Sunday, 19 March 2017

Of things which do not matter and things which do

#lodgehousechallenge can be a hard station, as my Irish tongue would have it. The reference to a 'station',  particularly apt in this season of Lent, not that we are quite at Calvary yet. I merely mean our present circumstances force from within realisations which, altough true, we wish we didn't know. Like the fact that we cannot make ends meet, for example. We have tried, failed and tried again. And we will keep trying, but we have now come to know that it cannot be done without taking up additional work.

When we feel a little overwhelmed and that we cannot manage we ought to think about the things which do not matter and the things which do. I make mental lists. Things which do not matter comprise: bills, cars, money, possessions, fashion, holidays aboard (that's hard). Things which do are: family, caring for Bertie, friends, planning future fun together (like parties and such like), making the dream work and sticking together like glue.

This month when we ran out of money weeks before payday we went out and bought seed potatoes (wiljas, since you ask).

Then we sat down and worked out a way to ensure that next month the same doesn't happen. 

Meanwhile, we are making progress in the garden! And spring is springing. Today we sowed pumpkin, sweetcorn, tomatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts and chilli peppers. We have fresh herbs already growing. Outside the vegetable patches are marked out and being dug through stage by stage. 

We have cleared fourteen years worth of bramble from the 'herb garden', and will plant potatoes there soon - enriching the soil for the medicinal patch which is to come. You can see from the 'before' and 'after' pictures the work we have been doing: the fir trees have been removed, the lean-to rebuilt, a new gate fitted, brambles cut down, dug out and burnt into oblivion. By harvest time this little corner will have transformed to a life sustaining heap of spuds.

The garden gives us hope that our new life, the dream for which we came, is still growing, unfurling, coming to life as slowly as the tree top leaves in the cold, fresh sun of a new gardeners' year.

And Moppet, the cat, catches mice.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Advent approaches

"Advent fast approaches and I've accomplished nothing", so says my husband - but he doesn't mean it. It is just that living in a #lodgehousechallenge# is, well, truly challenging. Take for example, getting an extractor fan fitted in the bathroom...

We lease the property, so we must ask the estate people to come. Six weeks later they arrive, but fit an extractor so basic it is Neanderthal, open to the elements, the perfect nesting site for birds, and filters an icy gale through the bathroom. So we get back on the email. Everything is fixed, eventually. And we are thankful. Right now our lean to is being re-built. I mean, it was a danger to all those near by in high winds. And the chaps that are rebuilding it are brilliant, skilled carpenters. We are thankful, truly.
The compost bins were meant to have been built, by us, in September. They are now done! Hurrah! It happened by happy/unhappy accident. G was in our old banger trying to drop B to childcare and get to work. The car broke down post childminder but pre work, leaving him stranded near home with 'nothing' to do. Nothing. Ha!
In a moment of inspiration we have asked a lad from the nearest village to help us at weekends when he can. It makes the world of difference. Progress gets made.You see, one of the biggest challenges we have faced is that we thought there would be two of us working outdoors, but there is not. Bertie, who turns one this weekend, doesn't like watching gardening from his buggy. He wants to do other one year old stuff, like play and crawl and giggle. Who'd have thought? So, with the best will in the world, only one of us gets to garden. I want to dig my herb patch, just outside the lean to. G wants to get started on the 'kitchen garden', viz the jungle. Somehow or other we needed to work a way of pleasing us both. Getting a little help has proven the miracle solution. We thank God for Archie.

To keep chipper we have to keep reminding ourselves why we have come, and what we are aiming to achieve. We have to keep thinking about how much we have already achieved. Inside, we have redecorated half of our small home. Outside, we have cleared the old barn. Tools have been organized, cleaned and oiled. We have started to dig a herb patch. The compost bins and leaf pens are built.  The gates have been painted. Wood for winter has been split and stored. Plans laid for the season ahead...
Money is not easy, and we are struggling to make ends meet each month, but, as my Ma would say, 'the struggle is all'. And, my Da would have said, 'it's only silly old money.' We have come here because we want a simple life, filled with fun and family - and that's it. Family comes first, all the great concerns of the world, like Tellies and iPhones and Shopping and Clothes and Bank Balances and Stuff, come later. Much later. So much later in fact that getting a haircut needs advanced planning at the moment. Maybe I'll buy scissors? And we still can't afford bedroom curtains - just as well there are no neighbours!

