The kindness of people I will probably never meet

One of the things which has gladdened my heart since joining the blogosphere is the generosity of this community. Comments are full of empathy and encouragement, practical tips, information and answers to questions. There are posts which are tutorials, links to other blogs or ‘how to’ videos, suggestions of places to visit or books to read. I see small gifts sent and received by fellow bloggers and others for many reasons and none. I have learned so much and come to realise that if I need to know something or have a dilemma I only have to ask and I can tap into a huge collective experience and wisdom. I never thought that writing about my simple life in this rural backwater would result in my having wonderful friends all over the world.

A while back I made a comment on Jeans blog (http://www.onesmallstitch.wordpress.com) about her hand spun and dyed yarn. The result was a parcel in the post. Inside were 4 hanks of her yarn, each beautifully labelled wih its composition and the dye used.

Aren’t those colours gorgeous? The brown one is dyed with lichen (Purmelia Saxatilis) and smells of woods which Jean says will never fade. And you all know I am a woodland lover! I am taking my time deciding what to use them for – they are very precious so it has to be something special.

Jean’s blog has taught me a lot about Japanese textile art and design and also about weaving, which I had a go at once as a teenager on a simple table loom belonging to my Mother’s eldest sister. As a possible use of her gift I have bought myself a 5 inch pin loom from Etsy (Treneyn Crafts – a husband and wife team who sell stuff to do with wool) and am learning to use it.

My first square is rather wibbly wobbly but I hope to improve!

Tucked in with the yarn was an extra gift – one of the pebbles decorated by her Daughter-in-law. It sits on my desk as a paperweight and as a reminder of the love there is in the world.

So a big thank you to Jean but also to all of you for being the lovely, kind, caring, generous people you are.

A Sad Walk Down Memory Lane

A couple of weeks ago I had a message from the daughter of some old friends to say that her father had died. When my late husband was a vicar in Exeter in the late 80’s her mother, Margaret, was officially his secretary but actually much more like a PA . She also became a youth leader and Churchwarden so we saw a lot of her and relied on her organisational skills a great deal. Peter was quieter, less outgoing, but a brilliant drummer so he was recruited to play during services and keep us all in time when we sang. My other memory of him was of the two of us helping the treasurer count the collection when most other people had gone home but some clearing up was still going on.

St Marks Church Pinhoe Rd Exeter

John’s early days in the Parish had been plagued by the interference of the previous vicar who had retired, but still lived locally and visited some of the congregation regularly, expressing his (negative) opinions of the changes John was making. We decided that when we left we would cut ourselves off completely and give whoever came next a clear run. It was horrible to do, especially when John was diagnosed with cancer 2 years later, but we knew it was the right thing and stuck to it. Bless them, our friends in the church agreed it was for the best and never tried to involve us even though we were only a few miles away whilst our children finished at the FE college.

So almost 30 years after we left the Parish I found myself going back for the first time to attend Peter’s funeral last Monday. I knew that to do the journey there and back with the service in between was too much for one day so I booked into a hotel near the city centre for the Sunday night.

Lesson number one – the Internet made that a doddle! I could get information on all the possible choices, decide which I thought would suit me best and book it, moving only my eyes and fingers! Moments later a confirmatory email pinged into my inbox with the option to book a taxi or hire car. I had already established that travelling by train, which I would have preferred, was not an option – only one service on a Sunday and I know from experience that on Sunday evenings there are often engineering works with delays and replacement buses and that the bad weather might also close lines.

The next problem was the dogs. My son had offered to come and look after them but once the date was set realised he was unable to help. My lovely friend Lindy stepped into the breach and came to stay, even offering to stay over on the Monday night so that I had no deadline to get back.

Lesson number 2 – I have amazing family and friends who take great care of me. I am so grateful.

So off I set after lunch on Sunday with mixed feelings. It was an adventure, a challenge because of all unfamiliar things (a long drive, navigating a city which would have changed so I would not know my way but there would be some flashes of ‘Oh that’s where I am’, a hotel stay) apprehension about the impact of going back, and sadness at the loss of a friend.

