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.

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 # 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 # 4 – D is for Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beginnings

Last weekend I went to visit my friends Jeni and Rob to celebrate Imbolc. None of us are pagans or druids, Jeni is a retired vicar who still takes services occasionally to fill gaps in rostas whilst Rob and I are ‘don’t knows’. It is rather that they keep poultry, sheep, pigs and, have just got some bees as well as growing veg as I do. So both households experience shifts in activities and energies as the year turns. Celebrating the eight old festivals encourages us to stop and reflect with each other on our plans, successes and failures. It is also an excuse to spend an evening together sharing a meal and a glass or two of something nice.

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Jeni and Rob live in a beautiful, tiny cob cottage

Imbolc is the precursor of the Christian candlemass – a point where the increasing day length is properly noticeable and the first green shoots are emerging. The first flowers of spring, the snowdrops, are coming into bloom to cheer us up even though winter is not yet over – there is a sign that spring will come. Actually this year the snowdrops were beaten by the first primroses and I have crocus out and daffodils showing fat buds. Maybe with climate change we will have to rethink our symbols if not our ceremonies!

In the same vein whilst winter is a time to cwtch in (A welsh phrase from cwtch = hug or a feeling of being hugged) by the fire and dream and plan, now is the time to start taking first steps to make those dreams come true. Having chosen the things we want to grow / achieve we must start to germinate the seeds. So we sat around the fire and shared what new projects we had chosen to spend our time and energy on this year.

My new project this year (just to add to all the unfinished ones from previous years!) is to explore the local footpaths. Every day I walk my dogs along the local lanes which are mostly single track with high banks either side and whilst traffic is very light a significant proportion of what there is is big lorries such as milk tankers or massive tractors which often are trailing equally large machinery. The dogs and I squeeze onto narrow verges or run to the nearest gateway. The proximity, noise and exhaust fumes are unpleasant. It would be so nice to have some off-road walks we could do.

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This may look like a useable path but after wading across the stream in the foreground I found that the old gate is tied to the posts with barbed wire.

When we first moved here 25 years ago a neighbour who was then in her 60’s told us that as a girl she had walked to school in the next village along footpaths and bridleways through the woods and along the stream. At that time there was a network of such paths connecting the various farms and cottages and other children joined her as she walked so that a whole gaggle of them arrived at school together. Of course in the intervening years rural depopulation meant that there were fewer people living here, houses became derelict, farms were coalesced into bigger units, and the people who remained got cars. A group of us tried to help her do the walk again but found it blocked – as the paths had fallen into disuse and stiles collapsed the route was blocked with brambles, nettles and then fences. What farmer would build a stile no-one ever used when a continuous fence is so much cheaper?

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This cottage was lived in when we first came here but was condemned as ‘unfit for habitation’ about 20 years ago

A check on the council website has shown me that these paths are, however, still public rights of way. So I have made an appointment to see the relevant council official to ask for advice and help in getting them opened up again. Jeni told me I was not alone – two local landowners she knows want to re-create a path that runs through their properties but that will be easier since between them they own all the land involved. I have no idea how successful I will be at persuading my neighbours to help but I will have a go. Watch this space!

Oh Dear! Now what?

At the end of July I finished a year of recording all my expenditure in line with the categories of the One Planet Development Carbon Footprint Calculator. It was time to enter it all into the spreadsheet and get the calculated result. (you can find the calculator on the Welsh government website under Topics>Planning>Policy and guidance>One planet development practice guide. The pdfs are at the bottom of the page.) I knew I would not meet the target of 1.88 global hectares but hoped for and expected nothing worse than 2 to 2.5 times that. So it was rather a shock to get 6.72 global hectares – 3.6 times my share of the planet’s resources! How did that happen? How can I get this number down and live within my fair share? I must admit that I felt ashamed to be so greedy and also slightly panicky as to how I could improve further.

After a few deep breaths I managed to engage my brain! Although this calculator is much more searching and precise than many I have seen, it has its flaws. For instance it asks me to enter my consumption of food as money spent on the various categories. Paradoxically when I broke my wrist and did almost all my shopping in a supermarket my spending went down. So buying potatoes grown in Egypt on sand plus chemicals, using rapidly depleting underground aquifers, would give a lower score than waiting a few weeks to get organically grown ones from Pembrokeshire! I gather from Jasmine Dale that when the scheme was originally being designed there was an intention to correct this anomaly but somehow that has been lost. I do understand that it could get ridiculous with multiple categories – Potatoes organic Welsh,  Potatoes organic UK, Potatoes organic EU, Potatoes organic other, Potatoes not organic Welsh…. all with different scores per £ spent.

