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’.

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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.

Blessings # 21 – U is for upcycling a.k.a. Scrap Happy April!

When I started this series I was wondering how to accomodate Scrap Happy and by a wonderful bit of serendipity todays letter is U!

When we revamped this house we installed a new bathroom in a diferent place from the old one before taking the old one out. We therefore had a lot of pieces of used plastic waste pipe lying around. Re-arranging the kitchen added more and then there were the offcuts from the new things going in. By the time we finished the pile of lengths was quite big. So John cut it all into short pieces, stood them in punnets which came from the supermarket with mushrooms in, into the bottoms of which he had pierced holes, and used them as modules for planting seeds.

Over time the chemotherapy took its toll on his digestive system. He also became immuno-compromised and had to take antibiotics for a whole sequence of infections. So he started to take those probiotic drinks to try to help his gut recover. The empties piled up until he had the idea of cutting the bottoms off and using those as modules in the same way.
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They have been going now for almost 15 years and still get washed and re-used every year. Once the seedlings get going they are either transplanted into the ground or potted on into old cream or yoghurt pots (again with holes made with a drill or a soldering iron). These days I also stand the tubes and pots in plastic boxes which are the containers mushrooms are delivered to C&M Organics in. They cannot be returned or recycled but hold 60 of my modules so enough for a whole row of peas or beans.

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Since so many people seem to be starting to see the wisdom of growing some of their own food now that shopping is less easy |I thought these might trigger some creatibve ways to grow on the cheap and with what is to hand.

Scrap happy is curated by Kate and Gun (links below) and celebrates creative ways in which people use scrap materials to make lovely new things.

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).

Kate, Gun, Titty, Heléne, Eva, Sue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan,
Moira, Sandra, Linda, Chris, Nancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean,
Joanne, Jon, Hayley, Dawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki, Pauline,
Sunny and Kjerstin

See you next time for more scrappy loveliness.

Blessings # 20 – T is for Time

Is it just me or has time become more elastic since we have all been staying in? I no longer know what day of the week it is because there is nothing to differentiate one day from the next. I haven’t looked at my diary for weeks.

One of the things I find interesting about time is that it is so completely egalitarian. Whoever we are – rich, poor, educated, deprived, cheerful, depressed, believer, heathen…. we all get exactly the same amount of time in each day to spend however we see fit. Imagine if that was true of other resources like money! Of course some of it has to be spent on maintaining our lives – sleeping, eating, earning enough to pay the bills and so on. I am fortunate. When I want water I turn on a tap rather than walking to the spring or pump with my bucket and lugging it home again – something I remember an aunt doing when I was little. I don’t spend hours commuting to a job I may or may not like but which puts food on the table. But most of us have some ‘disposable’ time which we can do with as we choose. And maybe we sometimes actually have more choices about how we use our time to support our lives than we realise. Or would have if we had the courage to take a risk, to grab life by the scruff of the neck and shape it to suit ourselves.

The length of each day is fixed but none of us knows how many of them we will have. Just because there is a global pandemic and many of us are staying at home and keeping safe doesn’t mean that all the other diseases and accidents that can see us off have taken a holiday. I can take exercise, eat well, wash my hands often, get enough sleep, take care when climbing ladders and still have a heart attack, fall and break my neck, or be harbouring a milgnancy.

I have been given a life which has already been longer than some and which I hope will go on for a long time yet. I am lucky enough to have plenty of resources, practical and mental. Each new 24 hours is a blessing and it behoves me to make the most of it – even if that is to waste it wisely.

Blessings # 19 – S is for Sunshine

And I have been blessed with some almost every day for the last 3 weeks whilst we have been locked down.

