do I do these things to myself?!

Now in my dreams all that work would result in a house so easy to manage that I could drift round in dolled up to the nines, nearly tens, whilst the ghost of my mother beamed approvingly. I should explain that the greatest compliment she could pay another housewife (always a wife in those days – men did manly things not housework) was ‘You could eat your dinner off her floors’. Even as a child I wondered how she would react if that was put to the test! And my garden would look like those the National Trust runs – thriving plants, no weeds, tidy paths… Meanwhile my woodshed would be bursting with neatly stacked logs from the acre that was coppiced each year, my car would be valeted after every journey and my outgoings would be minimal because of my reduced energy and water bills, the volume of garden produce and my general thriftiness. Undobtedly only in my dreams!

In the real world 2 dogs and 3 cats help me trail in mud. They rub dirt on the soft furnishings as they pass and leave hairs everywhere. I am convinced that old spiders use this place as cobweb building boot camp for the youngsters and it is ideal for the purpose being old, wonky and full of nooks and crannies. In the garden it is jungle warfare and the jungle always wins. I clear, mulch, plant and before I can get back to the beginning the weeds have gone mad. I have couch grass, nettles, brambles, bindweed, rosebay willowherb and himalayan balsam in abundance and some of the banks between terraces are so steep that working on them is well nigh impossible.

I have given up writing ‘TO DO’ lists – they are too depressing. Partly that is because jobs like housework or gardening tend not to have defined finishing points – however much I have done I could do more or do it again. Instead I write lists of what I have done and often it is quite a lot.

One of my favourite definitions of stress is that it occurs in work when demand outstrips capability. Both those things are ultimately a choice for me. I have no boss telling me what I must accomplish by the end of the day, week or year. I decide what I want to get done and what, realistically, I might be able to manage. I can choose whether or not to give myself a hard time if I fail. And I can choose to say ‘I can’t do that. I don’t have the skill, knowledge, experience..’ or to say ‘I can’t do that YET but I could learn’. It is true that as I get older I tire more quickly and I have less brute strength than I used to. But I also know more, have more experience of doing things or watching others do them, and am more willing to ask for help or advice. One of the advantages of grey hair and wrinkles and going deaf is that people feel good about helping me.

So, yes, I am busy. At the moment I am particularly busy. And, you know what? I am loving it because I CAN be busy and it certainly beats being bored and reduced to watching daytime TV! Next time I grumble about how hectic life is you can remind me of that!

Blessings # 9 – I is for Independence

If there is one thing that this present lockdown has shown us it is that none of us is truly independent. Life alone on a desert island would be awful! I rely on others to provide me with food I cannot produce for myself, on the people who keep the internet running, on the water and electricity companies, and actually I need to be able to chat to others in person or remotely. All that without even thinking about if my house were to go up in flames or I had an accident.

What I would also hate is becoming too dependent. The worst would be losing the right to make choices such as when to get up or go to bed, what to wear, when to have a shower and what to eat. If I choose to write a blog post at 2am because something is going round and round in my head I can (and I have). If I choose to have chocolate cake and whiskey for breakfast who knows let alone cares? (I haven’t yet but I could!) Of course if I was very rich I could, like Mrs Thatcher, go to live in a luxury hotel and employ private nurses to care for me. I guess then I would be able to get my own way. But for most of us the choice is to be cared for by family if they are able and willing to take us in – but that is not always easy to cope with – or to go into a care home which is unlikely to be able to offer much flexibility.

So for now I rejoice in the fact that I can live here on my own. This may not always be the case.

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My bike may not get as much use as it should but so far it has not become a clothes horse!

I cannot protect myself from everything that might ail me but I can do some things. I can cook healthy meals even when cooking for one feels a bit of a chore. I can grow some of my food so that it is really fresh and when I buy ingredients choose local organic ones where possible. I can exercise – walking the dogs for gentle exercise and fresh air, yoga for balance and flexibility, the static bike for cardio and some weights for strength. Apart from dog walking – they don’t allow me to slacken! – I don’t do any of these as often as perhaps I should but I do what I can.

I care for my mental health by keeping in touch with family and friends (see F here) and by setting myself challenges (see C here)

I will shortly be having what is now my utility room / glory hole turned into 2 bedrooms for visitors but I have asked the builder to make the doorways extra wide so that a wheelchair can go through easily and have designated where a lift could go. By turning my studio in the roof space into a living area and having patio doors installed where the old garage doors were I could create a ‘granny annexe’ which would allow me to stay independent as long as possible.

Maybe it’s as well this lockdown means the builder can’t come yet – there is a lot of decluttering to do! The wall to the left of the window is where the old garage doors were.

