Hope

I tried to write this post yesterday but WordPress would not upload my photos for some reason. However today I woke to snow so you get pictures of that as well!

I was listening to a podcast of BBC Radio 4’s Open Country in which an enthusiast for snowdrops – a galanthophile if we are being posh! – explained that in the Victorian language of flowers they stood for Hope and were therefore often planted in Churchyards. More mundanely they were also frequently planted alomng the edge of the path to the privy to help find the way in the dark!

The first ones are just coming into bloom in my garden. I don’t know how long they have been here but they were well established when we arrived in 1994. Despite all the work we have done shifting things around they survive. These are on the steep bank behind the Metasequoia at the entrance.

Daffodils will not be far behind. There are some very old ones from before our time here but these are ones I planted so a modern variety and an early one. I bought a mixed sack so I have no idea what variety any particular plant is!

As I was walking round taking these photos with the dogs I spotted an icicle on the old Oak tree in the wild part of the garden

Then yesterday afternoon we had a sprinkling of snow and overnight a good fall. It made this morning’s walk magical.

This board was propped against one of the compost bins and the snow formed an amazing texture which I just had to capture as inspiration for a future project

I now consider myself snowed in as the road was still icy yesterday afternoon and now with snow on top I won’t be able to see where I might slip. I don’t want another broken wrist! Or to crash the car. I actually like being snowed in! I always keep good stocks of food in the pantry and freezer and the woodshed is well filled so I can sit it out.

Little thing # 2

I have been making an effort to continue noticing the little things which make me smile and to share them with you all.

Some of you may remember that whilst I have been unable to go out so much I have been knitting chilldren’s jumpers for the collection at Studio 3 in Cardigan. Their original goal had been to send 2020 to an organisation working with refugees who had reached Greece and were now unable to move on to other parts of Europe. Last Friday I delivered the latest one and by chance Eileen, who’s brainchild it was, was in the shop. She told me that they passed the 2020 target some time ago and sent them off. After that they decided any more would be sent to charities in Wales working with families in poverty and particularly those using the many food banks. They have now collected over a thousand for Wales and more are still being donated. The charities will add them to the parcels of gifts put together for families who otherwise would have none. I only played a small part – 5 jumpers in all – but I felt proud to have helped and proud of my community for rising to the challenge and some. A real win-win. AND I met my friend Rachel to have lunch in the cafe there – delicious food and a chance to catch up with a lovely friend. A very smiley day!

My latest gift jumper

In the garden I can see crocuses and miniature daffodils beginning to emerge in pots near the house.

On the wall of the cabin a winter flowering jasmine is in full bloom. Last year it was still fairly new and only had a few flowers but it has obviously settled in.

Piling manure onto one of the raised beds I spotted a potato. I haven’t grown any for a couple of years but the ones I missed when I harvested the last lot keep coming up. I scrabbled around and by the time I had been through all the bed I had a basket full of International Kidney spuds (Jersey Royals but they can only be called that if grown on the island of Jersey!) They are a waxy salad potato so not good for mash or roast but lovely in potato salad or stews because they keep their shape.

My cooking has had a boost recently. My last lot of books from the library included 2 by Jack Monroe, a woman who found herself living in extreme poverty and blogged about how she was managing to feed herself and her small son on very little money and the generosity of the food bank. The upshot was a book deal which lifted her our of poverty but she still campaigns tirelessly for the organisations she once relied upon. I am comfortably off and an experienced cook but her simple, cheap recipes have jolted me out of a rut.

I have been making crafty things and will blog about them later but for now they are secret in case the recipients see them here first! However I can tell you that I get a lot of help from my feline friends who never fail to make me smile – how’s this for a cuddle of cats? At least they were next to me rather than on my lap which makes sewing or knitting difficult! The bony elbow top left is Orchid who also occupies the sofa.

Lastly I read a post by Cathy which I particularly enjoyed and set me thinking about how I could include more cheery-uppy things in my life. You can read it at https://nanacathydotcom.wordpress.com/2020/11/26/touchstones/

Retreating

When I was working (many moons ago!) one of my colleagues told me that she went on retreat in a local convent two or three times a year. I was intrigued and she tried to explain to me what it was she found so useful from the experience. I kind of understood intellectually but struggled to imagine how it might feel.

