Friday, 27 November 2015

Mucking in and mucking out

We've owned our little small holding for a week now and are very nearly moved in. Having waited for so long to find our new home we are itching to get settled in and get on with enjoying it.

I've watched Mr J shifting so many boxes and bags, chairs and tables, shelves and 'stuff' that I was starting to feel bad about not being able to do more. But logic dictates and I know that actually physically I cannot do more.

But what I can do is slowly start doing some of the jobs outside the house that don't require heavy lifting and that I can gently get on with bit by bit. So I decided to start mucking out the stable area that we are going to turn into our chicken condo.

It was very slow going but on a rainy day like today it was nice to be out in the fresh air whilst being dry under cover. I don't have much strength but I do have determination and that, it seems, counts for an awful lot! I took lots of short breaks but have shifted about 15 barrow loads outside to the allotted composting area and started to pile it all up ready for putting in the compost bins, when we've created them.

I think a few more sessions of wheel barrow loading and I will have completed stage one of creating a splendid home for 'the girls' when they come to live with us. I will also have gathered plenty of material for our compost heaps. I can see it won't be long before I keep a bucket and spade in the car at all times and collect the horse manure from the lanes for the compost heaps.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

A place for everything

The day started well enough, I woke feeling much improved after sleeping off the effects of yesterday's test at the doctor's surgery and headed downstairs to pack a few more things into boxes. I got side-tracked, as so often happens, and made a fruit cake, gluten-free of course. And while that was cooking I packed most of the contents of the kitchen cupboards to take to our new home, which was when I discovered our first dilemma of the day.

I feel like we have crossed the Severn Bridge so many times in the last week that we should now be on first name terms with the staff at the toll booths, but all this to-ing and fro-ing is just a short phase and will stop soon enough. As my favourite phrase goes 'This too will pass' and I'd like to think that our move will be completed in the next few days.

Anyway, we made a discovery today, well several in fact, but the first one was that despite having a large kitchen with lots of cupboards, there just isn't enough storage space for my family sized cooking equipment.

Perhaps I have too many cake tins or mixing bowls, perhaps it's the huge lasagne and casserole dishes or the numerous roasting tins, whichever it is, there seems to be more of them now than I have ever owned, have they been breeding in the cupboards?

The solution is, of course, simple, all I need to do is de-clutter. Hmmm, that's easier said than done as I use all my cooking equipment on a pretty regular basis and you can be sure that no sooner than I recycle something, that will be the piece of equipment that I need. No, thinning it out just won't work for me.

Not ones to be beaten by such a simple problem, Mr J and I have agreed to buy some more kitchen units to create an island in the centre of the kitchen.

I spent the afternoon emptying boxes and putting things away or in their allotted rooms to be more accurate, while Mr J drove back and forth to the local self-storage unit where we have been keeping lots of the things we don't use on a daily basis but want in our new home. He also brought back the first of the Christmas decorations to store in the barn until the moment comes that I can decorate our home for our first Christmas (of many) at the small holding.
View from the front of the house towards the setting sun
As the light started to fade Mr J took a few photographs of the view, we are both enchanted by our new surroundings and I hope that we continue to be as the years go by.
View toward the (as yet unplanted) fruit and vegetable garden


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Family values

Yesterday I lit a fire in the kitchen wood burner which made the house feel even cosier as Mr J continued to bring in our belongings. Moving has been a slow process out of necessity, but the advantage of this is that we have had time to consider where we want things to live. Bit by bit and room by room, the house is starting to look very much like our home.
My sister and brother-in-law (BIL) visited us yesterday. My sister had already seen our new home as I had invited her to join us for one of the viewings prior to purchase, but watching my BIL’s smiles as he looked at our new home was a delight. They live about 20 minutes away and I am so pleased to be near them, they are a pleasure to spend time with, so I am hoping that we will see them more regularly. He exclaimed ‘Wow’ in his deep Welsh accent at all the appropriate moments and shared our joy at finally having found our ideal home.

My sister and I discussed the merits of turning the stable area into a hen house, which would provide the chickens with a large dry area in which to live, we could secure it from foxes and other animals that may take a shine to ‘the girls’. They could roam the garden during the day but return to a warm, safe and dry area in the evenings or when the weather is inclement. The trailer (and wood) and other bits and pieces that can be seen in the photograph, have now gone to their proper home with the previous owners of our little smallholding, and we have a large dry stabling area to make the best use of that we can. A chicken condo certainly seems a good idea.