Blessings # 8 – Home

When we bought this place we were able, by a series of pieces of good luck, to be mortgage free. Neither of us had realised how good that would feel until it happened but I am grateful for it even now. Originally two cottages and a cowshed it had gone derelict and then been bought for a song in the 70’s by one of the many hippies who moved to this area in search of the ‘good life’. With the help of a grant from the council he renovated it but the effect of the pot he smoked and supplied to the builder was evident in the result! Little by little we sorted it out and arranged everything to suit ourselves. I am still tweaking it to work for me now I live here alone. I am not expecting anyone from a glossy magazine to knock on my door wanting to do an article on it anytime soon but it has a roof which keeps the rain out, is warm enough and is comfortable. Visitors seem to find it welcoming and interesting which pleases me. When so many people are homeless or worry about keeping a roof over their heads I know I am truly blessed.

Blessings # 7 – Garden

Sometimes, when I am struggling to keep up with the jobs, or I ache all over from barrowing stuff up the hill I long for a tiny courtyard garden with a few pots and some comfy chairs. Who am I kidding? I would get more and more pots until it was a very productive but rather claustrophobic jungle! I love that my garden has different areas with different characters. And just now it is brilliant to be able to get outside without breaking quarantine. I have enough assorted greens growing to keep me in salads and cooked greens without needing to shop which is a real bonus.

Blessings # 6 – Family and friends

I realised this morning that now I cannot go out I have fallen back into an old routine. For many years my late husband, John, had a severely compromised immune system from all the cancer treatment he had had so we effectively self-isolated all the time. There were trips to the GP surgery and the hospital and a weekly shopping trip where he drove me to the supermarket and waited in the car whilst I whizzed round with my shopping list and then drove me home. Family couldn’t visit because they brought ‘strange’ germs and he always ended up in hospital again. Similarly any of our friends who were not local which was the vast majority. As I indicated in my last post communication was much more difficult and with such restricted lives our conversation was hardly sparkling so gradually most of those friends drifted away.

After he died I was able to have much more contact with my family but distance was still a factor with them and I knew it would take time for relationships to adjust, settle and grow. My grandchildren hardly knew me. I realised that I was very dependent on the kindness of a few very generous neighbours.

So I decided I needed to build a new social life relatively close to home. It sounds cold-blooded put like that but as I was retired and live in a fairly isolated place the world was hardly going to beat a path to my door asking me out to play! I accepted every invitation to go to events. I joined a Welsh class knowing that many of the other students would be people who had moved to the area fairly recently. I found a yoga class, signed up for craft courses, looked for volunteering opportunities…. A lot of these things proved a waste of time either because the activity didn’t appeal or because the people I met were not particularly friendly. But little by little I found places where I felt I belonged and people who welcomed me. If you have been reading this blog for a while you will have met many of them. And those of you who read and comment are forming another circle who I enjoy ‘meeting’ and who extend my horizons.

Looking ahead to my 70th Birthday this summer and how I might celebrate it I became aware of just how many people I would love to invite to share it with me. All plans are, of course, on hold but just knowing that all those connections exist makes me feel truly blessed.

Blessings # 5 – E is for Electronic Communication

When my maternal grandmother died, two months after I was born, my Mother’s older sister took a stack of small change to the nearest telephone kiosk to contact my Mum. There was no phone in my parent’s house but a neighbour who had one had agreed to help. So Peggy dialled 100 for the operater, gave her the neighbours number, and waited to be connected. The neighbour answered and ran to our house, my Mother snatched me up out of my cot and ran back with her to take the call whilst Peggy shoved pennies into the phone to keep the connection and the operater no doubt listened in.

Every Sunday afternoon my parents wrote a letter home as they had done all their adult lives since moving out from their parent’s places. And every week a reply came from one of their siblings. I was 5 or 6 before a phone was installed at our house. After that the letters were replaced with phone calls but carefully timed so they weren’t too expensive.

Subscriber Trunk Dialling so you could make long distance calls without going through an operater, phones with buttons not a mechanical dial, home computers, dial up modems with their sing song tune as they tried to connect, email, cordless phones and car phones the size of a brick, then mobile phones equally pretentious, laptops and tablets, wifi and iPhones…. All that in my lifetime! Now BT is abandoning its telephone kiosks because they get so little use and for many people a landline connection is only used for broadband access.

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Whilst we are all self-isolating my children check up on me every day with Whatsapp and we chat with each other in a 3 way conversation sharing things to raise a smile and commiserating over the frustrations. My daughter emails me drafts of her Open University essays for me to comment on. Friends keep in touch by email, whatsapp and facebook. I read blogs from around the world, see how life is lived in far flung places, get inspiration from the projects others share. Thanks to wifi most of those phone sockets we installed so we could plug the laptop modem in in any room in the house, are redundant. I could write a blog post sitting in the garden! If I had a mobile signal here I would have even more options.

