Post-Bank Holiday Blues

A sunny Sunday

August Bank Holidays in August are supposed to be damp and full of broken promises. But for E’s first birthday – which fell on the bank holiday weekend – it was hot, the skies were dry, and at times, even fine. We couldn’t have asked for much better, really.

We celebrated her birthday just with family; Rich sweated over the BBQ and I ran backwards and forwards with trays of food and drinks. E played happily with her aunties, uncles and grandparents, unawares that it was her special day of course, but thoroughly enjoying herself. It was the first time we’ve really shared our garden with family for a celebration, and although the garden isn’t picture perfect, it was good to invite people round and say “come and celebrate with us.” I finally feel confident enough to open the garden gate to other people, as we’ve worked hard to do many of the clear-up jobs that had been on the To Do list for years. It’s starting to feel like the garden I knew it could always be. My little slice of the good life.

For a week before E’s birthday, we used every available spare hour to rid the garden of years of accumulated guff – neat(ish) piles of wood, old broken chairs and benches, frost-damaged pots and seed trays, broken bricks and paving, old runs and fence panels – as well as tackling some of the denser, weedier patches of scrub and cutting the hedges back down to an acceptable height. It was tough to get it all done, but so worth it. I now feel we have so much more workable space, which allows me to concentrate on planting schemes this coming Autumn and Spring.

But after the bank holiday celebrations, and the initial satisfaction of a job well done, I’m starting to feel a little blue. It’s this feeling of only just getting by; treading water, getting from one day to the next without any solid progress that’s returned. It’s a bit ridiculous as we have made SO much progress in the garden, and the house too (after about 10 years, I finally have a full kitchen floor down, a kitchen table back in its rightful place, and four matching kitchen chairs). The house feels a little less like a renovation site and a little more like the home it once was. I think these blues are stemming from general feelings of insecurity and not feeling in control of my finances. The “treading water” is financial too; I don’t think I’ll ever feel free and settled until I have it sorted. And that is going to take a heck of a lot of hard work too.

I have to keep reminding myself that it’s up to me. We’ve already proven that if we set our minds to a task, we can achieve good things. It’ll never be easy, but I need to stop sinking and start believing my goals are actually achievable.



I am an Onion

The passing of our family ancient cat Ted. The passing of the season. The passing of a quarter of my regular income every month. There are many things have have come to and end recently  in my life, not all bad but not all particularly welcome, but changes nonetheless. Again, it feels as if my life is suddenly shifting in a series of small degrees which sends me on a slightly different tangent to whatever path I was previously following. I don’t feel melancholic… just like things have yet again shifted and I have to find my feet again.

Sounds deep, doesn’t it? It’s just sometimes it feels as though I’m bumbling along, trying to get things to work in the way that I want (and need) them to, and then suddenly something happens that forces my hand. Makes me have to reconsider things, make new plans, make choices.  This time, it’s mostly to do with work. I found out on Tuesday that I was to lose one day a week of regular income through no fault of my own – I was effectively made redundant, although I was working in a freelance capacity and had no contract per se to speak of. So the effect is immediate, and means a 25% cut in the work that I count as my ‘regular income’. For this month at least I have a grace period thanks to a freelance cheque that will be arriving soon, but after that I shall be digging deep to find some more work. And digging even deeper in my wallet.

So for now, the pressure is back on. Again.

You see, there are two things in my life that have held me back over the years. Lack of substantial funds (and I’m guessing that a good proportion of the population of this country are in the same boat), and my back. Work is going to be even more challenging, but that’s the life of a freelancer.

But with my back, things are at least changing for the better. I’ve started some physiotherapy, and it seems that after 15 years, we’re finally getting to the crux of why I’m constantly in pain, why I can’t work 5 days a week without being virtually crippled, and why I am the wobbly but essentially screwed up ball of tightness and stress that I am. My physio has described my ‘case’ as “very interesting” and “very complicated” and “widepsread”. She says my overall condition is like a big onion, where we’re having to peel away at each layer to get to the centre of the problem. And best of all, she says I am fixable.

You have no idea how that feels to hear those words. After 15 years of constant background aches and pains, as well as incidents where I couldn’t even stand up straight and walk properly despite only being only in my 20s, this revelation is like music to my ears. I am fixable. This isn’t the way it always has to be.

Apparently in some areas of my body, I have no muscle strength whatsoever, because somewhere along the line, something happened to a specific joint (I think) and knocked me completely out of kilter. So other dominant muscles have taken over, my body has tried to adapt to moving in a certain way and it’s causing all this pain and strain, lack of balance, and at times, immobility. Added to that, year upon year of stress (some self-inflicted, but at other times prolonged periods of things that happened to me and were simply out of my control) has turned me into a rigid, stringy ball of concrete. And apparently I don’t breathe properly, because of the way I’ve come to hold myself and move. So that compounds the problem. I can’t physically relax properly. I haven’t been able to physically relax for years. I’ve always felt out of kilter.

So we’re not only peeling back each layer, solving each physical problem as we go, but we’re building me up again. I’m going to get stronger and more competent, and I’m going to be able to relax. And sleep properly. The prospect of actually being able to consider full-time work, to be able to dig for more than 10 minutes without experiencing two days of back pain, to drift off to sleep without pain, to move freely and without caution as well as being able to actually relax my body (and hopefully, my mind), is just… well, I guess I feel relieved. Relief that it’s not just *me* and that there’s actually some tangible reason why I feel tense and awkward and jerky and off-balance a lot of the time. Believe me, I will be doing all that I can to get myself into the condition I should have been all these years.

