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!

Scrap Happy November

I spent a lovely few days with my Daughter earlier this month. She works in a school as a Learning Support Assistant supporting children with complex needs one-to-one so that they can access mainstream school. This year she is working in the reception class with a little boy who is 4 years old but has the developmental age of less than 1 year – still in nappies, unable to use language and with a very short attention span. I am so proud of her and the progress she is helping him make! At the same time she has started on an Open University course to complete the degree she started on locally part time, but never finished because the last modules were aimed at wannabe teachers and that is not where she wants her career to go. She needed somewhere to study and to make her bedroom a more pleasant space. It was furnished with the things no-one else wanted, had an old single bed which was not very comfortable and was full of stuff from her days as a childminder which she had kept ‘just in case’.

So at the start of half-term I went over to help her turn her room into a place where she could study, read, write and where she would want to be rather than feeling banished! We had a good clear-out first and shared the spoils around several charity shops! Some of the furniture went to a friend of hers who has an up-cycling business and within 48 hours an old coffee table had been repaired, painted and was in her on-line shop (no that is not my scrap-happy, just my delight that a scruffy piece that was of no use to my daughter found a bit of TLC and will go to a new home).

We decided not to repaint the walls but she used tester pots of paint to create a mural in one corner – you can just see the end of it in the picture below. My son suggested that an ottoman bed would be somewhere to store all the toys she felt she wanted to keep (she uses a lot in her job since often the school budget will not stretch to buying special items). With new curtains and bedding, a second hand bureau from the charity shop the room was taking shape nicely.

What it needed were some cushions to make the bed more inviting. We had seen lots of ‘OK-ish’ ones when we were hunting bedding but decided it was time to get creative. Two old jumpers, one grey and one mustardy yellow made 2 square covers for which we did have to buy new pads (all the old cushions were polyester filled and had gone very flat). But what was needed was more texture and a cover for a rectangular pad that was fine. Then a rummage in the deep cupboard over the stairs to make room to store the old single duvet brought a muffled cry of ‘Eureka!’ And out came an old bathmat. A splash of bleach had given it a few white strands which were hardly noticeable. But of course my daughter knew they were there and so every time she used it that is what she saw – and started kicking herself again for being careless. Folded in half it was just the right size and the white threads could be at the back out of sight. So whilst she made supper I hand stitched the cover together (it was too thick and tightly woven for the machine) and voila! One very textural cushion in just the right shade!

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at). If you’ve copied this list from previous posts, please use the one below as it’s the most up to date 🙂

Kate (me!), Gun, Titti, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline and Sue L.

A blooming lovely day

When you have spent every penny you can lay your hands on buying 30 odd acres of land in Pembrokeshire what do you do to start making a living from it as soon as possible? That was the dilemma facing Linda and Steve when they put in a sealed bid at auction on part of the old Picton Castle Estate and found, somewhat to their surprise, that they had been successful. Half was woodland which needed taking back into management and half was pasture but there were no buildings so not only could they not live on site, they could not keep livestock easily either.

The answer they came up with was flowers. Linda had trained as a landscape architect and grower and Steve had toured as a musician teaching himself photography as he traveled the world. Both were good at using social media to promote their work. Flowers can be grown in a single year, need regular attention but not live-in care, and arranging them, which Linda is very good at, adds value. With Steve’s photographic skills to showcase the results they had the skill set they needed to make a success of the enterprise.

See more wonderful pictures on their website here

The obvious place to site a flower garden was near the hard-standing where the access track ends. But this was a bit exposed for growing. So using poles and brash from the woods they built a ‘dead hedge’; posts driven into the ground at intervals and twiggy branches roughly woven through them. That gave shelter in the short term but will slowly rot away. So either side of the ‘dead’ hedge they planted a live one. Over time the rotting wood will be replaced by the living which it will feed as it goes. The double row will make it strong and dense and if any of the shrubs fail there will not be a gap. Even the gates are works of art!

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Inside this boundary are a polytunnel for propagating plants and to grow a few more delicate blooms and houses and runs for chickens, ducks and guinea fowl which are allowed out to keep slugs and other pests under control.

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Weddings have proved to be the biggest part of the business. Sometimes Linda is asked to do all the arrangements and bouquets, sometimes just the trickiest bits with the families buying buckets of flowers and doing the simpler stuff themselves. The couple now have a barn designed to keep flowers cool and fresh until they can be arranged and delivered and with space to dry some for winter use. And of course it provides somewhere to store all the paraphernalia Linda needs to make her designs. These days much of the business comes from one bride recommending her to another.