Walking the dogs this morning I started to connect my experience of lockdown (which is still pretty much in force here in Wales) with going on retreat. I haven’t followed the horarium of a monastic day but a rhythm has developed which includes work (housework, gardening, decorating, time in the workshop); socialising via the internet; reading; and times to be quiet (yoga, dog walks and crafting in the evening). I have been less secluded from the world than on a retreat but because I live alone apart from my pets there has been a lot of silence. My dogs ensure I go out for walks, my cats give me cuddles and they all entertain me, but great conversationalists they aren’t! So I have spent more time alone with my thoughts and have had fewer means of distracting myself than usual. No longer can I find something to justify a quick trip to the shops or arrange to meet a friend for coffee.

In the early weeks it was fine. I did what I always do and kept busy. I had already planned to do some decorating and bought the paint. There were seeds to sow, veg beds to clear and planting out to do. The weather was glorious. My head was full of lists, plans and ideas. I finished my library books. I noticed that I then chose old favourites to read. Books of short chapters with gentle, amusing tales – Deric Longden and his cats, Jeanine McMullen and her small country living, Peter Mayle in Provence. I needed to be occupied but couldn’t settle to anything demanding. Knitting simple jumpers for charity was fine, complex patterns were beyond me.

Then matters in my daughter’s marriage came to a head and she decided she needed to get out whatever the long term consequences. She has the support of an amazing group of friends who helped her find a house to rent and enough furniture and equipment to live in it in reasonable comfort as well as giving her emotional support and encouragement. Apart from being one of the guarantors that her rent will be paid despite her low income, there was nothing for me to do practically. But emotionally my head was full to the brim! It was weird being unable to follow my instinct and rush to her aid. She was coping well, had all the support and help she needed and I would have been putting myself at risk for no good reason. I could commiserate, encourage and send love by Whatsapp from the safety of home. A hard but excellent lesson in sitting on my hands!

Rumbling in the background has been concern for my son’s brother in law who has been in intensive care on a ventilator and a lung machine since early April with Covid 19. It began to seem that whilst he could technically be kept alive indefinitely the decision might have to be taken to let him die. This weekend he finally improved, was brought out of his induced coma and is being taken off the machines.

Now that the dramas are easing my mood is shifting again. There are still projects I want to do and I find myself almost hoping restrictions aren’t eased too much too soon – not just because of concerns about a ‘second wave’ but because I don’t want to be faced with responsibility for making choices about how much time I spend on my own here getting on with things and how much I go out and about or entertain visitors. I have been surprised how much I have got done when there are no distractions. I have quite enjoyed the solitude. Yesterday I picked up a book on garden design I planned to re-read back in March and a philosophy book the librarian picked out for me on my last visit, also in March. Both had lain on the chest in the sitting room untouched, reproaching me for my laziness. Once I started on them I found I was enjoying them both. The garden one requires me to stop and think about applying the ideas and the philosophy one needs digesting so I read a little bit of each in turn!

I am lucky. I have a loving family, good friends, kind neighbours, a comfortable home, a garden I enjoy, a secure income which is enough for my needs. Even so I have found lockdown hard at times. There have been times of loneliness, worry, frustration. I have learned things about myself. Some have been good things; my resilience and ability to pick myself up when I am feeling down, my ability to cope with extended solitude. Others less so; my need to be always busy, my impatience, my bossiness. And some are just interesting; how much I have to learn about gardening, how my reading choices changed.

I am looking forward to being able to see friends again, to have a hug, to go to the library, to shop for things I want to see and feel before I buy. But I am also grateful for the experience of confinement. I have had no temptation to do an online search for retreat houses (of whatever religious persuasion) but I am beginning to understand better why some people do.

Magnificent May

I decided it was time to take a walk around my garden and enjoy it instead of just working in it!

Along the roadside the wild cow parsley is doing an excellent job of hiding the taty remains of the daffodils.

