Saturday, 21 November 2015

Moving forward

Phew! It’s been a busy couple of days. We’ve loaded and unloaded the hired van three times, it’s slow going and Mr J has had to do far more than his fair share of the lifting, but we are getting there. The kitchen is starting to take shape and I’m getting a feel for where things might live once we decant our kitchen contents into the new house.
We’ve had lots of cups of tea and delicious chocolates, kindly left for us in a ‘welcome basket’ by the former owners (what a lovely gesture - some people just know how to do exactly the right thing).
Today, as always in autumn and winter, we started the day with hot food, I cooked bacon and gluten free pancakes (not together), this set us up for the morning and we took a full van load of plants over the bridge to Monmouthshire.
Mr J moved approximately 100 raspberry canes, all potted up and waiting for their new home, small trees including hazel, hawthorn and holly, and lots of herbaceous perennials and herbs. This is the start of our new garden in which I intend to grow as much of our food as possible. Over the course of the next few months, I aim to turn a paddock into a productive vegetable garden with a large area for soft fruit. In a year’s time we should have enough fruit and vegetables stored to see us through the winter, well, that’s the plan.
It was blowing a hoolie this morning, the winds were up to about fifty miles an hour and Mr J was being buffeted around as he emptied the plants from the van to the sheltered corner we had chosen for them to rest for the remainder of the winter. The house on the other hand was warm and cosy. There is something incredibly reassuring about hearing the wind blowing outside and being safe and warm indoors.

Then it was back to the rented house for lunch and a quick rest before we reloaded the van and made a second trip. By the time we got there it was dark and we were met with a myriad of twinkling little lights that festoon the front of the house, running on solar power and coming on as the sunlight fades, they were a welcoming sight. And so for the second night in a row, we are heading to bed early, exhausted by the day’s activities but grinning like nobody’s business.

Friday, 20 November 2015

First day nerves

You know that feeling you get when you are so excited and so happy that you think you could burst? I’ve been feeling that for a little over twenty four hours. This is fabulous for the soul but not so great for the adrenals, so I am taking extra vitamin C and magnesium to support them.
We drove the forty minute journey from the rented house in South Gloucestershire to our new home in Monmouthshire and as we crossed the Severn Bridge, I took the phone call from our solicitor to say that they the purchase had been completed and the small holding was indeed now ours.
The next few hours seemed surreal, we can’t quite believe that it’s ours, that this is where we are going to settle ourselves for the next, well, forever!

It was pouring with rain for most of the day, which made moving the first of our belongings in a somewhat soggy process. Today Mr J has gone to collect the van we have hired for the weekend to move furniture and garden items. We have to take this process slowly - I get worn out, totally empty batteries, very quickly so I have to pace myself, by taking lots of breaks. This is really hard to do when I am so thrilled at having this delightful space which we will turn into our home over the next short while.
So again today this blog is brief with just a few pictures, because I need to go and help load the van.
View from the back garden towards the house

View from the kitchen doors to the front garden

The last of the former residents shortly before they moved to their new home.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Too excited to sleep

Oh dear, it was never going to be an easy night but I thought that I had matured beyond ‘too excited to sleep’. Mr J seemed to find no problem in settling down, so I lay in the dark for a good hour, listening to the cat wandering around the house. For a small animal he can certainly make a lot of noise and I wondered how such a stealthy creature could walk up and down the stairs sounding like an elephant stomping through the undergrowth.
Anyway, the reason that I was like a six year on Christmas Eve is that today is the day when we take ownership of our new home, collect the keys and can start moving in. It’s been a couple of months since we last visited what we plan to be our last home. That’s not as ominous as it might sound, we just never want to move again!

So at one in the morning, I snuggled under a duvet on our sofa and watched The Farm Kings which I’d recorded earlier in the week and an hour later tried to sleep once again.

I slept like a log.

And this morning we have both woken before six o’clock, eager to get on with the day, so I can’t stop and chat right now, I have breakfast to cook while Mr J packs the car with the basic essentials for our first visit to our little smallholding.

