Sunday, 28 August 2011


What a feast for the senses! We went to Aberystwyth yesterday to experience Colourscape - a labyrinth of inflatable spaces, each with a powerfully distinctive hue. The all-encompassing colours impacted more than just the eye. The red rooms felt very active and sociable, whereas the paler blues and greens seemed more meditative and restful. The yellows were uplifting. Views from one coloured space to another were beautiful and dreamlike, as you can see in the photos:

Meggie had a fantastic time crawling about and shrieking, and later revealed her (suspected) sociable leanings when she went off on her own to meet (and climb over) a group of young boys... Have a look at the diary to see if they'll be anywhere near you this year - a much bigger installation is planned for the Colourscape Music Festival on Clapham Common from 17th-25th of this month. :D

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A Woman's Work is Never Done

I understand that now. Now that I have a baby. It would be impossible to count the number of times I have to put down what I've started, as Megan unexpectedly wakes up after a shorter than usual nap, or when she suddenly misses me in the other room. The house is full of unfinished jobs. Piles of dirty laundry, yet to be washed. Baskets of clean laundry, yet to be hung on the line. Dirty dishes; an overflowing compost caddy; squashed strawberries on the floor under Meg's highchair; clothes waiting to be photographed and put on eBay. Upstairs there is further chaos. Papers strewn across the floor in the bedroom, waiting to be filed. Toys littering the landing. Nappies and nappy inserts, jumbled in a heap. A random pair of green overalls.

Outside, there are jobs which will never truly be completed. The cardboard amassing in the pole barn must be torn up and layered with the grass cuttings in the compost bin. I am trying to get it done before more boxes are added to the stack, but who am I kidding? It's like trying to race the sun. My (slightly OCD) need for a ticked box, and a task fulfilled is being somewhat challenged. I am trying to roll with it, trying to learn a freedom and flexibility. It's not easy, but I am enjoying the slow process of giving up what appears to be a very linear mindset.

Today I re-cut the edges of one of last year's vegetable beds, took out the grass roots which had been threatening to engulf the soil in a sea of green and then planted out the beetroot seedlings. Even without digging over the bed (I took out what few weeds there were), it was still quite hard work. Another thing to have to do every year, to every bed (we looked into making raised beds, but so far it seems too expensive at about £30 per bed. We'll have to try to source much cheaper wood than we had in mind).

Our lawn is a jungle, with long grass more than a foot tall. I almost lost Meggie in the grass today (not really, I just said that for effect).

Nine months old, and almost ready to play at getting lost in the foliage.

A woman's work is never done. I looked it up here.
It says: Prov. Housework and raising children are jobs that have no end.

I think I need to work on acquiring a love for things which never end. Things which are half finished. Things which are on-going. Things which do not tick the boxes.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

May 2011 Smallholding Update

Well. Bloody hell, this baby lark is really getting out of hand. You see, I used to have spare time in which I could do things (including writing blog posts), but now my only spare hours are the last two before I go to bed, by which time exhaustion has rendered me completely useless.

And a lack of photographic evidence makes me feel like any update would be less than complete... But I have decided not to worry about this (that is, if you don't mind too much) - damn it! - I shall plough on, illuminating and illustrating with words alone if necessary. Onwards!

It has been a good month on the smallholding, with many achievements and changes for the better. In no particular order:

Energy: We had the guys from Llani Solar come to install our PV (photo-voltaic) and solar hot water panels behind the house - ironically the day they arrived was the day the weather broke, and since then the sun has been mostly hiding behind a cloud. Nevertheless, our water has been hot, and we have been able to observe our electricity meter at a standstill thanks to being able to use the energy we are producing ourselves. Phil and my dad have been preparing one of the sheds for the wood boiler, which will hopefully be installed later this summer.

