Plans from the Plot

It’s been a while since I’ve bored you all senseless with my green fingered musings so I thought now that Spring is possibly, finally here it was about time to make some public plans for the 2018 growing season. I woke up rather early this morning after a long (22.5 miles) training run on Dartmoor yesterday with Dad and the first thought that popped into my head wasn’t an assessment on which part of my body hurt the most but rather a bit of a panic that it is approaching mid-April and we have nothing growing up at the plot! Or to be precise, nothing that we have planted growing at the plot…weeds however, there are plenty.

I’ve been buying seeds here and there but with the snow and various other factors, hadn’t got round to actually planting any of them! We stopped at a local garden centre this afternoon in the hopes of picking up some strawberry seedlings (cheating I know but time is of the essence!) and potatoes but were thwarted by their lack of card payment facilities. I had to make do with a vigorous weeding session this afternoon as I mentally penciled in what I was going to start planting, when and where. But now the majority of the beds are ready for planting with hops dug in, I’ve got a big bag of seed compost and half a dozen different types of seeds. So first thing tomorrow, me and the kids are going to get the seeds sown and on windowsills and hopefully before the week is out we’ll start to see the first shoots of green gradually emerging from the dark soil beneath.

In an effort to engage the children more fully with the allotment this year I told them they could choose one fruit or vegetable each to grow and be fully in charge of that. Sophia chose peas, Eli can’t seem to decide between tomatoes or our pear tree (although that’s not really something that requires any work) and Isaac pulled the wild card with watermelons. I told him firmly that they don’t grow in England before spotting some seeds in Lidl and to his delight we’re going to give them a go. I’ve supplemented these choices with cucumbers, spaghetti squash, basil and tomatoes and we’ll be getting the aforementioned potatoes, strawberries and hopefully some carrots, peppers and beans as soon as I have cash in my wallet when I’m passing Plants Galore!

I’m sure my co-worker has even more plans as well so I’m looking forward to seeing what is successful and hopefully having a gloriously abundant season of growing our own this year. We also need to sort out our pond which is still resembling a muddy pool of water rather than a haven for wildlife and we desperately need a new shed as ours is, quite literally, falling down. So lot’s to do but I’m not feeling overwhelmed; more excited by the challenge ahead and spending more time outdoors, especially with the promise of doing so in the sun!

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A child’s eye view

I’m not sure exactly what the catchment area for is for Manor, the free glossy magazine for the South-West, but we receive it on a fairly regular basis. I usually flick through it and read anything of interest (most memorably an awesome article on wild swimming) before passing it on to Sophia to peruse. However, when the most recent edition fell through our letterbox a few weeks ago, Sophia nabbed it first before I had the chance to have a look. Fast forward an hour and I’m washing up in the kitchen and Sophia sweeps in demanding I read an article and that apparently we have to help! I was intrigued and a little confused and proceeded to read, under her impatient gaze, the article she was thrusting under my nose. It was about a wonderful nurse from Cornwall, Anna Norona, who set up a charity, Yezidi Emergency Support, to support Yezidi refugees and is working tirelessly to provide emergency aid for these displaced peoples, especially in regards to their medical needs.

I’ll be honest, if I had read the article first there is a chance I would have filtered it. There was mention of some of the horrendous things that have happened to the Yezidi people since the genocide of thousands of this peaceful minority at the hands of ISIS back in 2014. It’s not necessarily something I would have wanted my 8 year old to read. However, it ignited a spark in her to help these people and I have been so proud of her response to discovering this information.

She was absolutely adamant that we had to do something to support them. She said that she would hate to be separated from me and Dan and be hurt and spoke about how lucky we are to be living somewhere safe with food and our family. After a little brain-storming, she decided to raise money by being sponsored to eat just rice, beans and oats for three whole days. For a girl who likes her food, this is a pretty big deal! Anna identified a particular family currently living in a refugee camp in Kurdistan that she could support, we set up a justgiving page and she is preparing herself for her challenge which she’ll be doing on the 8th, 9th and 10th April.