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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

An eight legger problem

Not wanting to look at a picture of today’s blog subject, I have chosen a couple of flowers instead.
It’s that time of year when ‘thems what usually live outdoors’, make their way in for the winter. Every year I go through the same process of being horrified at the size of the spiders that choose to make our home theirs.

Now I do understand how important they are and I appreciate that they are busy keeping down the fly population and I know that they, along with all other little animals, have a vital part to play in our fragile ecosystem, but really… Do they need to put on their army boots and stomp across the living room floor? Do they need to build skyscraper webs in the conservatory? Do they need to hide in the cardboard centre of the loo roll (yes really!)?

Fortunately this year I have missed the worse of the exodus while I’ve been curled up in bed, but now we need to pack everything into boxes in readiness for the move to our new home. Last night, we tackled the utility room which has had three years worth of ‘I’ll pop it in the ute room for now’. This means that we have quietly accumulated a whole host of stuff, an oil lamp and camping gas stove (in case of power cuts), log baskets, picnic baskets, rugs and picnic blankets (we’ve never been on a picnic together), fabric to make new curtains, framed pictures and photos (too numerous to ever all be put up on display), and all those other things that we gather over the years thinking that they may be useful one day. Anyway, this lot needed sorting and packing.

Mr J and I started to sort and within minutes he exclaimed ‘Oh! That’s either a spider or a mouse!’. At this point I was pretty much cornered, I’d have to walk past the offending creature to make an escape from the utility room, so I girded my loins and did the brave thing – I squealed.

The dilemma of this situation was that I really don’t like big, crunchy, clodhopping spiders and Mr J is none too fond of mouse-like creatures. We each have a role in our house, he removes spiders and I liberate mousey things that Archie has brought home, it’s perfect, it works and we have a nice balance of responsibility. But now what to do? Well I’m too much of a wimp about eight-leggers to do very much, so Mr J took charge (thank goodness) and poked at the corner where it was hiding to determine the species of our unwanted visitor. It was a humongous spider. Okay, so not one of those plate size monsters found in the desert, but still one of the largest domestic specimens that I have seen for many years. I turned away as Mr J removed it and once again he became my hero.

Over the years I have tried many an old trick to keep spiders away – placing this season’s conkers on the windowsills and by doors seems to have worked best. I gather the reasoning is that conkers give off some sort of smell (a gas?) that spiders don’t like. It could be total hogwash, but I’m inclined to believe it works and am happy in my ignorance if it doesn’t. However, if anyone knows of other ways to keep these beasties away, I’d appreciate the wisdom.

Time for a cup of tea.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Planning time

How do we organise a move in just three days time? Lists of course. So we have a list of what to move first, who to contact about moving out, when friends can help, which utilities to contact, what furniture goes into which room and the list of lists goes on.

As we don’t have to move out of our rented accommodation immediately, thankfully we can move gently over a couple of weeks. Of course, our preference would be to move immediately and be in our new home right away. The reality is that I don’t have the strength or stamina for that.

The great thing about moving bit by bit is that I will have time to put things away as they arrive, so hopefully there will some order amongst the chaos.
I can also decide where my clocks are going to live. I like clocks, not because I have a time thing, but because I think that they are so clever and are so often like works of art. Mr J was a little surprised when he first discovered that I like to have clocks in almost every room but has, over time, come to accept that I have three clocks in the kitchen, two in the living room, that they are on windowsills, walls, tables and the mantel piece. The only downside to having so many clocks is that at night, when everything else is quiet, I can hear the clocks ticking. And they don’t tick in a coordinated way, there isn’t one loud tick as they mark the seconds together, oh no, they are all very slightly out of synch so I can hear a ripple of quiet ticks each second. One of my favourite clock sellers (and manufacturer) is Roger Lascelles, they can even personalise your clock, which means that we may just need one more clock in our new home!
But I digress… amongst the many things I have been trying to organise is the arrival of our first chickens, Jack, Bluebell and Diesel. These three lovely ladies have been living with my daughter for the last year or so and I have persuaded her to allow them to come and live on our smallholding.
I am a poultry keeping novice and so have done lots of reading about how to care for chickens and found PoultryKeeper very useful and watched loads of vlogs on YouTube, like Mother Earth News’ BackyardChickens 101So I’m comfortable with how I am going to look after the girls once they move in with us, my concern this morning was how they were going to get to us.