Ironically, the simpler you try to live, the harder it seems to get. Sometimes the task seems too much. In such moods, we light the fire and give each other a pep talk about how everything that people think matters doesn't really matter. That helps. Then we buy wine. We are going to have to give that up and start making booze. Such is the self sufficient life.
As Advent does approach we know one thing...we haven't any money for Christmas. And we have faith in another, we are going to have the best Christmas ever! We have wood for the fire; enough for a hearty meal; I've saved for a new toy for little B; last years tree is growing in a bucket; I've made the puddings; and loved ones will come and we will visit. Maybe we will buy ourselves some curtains...

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A year in my arms

One year.
One year you've been in my arms,
not counting the months
you grew inside me.

One year and nine months -
let's face it -
you didn't know
you weren't me,

until one day -
you became you -
 - and I became I
once more.

But I am still you,
defined by love,
my image remoulded
because you're enfolded

in my arms.

Peace at Michaelmas


Hallo all. It has been a while, but #lodgehousechallenge is going strong! We have a very peaceful life in the woods. Even when we are both working we come home, cook the dinner, light the fire and cuddle under a blanket to listen to 'story' before bed: SJ Parris' Heresy, since you're curious, we love a bit of historical fiction.

I adore, yes, adore, the feast of Michaelmas - the Feast of St Michael and the Archangels. It is my favourite, frequently marked by Michaelmas daisies growing in the garden. But there are none this year! The garden is new to us and whoever loved it before did not share my passion for this little delicate flower. Ah well, in years to come it will grow abundantly. In the meantime, each morning at 7.30am forty to fifty pheasants graze on our lawn before passing into the adjacent field, and well they are quite a sight to see! Geese fly over in the evening, making a journey to their night resting place. I've never seen them, but they are quite a thing to hear!

G and I have worked out a few domestic things, as well has making excellent progress on making our lounge the cosiest place ever, and improving the facilities in the bathroom. Our biggest victories have come in the form of food and drink. We were spoiled in Lane End with Lacey's Guernsey herd producing creamy milk just down the road. I did not think we would meet their match. But we have landed on our feet: North Aston Organic Dairy has a little herd of 12 - 17 milking cows, and we are in lactose heaven. Next door North Aston Organic Farm organise us a veg box to pick up each fortnight, full of delicious fruit and vegetables - a surprise each time - enabling us to get creative in the kitchen. Both of these local sources of sustainable food are admirable businesses and fascinating to G and I. On the alternate weeks, I am off work on the Thursday and pay a regular trip to Witney fruit and vegetable market where I happily stock up on all our needs. We have even had some amazing organic beef from the North Aston Dairy, osso buco, and little Bertie certainly did enjoy the stew we made from that!

Amidst the peace of the house, there is the chaos - boxes still packed, jobs still to do, tasks which seem overwhelmingly huge, but slow and steady wins the race! One of the jobs that is on out mind is to make the place ready for Autumn and Winter. This weekend we will sweep the barn and lime wash it, and on Tuesday we expect a delivery of two tonnes of logs (and a man to get rid of the moles). Next weekend we should build a leaf pen and compost heap (but we have an appointment with the bank manager, hey ho). In the mean time, well, tomorrow I might make Orange Cake and tea, just for the Archangels, me and the family.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

The Garden Journal

Everyone says we should keep a garden journal. The purpose I suppose is to record progress, and have a record of which plants went where year on year, and how they performed. I am a prolific keeper of notes, diaries and records, and there will be, no doubt, an old fashioned hand written school notebook with spidery scrawl and pencil line drawings, but for now I thought I'd start here. With pictures. To show exactly how much imagination G and I are going to need to make this place happen.

The Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden needs to evolve slowly, it will provide all our basic staples as well varieties we enjoy which are not easily obtainable. Potatoes (Cara, Wilja, Charlotte, etc); Roots (Parsnips, Carrots, Celeriac, Beetroot, Turnips); Onions (Bedfordshire! (It's where I'm from!) Pinks, White and Reds); Brassicas (the usual suspects to feed us year round); Summer Veg (peas and beans); Squashes (Pumpkins!); Salad crops;Tomatoes; Everything Else.

This should be an idyl, the perfect productive garden (Nine bean rows shall I have there...).

Herb Patch

With herbs we need all things. Herbs for cooking, herbs for healing and herbs for bathing: rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, marjoram, angelica, fennel, sorrel, bergamot, lovage, chives, mint. You name it, it will live here.

Wild Garden

The wild garden remains a bit of a mystery. We would like to eradicate perennial weeds such as bindweed and establish native species to attract even more bees and butterflies. We will research and take advice on the best plants to flourish in this little tended 'wild' patch.Ultimately it should be largely self sustaining.