I am so proud of her and her determination help those less fortunate than herself. But more than that, it has kicked me into action. We are surrounded by such a deluge of depressing and bleak news that it is easy to become numb to the horrors of the world around us. It’s easy to slip into inaction and passivity when we should be using our position of privilege to do something. So I’m resolved to do more to help those that need it. I’ll be fundraising for Yezidi Emergency Support myself and will be raising money through my (baby) ultra-marathon for them and am planning to make a conscious effort to donate regularly to the Exeter Food Bank. My time for volunteering may be stretched thin at the moment but I’m going to do what I can to raise awareness of those in need and help wherever possible. If anything, I owe it to Sophia to show her that I support her with more than just words. I want to follow the example she’s set and show love to my fellow humans with more than just platitudes.

And…breathe.

I’m not going to mince my words. Over the last few weeks, the behaviour of my children has been pretty unpleasant. They’ve been bickering constantly, there has been shouting and screaming fits (regularly) and I’ve even been hit whilst trying to help them negotiate a tricky situation. Thus far, I have been fairly successfully fostering a calm facade and have managed to avoid shouting mostly but I am so far past the end of my tether at this point that the veneer is starting to crack. What I’m most puzzled by is what is causing it. Usually I can pinpoint a reason for such a noticeable decline in temperament but this time, I am clueless. If I was going to clutch at straws I’d suggest that maybe it’s the end result of too much time inside after recurrent bouts of illness and a long wet and cold winter. I’m not convinced though. If it was just one of them I’d blame sleep or hormones but for it to be all of them (actually not so much the smallest) is a bit of a mystery.

However, I have long known the best way for me to manage through such a season of discontent. And that is with regular breaks to go somewhere, by myself, and just enjoy the peace. One such opportunity presented itself last weekend when I realised it was time to do a long training run for the upcoming mini ultra. So I laced my (new!) trainers, packed my running belt with snacks and headed out for a blissful 3 hours of running around the Exeter Green Circle. I covered 18 miles and returned with very muddy and slightly bleeding legs (I lost an argument with some brambles) but feeling much more “zen”. It’s amazing what a little bit of exercise and some time outside without the constant refrain of ‘Muuuuuuuum’ can do for your mood!

And whilst I don’t fully blame cabin fever or the upcoming full moon for their moods, it does have to be said that after a consecutive few days of getting them outside to play or walk for several hours they have been a little bit better. Granted, today in Rougemont Gardens the boys and my friend’s son drew the glances of a fair few passers by with their exuberant running, yelling and general mud covered antics. But after that and an afternoon exploring her amazing garden we returned home with everyone feeling a little happier and a little less grouchy.

I refuse to believe scare mongering of a third Beast this Easter and am living naively in the belief that it will be, if not glorious sunshine, at least not too wet or cold. I am hoping to cram in as much outside time as possible to the coming bank holiday weekend in the hopes that I can fully shake the grumps out of my kids and enjoy a few weeks off our normal routine with a little more harmony than we’ve seen of late. And if it is cold and wet, then that’s what raincoats and woolly hats are for! As long as I remember to grab my moments to breathe, then we’ll weather this rough patch and come out the other side with no hard feelings!

Taking Time For You

I’m aware that I’m in danger of this sounding something like a self-help column this week but I want to write about self-care and about taking time to nurture yourself. With Mother’s Day just gone, it seems like a timely reminder that Mum’s (and indeed everyone) need a bit of a break regularly, not just once a year in an avalanche of flowers, homemade cards and breakfast in bed. But we are not passive in this, we need to claim space and time for ourselves.

It’s easy in life, especially as a parent (but not exclusively to those with small folk), to get so bogged down in the day-to-day tasks that need doing and meeting the needs of everyone around us that we forget about our own needs. Self-care is the buzz term for this but really, it just means remembering that you are a human with your own needs and wants and recognising that it’s not selfish to take some time to meet them. Mother’s especially can be prone to playing (unintentionally) the role of martyr, running themselves ragged looking after those in their lives and getting all their work done, constantly juggling tasks and appointments in order to keep their families ticking over. But the problem with this is that more often than not, we end up feeling burnt out, tired and resentful.

Luckily, the solution is not a hard one. Self-care doesn’t mean jetting off for an all inclusive spa-weekend once a month (although once in a while wouldn’t go amiss!) Rather, it means adopting a practice of remembering every day, to honour yourself by doing something that’s just for you. That might be taking the time to go for a run or to an exercise class, to sit down with a tea and a book or trashy Netflix show for an hour, it might be choosing to take some extra time to prepare a nutritious meal to better fuel your body, it might be simply going to bed early rather than spending an extra two hours tidying and tying up the loose ends of the day.