When we were looking for a place to buy we had a wide search area but a clear list of things we wanted – a large plot so we could have a big garden and no neighbours too close, ideally a plot which was empty so we could build a house to suit ourselves, somewhere quiet with clean air. We also wanted to be well above sea-level. We both loved living on the Exe Estuary in Devon but had noticed that the boards which were put across the slipways under the railway tracks were being used more often and built higher, until we began to wonder how long it would be before our village was flooded. But top of the list for John was that the plot should be South facing.

That proved to be a problem. All the building plots were rather mean in size and on the North facing side of the valley or road. The South facing side had been built up first to the end of the area designated for development and now only plots on the north facing side would get planning permission. Had ‘One Planet Developement’ been available we might have looked at that but that came in much later. (To find out what One Planet Developement is all about read my previous post here) When we started looking at plots with buildings on we found that almost all the houses were orientated to face East. After all farm workers needed light in the morning to get up and get to work and possibly some in the evening but during the day they would be busy outdoors! This place was probably built as it was because digging out any more of the hill would have been far to much work for a pair of mere tied cottages!

Had we been able to build to our own design we would have made even better use of the sunny aspect. But we did what we could. Eleven years ago we finally had funds to have solar panels put on the roof. The big array is solar PV which generate electricity. At the time the government were offering good incentives to ramp up solar generation so I get just over 50p for each kilowatt they generate, which in Summer gives me a nice bonus and even in winter gives a little. After a few years they had paid for themselves and they will go on bringing in a tax free amount for the next 14 years. After that it will just be what I get for selling the power to the grid which is very little! But what I use is free and the system is set up so that I use my own power in preference to power from the grid if I am generating. Of course my main need for electricity is in winter but at least I can do my spring cleaning at the moment with a clear conscience. All the extra washing of curtains and covers is using free power!

It is hard to see in the photo because the elder tree was in the way but there are 2 solar thermal panels on the lower roof. They give me hot water when the sun shines so I don’t have to use the heating system so much.

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The derelict shed is attached to the equally derelict cottage next door! Finding a spot where I could take a photo of the roof without too many trees in the way proved tricky now they are coming into leaf!

The lean-to greenhouse is not there because I needed more space to grow under glass. It is to absorb heat when the sun is shining and by opening the windows I can let it inside. Today there is a chilly wind but in there it is hot and the house is toasty without any heating being used.

The last improvement, a couple of years ago, was to have the deck built so that I can sit and enjoy the sun in summer.

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Sun to sit and bask in, sun to heat my home and grow my food, sun to heat the water and sun to run appliances and give me a little bit of extra income – what a blessing!

Blessings # 18 – R is for Reading

I have loved books since I was a small child. First of course was having stories read to me. Apparantly by the age of 3 I knew some of them so well I could recite the words with all the intonatons and ‘voices’ and even turn the pages at the correct place so that visitors thought I was a precocious reader!

When I did learn to read I quickly discovered that I could escape into adventures I would never be able to have in real life, visit new places, find new ideas. I liked non-fiction too and learnt a lot, got new ideas to explore.

There was a bit of a glitsch when I reached about 10 or 11 and the books in the children’s section of the library were too young for me but I couldn’t work out which of the adult ones would be suitable. For some reason no-one helped me. It took a while but I got going again in the end.

Recently I went through all the books on my shelves and decided which ones I really wanted to keep. I had realised that having shelves and shelves of books made an interesting decorative feature but what they were really about was making a statement ‘I am an educated person’ – an ego trip. Many of them I had never read. The Theology and Philosophy textbooks my husband had bought during his degrees I will never read. The history ones I might but it is unlikely. I did Maths and Biology so I had fewer text books and I had already got rid of most of them as being out of date. I took down most of the novels because I wouldn’t read them again. There are some which I know I could read over and over so those stayed. Then I lost my nerve so put all the ‘discards’ in the loft for a while until I am sure I really want to part with them.

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The large pile of ‘discards’


A few novels and some non-fiction I actually use.