Inside, the kitchen has already become the focal point of our home and our cooker should be installed at some point next week. I found a great bargain on Gumtree, we are keeping our fingers crossed that our second hand cooker works properly (it was already disconnected when we purchased it) because otherwise my great bargain will be a rather costly ornament! I have promised the previous owners that once the cooker is installed I will bake a cake (or two) and invite them for afternoon (or morning) tea.
I find something magical in sitting around a table sharing homemade food, discussion and laughter, it’s probably the most relaxing, healing and life-affirming thing I can think of. And this is exactly what will be happening when my daughter and her family come to see us at the smallholding at the weekend. My daughter has been inundated with photos and phone calls from me about the house, the garden, the trees, exactly which spot her chickens might be living when they first come to us, my plans for the garden, whether we should have a pigmy goat or tiny donkey (I’ve decided against both, after all Archie the cat is enough pet for us!) and the list of things I’ve talked to her about goes on and on. I can hardly wait until I can show her and her partner and my two grandsons around. Grandson number 2 won’t take much notice of his surroundings, he’s just two weeks old today, but it will be lovely for him as he gets older to come to visit ‘Grandma’s Farm’.

Today we are taking a break from moving, first thing this morning I had an appointment at the doctor’s surgery and a fairly unpleasant test which has left me feeling giddy and nauseous, so have returned to bed for the remainder of the day. This is probably no bad thing, I have done more in the last seven days than I have in the previous four months, so it will give me some much needed rest. Mr J is, as ever, being thoughtful and supportive and I am sure that he also needs a break from the process of moving especially as it is he who has been doing most of the lifting and carrying and all of the driving.
I'm going to spend a bit of time reading about micro-organisms and gut health, and then go back to making plans about permaculture.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

New family, vintage kitchen and a blank canvas

It seems that this November has turned out to be a rather splendid month. Not only did Mr J and I get the keys to our new home but we also gained a new member of the family. Grandson number 2 was born on 11th November and, respecting my daughter’s wishes, I haven’t shouted about it too much until now. At last, I can sing it from the treetops.
I am looking forward to the time when the boys can come visiting us at our smallholding and being able to play in the garden, climb trees and make mud pies with them. In the meantime, I get to have baby cuddles with the youngest and great conversations, playing trains and creating Lego buildings with the oldest.

Our moving continued yesterday, I wish I could wave a magic wand and have the house all ready for us, but at the same time that would take away some of the fun too. I’ve spent (too) much of my time deciding which kitchen cupboards to use to store what. I wondered for a little while if I really needed so many cooking utensils, but the answer is that I may not need them all, but I certainly like having them.

Do I really need two hand whisks from the 1970s? Probably not, but I couldn’t chose which one to get rid of, so they both stay. I definitely need my 1960s Spong’s bean slicer and the ‘clamp on the edge of the table’ meat mincer. The lobster claw crackers (like nut crackers but for lobster claws), no I don’t really need these, neither Mr J or I eat lobster and I’m not entirely sure why I bought them in the first place. I was probably in one of those fabulous kitchenware shops and just couldn’t resist the shiny red crackers in the shape of lobster claws. I really like traditional cookware and love looking through the website of The VintageKitchen Store, it seems that half of my kitchen utensils would now be considered vintage and I still enjoy cooking with them.
Some of the more modern kitchen essentials, I’ve put readily to hand but still tucked away. I don’t feel the need to clutter the work surfaces with white plastic and chrome machinery, except for the kettle and a bread maker, because it makes me feel good to make Mr J a small loaf of bread every few days. When my children were younger I used to get up early and bake all kinds of lovely things for them for breakfast and then sweep and mop the floors before they got up. My daughter said to me a couple of years ago that to her summer smells of freshly baked scones and Ecover floor cleaner. Now before anyone thinks that I must have been a marvellous mum, I will put the record straight. Getting up so early left me exhausted for most of the day and the children usually came home from school to find me sprawled out on the sofa snoring like a rabid warthog!

Anyway, the sorting and planning are coming along gently. So too are my thoughts about the kitchen garden and ta da! already it has progressed from a humble fruit and veg patch. There’s a big space for me to experiment in and it’s a blank canvas and so I once we are all moved in, I will put pencil to paper and start drawing some plans because I have some beautiful plants just waiting to be settled into their new home too. I have more than a vague idea of what I’d like to do, whether I can turn that into a reality is another thing altogether!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Deeply lacking

If learning about how my body works wasn’t prompted by its failure to function properly, I wouldn’t be nearly as interested and keen to learn as I am. It’s very much a case of necessity breeding eagerness, but then, I guess that’s true of so many things in life.
This week I have been learning about the role of vitamin C in supporting adrenal (dys)function and occasionally I think about how proud Mrs Austen would be that I am taking such an interest in the nutritional value of foods. Mrs Austen was my Home Economics teacher at school and although I may not have always behaved impeccably in her classes, the lessons I learnt there have stood me in good stead for most of my life.

Between Mrs Austen (who in my juvenile mind was really elderly - I bet she was at least 50!) and my mother I learned a love of cooking. My mother said that the difference between an average meal and a really good one was not the ingredients or the order you prepared them but the love that you put into it. And that’s the basis upon which I cook, I’ve stirred in a little bit of love to every single meal.