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And the rest of the land? Well there is a young orchard where we helped fill ‘eyelid’ swales to help the trees keep their roots moist in dry summers. I had come across the idea of swales before. They are ditches dug almost but not quite level to collect water and channel it around the site very slowly preventing it running off before plants have a chance to use it. In drier areas of the world they make the difference between being able to grow things and not. Here in West Wales where rainfall is high, the problem is more often how to get rid of water quickly without it scouring the land! However Steve and Linda had noticed that some of their land, including the orchard, drained quickly and decided that digging a short ditch uphill from each tree and filling it with large logs then smaller brash and topping it with turf would provide a ‘sponge’ that would hold water. A sort or personalised drinking trough! As the logs rot away they will feed the trees just as the dead hedge will feed the live one and when the fruit trees are well established they should be able to fend for themselves more.

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A stand of Sweet chestnut trees has been planted and each year Steve brings another section of the old woodland into management. He has just learnt how to make charcoal in on old-fashioned kiln to make good use of the wood he is extracting. Unmanaged woodland rarely yields wood suitable for milling into planks and firewood is so much work to cut, chop and deliver that it makes little profit so charcoal is a better option.

The pasture is allowed to grow long and then cut for hay by a farming neighbour. He beds his sheep on it in the lambing sheds then returns it, nicely enriched with sheep dung, to be composted along with garden waste and chipped brash. The huge heaps are turned with a small JCB! Once worked most goes onto the flower beds to grow the next crop but some is diverted to a pumpkin patch where Halloween lanterns were ripening nicely when I visited!

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At present Steve and Linda live in nearby Haverforwest with Linda’s young grandson who was orphaned when her daughter died tragically young. They hope to get planning permission soon to build a new home on their own land to reduce their travelling and to make charcoal burning easier – the kiln takes all day to load and then needs to be monitored closely overnight. Steve has already given a great deal of thought to the best way to design and construct it so that it is both beautiful and efficient to run!

The woodland Farm is a fantastic example of how using the principles of Permaculture it is possible to create a thriving business and make a decent livelihood from an unpromising piece of land whilst at the same time creating a haven for wildlife.

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Scrap Happy October

Last winter I knitted quite a few pairs of socks and for each I bought a ball of yarn. But each pair uses less than a ball so I had a basket full of 4 ply yarn in various colours. It sat there looking at me reproachfully! But what to do with them?

The first chilly morning of the autumn came a week or two ago and when I put on my coat to walk the dogs after breakfast I decided it was time to get my gloves out. One pair was in holes and when we got back home the other was soaking wet because it had started to rain. I really need two pairs each winter so that I always have a dry pair. Inspiration!

The pattern I used last time was for DK yarn but looking through my books I found this one I bought second hand at a craft fair a few years ago.

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And in it a pattern for gloves in 4 ply with a fair isle pattern. It is such an old book the pictures are all in black and white!

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Unfortunately for me the pattern said to buy one ball of the background colour and one each of the pattern shades. Clearly it did not takes several balls of yarn to make one pair of gloves! But there I was with an unknown quantity of yarn in each left over ball and an unknown quantity required for the gloves. Hmmm!

Putting different balls side by side I decided to use some plain purple for the unpatterned parts and some self striping blue for the area where the fair isle should go. I rather like the result.

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I still had yarn left over on each ball and would probably have had enough of just one but I think the contrast works rather well. Now I just have to decide whether to make more gloves or find another use for the rest of the yarn. Mrs Snail’s granny squares look nice so maybe….

Where did it go?

Did you notice I had not blogged for a while? Did you fantasise that I was soaking up the sun somewhere exotic? On a retreat where all access to the outside world was banned? Nope! Nothing so exciting or unusual. Just busy. You know what I mean – one minute it was early July and then the next it is October!

So where did Summer go? I actually had to check my diary!

