Dreaming of Living by the Sea, Whilst I Work

The last you heard from me, July was a busy month and I was generally running around going “Arrggghhh! Stuff to do!!!!”. Halfway through August, that hasn’t changed one iota, as generally the list of Things to Do lengthens, and my freelance work remains (thankfully) steady. A couple of weeks ago, we managed to get away for a day to the beach in Suffolk. Walberswick, to be precise, and although it was a bit overcast and manky, in the evening we were lucky enough to watch the clouds roll away and be basked in the most delicious golden sunlight as we played games on the beach and ate from a barbeque.

The weekend after I went away with some friends for the weekend in Kent; again, we visited the beach – this time Camber Sands – and even though our afternoon jolly there was brief, after eating chips and curry sauce by the beach I was again convinced that it was a place that I needed to be.

Those visits to the beach cemented the idea in my head that I would very much like to live by the beach one day. There is something about the sea that really invigorates me and makes me feel settled and steady. I don’t think that I’d grow tired of it, either. With house prices the way they are, and no change on the horizon, it may well be a pipe dream, but one that I’m happy to hold on to for years to come.

It’s been a funny summer at The Smallest Smallholding really. I haven’t done that much. I always expect myself to be really busy doing this, that and the other but in a way it’s been Rich that’s taken the lead, mowing, cutting, watering, whilst I sit bog-eyed at the computer managing my little online business, writing and helping to organise this conference. There is quite a bit to do, but all in all things to seem to be taking care of themselves at this point – the chillis are slowly growing, the tomatoes are hanging around waiting forever to ripen, and the squash plants have LITERALLY taken over the greenhouse to the point where I can only step inside the door and go no further. I don’t mind really, because I’m hoping that the extra warmth in there will mean my squashes will grow to a good size, and there’s much less threat of frost damage that plagued so many of them last year.

I think with growing, the thing I look forward to most is the eating part. I do enjoy watching things grow from a tiny, inconsequential-looking seed into something quite magnificent, but it’s the part where you serve it up on your plate, knowing where you grew it, how you grew it, remembering all the effort that went into growing it… all that somehow adds to the feeling of satisfaction when you’ve finished. My ‘yields’ are very small, as there’s just two of us and I haven’t yet explored storing my fruit & veg yet (another one on the ‘To Do’ list), but at the moment I’m enjoying using my own garlic, onions and potatoes. These are three staple ingredients in many the easy, rustic dishes that I cook for myself, and there is definitely a difference in flavour there that I’m enjoying.

Our little patch of Smallest Smallholding is also proving to be a gold mine for feeding the rabbits, with grasses, thistle leaves, dandelion leaves and such providing free fodder, helping to keep costs down. I’m hoping that by autumn, with our squashes and leeks and carrots we’ll be able to do the same. Because we are limited on space, I tried to plant things that I would be using frequently, but also plant food that is maybe a little more expensive to buys in the shops. Whereas I can buy a £6 bag of good quality maincrop potatoes from our local farmer, growing them at home would take up valuable space. Leeks always seem to be quite pricy to me, and I use them a lot in my veggie dishes so it made sense to have my own crop this year.

Mum is lucky enough to share a field with her best friend, so she’s been growing her own food on a much larger scale than me. But then, Mum has more time to devote to it, so it works out for her and often, I’ll do a job for Mum – perhaps some painting, or fixing something, or some leaflets for her little business, and she’ll repay me with a vat of soup (or if it’s Rich, often Rock Cakes or Lemon Drizzle Cake) that means we don’t have to pay to feed ourselves for a couple of days (unless it’s the Rock Cakes, because they disappear too quickly). It’s all swings and roundabouts and it’s an arrangement I’m happy with.

So food aside, as ever there is plenty for me to be getting on with, but simply not enough hours in the day. I’ve booked myself off on ‘holiday’ in 3 weeks, just as the kids go back to school. We might head to the beach again with our tent for a couple of days, but there’s also lots of things I need to get sorted here in that time too. Repairing the window frames, weeding, and sorting the Mediterranean area to name just three. We’ve been umming and ahhing about whether to opt for gravel in the Med area, but we think for simplicity and because we have 6 million other things to manage and think about, we might grass it for now, and perhaps think about adding in a gravel path or stonechipped area later on when we have the resources and the time to spare. I’ll plant up my plants specially picked by Stephen from Victoriana Nursery Gardens in to get them established – even restricted in their pots, they’ve definitely been a target for bees and hoverflies this summer, and I’m looking forward to filling in the gaps once they’re in and rooted nicely.

So, in the meantime, it’s business as usual, with work and cleaning and not doing the weeding, and trying to keep the house from turning into a tumble-down fur pit and wondering when the car is finally going to go kaput and making plans for build a new shed because the old one is falling down and making sure we’ve got enough to pay all the bills and tackling the debt and looking for more, more, more work and on and on and on and on…

I turned 28 and then it was 2011

Happy New Year!