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Outside the conservatory a pot of aquilegia is flowering

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On the way up the hill to the veg patch I pass a rhododendron

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At the top is a copper beech tree. As a child living on the edge of Manchester we would often go into Heaton Park where there was a huge copper beech which I loved. So we planted one here.

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In the greenhouse most of the apricots I so lovingly fertilised with a brush fell off! But the peaches are hanging on so here’s hoping.

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In another part of the greenhouse nasturtiums overwintered and are flowering again. I love them for their beauty but also eat the leaves and flowers in salads

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In the veg beds I couldn’t bear to pull up these forget-me-nots and the peas don’t seeem to mind!

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This apple tree is extra special because I grafted it myself. (The less said about the others which didn’t take the better!)

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If I carry on into the woods the bluebells are flowering.

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I am so lucky to have all this.

Lessons from Lockdown

When our children were babies my husband worked for a while as an Audit Assistant with the local Council. It was a small Council and Audit got various jobs that didn’t really belong to any department or took up slack when other departments were unusually busy. One day he was asked to review the insurance for all the Council vehicles before it was renewed. ‘Just think of the worst accident you can imagine and make sure we would be OK’ was the instruction from his boss. His scenario involved a bin lorry, failed brakes, a steep hill between busy shops and with the Council Offices at the bottom.

More importantly it made him think about our lives. What could go wrong? What would the consequences be? Did we have the ‘insurance’ to cope? From then on he was known for his ‘belt, braces and a bit of baler twine just in case’ approach. That seemingly trivial task at work became a foundation stone for our lives. We didn’t become fearful or paranoid, just determined to think about our resilience and try always to have plan ‘B’.

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Soft fruit gives a lot of yield for little effort

We agreed that we would try to accumulate useful practical skills going as far back down the process as possible and to do so using only the most basic equipment. I knew how to sew but learned how to mend, do patchwork using recycled fabric, sew by hand as well as machine, relearned how to knit and crochet, then to spin and to dye using natural ingredients (I am not very good at either but know enough that I could become competent). John added DIY and building to his ‘O’level woodwork then did a weekend course in blacksmithing. We learned to garden and to cook with what was available rather than starting with a recipe and buying the ingredients. Foraging increased the range of foodstuffs we could use. Preserving kept summer foods for winter use. We kept poultry and pigs for meat and eggs.

The spinning wheel I have been lent and the workshop

I hope I am not giving the impression that I live (or have lived) some buccolic idyll of self sufficiency. Complete self sufficiency is a myth. It is also part of the ‘I’m all right Jack’ bunker mentality of the survivalists. I happily accept gifts from neighbours, shop from local farms and buy staples like flour and sugar from the supermarket. I enjoy eating bananas and lemons that will not grow in the UK. I heat my home predominantly with electricity and since heat is needed mainly when the sun is not shining I need the National grid to take surplus power when I have it and sell me some when I need it. I use more than I generate so I am dependent on other suppliers particularly over winter. I prefer to use hand tools but am realistic about the efficiency of powered ones. And so on.


Allowing kales to self seed looks messy but gives me an early crop for no work. Small ones for salad and big ones to cook.

The last few weeks has been the first big test of that resilience for a long time. I have coped pretty well. Not pefectly so there are things I need to think about but on the whole well enough. I am of course lucky to be retired – my income is not dependent on me being able to work. I don’t have young children to care for and school or entertain. Having a mortgage free home in the country with a large garden has been a great blessing and is partly down to luck and partly to hard work and choices. Food in the garden, hedgerows to forage in, preserves and a well stocked freezer mean I have had plenty to eat and gardening, crafting, dogs and a home to look after have given me plenty to do.


Workdays and permaculture groups have made me lots of friends

Getting to know my neighbours, building a wider community by joining in things and volunteering means I have had plenty of offers of help with things like shopping and lots of electronic contact with others. My washing machine stopped working with a smell of hot rubber and some expensive noises just after lockdown started. I could have ordered a new one online for home delivery but I suspect it can be repaired and I know a very competent man who will come and look at it – but not at the moment. My neighbour has been doing my washing each week since and has been pleased to help me since she was becoming embarassed about asking me to drive her children to clubs when she had two of them needing to go in opposite directions at the same time. Of course I have missed being able to go out and meet friends for coffee, walks on the beach, visitors coming here, workdays… but I haven’t been lonely or felt vulnerable.