If love was a vitamin or mineral, there would certainly be no deficiency in this household!
But sadly it’s not, and I am still struggling with the daily grind of absorbing those pesky little essential ingredients that make our bodies function at a pretty basic level. I’ve been lucky to find plenty of good quality advice through an online forum at ThyroidUK from people who are going through the same trials and tribulations and through vast amounts of reading (the internet makes it relatively easy to access original research papers).

Having decided that I don’t want to just pop a pill of synthetic hormone and allow my internal organs to stop producing any of their own or worse still, for them to wither away altogether, I am choosing to take a longer and gentler route and support my thyroid and adrenal glands to give them time to heal in the hope that they will eventually return to better function. In the meantime, I will take the synthetic thyroid medication as the priority is (I am advised by my doctors) to address the adrenal issue first.

In addition to the synthetic thyroid medication, I have a daily routine of vitamin and mineral supplements in the hope that my body can process some of them, it seems to be working to some extent as many of the (rather unpleasant) symptoms I was experiencing have started to lessen. It’s a faff, ensuring that I take one tablet or capsule at least 4 hours away from the last or that I’ve taken X,Y or Z with a particular vitamin to enhance the chances of it being absorbed or that one thing is taken on an empty stomach while another needs to be taken with food.
To further support my struggling adrenals and thyroid, I have stopped eating a variety of things that up to now I’ve enjoyed without thinking about them. So caffeine is out (except for the little bit in an occasional chocolate) and gluten has almost gone, margarines and spreads replaced with butter and cold pressed extra virgin coconut oil, sugar reduced, salt increased… and so it goes on!

For me, the key to feeling better is to celebrate every single success, no matter how small or insignificant it seems at the time, because this allows me to feel like I am making progress and then when I take a setback, I have some positive memories to draw upon to lighten the disappointment.

Photo taken in December 2012 during a very sad time in my life
Even when everything seems gloomy, there is always something to smile about if I look hard enough. This oak tree was grown by my father from an acorn he picked up on the day that my son was born, it looks beautiful against the clear winter sky.
Mr J has just returned home clutching the next bottle of tablets for me (vitamin C with bioflavonoids in a ratio of 2 to 1, which, I read, is the most beneficial for adrenal support) and he’s brought me a fresh cup of decaf tea so now I’m feeling very pampered.

Having had lots of sleep last night, I’ve had a blissfully gentle start to the day and we will shortly get ready to head back to the smallholding. I’ve over done it for the last few days and I am feeling very worn out, so today is going to be a ‘pottering day’ which I suspect will include quite a lot of snoozing on the sofa.

Apparently it’s very cold outside today (I haven’t ventured much outside my duvet, let alone outside the door!) and this seems to me to be the perfect reason to light the wood burner in the kitchen, get out the sewing machine and make a start on some curtains. It won’t be too long before the new house starts to truly feel like our home.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The strength of friendship

Our home at dusk

After another five o'clock wake up, I managed to go back to sleep for a little while and didn't get up until nearly seven. This feels like luxury after months of three and four o'clock starts, not because I want or need to be up pre-dawn, but because my body isn't doing quite what is should and waking at inappropriate hours seems to be part and parcel of it.

So after what Mr J described as a 'sumptuous repast' we once again loaded the van and headed off to our smallholding where, in the dry-ish barn, we stored bits of wood that are bound to be useful and electrical 'things' (I've learnt it's better not to ask what they are for, just in case Mr J ever asks me why I want to keep some of the things that I have held on to for so many years).

We were back just in time for our friend Jane to arrive to help us. Jane is one of my oldest friends, not old in age, old as in we've known each other for a very long time.

Jane and Mr J loaded the van with some heavy old bits of furniture, much too heavy for me to be of use trying to lift it, while I rustled up some hot chicken sandwiches and a coffee. Lunch eaten, all three of us headed to Monmouthshire once again.

It was so exciting to be able to show Jane around the garden and talk to her about my plans for the fruit and vegetable garden. Jane in an excellent gardener and I've always admired her vision in creating a really lovely garden and I value her thoughts and advice. She ooh-ed and ahh-ed at all the right moments and let me enthuse about tumbledown piggeries and understood my ideas about turning a stinging nettle patch into a duck pond. We spotted a Little Egret flying overhead, I'd never heard the name before and thought it was white heron, but it was definitely a Little Egret (click here to find out more from RSPB).

Then we showed her the house and while I made more coffee, they carefully unloaded the furniture from the van and took it to the allotted rooms. What a fabulous achievement! We can now start moving in all the things that live in the cupboards and chests of drawers.

There are times in life when I am reminded of just how lucky I am. It's never the things, the trappings, the frippery that prompt these moments, today it was the generosity of my friend giving her energy (and strength) so freely, the laughter and the love. Yup, this evening I am feeling very fortunate indeed.

Inside the barn