My daughter reassures me that their little raised chicken house and palatial run can be dismantled and put back together fairly easily and the birds can be transported in chicken boxes, where apparently they will settle down nicely in a dark environment and snooze on the journey. This is great news, the last thing we want is distressed chickens. My plan is that once they have settled into their new surroundings, they will be let out to roam around the smallholding each day.
Eventually (in the spring) I would like to get some more chickens, ones that lay blue eggs, to which Mr J and I are rather partial and by next summer we should be able to sell some fresh eggs together with some of our early cropping fruit and vegetables.
It’s so easy to become side-tracked when moving. While sorting through and packing up our belongings I’ve paused to remember the events that led to this photo or that ornament and then before I know it, a half hour has passed and I haven’t packed a thing. It’s been great to find that I didn’t lose my son’s first shoes (safely stored in a toddler size box) or my daughter’s fabulous painting of chickens with the number 8 proudly written above nine little yellow and orange hen shapes. Call me sentimental but these things catapult me back a quarter of a century or more as I remember the delight of a small boy toddling around a shoe shop admiring his smart red shoes with a little tractor embossed across the toe and the pride on my daughter’s face as she presented me with her latest painting from school and how hard I had to try to keep a straight face. Simple moments have become precious memories.

So, today’s task is to pack the contents of at least one room into boxes and label them. That shouldn’t take too much time, as long as I don’t get too side-tracked by memory lane.

Monday, 16 November 2015

To my health and Lemon Drizzle Cake

I’ve had some up and downs with my health and for most of the year I have been feeling pretty cronky. Finally this autumn I have started to find out the causes. So our new home will, I hope, also allow me to develop a healthier lifestyle and outlook.
I have thyroid issues (hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease) and adrenal issues (not yet sure whether it’s adrenal fatigue or Addison’s disease) and will need to learn a new way to take care of myself and Mr J.
The added stress of the house sale and purchase has helped to knock me for six, which in turn has impacted on my adrenal glands’ ability to function the way that they should and so, at the moment I’m spending most of my day in bed with Archie the cat at my side.
The one big positive of this is that I’ve had plenty of time to do some research, thinking and planning about how to incorporate the changes we need to make. For the thyroid issues I’ve found Izabella Wentz’s book Hashimoto Thyroiditis, Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating The Root Cause immensely helpful, as is her website, thryroidpharmacist, and for the adrenals, Adrenal Fatigue, The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by James L. Wilson has been an eye-opener.
My diet will be changing from the not too unhealthy (topped up with love of cake) to carefully monitored, organic, fresh and in season foods.
I have stopped all caffeine and am cutting out gluten (see my gluten free Lemon Drizzle Cake recipe below) and am learning that some foods I shouldn’t be eating at certain times of the day. It’s a faff and goes against my instincts but those instincts are, evidently, now wrong for me.
This new eating regime is being supported by an array of supplements because both the thyroid and adrenal issues mean that I have not been absorbing many of the essential elements that are vital to one’s wellbeing. Whilst normally eating a sensible diet would provide sufficient nutrients, I need, at least for the time being, to supplement that diet with boosting levels of vitamins and minerals. My day is organised by my alarm clock gently reminding me which supplements to take at what time and now that I have them pretty much organised, I am really starting to feel the benefit.
Fortunately we are just about to have plenty of space in which to grow lots fruit and vegetables, to keep chickens and ducks for eggs (and possibly meat).
Lots of the physical work that I would have undertaken will for the time being, have to be done by others, mostly Mr J.  So I will be exploring ways in which to find extra help, from friends lending a hand to volunteers looking for the experience of working on a smallholding, like WOOFing. I love being out in the garden, in the fresh air and especially when I can then eat the results of my work, once my strength has returned I will be tending my new fruit and vegetable plot as much as I can.
So, in just four days time we will get the keys. Eek, I’m so excited! I am really looking forward to the next couple of weeks as we move to our smallholding, settle the first of our chickens into their new environment and take the time to explore and enjoy our new home.