The Vegetable Garden: My mum has been an absolute hero and deserves a medal, or at least a very large cake. She has taken on the horribly dull (but necessary) job of going over all of the potato-beds-to-be (newly created this spring by my dad) with a fine tooth comb and extracting all of the evil buttercup roots, as well as the demonic docks and endless nasty weeds. She has very kindly (and completely selflessly) allowed me to waft along, whenever I fancy (OK, whenever Meg spares me half an hour) and do quick, interesting things, things like planting out the squash, or sowing spinach; things which have an immediate feelgood factor, things which tick boxes and which are extremely satisfying. Thus we have mulched the onions with our year-old kitchen compost, planted out red oak-leaf lettuce, thinned the parsnips, planted out four varieties of dwarf beans (or are they French? I don't know, I'll have to ask them) - one of which is especially for saving as a dried bean and is a gorgeous rich brown colour with hints of gold. It's great to see the plants starting to really thrive in these warm, wet conditions. We have all sorts of things in the ground including some asparagus crowns from a friend (thanks, Tall Paul!), beetroot, broad beans, lettuce, onions, potatoes, squash (including Marina de Chioggia from Tom - thanks Tom!), kale, purple sprouting broccoli, parsnip, rainbow chard...

The Polytunnel: And again, my mother has been the workhorse, weeding and enriching the horrible soil (after my dad made some very nice looking raised beds), whilst allowing me to plant out the cucumbers and make little trellises for them, and put the basil in next to the tomatoes for companion planting, though I can't for the life of me remember what each one does for the other... We have only a couple of beds left to fill now, the rest being planted out with tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, sweetcorn, cucumbers, courgettes, white custard squash, coriander... The plants desperate to go in are melon, butternut squash, um... I thought there was something else too, but now my mind has gone blank...

Wild Food: We have been eating the purslane which grows abundantly beneath the apple trees - it makes a tasty salad, and I have heard rumours that it contains omega-3 fatty acids, and even that it is a super food - wow! - isn't pretty much every vegetable a super food?

Pests: There are slugs, millions of mini slugs, living at the edges of the beds, beneath the grass. Their tiny size makes them difficult to spot, so we have to actually seek them out, combing through the grass stems with our fingers, the scissors of death gleaming at the ready in the other hand... Something ate the tops off all of our carrots, and we are starting to feel cursed never to be able to grow a single carrot ourselves. Parsnips yes, carrots no. The cats have been using our newly dug beds as their personal toilet, scratching without heeding our tiny seedlings carefully planted out at precise distances from one another. There was a rat in my kitchen at the beginning of the month, but the rat traps must have scared it away, or perhaps one of the cats managed to corner it. The dock beetles have been turning the dock leaves to lace and laying their little orange eggs on any leaves they can find which do not yet resemble lace, which means that the rainbow chard is no longer its laid back self, and in fact has started to look rather paranoid...

Megan: My big girl cut her first tooth in the middle of the month, and we've had some difficult nights due to the discomfort of teething. Her mobility is increasing daily, she's fallen (gently, and without even noticing, it would seem) off the bed twice (I was only washing my hands very quickly after a nappy change!) and can't stop practising her crawl posture, not even when it's bedtime. She's definitely going to be crawling within the next couple of weeks... Oh dear, we'll need to get hold of a cot and stair gates, as well as shifting everything off the floor and raising it to higher (safe!) storage. Interesting times. Here's what we were up to last year at this time, if you're interested. I'd forgotten all about the epic heartburn I was experiencing, wow, isn't it amazing (and mysterious) how memory works :D

Meggie getting the feel for teeth, whilst working on her comedy routine.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Versatile Blogger

Ooo, look at this lovely green square, proof - proof, I say! - that someone - someone! - reads my blog, ha ha!

Thank you Beth (My Name is Beth) for the Versatile Blogger Award - I feel as though I ought to suddenly cover all-sorts-of-varied-topics-in-vivid-mixed-media-all-at-the-same-time in order to justify it, but fear not, gentle reader - I shall resist the urge.

Now, the Versatile Blogger Rules insist that I share with you 7 items of fact about my person, and I shall endeavour to make them short (yet interesting) before passing the badge of honour to other Versatile Bloggers in need of a lift who are very Versatile and admirable in other ways too. Beth made me laugh out loud with her factoids, though I have no idea which pudding she's talking about in Fact Number 3, I know I should know, and I feel like an idiot with lots of little obvious round things staring me in the face.

1. I played with my teddies until the ripe old age of thirteen, whole-heartedly creating an entire world for them out of (mostly) paper and card and imagination. My brother and I made little (frame by frame) videos on strips of paper for the video shop, we wrote magazines and newspapers by hand in felt-tip pen, and at one time in Teddysland there was a law that every teddy had to wear pants. I could go on and on about it, but I promised to keep this short :D

2. Reminded by Beth's mystery pudding description, I hate seeing little things coming out of little things. Rebecca, who I used to sing with, hates to see little things going into little things. Strange, huh?

