Autumn and Fledglings

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Approaching the Autumn Equinox, and I have a bizarre week ahead.

On Wednesday Boo departs for Uni, and I will go with her and DH - I have to see her safely in - and then he will drive me most of the way across the country to Managers' Conference, where I will stay until Friday.

Two utterly traumatic events on one day. When I come back, it will be to an empty nest. Next expected visit of chick will be two weeks hence, when H will be back to work for the weekend, but that is not going to last long this term, I fear.

We've built a new log shed, but as yet I am afraid it lies empty.  We have logs in plenty, seasoning in the field, but they need transporting, splitting and stacking.


It's getting colder and it's important to us to have enough wood - we don't have central heating, and coal is expensive.  With just the two of us this winter, at least until the girls come back at Christmas, we'll be cooking on the Rayburn, and sitting in the kitchen, as we did briefly last year, and making the most of one lot of wood a night.

The Rayburn also heats the bathwater, so we keep the Big Kettle on her in the evening, for washing up or any other hot water needs, so that the tank remains toasty for a bath. The electric immersion heater, which heats the water in summer, will go off until Christmas.


This has been a costly and frenetic season. Time to slow down and take hold.

The last days ...

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Over the  next three weeks, both our girls will be away to Uni.

While H is going back for her second year, last year she was home most weekends, this year, she won't be.  Boo, meanwhile, is leaving for the first time, and will probably not be back until Christmas.



To offset Empty Nest Meltdown, I've set myself a few challenges.

I pinched the idea for my first challenge from the awesome Mel 's  'Analogue Days'.

'Real Time'

This one is about the time we spend once they are gone - challenging us to learn to create more of our own entertainment and spend less screen time - TVs, computers, phones - and more time on traditional crafts and pursuits.

As one of the designs for my Diploma, I decided to look at how much we could replace in our lives by the hand made, homegrown, home reared,  done ourselves. Of course there is food and clothing, but there is also down time, entertainment, life stuff.

Instead of glumly watching TV or tattering away on our laptops, we aim to learn to play a musical instrument (which neither of us does) and involve ourselves in developing a craft apiece - although I really do want to learn to spin properly, I think I've opted for dressmaking first - I can throw together a garment, but I'd like to have some real skills - to be able to make things that don't look homemade.

This together with  my other challenge, an audio diary called

'The Frugal Commuter'

Should keep me busy.  This one is something I've recently started doing somewhat haphazardly, but aim to get more organised.
I talk to my voice recorder on my way to work! As it is, I'm inclined to ramble, but my aim is to stay on topic and talk about what steps we've taken towards repaying debt and building a fund towards one day owning land of our own.
Thus far the quality is quite appalling, and I'm wondering if you can actually get a cheap mike which would cancel out the road and engine noise - in which case at some point in the dim and distant future, I might be able to share it here, or even create a podcast!

Everything I do at the moment is haphazard. When they are little, and they interrupt your chain of thought, walk in on every attempt to write, sit down in the middle of your de-cluttering, talk through anything you are listening to or watching - you say 'I need to establish some boundaries. I have to have time for myself, or I shall never get anything done. We need to set aside time for me to do this'.

When they are two days/two weeks away from leaving, you set aside the laptop, turn off the radio, say to hell with the clutter, and you take every last moment on offer. It can all wait. I'd gladly never write another word, or live surrounded by endless clutter, and even terminate Radio 4, for just another year with them safe at home.

A Bit More Structure

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We have a lot of plans.
We're living in incredibly turbulent times, not just globally and politically (although ...) but also in our house.
As Boo has just turned 18 and August races ahead of us, the time is coming closer when the house will be a lot quieter, a lot more echoey, and I will be dealing with an 'empty nest'.
Our loose plan is to get right clear of debt, put a roof over our heads (shared ownership house? co-housing? long term lease of land? buy land?) , move to building more of our own income streams (hubby is already successfully self employed, I need to move that way before I am too elderly!) and making more of them land based, increase our self sufficiency, and hang on to our smallholding, where ever we need to take it to keep it, as it were. Ultimately to live a plain and simple life, "living simply that others might simply live."
The key word here is 'loose'.
In some ways, it's good to keep plans loose because, to be honest, we don't know what opportunities for housing will come up, or what possibilities will strike us as income streams, and we need to be adaptable.
However how we finish off our debt, and save for our future, should probably be just a little more detailed!
We need more structure, more accountability, more tick lists and target dates - more detailed execution, more feedback loops.
I'm looking for some good frugal challenges to join, and I need to reorganise my time to make better use of what little spare time I do have.
What's your top time management tip?

I wish I knew

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We've been on holiday for a week in Cornwall, and for some reason, I thought I'd come back with the whole plan sorted out in my head.
I didn't.
I still need a lot of pieces to fix this puzzle.
The time off work was great, but I know I'm going straight back into a very stressful week, with a lot of high pressure stuff going on.

The land is bare at the moment - the sheep moved over a village while we were away to be watched over by a dear old friend who is a retired shepherd.


Little girls with goats - 2006?

This land, on which we have done so much - on which our children played, and rode, and worked. On which they grew up, from toddlers to grown women. The land where they kept their first cute ponies, and I my last, loved horse. The land where we started a business and it grew and fed  people. The land where we grew a big flock of beautiful jacob sheep, and then they were sold. It's still ours - well, the tenancy is still ours, for another 8 years - and it's still there and it's still precious and just now and then when I get to stand at the top of it and breathe, it still makes my heart sing. But it's doing - nothing. It's ungrazed, unworked, unloved. The hay crop which should have come in last month in the heat now stands overgrown and damp. Waiting to know what we will do.