 Blind Alley 

The previous occupants had the conifers drastically cut back outside the lounge window, now the view is a brown dead mess. We hope it may green up, but in the meantime we aim to treat the weeds in this dark area,and put down a weed suppressing mat and some gravel to join our driveway and brighten up the whole damp sorry patch.

Concrete Paradise

I have visions of an eight by eight checkers board; G has visions of a greenhouse (large), with compost bins conveniently located behind. We shall see. He may win on shear practicality.

Lavender and Rosemary Borders

G brought home sixteen half-dead lavender plants from Homebase. They were free. Now they are nearly all dead. Still the precedent lives, and the front garden will be a lavender and rosemary garden. In fact, all around the house, in the borders underneath the windows there will be lavender and rosemary to waft in refreshing and soothing smells. We need to take cuttings from the Ma's.

And so endeth the tour of the work that is to do in the garden.. The visions are big, the labourers few and the work is much...,but paradise beckons. We live in eternal hope.

Monday, 8 August 2016

The chaos and the calm

Anything called #lodgehousechallenge has to have an element of, well, challenge. And so began our journey into the lodge house. Moving day arrived, and the vans pulled up, G and I still hurling things into boxes. 

My sister called, Mum had injured herself, badly. In fact, as a trip to the hospital some days later would reveal, she had torn a tendon and ligament in the groin - a typical footballers injury, and it would take some months to recuperate. So, mid move, Bertie and I abandoned ship and headed to see the injured patient, bringing food, and later transporting her to hospital. Happily, now home again, Ma is on the mend.

Meanwhile, my husband's parents arrived to stay and help us get everything shipshape. We didn't really unpack. All our possessions are in the garage, with a skeleton of stuff to make the house operable, scattered around the various rooms. G and his dad set to in the kitchen. Five days of 10 hour shifts and, sweating at the brow, they transformed the place. G's mum, set about helping me get the piles of laundry through (our washing machine in old house packed up a week before we moved), and sorted. Soon, little B was able to abandon disposable nappies and return to his favourite brand of cloth (Charlie Banana).

Meanwhile, in the garden, we have been attempting to tame the wilderness in preparation for clearance come the winter. Brambles that stretch 10 metres deep need to be brought to heel, bindweed must be annihilated, nettles, thistles, thorns, ragwort and encroaching woodland all need to be banished. We admit we may need heavy machinery and help to complete this task in the end, but for now, it is us against nature. 

Oh, and then there's the bees nest in the empty chimney, brought to my attention by the chimney sweep who gave our working chimney the all clear for a wood fire open grate.

G's parents left last Wednesday, and today he returned to work. We have done our best to make the house 'workable' for the next while. There is an oasis of calm amidst the hive of activity. #lodgehousechallenge is, after all, our home.

 Next we will transform the sitting room, turning it into the cosiest lodge house lounge ever.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

ab initio...

It's tomorrow. We officially become tenants of the Lodge House at midnight tonight. G is picking up keys in the morning. After that, despite the excitement, everything will be fairly humdrum whilst we pack up our one bedroom flat here, make arrangements with electricians, plumbers, chimney sweeps and removal men and, finally, put everything into transit on Monday.

The real work will begin in earnest on Wednesday when the tradesmen depart. There are rooms to paint and decorate, outbuildings to lime wash and equip, tools to organise, borrow and beg for. There is furniture to restore, and amidst it all, a baby to mind.
Oh, and then there's the garden.

The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few. It's going to take a this space!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Good Vibrations...

It is exactly two weeks until we move. Excitement is not the word. I think both G and I are suffering from that childhood experience of moving through time as if we were wading through jelly. Neither of us can wait for the day to come, but more than that, neither of us can wait for the moment at which we can look around ourselves and think, 'that's it, we are settled'. Both of us think this move is the most exciting thing that has happened to us since Boy was born.

We have done a few things to prepare. Not much, I hasten to add, we are both working round the clock in the old 'nine to God Knows When'. However, G did spend a lunch time looking at our energy suppliers. Unsurprisingly, it is not a conventional set-up. Electricity is solar and mains but gas is via an LPG tank. Recently G heard an interesting talk at a work seminar by the founder of 'Good Energy', Juliet Davenport. They are the UK's first 100% renewable energy supplier and currently partner the National Trust on some of their renewable energy projects. As we have solar, and can sell our energy back into the grid, they seem like a natural choice. So, we can be sure that all the electricity we use will be either our own or from another renewable source.