And the thing is, if we regularly make time to honour ourselves, we’ll find tension dissipating in other areas of our lives. We’ll have more patience and energy to deal with the demands that life throws at us. It’s not selfish to take time for ourselves. It’s not selfish to say no to a request to play by the kids or to turn down extra hours at work. It’s OK to put ourselves first once in a while. I remember reading something Dr Sears had written when Sophia was just a toddler, he wrote that the sun does not rise and set on one member of the family but rather that everyone in the family were of equal importance. He wrote that sometimes one person’s needs will be more pressing than others but that in the grand scheme of things, a family should equally look after each other.

I’ve come a long way in the way of self-care and now make sure I take time daily to do something for me (usually go to the gym or eat separately from the kids so I can eat something yummy I know they won’t touch!) and the difference is noticeable. I find that I shout less and that as a general rule, our house is calmer. I’m not going to lie, we still have stressful, grouchy days but there are less of them. So if you had a lovely Mother’s Day but wished you were given the opportunity to focus on yourself a little more, don’t wait another year. Adopt an attitude of daily self-care and take some time (even if it’s just 10 minutes) for yourself, you won’t regret it!

The 4 R’s

Some of you might remember that last July I wrote a column about trying to reduce the use of disposable plastic in my (our) life. I’ve always tried to look for re-usable options where possible anyway but ‘plastic free July’ prompted me to investigate more deeply the role of plastic in my life and identify where we could cut back further. I was also introduced to the concept of the 4 R’s; they are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The idea being that by following these 4 R’s you can do your bit as an individual consumer to further reduce the production and consumption of disposable single-use plastic.

Recently, it’s a subject that has been in the media a lot with Iceland promising that it’s own range of products will be plastic-free and other supermarkets looking like they’ll be following suit. In fact, even here in the Express and Echo, a local plastic-free hero, the wonderful Jen Harris, was interviewed as she has impressively got her families household black-bin waste down to a large crisp packet full every 2 weeks! She has also had a massive impact on the people of Exeter, inspiring many around the city to make a stand against plastic. She is one of the admin on two great facebook groups; ‘Exeter Journey to Zero Waste’ and ‘Compost Connections’, both of which I’d recommend if you’d like local tips on reducing your waste.

One of the biggest sources of plastic waste is in food packaging; dried pasta and rice in plastic bags, vacuum packed cucumbers and broccoli, fruit in plastic cartons, plastic meat trays…the list is endless! Luckily, in Devon, three savvy environmentally conscious entrepreneurs have seen a need for a shop that bucks the plastic-heavy trend. Starting with Earth.Food.Love in Totnes, then followed by the Real Food Store in Exeter and now, excitingly, Nourish of Topsham will be opening on Saturday 24th March. The former is entirely plastic-free and the small shop is lined wall to wall with bulk dispensers full of every kind of dried good you can imagine from grains to coffee, cereal, nuts and even make your own nut butter machines! They also have a range of household cleaning products in large barrels so you can bring your own containers to refill. The Real Food Store has a small selection of bulk dipensers and cleaning products as well as lots of loose fruit and veg for the shoppers in Exeter. And to quote them directly, Nourish of Topsham is ‘a zero-waste provisions store…[selling] whole foods, dry goods and everyday items to make plastic free living a little easier.’ I’m so excited about exploring the latter when they open in a few weeks time and hoping that we can get much of our weekly groceries from them.

The rise of these kind of shops is a direct response to the increasing awareness of consumers that we are producing and throwing away too much plastic. Everyone has probably seen a shocking photo of a beach covered in plastic or a sea floating with so much debris you can barely see the water. Clearly, we need to do something to protect our environment and the more of us that choose to support these stores and buy less plastic-packaged products, the better! So come down to Topsham on the 24th March for the opening of Nourish, which is happening on Spring Forward Saturday, a day for offers and Spring treats in over 50 local independent shops, cafes and restaurants. It’s the perfect opportunity for a day out to indulge in a little retail therapy and to #shoplocal whilst you’re at it!

An ode to libraries

(Posted a little late but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to sing the praises of libraries!)