I’m well aware that blog-wise, December was a washout for me. As you may or may not have read in my last blog post, I spent the majority of December either being too stressed or too ill to do anything interesting or Smallest Smallholding-related. It felt as if my laptop had become a permanent fixture, an extension of my eyes, arms and hands… in a way, being horribly ill with ‘flu probably gave me a much-needed prolonged break and saved me from becoming pixelated or something.

I’m *still* not back to full health. I think it’ll take at least another couple of weeks. It really knocked me for six and left me with a lethargic legacy. Friday – New Year’s Eve – was my 28th birthday and I started the day with a bath, followed by a trip to my doctor. I’d been getting waves of nausea, had no appetite, was coughing a LOT and at that time was still prone to flagging after only being up and about for a couple of hours. He assured me I’d had ‘flu, that it could be a couple of days or a couple of weeks before I’d be fighting fit and just said to ride it out, rest up and look after myself. Needless to say, the rest of my birthday was quiet. I went over to see my Mum, Dad was working, sister was ill, my aunt dropped by and I think everyone else was either busy or preoccupied with NYE. Such is life.

I did get some lovely gifts. Hunter wellies, no less. They make me feel VERY posh, and I’m really happy to have wellies that will last me a very very long time. I also have some seeds to sow, a new pair of secateurs, lots of new pairs of gardening gloves, bubble baths, thermal socks, a new bag, earrings, a new hairdryer (my ancient one was sparking and frying my head) and just lots of lovely little bits and pieces that I’d never allow myself the guilty pleasure of buying otherwise.

Rich and I didn’t even realise that new year had arrived. We were curled up on the sofa watching a DVD, and only realised that the clock in our lounge is slow by at least 5 minutes as the fireworks started going off well before what we thought was midnight. I’m not bothered. It’s almost like a sigh of relief when the year is over, especially when we’ve managed to avoid major disasters or tragedies. I think the couple of years leading up to Nannie’s death really scarred me in that way. I hope one day I’ll have that slightly sad feeling that a great year is over, rather than that relieved feeling. Still, I remain hopeful. I like New Year. Although I still harbour that feeling as if I’m bracing myself for impending disasters, it’s not as strong as it used to be, and I do feel that the coming year will be a year of change, and of good things.

I was looking back at last year’s ‘new year’ post. I do like making resolutions because I like to challenge myself to improve, to progress and to achieve. Here’s what I wrote last year, and my succinct assessment of each resolution:

2010 Resolutions – Smallest Smallholding

1. Grow loads more onions. Er. I grew more but didn’t get to eat as many as I wanted thanks to rot. I’ll go with a partial success.

2. Get better at composting, feeding and sustaining my crops this year. I WAS RUBBISH AT THIS. Fail. Try again this year.

3. Plant more sunflowers. Success, although they still bent in the windy weather.

4. Plant a nectar bank. Fail. Definitely want to concentrate on getting this done this year.

5. Add to my woodland gardens. Success. Partially. Could do better, although there were improvements.

6. Use my greenhouse to its full potential. FAIL, FAIL, FAIL. 2011 is the year of my greenhouse. Staging, repairs, cleaning… it’s all going on this spring.

7. Have an outside eating area. FAIL. We did make some inroads with this but nowhere near enough. Another project for the summer. I’m going to be one busy bunny.

8. Dig an asparagus bed. Roaring success. Rich did this. His asparagus are growing wonderfully well, but I do point out to him in slightly envious tones that although he does very well, he only looks after his asparagus. I do everything else with varying degrees of success.

9. Grow veg in hanging baskets. Fail. Again, time/organisation issue.

10. Grow a variety of food that I will actually eat. Partial failure, I’d say. Blackfly, lack of organisation and stupidity didn’t see me make the most of what I had. We’ll try again. I will nail it. Eventually.

2010 Resolutions – Non-Smallest Smallholding

1. Learn to relax. Partial success. Getting there. Learning to deal with life stuff is a long process.

2. Explore Britain. Partial success. Last year I went to Wales twice (Cardiff, and the Llyn Peninsula), Edinburgh (again), Cork in Ireland (non-UK, but still exploration). Would like to explore the western side of the UK more – Welsh borders, south west and maybe south coast.

3. More autonomy. Hell, yes! During 2009 and the beginning of 2010 I was pretty miserable. But I decided to change things, and I think I’m getting the balance right. I still need to work harder, improve my skills and focus more this year. But I think we’re getting there.

4. LOSE WEIGHT. SUCCESS! This summer I really started to get trim. Although, I did start piling it on again in the winter. But this ‘flu saw me lose almost 3/4 stone, and I’m going to be very careful to not put it back on. I don’t need to.

5. More self sufficiency! Hmmm. Fail, sadly. 2011 is going to be expensive all round – rising prices, VAT, etc etc. Self sufficiency is one way to bypass the extra expense in the long run.

6. Write more and Blog more. Ummm. No, fail I think. I have several projects lined up for 2011 though, so I imagine I’ll be scribbling and tip-tapping away this year.

7. Eat more greens. Fail. I need to eat more green stuff.

8. Bake more. Fail. I need to set aside time. I do enjoy it.

9. Walk more. Success! Not only did I walk more, but I ran. Spring/summer was great. I was running 5ks. I was proud of myself. I’m going to do it again, and even better in 2011.