3. I am fiercely secretive, whilst at the same time somehow appearing to be open to the point of giving-far-too-much-information. I'm not sure how that works.

4. My favourite writer is Richard Brautigan. He brings new meaning to everything he writes about. For example:

A circle
comes complete
with its
own grave.

Unfortunately he is now dead, and therefore follows the way of the circle.

5. I was once held at gunpoint in Mexico in the middle of the night/nowhere. What surprised me was that instead of panicking, my brain slipped straight into cold calculation, and time slowed down. I remember noticing with interest that the gun had a silencer attached, and was aimed at my heart instead of my head. Raising my hands to signify surrender happened automatically. That night I was SO GLAD I could speak Spanish.

6. Courgette is my favourite vegetable, ever since I had a vivid dream about living in a refugee camp with massive food shortages (in which someone kindly let me have some steamed courgettes in return for looking after their children, but you don't need to know all the details I'm sure, after all, other people's dreams are usually quite tedious).

7. I feel like I get an insight into a person's character by contemplating the shape of their hands and feet. Phil has quite gawky feet, which clearly tell me that he is extremely loyal. I'm sure there's no scientific basis for this, yet the facts remain.

The Versatile Blogger Rules (as far as I can tell) also demand that I pass on the award and spread the love, if that's what it is (which it might as well be - love also bestows awards, demands intimate information and comes with an elaborate set of rules).

I must now admit to being a silent lurker on the pages of these blogs, a reader who repeatedly fails to comment, an ethereal being who adds nothing to the internet experience, a taker instead of a giver... but one who pops by with great regularity thanks to my RSS feeds...

The Smallest Smallholding

Lucy is so enthusiastic about her plans and honest about her challenges, that it's a refreshing read (and one which makes me feel connected to other people like myself who are attempting to live the smallholding dream).

{duck fluff}
Laura is another lovely, down to earth lady - a maker and a mother. I started reading her blog after finding it by clicking "next blog" whilst I was still pregnant with Meg. Laura was pregnant too, but due a month or so earlier. I got hooked waiting for her to pop, and enjoyed reading about her creative projects :D

Zoe lives up the road from me, and has just recently had her second daughter. Her blog is beautiful, and again, deals with moments in a mother's life as well as the challenges of growing vegetables with little free time. I've only just discovered this blog and am finding it really inspiring :D

Now, how am I going to tell them about their award without revealing the fact that I have been secretly reading? I suppose I'll have to come clean, change the habit of a lifetime, and leave a comment... And about time, too.

Saturday, 30 April 2011


It's been a very busy spring. We planted about 1700 of the 3000 trees before realising that there was a lot more clearing needed to be done before we could plant the remaining 1300. Also it turns out that the grant only requires that they all be planted by February next year, so we plan on getting them in in the autumn. Nothing like putting off a job, ha! Why do today what you can leave until tomorrow? Still, we've not been resting on our laurels, you know (whatever that means). There are plenty of other things to be getting on with.

New beds are being created in the vegetable garden, at great effort. The land is horribly compacted after being used for horses by the previous owners, it's as hard as rock and shot through with thick, parsnip-sized dock roots. Pernicious weeds such as buttercup must be removed. Meanwhile last year's beds are being given the once-over before this year's plants are put in. So far we have several beds of potatoes, white and red onions, parsnips, asparagus, peas, broad beans, beetroot, leaf beet, kale and lettuce.

We've done a good (mostly timely) job of sowing our seeds this year, and have managed to keep on top of pricking out and potting on. Last year's success stories were: potatoes, parsnip, beetroot, basil, cucumbers and courgettes. Surprise failures included: spinach, carrots, peppers, aubergines and leeks. You'd have thought that leeks would be happy anywhere in Wales, being the national vegetable, but apparently not.

I've been trying to juggle Meg and the smallholding projects, and have been feeling quite frustrated by my inability to give my full attention to either as thoroughly as I would like. Megan is flourishing though, so I mustn't feel guilty for sometimes calling "Hang on a minute," as I finish hanging the nappies out to dry, or putting her in the laundry basket in the garden whilst I do some weeding for half an hour!