I planned to use the old bridge over the Severn and stop at the Service area on the English end to have a short pit-stop. The old Bridge was closed because of the strong winds. Then I discovered that I was being diverted onto the M 49, a road of which I had never heard but which cuts the corner off the join between the M4 (South Wales to London) and M5 (North West England to Cornwall).

Lesson number 3 – Thank goodness for Satnav! I was driving straight into the setting sun and therefore couldn’t read the signs over the lanes but it knew where I should go.

I made it to Exeter just as it was getting dark and was directed down a narrow back street to a block of flats. I had put in the postcode I had copied from the internet (and probably made a mistake with one of the digits) not the name of the Hotel. I reprogrammed Satnav and spent half an hour in nose to tail traffic before reaching the right place.

Lesson number 4 – computers are only as good as the information you give them!

As I was checking in I was asked to complete a short registration form which included the question ‘In the event of an emergency evacuation would you need help to leave the hotel?’. I answered yes and explained to the lovely young man on the desk that I was perfectly mobile but might not hear the alarm when asleep without my hearing aids. He promptly transferred me to an accessible room and offered me a vibrating pad, plugged into the fire alarm system, to go under my pillow. He then showed me to the room and plugged the pad in for me assuring me that if the alarm went off someone would come and make sure I was aware of it.

Lesson number 5 – Whatever impression the news gives there are a lot of very nice people out there.

Exeter city center

In the morning, leaving my car at the hotel, I walked into the city. The old, listed buildings were still there and I began to recognise the street layout but the shops had been shuffled! It felt very odd – the same but different. I went into Boots to buy a nail file because I had broken a nail and my toiletry bag was in the car. They had NO staffed tills – and when I asked about one the girl looked at me as if I was mad then offered, reluctantly, to help me use the self-service one. Later, leaving the car park I found the pay station wanted me to scan a QR code and pay with my phone. It offered me the chance to pay with a credit card (no chance of using cash!) but kept losing the plot when I tried. Eventually I asked for help again at the reception desk and it was cheerfully given (see Lesson 5) and no it wasn’t me being past it – it played up for her too!

Lesson number 6 – I am way behind the times – and happy to stay there!

Then it was off to the Church which had changed – new chairs, a carpet, the coffee and creche areas rearranged and upgraded – but from the impression I got, not as much as it should have done in 30 years. I know I am a change junkie but both the city and the church seemed to be in a rut – tinkering but unable or unwilling to be as radical as we need to be to rise to the challenges coming down the track. I also noticed how few people were wearing masks in shops. It was as if the pandemic had gone away. Here in Wales masks are still a legal requirement in indoor public spaces and to me that is only sense.

If all that seems critical and grumpy let me assure you that meeting up with people who remembered me and welcomed me with huge smiles was brilliant. At the wake I sat with some of the old crowd and they obviously remembered me and John with fondness. The service had been taken by John’s successor, now retired, as the present vicar was on Maternity leave and it was lovely to meet him and his wife.

Lesson number 7 – A vicar on Maternity leave – Hallelujah! – the Church of England is staggering into the modern world and St Marks is in the vanguard. Something of what John did stuck!

Starcross with the mainline railway from London to cornwall running along the sea wall.

Having driven so far and explored some of Memory Lane I decided to finish the job and walked past the old Vicarage, sold off when we left, and then went to Starcross, a dormitory village on the Exe Estuary, where we moved whilst our children finished their schooling. A walk along the river’s edge was just what I needed before the long drive home. The nearer I got to Wales the more my spirits lifted and when I turned off the dual carriageway 10 miles from home I breathed a sigh of relief. Two waggy tales greeted me as I walked in and a night in my own bed was bliss.

Lesson number 8 – I loved my life in Exeter, have some wonderful memories of our time there and very few regrets, and now I love my life here. It was good to visit but it is no longer where I belong. Now if you will forgive me I have to go – there are tomatoes to pick and bottle.