There have been visits. I went to stay with my daughter for a weekend so we could go to IKEA for inspiration. I want to turn the old utility room into spare bedrooms. It was originally the garage so is big enough to attract a lot of ‘might come in useful one day’ clutter. 18 months ago I had a new shed built on an existing concrete slab to make a replacement utility space and am waiting for a local builder to come and fit it out for me. Meanwhile I am going through the old one getting rid of things – there is space on the shelves no as you can see in the picture! – and will eventually turn it into 2 spare bedrooms. I wanted to see what ideas I could pick up and knew that IKEA has a reputation for clever small space solutions. The nearest to here is Cardiff which is a long haul so I decided to visit my daughter and go with her to the one in Reading. To make it more of an adventure we got the bus into Basingstoke, the train to Reading and then another bus right to the door of IKEA. No navigating, no parking, we were able to look out of the windows and enjoy the journey whilst chatting as much as we liked.

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My son brought his 3 young foster children so there was an excuse to go to the beach and picnic in his camper van. And we went to a friend’s smallholding to pick damsons and see the animals. No pictures because as looked after children I am not allowed to publish their pictures.

My daughter came to stay and we visited another smallholding where I had a go at milking a goat. A bad idea that – now I want one!

And of course there were meals with friends – at their homes, in cafes and here. The deck really came into its own this summer.

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The utility room is not the only space to be de-cluttered. I am on a roll here. The house has been purged and now needs decorating (if only to get rid of the marks where I have taken down shelves!)The workshop is next.

There have been visits with the Permaculture networks which will get posts of their own in the next few weeks. And a lot happening at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust which I will also write about separately.

I went on a course at Stiwdio 3 in Cardigan (find out more here) to learn how to make a pair of espadrilles with the lovely Nia Denman and had a fantastic day. C & M Organics held another market – just one this year – where I spent more than I should have but got some really good plants as well as food. The Golden Thread Theater Company, normally based in Cardiff put on a performance at the Small World Theater in Cardigan which was a fascinating evening. They invite members of the audience to share very short stories of moments in their lives which the players then turn into improvised performances. The theme of the evening was ‘belonging’ which resulted in a huge range of stories and emotions. (you can find them on facebook)

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In between all those things I have tended the garden, continued to write up my Permaculture Diploma and foraged for blackberries, elderberries and sloes which I have bottled and made into jam. Now the weather has turned wet and windy, the nights are drawing in and hopefully I can get back to blogging.

Scrap Happy August – a gate

It was too wet to work outside and I was struggling to think of something useful for Rob to do under cover when it occurred to me to offer to teach him how to make things out of green wood by us making a gate together. The one to the veg patch was an old one made out of slate lath and whilst it did the job it was not as beautiful or interesting as I wanted it to be.

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When we cut firewood last winter we had stacked some straight logs on the North side of the greenhouse where they would stay cool and slightly damp as material for just such a project.

We selected some pieces that would give us the right lengths and split them with the fro. Half rounds for the frame and eighths for the slats. (And yes the fro is the origin of ‘to and fro’)

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The side axe cleaned them all up a bit and roughly shaped the tenons on each end of the top and bottom rails. More detailed shaping was done with the drawknife on the shave horse.

The only powered tool we used was an electric drill to cut 2 holes for each mortice in the side uprights (which were then chiselled out to make oval holes) and pilot holes for the nails that hold the slats in place. I have since bought an augur bit for cutting the mortices by hand. The skill is in cutting the joints so they all go together smoothly even though the wood is curved and twisted!

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By the end of the day it was all put together. The only money spent was on a pair of new hinges. Not a bad result for a load of firewood!

Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and we all share our projects on the 15th of the month. You can see all the posts by using these links.

Kate, Gun, Titti, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline and Sue L (me!)

Scrap Happy July

Or how to be inspired by some-one else’s rubbish!

My neighbour has been doing a lot of work on his house and a large pile of rubble built up on his driveway. Some was taken by builders working on an extension to another house nearby which had to be built up over a slope so they dumped it under the floor. Someone else wanted some to put in a field gate that was very muddy but they never came for it. So most of it just sat there.

Meanwhile I was fed up with the area between the garden around the conservatory and the slope down to the lower garden. It is full of bindweed which makes walking from the deck to the workshop and woodshed hazardous. I found myself detouring through the garden and greenhouse to a better path. Plus the bindweed jumped the timber edge (or tunneled under it) and came up to strangle my plants. I scythed it down but what I needed was a hard path to give it some serious discouragement.

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Brainwave!