So where could I do better? I didn’t have enough pet food to see me through even the original 3 week lockdown. I buy dog and cat food in sacks from the farmers co-op but in future I need to have an unopened sack of each as well as the one I am using. That means I also need to make sure there is space for them in the new utility room. I can adjust my diet to suit what is growing but it is harder to do that for the animals! I also went to the vets and got some more of the pain relief medicine Orchid needs. I was a bit over cautious there as the bottle will finally run out tomorrow but even so I need to keep a better supply in future.


C&M have closed the trust shop but between 10am and 2pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday they are open to take orders called through the window. They put everything requested together in a box which is put outside the door for the customer to pick up.

I have been going to C&M for fresh fruit and veg, butter and cheese. I decided a few years ago that potatoes, onions and carrots were not worth growing. Potatoes because I always miss some when I dig them up and get ‘volunteers’ the next year which outcompete the things I am trying to grow, onions because they came out the same size as the sets that went in and carrots because the local carrot root flies get them all. This year I have been able to get some manure to improve my veg patch and am planting lots of leeks instead of onions. I had intended growing some potatoes in pots which I could empty completely when I harvested them but missed the seed potatoes. Butter and cheese I can start keeping in the freezer. So I just need to tweak my growing and storing. On the other hand by shopping there I have been supporting a local business – a balance to be struck.


preserves have been a boon

The other thing I have needed to buy is milk. I have been thinking about that gap for a while and had a go at milking a goat at a friend’s place a while back. Going back into livestock isn’t something to do on a whim or for an unusual event but I do need to have another think.

Of course if this goes on for much longer I will run out of other things, there will be other breakages and breakdowns. My hair needs cutting and since I had it cut short I no longer have slides and clips to keep it out of my eyes. A dental appointment has been postponed. A former neighbour died and I was unable to go to the funeral – it should have been a ‘standing room only’ affair but must have been very small instead – not a fitting send-off for a very popular and respected man.

Sometime fairly soon lockdown will be eased if not lifted and I will be very glad. I will enjoy a trip into Cardigan to have a coffee, meet friends, go to the library, buy some more knitting yarn and restock at the supermarket. I will get my hair cut, my tooth filled and my washing machine repaired. But I owe a huge debt of gratitude to that imaginary bin lorry!

Blessings # 26 – Z is for zero

Zero is the Johnny-come-lately of the number world. If you are a farmer counting your sheep or cows and can’t see any you are too panicked because they have all strayed to wory about how to write down ‘none’! It was merchants and beuraucrats who had to devise it. Originally you would have written a hundred and three as 1 3 with a space for ‘no tens’. But unless you were very carful it could easily look like 13. It is why we give small children squared paper for arithmetic (and sometimes I think I should have some too!) So people started drawing a space and 0 was born. giving 103 which is much clearer.

During my Maths degree I would look at a problem set for homework, get as far as I could from the beginning and get stuck; work back from the end and get stuck; then go to bed. By morning I usually had a line of the equation which was not obviously connected but by setting it as a ‘waypoint’ I would be able to find the whole solution. Then when my children were babies we had cork tiles throughout the ground floor of our tiny Victoran terraced cottage. If I was worrying about something I would get down on my hands and knees and polish them. John would come in and slip and slither to the back door then say ‘OK so what was the problem and what is the answer?’! I don’t have Maths problems now or cork tiles but the principle remains.

In X is for Xmas and other festivals (read it here if you missed it) I explained that I value having points in the year when I stop and step out of the routine to take stock, celebrate and have fun.

In the same way I need to do that during the day. As Rose would say ‘And breathe!’ But I find it incredibly hard to do nothing. My mind races with lists and reminders; I get up muttering ‘Ill just…’ I have tried to learn to meditate and I am getting better but it certainly doesn’t come naturally! Instead I need things which keep my body and the moment by moment part of my brain active so that the deeper parts can get on with processing what has been going on and fiddle around looking for solutions.