PS. All images are from Google images – it takes better photos than I do! Plus all that navigating tired my phone out!

Things are looking up

A fairly disastrous start to my garden had me feeling rather dejected but at last the sunny days/ frosty nights weather has given way to the usual ‘chilly with varying amounts of rain’ variety. Not nearly as nice for working in but better for growing.

I brought the trays of tender seeds indoors and put them on the living room windowsill. The window faces due South and there is a radiator underneath. At last some have germinated.

these are cucurbits of various kinds and peppers – sweet and hot.

I planted a net of first early potatoes – some outdoors and some in large pots in the lean-to greenhouse on the South wall of the house. The outside ones have kept trying to send up shoots and been nipped by frost despite a heavy mulch of paper so none have shoots more than 2 inches tall. In the greenhouse they are almost ready to flower!

Last year I ordered some plants and when they arrived a free gift of a few dahlia tubers had been included. I was hesitant because in the past slugs have munched every dahlia that put a shoot above the soil. But they were free so I put them out in pots and they came up well. In the Autumn I brought the pots into the lean-to greenhouse, stood them on bubble wrap and tied more round the pots then added a layer of shredded paper to the top. They have come back well.

Everything will be late but there should be some things to eat from the garden!

Indoors I have been decorating my bedroom. In this slightly weird old cottage that meant doing the stairs as well – we knocked 3 small bedrooms and the landing into one generous room so the door is at the bottom of the stairs. I didn’t realise that DIY stores were fully open (in my world they are useful but not essential) so I ordered paint online for collection. I knew that the colour I saw on my screen was not accurate – would I like it when I saw it on the walls? Should I order tester pots first? Since Carmarthen is 20 miles away I decided to risk it. It is paint. If I didn’t like it I could buy another can in a different colour and go over it again. I did however invest in some good quality paint that promised to cover any previous colour in one coat. So

From this

To

One friend’s reaction was ‘Oooh! You’ll have to be properly grown up now!’

I thought the pale colour would be a lilac grey and it is bluer than I expected but actually I am happy with it.

On the rut jumping front I have continued trying to expand the range of foods I eat. Yesterday I picked a large handful of ‘greens’ which included old favourites chard and wild garlic, shoots of asparagus kale which I grew for the first time last year and have been picking leaves from all winter, but also dandelion leaves and vine leaves. I had thought that dandelions had to be blanched under a flowerpot but Carolee (https://herbalblessingsblog.wordpress.com ) assured me they didn’t. I chopped all the leaves and sauteed the whole lot in a little olive oil, sprinkled with salt and they were delicious. Today I have made Soda Bread (from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking), Blinis (from Michael Mosley’s The Clever Guts Diet) and Oatcakes (from The River Cottage Handbook No 3 – Bread by Daniel Stevens).

On the crafting front – wait for Scrap Happy!

At long last we are able to start meeting up with friends, have workdays and non-essential shops are open. Yesterday I met friends in Cardigan to have coffee. As it was fine there were more people out and about than usual. We cannot yet go inside but the Council has reduced the High Street to one lane allowing cafes to put chairs and tables out on the pavements and spill onto the side of the road. It wasn’t ideal with delivery lorries trundling past but a big step towards normality!

The other thing that has lifted my spirits is that my son plans to move nearer to me. He no longer needs to be able to commute to London every day but instead will be working from home most of the time. His job in IT is stressful and his health is suffering. Moving out of an urban environment should help him relax. His wife, who has very little experience of living in the country, prefers to stay put so for now he will buy somewhere small, but big enough for her and their adult children to visit, and split his time between here and there. That way she can try living down here (very different from staying with your M-I-L!) and see if she likes it after all. I have been helping him house hunt and he has made an offer on a place he saw the other side of Carmarthen from me. Of course there are many things that can go wrong between offer and moving in but knowing that he will buy that or another place soon and I will be able to see more of him is lovely.

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.