My book buying habit was getting expensive and I like a ‘real’ book not an e-book edition. So now I rely on the library and occasionally treat myself to a non-fiction book which is highly recommended by friends but the library hasn’t got. I always have 2 books on the go – one non-fiction which I read in the early evening or whilst having a tea break in the day and a light fiction book to read in bed at night. I rarely read ‘worthy’ fiction these days. At night it doesn’t help me sleep and in the day I have little reading time so use it to learn. I know that that bewilders some of my friends! I am scientifically biased not literature bent!

My library books were due back just before the lockdown started and when I arrived the librarian told me they were closing that afternoon for an indefinite period so to take as many books as I liked! I chose ones that were even lighter than usual knowing that would be what I wanted to read if I was unable to see people. I have old favourites after that and if needs be that stash in the loft will get raided.

Blessings # 17 – Q is for Quiet

My increasing deafness is entirely caused by my brain not processing sound properly – my ears are fine. Apparantly this problem is genetic and sadly my grand-daughter has it too and whereas mine only became a problem in middle age and only affects my hearing she has always struggled to process speech and language n written form as well.

I do sometimes wonder if the problem is made worse by the fact that I actually enjoy silence so there is little motivation for me to push my brain to ‘hear’.

That love of peace and quiet is why I try to use only hand tools. I hate the racket of power tools. This morning I was doing some gardening whilst it was still cool. The birds singing was the only sound I could hear. There is never much traffic on the road here but even less now we are all in lockdown. Add in a Bank Holiday and I have only heard 2 vehicles pass all morning.

The sounds I do want to hear are the birds singing, bees buzzing, the breeze rustling the trees, the stream burbling on its way, my cats purring, the grandfather clock ticking, the timer telling me my meal is cooked or bread baked….

From that perspective this place is perfect.

Blessings # 16 – P is for Pension

This is going to be a short post and please excuse any typos – my brain is not at it’s best. Two of my daughter-in-law’s brothers are ill, one confirmed with Covid 19 and in Intensive Care, the other waiting to be admitted. My daughter-in-law drove the confirmed one to hospital so is now isolating herself in the bedroom. I really want to leap in the car, drive to the other side of the UK and go to help. My son and his daughter are working from home, my grandson is home from University and they have three young foster chldren to look after. There is nothing I can do but stay home and stay safe whilst supporting them as best I can with messages and emails.

So back to P is for Pension

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I am hearing of people being laid off, beng offered the choice of take a pay cut or go, small firms and self employed people unable to trade, interest rates on savings falling…..

The falling interest rates and stock market will affect my ‘rainy day’ money but my income will be constant. Even if / when the Bank of England sets the presses at the mint rolling to create money to fund all the extra government spending and my money buys less I will still have more than many people.

These posts may have given the impression that I am wealthy. I am in the things that matter such as frienship and I have amassed the equipment I need over the years, but my income and savings are modest. Everything is relative. I have lived through some ‘hand to mouth’ times in the past and those, together with my parents memories of the second World War passed on to me, mean I know how to make do and mend. Plus I can garden, forage and be creative.

My pension means I have no need to fear messages from the bank or utility companies.

Blessings # 15 – O is for Outbuildings

According to one of my friends happiness is a small house (so fairly quick to tidy and clean) plus outbuildings for playing in. Well I sometimes wish my house was a bit smaller or at least had a different layout but I am rich in outbuildings.

There is a shed on the veg patch to store all my gardening stuff. It has enough room in it to be able to sit but I want to make some double doors so that I can look out whilst taking a break.

My woodshed is big enough to not only store the wood that has been cut to size, but the longer lengths, dumpy bags of kindling and sawdust, AND still have room for the sawhorses so that wet days can be used to cut and chop for the fires.

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Opposite are two sheds we originally built to house poultry but which are now used to store garden furniture and things like fence posts.

Next there is the workshop with all the woodworking stuff. It is gloriously large with space to lay things out on the floor or the big bench.