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First thing in the morning I make myself a cup of tea using the kettle by my bed and sit enjoying the warmth of the duvet, the comfort of my pillows and allow myself to think about the day ahead. At that stage I can do it without the length of the ‘to do’ list snapping at my heels because I have all day to do it in (and I always fantasise that I will be able to do far more than I ever actually can) and none of the interruptions and unexpecteds have happened yet.

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My walk with the dogs is when bigger problems or decisions get their chance. Yes, I am noticing the scenery around me paying attention to what the dogs are doing but they are on their leads so I don’t have to watch them really closely. Just putting one foot in front of the other is enough to create ‘mulling’ space.

In the evenings I knit, sew or crochet. Often I listen to a radio podcast but sometmes I get to the end of the evening and realise that I haven’t played anything. Of course that is sometimes because I need to count stitches or keep looking at the pattern but sometimes all I have done is rows and rows of stocking stitch or a flower of hexies. That rhythmic movement really works for me!

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Pushing for solutions leaves me frustrated, adds to the feelings of panic, has me going round in ever decreasing circles. Stopping and putting it to the back of my mind allows me to be creative and if I can be patient the solution will reveal itself. If I can then let it simmer a bit longer before DOING anything an even better one may emerge.

So I need lots of zeros in my life – defined and contained spaces to stop me getting muddled.

Well, there it is 26 posts in 26 days. Thank you to all those of you who have stuck with me and those who have joined. A special thanks to those of you who have taken the trouble to comment – I have really enjoyed reading them. Normal sporadic service will now be resumed but I hope you will continue to keep me company.

Sue

Blessings # 25 – Y is for Yoga

I had been toying with the idea of taking up some kind of gentle exercise for years but was always too busy and then, when John became more frail, I had time but could only learn by watching a video (which back then was a tape in a machine). That didn’t work for me so I gave up. After he died and I was looking for ways to get out and meet people I decided to see if I could find either a Yoga or Tai Chi class locally and searched online. It was September and I knew that going out after dark when it was also cold would challenge my commitment. There was no Tai Chi group which was in a suitable place at a time I felt able to manage but there was an afternoon Yoga class in Cardigan so I went along.

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The Small Wold Theater in Cardigan where that class was held

I enjoyed the moving and stretching but was disappointed that none of the group spoke to each other. We arrived, rolled out our mats, did what the teacher told us, rolled up our mats and left. Then after about a year the teacher had to take a break for a term as she had several family members needing extra help. I mentioned it to someone I volunteered with who suggested I go to the class she was in which met in an evening. It was summer time so I thought it would not be too bad going out later and it would tide me over.

That was how I met Rose Thorn. (No Mr and Mrs Thorn did not lack imagination – the whole name was made up as a stage name which stuck) The group still wasn’t chatty but I knew 2 other people there so it felt more friendly. And Rose was a revelation. Yoga wasn’t about contorting myself into strange shapes. It was all about exploring what my body could and couldn’t do without fussing too much about its limitations. It was about noticing how I stood, moved, breathed. Then gently inmproving my posture, flexibility and balance through the postures. I knew that I had knock knees but found I also had flat feet. That I walked with my feet at 45 degrees (all those models posing on the catwalk and dress patterns with the model’s toes prettily pointed to show off the skirt had had an effect). Neither of those things were helped by weak ankles. Years of wearing high heels all the time had given me squashed toes and very short hamstrings. Oh, and I rounded my shoulders and stuck my head forward when I walked. Not that Rose said much – she just let me discover all these things through trying to follow her instructions. ‘Stand with your feet parallel to the edges of the mat’ was one of the first and most often used and it is hard to do when you usually waddle like a duck!

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Trying to take a selfie in the mirror whilst standing on one leg in tree pose does not encourage good posture!

I started to go to the Saturday morning sessions she runs from time to time at the home she shares with her partner Marie and which Marie runs as a vegetarian guest house. 3 hours of yoga followed by lunch which Marie cooks and where we all chat and get to know each other. Bit by bit this lovely couple became my friends.

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Over the Rainbow Vegetarian Guest House which is home to Marie and Rose

So now my posture has improved, my better balance means I am less likely to fall and my awareness of how I move makes it easier to avoid aching muscles when I work in the garden.