10. Books! Partial success. Recommendations are always welcome.

So there you have it. A mixed bag if ever there was one, but I did make some important changes last year, most notably running, my job and my general attitude.

I don’t think I’ll have so many resolutions this year. For sanity’s sake I’ll try and keep this one a bit shorter:


1. Take up running again and try to enter a charity 5k.

2. Be careful and considerate about what I grow, and try to use everything that I manage to harvest.

3. Get my greenhouse up and running, and use it to its full potential.

4. Plant lots of wildlife-friendly flowers.

5. Don’t stress when it all grows out of control. Do what you can, when you can.

6. Write some more magazine articles. Get them published.

7. Take time out with Rich to visit new places and have new experiences.

8. Get my finances under control. Wipe out as much debt as possible and get out of my overdraft.

9. Get some of the house renovations finished.

10. Spend at least one or two days a week away from the computer – give yourself more time to get those Smallest Smallholding projects finished (e.g. eating area, herb beds, finish fencing, nectar bank).

There you are. Pretty simple. Bring it on 2011. But please – be kind to me!

With Spring in my Step

Last night I sat swathed in my dressing gown, slouched across the sofa, having just had a long and relaxing bath. I’d been soaking my aching muscles in the hot, lavender-scented water after a long, satisfying day of Being Productive.

Since I went back to work after Christmas, I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up on myself. Usually I like to make the most of my weekends. But for some reason I felt inclined to laze around, or have bursts of doing ‘something’ – anything to feel as though I hadn’t just slobbed about. I felt like I just needed to rest, and it was as if I’d given myself permission to lie in, and wander around in my pyjamas for most of the day.

Not yesterday though. After getting my hair (and feeling so much better for it), I came home and flew around the house being a Domestic Goddess, sucking up the ten tonnes of fluff that had accumulated since the vacuum cleaner’s last outing, and generally getting all the shitty jobs (quite literally, in some cases) like cleaning the cat trays out and changing the bins out of the way. I did it all in a mad whirlwind of speed and skill because I Just Wanted To Get Outside.

It was milder than it had felt in weeks. The watery sun was throwing a welcoming warmth – warmth! – onto my skin. It felt good. I plonked each of the rabbits outside to ‘free range’ under my supervision whilst I got all of my tools out of the shed. And methodically, therapeutically and satisfyingly, I worked through my veg plots, turning the crumbly soil over, extracting the weeds, cutting the edges straight. I wasn’t aware of how long it took me, only of the fact that it was something I’d been aching to do for a long time.  Bobbin Robin sat in the hedge, eyeing me as I worked, piping his faint melody every once in a while, obviously impatient for me to move onto the next task.

And so I did. Next job – my mini woodland garden.

It’s tiny. It’s literally a small patch under the damson and apple trees that, in summer, is in shade for most of the day until the late afternoon when the sinking sun lights it up in a blaze of glory. In spring, when the fruit trees are budding, it gets a fair amount of sunlight and stays relatively moist, so is perfect for planting woodland plants.

But last year I neglected it somewhat, allowing the grass, bindweed and nettles to take over. With my wild daffodils and crocuses starting to poke through already, I had work carefully. It was a nice change from the more heavy-handed vegetable patch work. Almost like a different discipline. I cleared space around my emerging forget-me-nots, the wild primos

e, the oxalis and something else that I planted last year, but can’t remember the name of, or what it looks like exactly. We’ll find out soon enough.

As the afternoon sun sank quickly, the temperature rapidly dropped and I herded my rabbits back inside. I felt so satisfied – my veg plots just need some nutrition and I’m ready to go. I do still need to get some proper edging to stop the grass continually creeping in, and so I can also build the plots up with lots of gorgeously rich, crumbly home-made compost and leafmould. But it’s another step forward. At the moment I have time to do this. It’s so incredibly important to me.

After a quick cuppa and stop-off at Mum and Dad’s, I fired up the steamer and set about stripping more wallpaper off our dining room walls. I only have one wall left to do, and the ceiling, and we’re ready to start prepping the room properly for re-decoration. Steps forward. Good.

I should explain. For the past few years I’ve been embarrassed about the state of our home and my Smallest Smallholding. I haven’t felt as though I can have friends around. I’ve felt quite isolated because of it.  I don’t allow anyone outside of the family through the door. We hide from the electricity meter man because we just don’t want anyone to witness what we live in day-to-day. The house is a half-baked renovation job, and the Smallest Smallholding has, for the past couple of years, been out of control.

But I want my friends to visit, and to be able to stay over. I want to welcome people into my home. I want to have friends and family over on warm summer’s evenings. So this year, I’m sure as hell going to try and get closer to being able to do that. Sharing my Smallest Smallholding, getting people encouraged, involved, excited about what I do – that, for me, would be an achievement.

Oh, and incidentally, I have a new job. It’s an exciting prospect. Things are going to be changing, for the better, I think. But more about that next time… I’ll write soon… stay tuned…

Weight: 11 stones 5lb (oops)