Even though the kids aren’t in school, we tend to follow the local term dates when it comes to our home education. That means that this week, like families everywhere, we were faced with a week off our normal routine as we took a half term break. This actually came at a good time as everyone had just come down with another heavy cold so it gave us the perfect opportunity to rest and recover. The weather further aided this by being incredibly inclement (again) meaning that lots of time inside playing games, doing puzzles and reading books was welcomed by us all.

However, as the kids started to recover, I found myself puzzling as to how to fill the empty days when we needed to be out of the house but still indoors, and I didn’t want to spend much (or if I’m being honest, any) extra money. On one of these such days I received an email from Devon Libraries with a ‘pre-overdue’ warning and the solution was obvious…a trip to the library was in order!

The love for our libraries is strong in this house. Sophia is currently working her way through the Book Track challenge (reading 100 books and receiving badges along the way to mark various milestone) and the boys are content rummaging through unfamiliar and exciting books for me to read as well as getting to use the fancy new self-checkout machine. And me? Being a bookworm with neither the time or finances to regularly frequent bookshops, a trip to the ‘adult section’ always appeals to me as I look for something interesting to get my teeth into.

Like all public services, libraries are constantly facing the pressure of cuts, loss of funding and threat of closure. But there is a really really easy way to support these amazing community resources, and that is simply…to use them! The more of us that use libraries for borrowing books, going to the various groups and meetings that they hold, using their resources for research or printing, the more it will show those higher up the food chain (and therefore in charge of the purse-strings) that we want libraries to stay.

With World Book Day fast approaching on 1st March, now is the perfect opportunity to dust off your library card and go searching for a good book to lose yourself in at the end of a long day. And if you have small kids don’t forget to check out the various events taking place around the area. Devon Libraries are excellent at providing all manner of fun things to do for the children so it’s always worth keeping an eye out on their facebook pages! Libraries are one of the cornerstones of small communities everywhere and I think it’s fair to say, of vital importance to many. To paraphrase the old adage, if we don’t want to lose it…use it!

Going Dry

This week’s column has the potential to be mildly controversial but what’s the point in sharing my thoughts with the world (or readers of the Express and Echo at least!) if I’m not brutally honest? Despite my tendency to waffle, I’ve no interest in merely filling space or offering empty platitudes. So without further ado, let’s dive in and hopefully you’ll find my thoughts at least vaguely interesting!

I started this year with the pledge of partaking in “Dry January”. I wasn’t doing it to raise money or even really making it widely known that I was taking part. However, a mere 6 days in, after a week of tending for my flu-ridden family I, without thinking, decided to withdraw from the challenge and share a bottle of wine and a whiskey nightcap with Dan.

I slipped quickly back into our normal drinking habits; admittedly they are fairly modest and we just tend to share a bottle of wine 2 or 3 times a week, but still, not quite the dry month I had planned. It was only when Dan asked what had happened to my pledge today that I started thinking (again) about my relationship with alcohol. Over the last few years, I have swung from long periods of being sober, most noticeably when I abstained for over 7 weeks in the lead up to my first big run, to drinking definitely more than I should be.

Increasingly, I’ve been thinking about whether I should just go totally sober. I really like wine but sometimes I wonder if it’s a healthy relationship. Since upping my exercise recently, I’ve found that even after just 2 or 3 glasses of wine, I feel awful in the morning, my tolerance is lower and I feel drunk and not in control more quickly. I’m also quick to associate having a drink with relaxing and I’d rather turn to healthier ways of dealing with stress. Ultimately, I think I find drinking in moderation challenging and rather than constantly battle with knowing when to stop, maybe I just shouldn’t start?

During my periods of being ‘dry’ over the last few years, despite initially missing the booze and wanting to indulge in a glass (particularly after a rough day with the kids), I’ve quickly found myself feeling healthier, making more progress with my fitness and generally not missing it at all!

I’ve set myself the challenge of a baby-ultra marathon this May and so in order to maximise my chances of successfully completing this, alongside my flirtation with sobriety, I’ve decided to stop drinking until after the race. My thoughts are that I can use this as a ‘test’ period to see how I find life without the bottle! I was reading about someone who disagreed with the trend of ‘dry’ fundraising months and claimed they were faddy and ineffective. I would disagree; although I didn’t complete Dryanuary, it has been useful in helping me assess my relationship with alcohol and deciding whether it’s one that should continue or not. So wish me luck as I embark on 16 weeks of sobriety, I’ll let you know how I get on!