My 'Moving Home Celebration' lemon drizzle cake
4oz lightly salted Butter
2oz unrefined Caster Sugar
2 Eggs
Finely grated zest of unwaxed Lemon
4oz finely ground Cornmeal
1 tsp gluten free Baking Powder

For drizzling
1oz icing sugar
Finely grated zest and juice of unwaxed Lemon
1 tblsp hot Water
Preheat oven to 375F, 190C, 170 fan, gas mark 5.
Grease and line or flour a 9 inch round tin or flan dish.

Cream butter and sugar, add egg yolks and mix well. Stir in grated zest of one lemon.
Whisk egg whites until light and fluffy and add to wet ingredients, stirring gently.
Fold in cornmeal and baking powder and pour into prepared tin or dish.
Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 25 minutes. Check that it is fully cooked using a skewer (if it comes out clean, the cake is ready).
Leave to rest for a couple of minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack to rest for 5 minutes.
Prepare drizzling by combining the icing sugar, zest and juice of lemon and hot water.
Turn cake onto a serving plate and spoon the lemon drizzle over the top. Leave to cool.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Dream searching

And 48 hours later, our lives are turned around…
We’d been thinking for a little while about buying our first home together. This felt like logical step in our relationship but it’s still a big step for two 50-something year olds.
I am a lists person. I like lists, I like the clarity that they bring, so we started by making a list of our ‘must have’ attributes that our ideal home together would have. We were delighted to discover that not only were we in agreement about the essential elements, but there was almost total agreement about the desirable things too.
Having made the decision to pool our resources and go for it, we have ended most days for the last couple of months, curled up in bed, phones in hand, scrolling through the day’s new listings on Rightmove.
One Saturday evening, after the estate agent offices had closed for the remainder of the weekend, I noticed a little semi-detached house that had just come onto the market. Sunday dragged on but also gave me the opportunity to do a bit of research about area surrounding the house, the village and the history of the building – Google can be a wonderful thing!
By 8.40am on Monday I had spoken to the estate agent and booked a viewing for midday. Because we are the type of folks who would rather be early and have to wait than be late and keep others waiting, we found ourselves driving around area surrounding the house we were about to view, killing time – for almost half an hour.
We spent quite a while looking around the house and tried very hard not to grin too much. It ticked every single box, met every essential criteria and lots of our desirable ones too. On the way home, I was ready to pick up the phone and put in an offer, my heart absolutely ruling my head and I wasn’t alone in my feelings. But we are sensible bunnies, life has made us a touch more cynical than we were when we were young and our heads told us that we should have another look before making a decision about the biggest purchase of our lives.
So once at home, we did the sensible thing and made tea. Following a late lunch and much discussion, I phoned the estate agent and booked a second viewing for first thing the following morning. So the next day, we went back to the little white semi-detached for a second viewing.
Now in the past, second viewings have invariably led us to see the faults, flaws and the way a house just wouldn’t work for how we live our lives, so I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed and disappointed.
What I wasn’t prepared for was to be enveloped in its charm or to feel so certain that I wanted this house to be our next home and that Mr J felt exactly the same way.
Over a cup of tea, we were open and honest with the vendors, we explained our financial situation, discussed potential timescales and that we were on our way to the estate agent to put in an offer. We left the property and headed straight to the nearest town to search out the estate agent’s office to do just that.
Then we drove home to wait for their response, we waited and waited. The next 5 hours felt like the longest for years (probably since the day my daughter made me a Grandma – but that’s another story).
When the telephone finally rang, showing the estate agent’s number, I felt sick. We had decided not to mess around with cheeky offers, we had simply made the best offer that we could. Mr J and I had agreed and if our offer wasn’t enough, we were going to have to practice the ‘it’s just not meant to be’ and ‘there’s something better out there waiting for us’ strategy of coping with the disappointment.
So I answered the phone and held my breath, thank goodness the agent spoke fairly quickly or I could have passed out from a lack of oxygen. A few moments later, I informed Mr J that we had indeed just agreed to purchase a little white semi-detached house complete with a Dutch barn, stables, chicken house and tumble-down piggeries.
This blog will be a gentle look at what we learn about our new greener environment and how our lives change as we move from a South Gloucestershire village to a smallholding in South Wales.