About a month ago I realised that I was getting stressed again, and that there was a whole host of stressful things hanging over me, needing to be dealt with. My mum encouraged me to write a list (one of my favourite activities) and I focused on sorting stuff out over the course of a couple of weeks. It's amazing how much lighter I feel now, and how much more able I am to face oncoming tasks. A weight has been lifted. :D

And all is well :D

Friday, 4 February 2011

Smallholding Plans

It's been a while since I posted, but don't let that lead you to believe that nothing has been happening here. We have been gearing ourselves up for a very busy year on the smallholding, having meetings and making plans. Our pressing projects include planting 3000-ish trees, which will take place from mid February until mid April (there's a deadline which needs to be met as the tree-planting is being done with the help of a grant), installing alternative energy systems (including a wood-fueled boiler for hot water/heating, solar panels to generate electricity, and passive solar collectors to heat water), as well as digging a whole load of new vegetable beds and hopefully growing twice as much as last year.

There's a good deal of construction work to be done, chiefly by Phil and my dad. The wood boiler will be stationed in one of the outdoor sheds, and will need to be boxed in and insulated so that we don't waste any leaked heat. A trench will be dug from the shed to the house as a route for the pipes. An 'A' frame for the solar panels needs to be constructed on high slope behind the house (due to the large hill in front of us, the houses lose the sun for the four darkest months of the year - the slope, being higher, retains the sun for a little longer).

The sun (shining tantalisingly on the other side of the valley) has not yet returned to our houses

We are planning a cool (but not too cold!) storage area on a mezzanine floor (which doesn't yet exist) for dried goods and things like potatoes and onions. Phil will be adding a foot or so of insulating hempcrete to the gable end and rear exterior walls of our house, which is something which should be done in warmer weather to aid drying. Eventually we hope to construct a conservatory along the front of the houses, as a way of capturing heat as well as creating more space, but I don't think we'll have time for that this year.

My mum has been excellent at taking up the reins with regards to the tree planting project. She has sourced them from a local tree nursery, so they will be well prepared for life at 800ft. Our plan is to start coppicing them for our own fuel needs as soon as they are big enough. Overall we are trying to become as self-sufficient as we can in energy and food, so that we are not at the mercy of volatile market trends and big business. We want to be as self-reliant as possible, it seems to be the only thing that makes sense in an increasingly unpredictable world.

The oaks lining the lane are hundreds of years old

Hopefully I'll make time to blog more regularly again (though it does look like I might soon be rather occupied!), and I really want to share Meggie's developments too, as well as what I've been doing creatively... Just give me a few extra hours in the day, that's all I ask!

I found a Silver Cross pushchair in a local charity shop for £3,
which is a fun way to take Meg out and about :D

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Megan and the Moon

A couple of days ago it snowed again, so once more we've been stuck on the smallholding. I'm unwilling to try walking the four miles to town with Megan in a sling - in case I slip on the ice and accidentally destroy her. To save us from cabin fever, Phil suggested we go on a little walk around the land this evening, and I persuaded him to wear Megan (he has really good grips on his boots!) which gave me a break from carrying the stone or so that she weighs (now when anyone tells me they've lost a stone, I am extremely impressed. Before Megan, I had no idea how heavy a stone was). We wrapped her up well in several layers, as well as leg warmers and a Peruvian hat with ear flaps, then attached a fleece blanket around her over the top of the sling. She looked like she was being carried in a royal chariot.

It was getting dark as we left the house and headed up the track, the remaining patches of snow shining out bright white in contrast to the dark wet patches. Megan was happy to be out in the air, and stopped her fretful teething for the duration. Then something strange happened. Phil noticed that Meg was staring at the darkening sky, a look of consternation on her face. We turned to see what it was that had caught her attention, and saw the moon. As you know, Megan loves light fittings, but her reaction to this - the most regal of all the natural light fittings supplied with the earth (save the sun, the Mother of all Light Fittings) - was not giggly and light-hearted. Instead she took the moon very seriously indeed, giving it her full attention. She was very calm and very focused. It seemed like an important moment in her life so far. It crossed my mind that this was the very first time she had seen the moon. How amazing to be witnessing all of these firsts. And somehow it is as though I am experiencing them for the first time too, by proxy, through Megan.