Blessings # 24 – X is for Xmas and other festivals

My Mum gave up her work as a teache rof Domestic Science when she got married – she had to because in the aftermath of World War 2 only single women or widows could work as teachers. The idea was that the men returning from the army needed the jobs. Which man would want, or be qualified, to teach domestic science is a moot point!

She never had a job outside the home again. Whilst I was small she had no fridge, no washing machine, no vacuum cleaner and no-one had a freezer. Milk was delivered to the doorstep by a milkman with a horse drawn cart but she must have had to go shopping most days to get fresh food and because everything had to be carried home in bags. With washing to do by hand, cleaning everywhere with lots of elbow grease and me to look after she must have been busy.

But by the time I was a teenager, and not a very messy one, things were different. She still shopped locally – there was a small parade of shops at each end of the road so about a quarter of a mile from home – and carried her purchases home so couldn’t do the kind of weekly shop most of us do now in a supermarket. But she had a full set of time-saving appliances and our house was a modest ‘between the wars’ 3 bedroom semi so fairly easy to manage. For reasons I have never been able to fathom she refused to join any of the social groups such as the Women’s Institute or Mother’s Union even though there were neighbours who would have enjoyed her company there. When I was in my mid teens she started going to an evening class in cake decorating each week but never seemed to make friends with any of the other students or talk about them at home.

Luckily for her housework has expansionist tendencies! However much you have done there is always something more you can find to do. So that and knitting endless jumpers for all the children in the extended family and neighbours filled her time.

Gardening is a bit like housework outdoors. There is always more I could do.

I therefore really appreciate having marker points in the year which encourage me to stop, notice the way the seasons are changing, reflect on what I have achieved and look forward to the next bit. It is why my friends Jeni and Rob and I have been trying to mark the 8 old festivals that marked the solstices, equinoxes and the 4 cross quarter days. Midwinter is especially rich. There is Yule at the solstice, then Christmas and here in Wales, Hen Galan, the old New Year’s day in mid January. Before leap years were included the calender got more and more out of synch with nature until one year it was brought back in line. In some parts of Wales they continued to celebrate New Year according to the old calender – Hen Galan – old new year. We don’t have a Mari Lwyd (a horse’s skull on a pole like a hobby horse and with a big white cloak and ribbons which went from house to house and pub to pub) to drink and dance and parade with but we do follow the other tradition of wassailing our apple trees on that night.

Mari Lwyd

With birthdays and anniversaries added into the mix there are plenty of reasons to stop working and have a celebration!

Blessings # 23 – W is for Woodland and Wild

I enjoy working in my garden. I enjoy eating what I grow, the flowers that bloom, sitting on my deck with a cup of coffee but the most magical areas are the pieces of woodland. If I get fraught and frazzled I take a walk through the veg patch and past the soft fruit into the rough, self-seeded woodland area and then through a gap in an old hedgebank into the planted woodland which I rent from the neighbouring farm. Apart from cutting back any brambles which grow across the path those spaces require no work. They are always peaceful and quiet. Although the planted section was only put in just over 20 years ago there are some much older trees which must have been in hedges when even this very steep slope was grazed. There is something about the solidity and calmness of trees which I find settles me. I walk down to the stream where there is a small clearing and sit there watching the stream tumbling over stones and burbling its song and all the worries fall into perspective. In a few weeks time it will be carpeted with bluebells!

I like trees and woodland so much that I am planting more. The field on the opposite side of the stream from my garden is abandoned. The farmer who owns it has effectively retired but refuses to either sell up or to rent out his grazing. Ungrazed for about 12 years the grass is getting very coarse and brambles and blackthorn are creeping in from the edges. I keep pulling tiny seedling trees out of my veg beds and decided that instead of just putting them on the compost heap I would pot them up and then plant them out on the field. It wants to become a wood so I will help it! I also grew some apples from pips (you can read about that experiment here) – rather a lot of them! So they are going over there too. I have no idea whteher they will fruit, whether the fruit will be nice to eat or sour, but if they fruit at all and I don’t want the apples the birds will enjoy them.