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Adjoining the house and accessed from the car port is what used to be the garage – until the double doors literally fell off in my hands when I tried to open the wicket door in them and we had the opening blocked up. It is now a sort of utility room and general domestic junk store. Once the new utility room is fitted out I can finish going through it all. The builder should have been coming any day now but of course….

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Above it is a loft space which I use as my craft studio. Yesterday I emptied a chest of drawers up there to swap it with another one. I really should have taken the photo before doing that! I am using the lockdown to get on with spring cleaning , which always results in rearranging and until it is all finished chaos reigns!

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Add in the greenhouses and I am spoilt for choice for places to play whatever the weather.

Blessings # 14 – Needles

It was inevitable really that I would end up crafting.

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On my father’s side my grandfather (the beekeeper in B – if you missed it read it here) was a carpenter and my grandmother won prizes for her sewing. My father taught woodwork and after he died my husband had some of his and my Grandfather’s tools which I still have. My mother taught Domestic Science which was how they met. Her father was totally cack-handed as was her brother. I have no real idea about her mother who died when I was 2 months old but I suspect that with 5 children she did a lot of ‘utility’ sewing and mending but not much else. Mum’s eldest sister (the one who left me the grandfather clock in yesterday’s post) taught craft at a Teacher Training College. The second sister trained as a tailoress, then stopped work to nurse her parents but managed to teach dressmaking at evening classes in her spare time. The third was area manager for a chain of dry-cleaning shops but did loads of knitting and sewing for sales of work at the church.

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When I was very young (pre-school or in the infants class) I was given a toy, but working, sewing machine and can remember my Mum cutting up old flanelette into squares for me to hem as dusters before I progressed to making dolls clothes!

My Dad taught me the name of all his tools and where to find them in his shed but of course I was a girl so I handed them to him to use. It never occured to either of us that I might have a go! It did, however give me a great love of wood and wooden objects. Since John was very skilled at woodwork and enjoyed it I left him to it but after he died I needed to start doing some DIY and discovered that actually I can work with wood and I enjoy it too.

There is a Welsh idiom ‘Beth sy ar y gwaell?’ literally – ‘What is on the knitting needles?’ but more generally ‘What are you up to?’ or ‘What are you working on?’

At present I am knitting a jumper (in the photo at the top)to take to Stiwdio 3 in Cardigan when it re-opens where they are hoping to collect 2020 to send to a refugee charity. I have also made several more puppets (also in the photo above)for my friend to send to Sierra Leone (see the original post here). My friend Susan has taught me to spin and lent me a wheel which was given to her by a lady who had to give up spinning. The condition attached to the gift was that it was for her to lend to a learner. To my shame I have hardly used it yet. Another friend, Roni, showed me how to use the lathe in my workshop but again I haven’t made time to get the hang of it. There are several gates I need to make and this year’s felled timber is looking at me begging to be used. I keep reading blog posts that inspire me to try new things…

Yes, I miss meeting up with friends, but if this lockdown continues for months I still won’t finish all the things on my needles!

Blessings # 13 – M is for Momentos

Lots of the things in my home have stories attached. They remind me of the person who gave them to me or an occasion. They are bits of my past brought into my present. And whilst I am alone so much more than usual they have taken on extra significance. They root me in my family history, my past experiences, remind me that I am loved, that I have suyrvived difficult times in the past and that I have the resources to get through this.

Photos of course

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The pot my father put his cufflinks and small change into every night when he went to bed sits next to a gift from my daughter. At the other end of the shelf is the wooden moneybox I put my pocket money in as a child.

My huisband’s Grandmother’s dinner service and her kitchen scales. I still use the scales though I have now bought a set of metric weights to go with her imperial ones.

The grandfather clock left to me by my mother’s oldest sister.

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Souvenirs of travels.

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Some pieces my husband turned.

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Special greetings cards which we received have been framed.

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I have had an interesting life and made many precious memories – and intend to go on making more!.