Secondly if John had still been alive my score would be much lower. Although food costs would roughly double and the water bill would go up a bit, the cost of running and heating the house would stay pretty much the same. Similarly the bulk of the costs of running the car would be unchanged and as we always tried to do more than one errand in each journey we would mostly travel together so the petrol cost would only increase a bit. Lowering my carbon footprint does not seem a good enough reason to start looking for a new husband!

Another alarmingly big chunk went on the dogs and cats. Even excluding the ‘contributions’ to the rescue charity for Sally and Connor and the one-off cost of having Connor neutered (he was too young for him to have been done already) they are costing me about £11.50 per week. I buy the cheapest food by the sack from the farmers’ Co-op but on the advice of the vet when I got Orchid from the rescue charity, they get a dentastix each night and Roo gets through quite a lot of squeaky balls! I know that there are people who disapprove of pets and I can understand their logic. However the original reason for having cats was to keep vermin like rats and mice under control. No I probably do not need 3 of them for that (though they keep finding plenty). And the dogs keep me healthy and connected to the neighbours as I explained in my first post on this blog (read it here Walking the dogs) And all 5 of them keep me company, make me laugh and give me cuddles.

It was those ‘unquantifiable’ outcomes, the ‘soft’ benefits which both Jasmine and Jan Martin (a.k.a. Mrs Snail – read her blog here) reminded me needed to be ‘offset’ against my consumption. I am building soil fertility  in the garden, increasing the amount and diversity of habitat, planting trees, building community, volunteering for charities (which is how some of the petrol is used), passing on what I learn through the networks and I belong to…..

Then I read an interesting piece by Paul Jennings who lives only a few miles away. He points out that my plot and my lifestyle are embedded within a wider system which is not, at the moment, designed to be helpful to me achieving my goal. If there was a public transport system that was close enough I would use it. When I am offered a lift or can give one I do. If I could use a taxi (the nearest taxi firm is, I believe, based in Cardigan 19 miles away) I would. But in the system as it is I need a car. And so on. You can read his excellent piece here.

None of that leaves me complacent about my high score. It was an interesting exercise and gave me some useful information. I need to go on thinking about how I could do better but to focus too narrowly on that one criterion could lead me to make some unethical choices.

Is it better to buy a jumper made of synthetic fiber from the charity shop or to knit one from locally produced wool? The former makes use of something that has already been made, supports a charity, encourages volunteering, helps prevent an empty shop on the high street, but I may think ‘easy come, easy go’ and not take much care of it, it sheds microfibres into the environment, will never rot down … The latter supports local farmers, a local haberdashery shop, encourages me to be creative, I will probably look after it because I know how long it took to make, it is environmentally friendly, will rot when I finally put it on the compost heap…

I do not think there is A right answer to any of these conundrums. Hopefully wrestling with them will do both my brain and the planet some good!

 

 

Going Round in Circles

When I was a little girl my Mum’s oldest sister, Aunty Nan, and her husband Uncle Francis bought a large building plot in the village of Alsager in Cheshire. They both worked as lecturers at the local Teacher Training College and had been living on campus in half a converted Nissan Hut. Even before they started building their new home Francis, who taught Rural Studies, began to construct and plant a garden. Looking back it must have been really hard for him to live in that hut with no outside space to call his own.

We visited them fairly regularly and once the new bungalow was completed I fell in love with the garden. There was a large and very deep pond which had been dug for some purpose when the land was still a field and which Francis incorporated into the garden and a huge weeping willow hanging over it which made a tunnel to hide in. A pump fed water to the top of an artificial stream which nonetheless looked very natural. A shrubbery between the house and the road was another place to hide – even though no-one was looking for me! But what I liked most was that I could spend hours exploring the network of paths and finding different ways to go from place to place. Of course Francis had designed them to allow himself easy access to each place he needed to work but because they interconnected they made an interesting challenge for a young explorer.

I always wanted a garden with paths like that but small suburban gardens do not lend themselves to lots of paths or you end up with tiny spaces for the plants! Even in the big space here there was, for a long time, only a figure of 8. The top loop went from the drive to the veg patch with a spur to the Orchard, then through the soft fruit and the woodland back to the sheds and behind the house to the drive. The other loop went down to the cabin, then to the stream garden and back up. Boring!

Then a year or so ago I had a digger in to clear the stream garden and the excess earth was used to make 2 new paths, one up to the sheds and the other along the stream to join up with the top loop at the edge of the woodland. Now there were choices. And a couple of weeks ago the Carmarthenshire Parmaculture Group cleared a path through the woodland I rent from my neighbour to extend the top loop. (read about it here Many Hands) A little more work by me clearing the overgrown section of the top loop and Yes! I have a network! Now there are choices and I can walk the dogs different circular routes making them longer or shorter as the whim takes me. It has taken over 50 years but my childhood dream has come true.