I got Rob (who lives in the cabin and works 2 days in place of rent) on the job. First we needed something to contain the rubble. Many years ago John and I bought some heavy lengths of treated timber to build raised beds and there were a few left over. One was still in the car-port. To hold it in place he used some fence pins put aside because they were bent which he cut up into shorter straight pieces. Then I found 2 rolls of mulch fabric in the garden shed which were more than enough to cover the space and be stapled to the sides.

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The next day we scoured the garden for abandoned concrete blocks left over from other projects. There were two stacks on the veg patch smothered in ivy, a few beside the path through the fruit garden, another stack in the old pig sty and several others dotted around the car port and drive area. Those we laid to make the main path. (There are still a few left in the pig sty in case another scrappy project comes along!) Then we filled in with rubble barrowed down from the neighbour’s heap.

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When (When..) we get some rain it will all settle but we did not use all the rubble so we can top it up. And when it finishes settling I will buy (yes, sorry, buy) some sand or gravel to finish the job neatly.

So not quite a totally scrappy job but almost!

Scrap Happy is curated by Kate who blogs as ‘Tall tales from Chiconia’. You can find her and links to all the other happy scrappers here

Tick Tock

Time has been much on my mind lately.

Yet again there is not enough of it for me to do everything I want to do. And not, it seems, only for me; almost every blog I have read lately has started with an apology for not having posted much lately. But when I think about what I have achieved over the last month or two it suggests I have not been that much of a slouch! The garden is very green (even if a lot of the growth is weeds) and I am eating something from it every day. I have visited and had visitors, been to events, written up more of my diploma… I just haven’t done as much as I hoped and intended.

When I am waiting for a bus / train / appointment time drags very slowly. When I am trying-to-get-everything-done-by.. it races past. Which is odd because according to science each second is exactly the same length as every other. According to the National Physical Laboratory ‘The second is defined by taking the fixed numerical value of the caesium frequency ∆ν, the unperturbed ground-state hyperfine transition frequency of the caesium 133 atom, to be 9 192 631 770 when expressed in the unit Hz, which is equal to s−1. The wording of the definition was updated in 2019.’ I am not sure why that definition was chosen or how they know, but it sounds impressive and they seem pretty sure it ensures that seconds cannot wriggle around and change their length! But I am equally sure that they do in the real, lived world!

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I love clocks, preferably ones which tick and chime although with my deteriorating hearing I notice them less. My favourite is the grandfather clock I inherited from my mother’s oldest sister and which passes from woman to woman through the family. My aunt was childless hence it coming to me. In due course it will go to my daughter and then to her daughter. There is only one place in the living room where it can go because it is tall and the ceiling, though undulating, is low. For telling the time it is hopeless! It runs for eight days between re-windings, though I try to do it every Sunday so I remember, and is usually at least an hour wrong by then. When we first got it we decided that since it was not reliable for knowing the time we would set it to local time which here is 18 minutes behind GMT and we pay no attention to British Summer Time. However this summer, as last, it refuses to go at all. This old house moves as the temperature and rainfall cycle through the year and at the moment doors are sticking and the old clock has stopped. In the autumn I will find it will go again. It clearly lives in its own little world where seconds are constantly changing in length.

Then there is the face of the old Postman’s Alarm clock which stopped working and no-one could get to go again. The chains and weights needed such a long drop that it was very hard to find somewhere to hang it. I replaced the old mechanism with a battery one and it now lives in the porch.

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The one on the oven returns to noon whenever we have a power cut however momentary. It is often the only way I know there was one. If that happens the oven refuses to come on until the clock has been reset. Why? Why does it have to know the the time to be able to get hot?

The laptop, tablet and my mobile phone also have accurate clocks, updated by their internet connections and no doubt accurate to the fraction of a second – but only useful when they are switched on!

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I have other reliable clocks for knowing when I need to go out or expect visitors. They are battery operated and radio controlled. The packaging on one boasted it was accurate to ‘one second in a thousand years’ though I doubt if anyone will be able to hold them to that. Nor do I understand why any ordinary person would require that degree of accuracy.

Apart from when I need to be somewhere at a particular time most of my life is lived by approximate time. I get up when I wake and go to bed when I am tired. I eat when my internal clock tells me I should. In winter days are short and evenings long. In summer it is the reverse. The transition between the two is gradual – none of this disconcerting springing forward and falling back. So presumably the time will come when life is more leisurely and blog posts more frequent. You can decide for yourselves if that is a threat or a promise!

Now my highly accurate internal clock is saying it is time for a cup of tea so that is what I will do next.