I realise that being constantly available is not always a good thing. Employers can abuse staff by expecting them to work outside their contracted hours. Social media can be used to spread lies or to bully. But I for one would find this isolation a lot harder without being able to reach out and make contact with people instantly and easily – all you lovely people who read my blog and whose blogs I follow included!

Blessings # 4 – D is for Dogs

As a child pets didn’t figure large in my life. As far as I can remember none of the neighbours had any and most of the time neither did we.

My parents did get a kitten when I was quite small. My Dad picked it out of a litter belonging to someone he knew and he went for the liveliest. It turned out to be a long haired Tom with no sense of loyalty to his owners and a predeliction for fighting. He would return periodically, torn and bleeding and with his fur a mass of tangles. Dad would cart him off to the vet to be stitched up and get a telling of for the atate of the cat’s coat as well as a large bill. My parents would then try to groom him – a process which involved heavy leather gauntlets and a lot of unseemly language from all three parties. Within the year the trip to the vets proved to be one way.

When I was 10 and passed the 11+ to get into grammar school my reward was a budgie. As Dad and I were at our respective schools all day but Mum was home she really enjoyed the bird’s company and it soon transpired that, in the reverse of what often happens, I had the job of feeding it and cleaning out the cage every weekend but she was the one it flew to when allowed out of its cage in the evenings.

When we married John was very keen to have a dog and as soon as I stopped work we got a collie pup off a neighbouring farm. Since the we have always had a dog and all of them were collies or collie crosses. By the time John died our then dog was very old and a totter to the nearest piece of grass for a pee was as much as he could manage. The rest of the time he slept. Eventually I decided I would benefit from having a dog that got me out for walks and would generally be a bit more interesting. I found Orchid in a local rescue centre. Terrified of everyone and everything, she had her tail clamped so far up under her belly it was hard to see it. She is still nervy and cautious around other people but her tail wags and she has even started barking!

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However it was obvious that she had no clue how to play or generally how to be a dog so I decided to get a puppy to teach her. The rescue people had no pups available nor any pregnant dog in their care but a Facebook friend shared a post from someone who had some puppies for sale. A working Kelpie mother and a collie father so probably good stock, and brown not black and white like all our previous dogs. I went to see them and the inevitable happened. I came away having put my name on a little bitch. My daughter suggested she be called Roo after the character in Winnie the Pooh. My nickname at work had been Tigger and who did Tigger play with? Plus she is half Australian.

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My dogs make me get up in the morning, I have to go for walks whatever the weather, they keep me company and listen to my stories and conversation with interest and never interrupt. I love my three cats too but a life without dogs would be sad indeed.

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Sally was the only cat I could take a photo of this morning. Daz and Connor will tell me they were out terorising the local rodent population ut I suspect they will have been curled up in a greenhouse in the sun flattening any seedlings which have come up!

Blessing # 3 – C is for Challenges

I have a low boredom threshold! To keep doing the same things in the same way drives me nuts! It is why I have accumulated so many hobbies and activities and am having to reluctantly admit I can’t do them all. But still I need new challenges.

Sometimes the challenge is to learn a new skill or extend an old one. A month ago I found a book of knitting patterns in the library – Viking knits & Ancient Ornaments by Elsebeth Lavold. She describes a whole series of interlocking designs, gives patterns for the motifs and some very elegant garments with the motifs on them. I am a sucker for celtic knots so I borrowed the book. The yarns she suggests are not ones I can source locally and before I could go into the wool shop in Cardigan market and find an equivalent we were all told to stay home. But I was itching to see if I could cope with some new techniques and keep track of a complex sequence of cables so I picked one of the motifs and knitted a cushion cover using yarn I already had. I finished the knitting last night but have not had time yet to stitch it up. I was going to make buttonholes in the back to allow me to take it off for washing – the cats drop hairs all over my cushions so they need regular washing – but dedided to make some loops on the edge instead using a technique I adapted from the hair of the glove puppets I have been working on. read about them here if you missed them

Sometimes it is a bigger or longer one like working for the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. I have to write up and submit ten designs I have done. In my case these are all about designing my life so that I can live as well as possible into advanced old age. The designing is great fun but the writing it all up with detailed explanations of the choices I made is proving very tedious! Why am I doing it? It has no practical use to me since there is nothing I want to do which requires me to have it. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could, that my designing skills were good enough, my understanding of Permaculture was deep enough. And now I am too stubborn to give up! My amazing, wonderful daughter found this poster to sum it all up for me and it will form the cover of my portfolio.

diploma cover quote