 

First signs of Spring

I woke this morning to a heavy frost. The grass was white and every puddle on the driveway and paths was ice. there has been a gradual thaw but the ground is still white with hoar frost in the shade. I decided it would not be a good idea to walk the dogs on the road because the run off from the farmyards and fields would have frozen – another fall is would not be a good idea!

But the dogs need a walk each day so mid-morning I took them over the bridge that Rob (my son-in-law), Carrie (my daughter), Sam and Georgia (grandchildren) built with me over the stream at the bottom of the garden, and into the field on the opposite side of the valley. (These photos in the field were taken a couple of days ago – I didn’t risk carrying my camera over there this morning)

On the way through the garden I realised that things are beginning to grow. Daffodils are pushing through the grass near the gate and in pots in the South facing lean-to greenhouse. I bought some climbing roses to go on the chalet in the garden, to cover the rainwater butt outside the conservatory and for the end of the carport. Because there is only thin soil by the carport I put that one in a pot with the bottom cut out. Hopefully I will surround the pot with an old tyre full of soil before the plant gets too big. That system has worked well in the past. Today I saw that it is starting to shoot! And at the other end of the house some of last year’s wallflowers have a few blooms coming. I may still be hibernating but the garden, it seems, is made of sterner stuff!

However I am thinking about emerging from my nest. My order from Real Seeds (find them here) has arrived. I have saved quite a few seeds from my own harvest but not of everything plus I wanted to increase the range of varieties I grow. Actually I would have loved to buy a packet of everything they offer but common-sense prevailed! At the weekend my friend Jeni, who lives a couple of miles away,  and I put in a combined order for compost and that will be delivered on Thursday. We opted for Dalefoot Compost  (here) which was highly recommended by Mrs Snail (find her here) and since we needed rather a lot between us it will be delivered on a pallet which means we do not have to carry it home a few bags at a time in our cars. Hopefully Jeni will be able to collect her share in a trailer so only one short trip. When we put up the greenhouse near the conservatory my late husband, John, built staging which includes a large, sand filled trough with a soil warming cable buried in it. Surrounded by sheets of twin-wall plastic and bubble wrap it acts as a huge propagator and allows me to get seeds off to a good start. It is, though, quite expensive to run so I only switch it on mid to late February and start sowing a week or two later when it has reached the set temperature. Any earlier and I not only get a big electricity bill but the short day length is not good for the seedlings. Hopefully my cast will come off before the end of this month and I will have more dexterity before starting to sow – with a big plot it is a big job but one I love.

Whoops!

Have you been missing me? There is a reason I have not published a post for a while. We had a dusting of snow and very cold weather the weekend of the 9th / 10th December. on the Monday morning I checked that cars were getting up and down the hills either side of the valley and set off cautiously with the dogs. There is a strange piece of road layout just beyond the big farm at the top of the hill – 3 stretches of lane make a triangle around a single field. It is a shorter walk than most we do but in the cold I decided it was enough.

We made it round the circuit and started down the hill when I hit a patch of ice and found myself sitting down very suddenly and very hard whilst the dogs stood quietly and looked at me bewildered – Why was I doing that? Very gingerly and carefully I got to my feet and began to totter home. I decided that I felt a bit unsteady and didn’t want Roo (the brown kelpie x collie) to pull and send me flying so I unclipped both their leads and kept them under voice control. Unfortunately as we were going down 2 cars came up, reluctant to lose momentum on the hill, and although Roo got out of the way Orchid, a lurcher of very little brain, had to be pulled to the side using my good hand. I was very relieved to reach the safety of the driveway!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA restorative cup of tea later I checked myself over and realised that my bum was very sore and my left wrist was aching and starting to swell. The sore bum was familiar from previous falls but I just knew the wrist was more than a bump (though I was trying hard to convince myself it was nothing serious). A phone call to my good friend Jeni who lives a couple of miles away and off we went to A&E. They were lovely and by lunchtime I was sporting a cast. They offered a choice of colours but I knew that by the end of the 6 weeks it would be black however it started out so that is what I chose!

My bum is now fine, greatly helped by the last yoga class of the year where Rose decided to have us lying down the whole session but stretched us well! I am learning how to do many things one-handed and ways round things I cannot do. Thank goodness for a dishwasher and pre-prepared frozen veg! After a few days of staying indoors I have been able to start walking the dogs again. Putting up the Christmas tree at the front door was – hmmm – interesting!

My son and daughter live too far away to be able to help with day-to-day things but my son spotted these on Amazon to go over footwear and improve grip and bought them for me!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It will be a couple of months before I can drive. I am extremely fortunate to have wonderful friends and neighbours who are offering help of all kinds. But to go somewhere where there is decent internet available I have to get a lift and I really do not want to make too many demands on people so for a while posts may be like buses ‘You wait ages for one to come along and then 2 come at once!’