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I have also started to clear along my top, North boundary where John planted hundreds of willow cuttings. Most of them took and grew for a few years but they were left too long and most have fallen over and died. The soil is very thin so I am planting trees in pots with the bottoms cut out. That way they start in good compost but can send roots down into the stonier soil as they grow. That’s the plan anyway.

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I will never see these new woods in their full glory – they are a blessing paid forward. I have so many blessins it only seems fair to ensure some for those who follow me.

Blessings # 22 – V is for Vision

I may have poor hearing but luckily my vision is pretty good. I have a pair of prescription glasses for distance but don’t actually NEED to wear them for driving. The optician recommended I have them for driving after dark or if I am tired. So they live in the glovebox and come out very occasioanlly. Similarly I wear ready readers if I am tired or doing close work or reading small print. Because I only use them for a few jobs and they are quite cheap I have a pair by my bed, some by my chair in the sitting room (for unpicking knitting!) a pair in the workshop and another in my studio. The Welsh Government funds more frequent eye tests for me than for most people – I would like to think they do this for me but I suspect it is as much because if I lost 2 senses I would be more demanding of services!

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But vision is also about having a vision, envisioning, not in the religious sense of seeing angels or saints but imagining how things might be, how problems might be solved, being able to ask ‘What if..?’ (which I talked about in a previous post – you might like to go back and read it here if you missed it).

I am intrigued by the way some people are very good at creative thinking and others less so and how it can vary over a lifetime. I think it may be to do with our attitude to change. It seems particularly pertinent now when we have all had massive changes forced upon us. Do we long for ‘things to go back to normal’ or do we contemplate a ‘new normal’ or hope that that this is ‘pressing the reset button’? Response to change seem to lie on a spectrum from ‘bring it on’ to ‘over my dead body’.

wei chi

You may already know that the chinese character for crisis is Wei Chi. It is a conjoining of two smaller characters Wei means danger, Chi is the life force or, in this situation, perhaps better translated as opportunity. And therein lies the conundrum. Are we more aware of the danger? That leads us to dig our heels in, retrench, try to grab control, resist change. Or do we major on the opportunity? Can we envision something better rising from the ashes, become energetic and enthusiastic about a new future? Either extreme is unhelpful but somewhere in the middle – the cautious optimism point – lies a way forward in relative safety.

The colleague who introduced me to the idea of Wei Chi was particularly interested in it’s connection to grief. In order to move to something new we have to give up what was, accept that it has gone. That is as true of breaking a plate as of losing a loved one – the process may be longer or shorter, stronger or weaker but it has to be gone through. If we try to avoid it, circumvent it, deny it it will come probably back to bite us on the bum.

I have long been a change junkie! Or to put it another way I have a low boredom threshold! I am always trying new things, new ways of doing tasks, new arrangements of furniture, new hobbies, new recipes…. I need my less flighty friends to restrain me and help me face the loss of what was before racing on to the new.

One lesson that I have learned recently is to be clear about my vision for the future. When I started the work of planning to live long and well as I reach my later years (some people would say I have already reached them!) my friend Jasmine Dale encouraged me to draw a picture of what that old age would look like. Although I sometimes ‘Open mouth without engaging brain’ I generally have a pretty nifty censor on my words even if they are only spoken in my head. Being no artist my pencil censor is much less experienced so a drawing was more likely to get at what I really wanted rather than what I thought I ought to want. I drew it with coloured pencils – washed out and hard to see – then did it again in felt tips – better, stronger, more convincing. I saw that I had drawn THIS house so was assuming I would stay here. It made me question that and seriously consider the pros and cons of staying or various other places I could live. As you may have gathered I decided to stay here! But it revealed what the disadvantages of that decision were likely to be and what I needed to plan to avoid them.

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It still looks a bit wishy washy!

That drawing has become my lodestar. All my big decisions are measured against it – do they take me towards it or divert me from it? Without a vision I would wander aimlessly and how would I know if I had arrived? I may even be ready to ‘ink it in’ by re-doing it bolder and more permanent!

I am so grateful that I can allow myself to dream big dreams and have the loving support of people who will restrain my wilder flights of fancy, help me think through my plans, make suggestions, and support me as I try to turn them into reality. Thank you to you all.