As for LPG, it's a bit of minefield, because it's pretty niche for domestic; most rural properties are oil if they are not on mains gas. We are looking at various farming co-operatives but are committed to using local wood fuel for the majority of our heating needs through winter. 

As for me, my preparations have involved exploring the vast cellar in my ex-convent school. The building dates from 1860, schooled Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin when it was an Anglican foundation; then was bought by the Jesuits, and finally the Bernadine Sisters I know and love. They left in 2006. Suffice to say, there is enough history down that cellar to satisfy an AQA Exam Board. I found an old piece of the reredos or altar screen and two large galvanised pails. I took the pails.

Friends have offered an unusual array of house warming gifts, including chicken wire, a sledge hammer, straw, feed, and planks of wood. All of which we are delighted with. The in laws have bought us a bed. Hurrah! We will be 'upcycling' the old shin splitter to a new incarnation as yet undetermined (leaf pen?).

In the background we have been keeping a detailed inventory of all 'household waste'; it makes shocking reading but we need it to benchmark for future improvements. More on this subject anon...

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Lodge House Challenge

Perhaps parenthood has changed my husband and I irrevocably.

Not perhaps.

Let me start again.

Parenthood has changed my husband and I irrevocably. We seem to have suddenly developed the capacity to see into the future - to peer into the mists of the unknown - and imagine the world as it might be when our son is grown up.

It's frightening.

So frightening, in fact, that we are making whole scale, radical changes to the way we live. We are going to 'opt out' as some might call it, 'go back', regress to a past in which children played outdoors, vegetables grew in the garden, time moved slowly and life was altogether more simple.

Here's how it goes:

Instead of earning over forty grand a year as a Senior Manager in a lively Secondary school, I am going to teach a little part time and do my best to be a stay at home mum.

Instead of belting it in opposite directions down the M40 each morning, we are reducing our commute to work to 20 minutes. I'm renovating my bicycle.

We've taken a lease on an 18th Century lodge house on a large estate in Oxfordshire. There are no neighbours. There is about 0.5 acres of garden, some good stone outbuildings and a serious amount of woodland. It needs a lot of work, but we will just about afford it on our new limited budget.....

....if we stop buying stuff.....

So, the plan is to buy less and make more.

We've very little furniture, so upcycling is the order of the day. A trawl of local tidy tips, antique markets and charity shops will need to produce a kitchen work bench, wardrobes, chairs, cabinets, towel rails, shelves and tables.

All those household chemicals - bleach, surface cleaner, fabric softener, fire lighters and polish are all going to have to go. They are bad ecologically and economically. We're going to replace them with some old fashioned wizardry with bicarbonate of soda, lemons, oranges and white spirit vinegar. Landfill will be spared the plastic bottles they come in.

Glass bottles and jars I am going to start hoarding. I'm planning to store the preserves, pickles, jellies, jams and delicious cordials we create in those. Our restricted budget means regular wine is off the list. We drink too much anyway. We thought we'd have a go at hedgerow booze - elderflower wine, sloe berry gin, that kind of thing.

In a nod to greener energy we shall be using some solar power and wood, our sustainable local fuel source. 

Finally, and most importantly, our aim is to create a kitchen garden and build a chicken run, becoming self sufficient in eggs, veg and herbs in 24 months.

All because we had a baby.

For the record, I don't call this 'regressing' or opting out. I'm not harking back to an idyllic past. We are 'opting in', building a future, making waste a thing of the past and the great outdoors a pleasant place for the future. 

It is all rather daunting. Our new adventure is an ethical choice - it might not be for everyone, it might not be for us, but we are going to have a go and hopefully we will have much fun along the way. Keep us on track and follow our journey at #Lodge House Challenge, learning to #livelightly. We are bound to make some funny mistakes and we won't be shy in sharing them!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

How precious the young, how precious the old

I saw from the window of my car,
As I was speeding by,
An old man.

He walked like my Father did,
one short shaky step after another,
looking forward with concentrated eyes,
that told you in no uncertain terms
that this was work.

The world had changed
from a place of confidence and freedom
to a whirlwind of frighteningly infrequent familiarity.

My Da would, as he walked towards you on his shaky pins,
give a characteristic wave and a happy smile.
To see a friendly face, a welcome in the road,
made him happy.

I looked in the rear view mirror,
and glimpsed you, the future.
The one I named after the Father I loved.
And I wanted to stop the car,
and chase after the old man,
and show him you,
and watch him smile,
that I might glimpse what Dad's smile might have been.

How precious the young,
how precious the old.