Tall girls far away - Cornwall 2017

It feels quite horribly metaphorical. It's a metaphor for ... well, me.

On the edge of change, with change behind me, struggling to give voice to a new life after all this. After they go away in September - both of them this time - to build their own lives at University. After the long sweet years at home and on the land, trying to come to terms with years locked away indoors. It's a good and worthy job that I do, but it's inside.

I feel the weight of the deep wet hay. Tears rise to realise it had no purpose. It just stands wilting. There is no one needing the shelter of the barn, and the nurture of its provision this winter. For our two goats and half a dozen sheep, last year's surplus will more than suffice.

Where once were lovely, pretty sheep, and goats and kids, and sweet milk and soft cheese. Where once were row upon row of succulent peas, and chubby fingers picking and popping. Where once when we called, heads raised, and nostrils flared, and tiny hooves came thundering. There is an open green space. It's not malevolent. It's blank. It can be what it wants to be?

Surely? It can be something new? Something worth being? Can't it?

As I stare at the blank canvas, sorrow is slowly making space for hope.  I've signed back up to finish my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, and booked onto a course in October to explore new livelihoods.

Something will have to be done with the hay.

Trying to Act Normal

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I don't blog regularly enough to suggest that any given gap constitutes 'taking a break from blogging', but I haven't been around for a while.

I think it's fair to say I've been just numbed by the horrendous few weeks we've had. Two terrorist attacks, a General Election with a wobbly result, the ensuing bargaining and bartering, all the while with a daughter home from her first year in Uni and another one taking her A Levels.

It's pretty easy to be speechless.

Summer goes on, and I continue to miss most of it, being shut in an office. Three of us went to the Bath and West Show, two of us to the Green Scythe Fair.

The sheep have now all lambed, and all been sheared.


I'm starting to get used to Oxford Downs, they are nice, but I miss my Jacobs.

And so I return to saying something. While we all struggle to come to terms with this happening.




We, Who Have Compromised?

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I wanted to attend a screening of We The Uncivilised - A Life Story, before it was released as a download, but never quite got the opportunity.
We live in social economy black spot. No one believes us until they look at the map of just about any membership organisation and go 'oh there's a big hole, right there'. From beekeepers to WWOOF hosts, goat societies to smallholder co-ops,  calculate the biggest gap between willing participants, and we'll be smack bang in the centre.
Anyway tonight we downloaded and watched the film.
Motivating myself with this as the payoff, I closed out April's budget with a will of iron. Then started May's. I am, in one sense, happy to report that all our corporate and entreprenuerial diligance is making a difference. We will soon be closing the gap.

On another level, how hopelessly sold out and useless do I feel?

If you haven't seen the film (- do -) it's made by a  young couple desperately seeking place, community, sustainability, responsibility ... and they talk to many of our friends and heroes : Sarah Pugh, friend, hero, innovator, people lover, trainer, teacher, inspiration. Mike Feingold, the Royate Hill pixie, such a genius of a man, and so kind. Neil's guiding light, Simon Fairlie ... and above all, they talked to Patrick. Not long before he died, they captured his closing remarks, his legacy, his extraordinary funeral, his wife, Cathy's, poems, I will not lie, there were tears in our sitting room, and they weren't all mine.

On an unbelievably cold day, in February 2002, Patrick came to see our land. He walked it with us, talked to us about it, drew up some plans, and gave us some advice. Thereafter he never failed to support us, love us, have faith in us, and help us. He often gave us things because, he said, 'he believed in what we were doing'.

Tonight, I wailed, 'But we're not now, are we? We've let him down.'

'Not yet, we haven't' Neil replied grimly. I think that's  the man version of my response.

 Patrick Whitefield, 1949 - 2015
Patrick Whitefield 1949 - 2015


House Rage Returns

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Well, it's back to work tomorrow.
Tonight, by way of experiment, I've done my shopping online to be delivered tomorrow night. I reckon it's cost me about £10 more than my usual Lidl run and freed up my Saturday morning. So it remains to be seen what I do with my Saturday morning and whether it will be worth it in the end.
While I was doing this, I made the basic error of watching Sarah Beeny's 'How to Live Mortgage Free' on Channel 4.
Oh. My. Gosh.
How can you be mortgage free?
Plan A. Well, you could buy a boat, with some money you happen to have, and save lots by not paying the £1.7k per month rent on your little flat in London. And then, as an additional idea, you can get a job in January.  How were you paying the rent?! Without any mention of the real costs of living on a boat, you can just celebrate the fact that you have a hole in the floor in which to keep your potatoes.
Plan B. Buy a tin church. The catch here is that it's not possible to *get* a mortgage on a tin church, so you purchase it for the mere pocket change of £90,000 and there you are, mortgage free! Why didn't I think of that?
Plan C. Buy your house the normal way by getting a £200k mortgage (oh. wait.) and then by dint of eating cheap pasta and only playing with water pistols to amuse your kids, pay it off in half the normal time. Of course for this one, you do need to be able to get a mortgage, and not be paying so much in rent that it is impossible to save a downpayment on a pedalo on the local lake, never mind a house.
There was a Plan D but it involved a 26 year old with £70,000 buying a brownfield site and magically getting planning permission for an eco home. I know so many people with good designs for eco homes and land that they own, who have not a hope in hell of getting planning permission that I don't even want to discuss how she did that.
Housing, or the lack of it, is becoming the hot topic in this household. Sarah Beeny helped us not one jot.



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