So at least in one important aspect of my life, we’re finally moving in the direction that I want to go. And although I’ve taken a hit in the financial department, I’ve got to look at the opportunities it might present. I have a few things I’m looking into but for now I’ll just be working harder, longer hours and tightening my belt.  Much like a lot of other people around the country at the moment. Given the rising food prices, petrol prices and general living costs, it’s not going to be a walk in the park, but then it never has been for me. At least I have a roof over my head, food on the table and I’m an onion that’s fixable.

I think I’ve got that right?

Finances, Greenhouse Staging and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Well I’ve gone and done it. After three or more years of waiting for Rich to have the time and inclination to build my greenhouse staging, I bit the bullet and ordered some online, just to get me started. It’s three tier staging – 4ft long and 2ft wide and about a third of the total staging I need, but it’s all I can afford (well, I can’t even afford that at the moment) right now. But hey ho, when needs must. And I really really need it this year to get me growing properly. I didn’t want to fill up our conservatory with seedlings that get zapped in the intense heat in there.

So there. It’s a UK company, and it should arrive early next week. And I can do a little bit of rejoicing.

But back to business. And I kind of mean, literally business. If you remember, one of my resolutions that I made earlier this year was to tackle my debt. A lot of this is credit card debt, the sum of which is a result of irresponsible spending, lack of income and more stupidity, a means to an end when at uni and unable to work due to crippleness from working hours on computers (long-time readers will understand the problems I’ve had), all spread over 10+ years of trying to make my way in the world. It’s a horrible big black hole that sucks your earnings, but it’s mostly my fault (although I will lay a little blame on credit card companies that up their APR by 10% with little warning) and it’s just the (heavy) price I have to pay for relying on credit for so long.

I’ve made a spreadsheet of the balance of what I owe on each card, what I’m paying each month, when it’s paid and the interest I’m paying. I managed to switch one card onto a 0% interest card which will help hugely. I’m determined to beat this debt. Thing is, it’s really hard when I’m simultaneously saving up for next year’s tax bill. But there we are, I can’t complain really. It’s my own doing and I’ll just have to live with it until it’s paid off.

In the meantime, my spending is under much tighter control. I’ve never been particularly good with money. I tend to forget how much I’ve spent and then bury my head in the sand and deal with it later. But as I’ve got older, wiser, or just more world-weary I’ve come to realise that this strategy is, of course, a lot of pants and that I need to be much more organised. So I’m reigning in the spending and although Rich and I still have to live a little, things like non-essential clothes and books (waahhh!) and wotnot are on hold. Or at least, I have to work out if I can really really really afford them.

OK, so the greenhouse staging cost me over £80, plus delivery. But I reckon that’s an investment – it’ll last for years (hopefully), I’ll be able to use it to grow my food, and maybe if I sell a few plants out the front, even make a little money back on it. I’ve been seriously fed up with losing plants because the growing conditions in the conservatory aren’t right and I feel like it would be stupid to go yet another year making the same mistakes and getting the same results.

But that’s enough bleating about my finances. I’ve got a LOT of work to be getting on with in the Smallest Smallholding. I only just got around to pruning my Autumn fruiting Polka raspberries (although, last year they fruited for MONTHS on end, fantastic!) under the direction of my mother. It’s good to learn from books but nothing beats practical demonstration. I still have a big buddleia to prune back, and the trees… oh the trees… I think we’ve missed the boat this year on getting them pruned but I might just chance it. The sycamore is a beast and I’ve been posting on the Self-Sufficientish forum for some advice. Seems they’re virtually indestructible so we might give it a go, and then perhaps if it dies plant something a little less thuggish in its place. Birch, maybe.

This weekend I have got to get a few things sown – leeks and more garlic mainly. Between us, Mum and I have a ridiculous amount of seed as we have a penchant for going mental when there’s 50% off. Growing space is definitely going to be a challenge this year but I’ve decided that the flower borders can give way to some veg. I think I may have to get some special growing bags or large pots to house garlic, onions, potatoes and the like. I’m going to get a couple of straw bales in for tomatoes and squash, and then of course there’s the hanging baskets for strawberries and more tomatoes.

Geesh, I’m excited about it all. But still slightly “ARGH!!!” because after a wander around the garden and plots yesterday it’s dawning on me how much I have to do; especially since we’ve vowed to get the overgrown wasteland at the bottom of the garden (where the soil is virtually sand-like) turned into a Mediterranean bee/butterfly/insect-friendly eating area. And then there’s the house.

But you know, I’ll just keep rolling with it and do what I can do. It’s not a competition. And I have my permaculture book to re-read. After all, the Smallest Smallholding is going to be under management, not a dictatorship!

Clearing, weeding, planting, mulching, sowing, clearing, weeding, clearing, clearing, clearing is what’s on the agenda for the next month or so. Spring is definitely on its way, although the wind still bites and I’m not out of my thermal vest just yet. But the crocuses are up, the daffodils are looking promising and everywhere I see buds. Buds!

It feels like it’s been a long slog of a winter, but I’m just as prepared for a long slog of a growing season. But I mean that in a good way!