Not Really a Farm
I've moved (again) - come join me!
A new house felt like it needed a new blog space too. I do this periodically, and I do apologise if it messes up people's blog readers. I just don't seem to be able to help myself. I've tried the new space out for a few days and it seems to fit, so I would love it if you would join me over at
Not Really a Farm
We are in! Snowed in!
Finally, we are in!
In fact, we are snowed in, and have been since Tuesday. It's been an eventful week...
Monday (moving day) was long, tiring and emotional. We had less than two hours sleep, which didn't help. Our keys were ready by 11.30am, but we were still cleaning the old house until 12.30, then needed a restorative cuppa before heading out to the wilds. The old house was doing its best to make us regret leaving.
Needless to say, the removals men had beaten us to it - they'd unloaded one van into the garage, and driven all the way back to Sheffield and back (an hour each way) to collect the lorry before we arrived.
The new house was cold - it's been empty for months, and the heating system was drained before Christmas. Thanks to some clever instructions over the phone from our cheery plumber, I had it working within an hour or so, but it took several days for the heat to warm the old stone walls.
On Tuesday, the world seemed a little brighter, and we nipped to our two most local towns for supplies, then to the village for a nice cup of tea in our new favourite local cafe.
On Tuesday afternoon, the snow set in, and we were stuck.
On Thursday, I attempted to walk a couple of miles to the local village for milk, but had to turn back because I could barely see for the snow blowing in my eyes. A nearby farmer took pity on me and gave me some milk from his cows. He did say this was the worst weather they'd had for years so I'm hoping this is NOT usual for this time of year.
It was so very windy that the snow had blown off the fields almost completely and formed into strange sculptural drifts, almost like waves.
Yesterday wasn't so windy, and we did actually make it all the way to the village, although it took us over an hour. The cafe was closed (oh no!) but fortunately the pub was open, so we were able to have a nice cup of tea before heading back up the hill again.
The people coming to fit all season tyres to our car couldn't get through the snow, and I've had to cancel all work this week as the roads are either impassable or officially closed. On the plus side, it's given us plenty of time to unpack, and we are now settling in nicely and getting into the rhythm of this strange life we've catapulted ourselves into.
Whatever happens come spring is going to feel like a doddle compared to this.
Finally, some news
Finally, we have some news!
After months and months of bureaucracy, delays, idiocy and general faffing, we have exchanged contracts and will be moving house next Monday. Eek!
I am relieved, and daunted, and excited (and daunted again) all at once. What if we hate living in the middle of nowhere? What if I can't think of anything to do with all that land? What if the neighbours don't like us? (At least we'll be a bit further away from them I suppose). What if the car breaks down and I can't get to work, or it snows, or the well overflows or the electricity goes off? What if...?
We're not in the habit of moving house very often (between us we have been in this house for forty years), so the slight trepidation we have about this particular house is hard to distinguish from general wibbling about moving house at all. Still, we're legally obliged to go now so we'd best just pack up and get on with it.
Much of our stuff has been packed for months - the cellar has been full to bursting since before we put our own house on the market last July. We've now got a week to get everything out of the cellar, and the rest of our things packed. The removals firm dropped off another forty boxes today and I think we'll use them all.
We aren't minimalists.
At the weekend, once we had a date, I packed up my tubs from the garden. They probably could have gone in the removals van, but they're difficult to stack, and would have taken up a fair bit of space (which, er, we don't have much of). So I bundled them all up and took them to a friend's house for safekeeping.
Here they are, nestled among the snowdrops. They won't need any looking after at this time of year, and there's nothing much growing in them anyway, but it seemed a shame to leave them behind.
It felt strangely emotional packing up the garden. At this time of year it's mostly sticks, but there are a few shoots coming through and it feels odd to know I won't be seeing the chive flowers again, or the gooseberries.
I'm pretty sure there will be plenty of times when I'll be looking back with fondness at the thought of having a tiny city garden that I could weed and prune and tidy and be finished in time for lunch...
What I've been reading lately
I drifted away from reading last summer, and haven't written a 'what I'm reading' post since early May. Sometimes, when my head is too full of what-if and things-to-do, there isn't room to take on anything else, and I stop reading books altogether.
Daft really, as I know with a book I can lose myself in someone else's world for a while and forget about my own lists.
Anyway, Peter bought me a couple of books over Christmas, and that set me to reading again, especially as in the first one (Born a Crime by Trevor Noah), the author said that we can find ourselves scrolling through endless Twitter threads and newspaper articles, and get to the end of the year having read many thousands of words, but not a single book. Ouch.
I didn't keep a proper list, so this is in no particular order, but this is vaguely what I've been reading since Christmas.
Born a Crime (Trevor Noah)
This was a Christmas present, and the book that got me reading again. I was vaguely familiar with Trevor Noah but didn't know much about his past, and this was an interesting read. I always love tales of people's ordinary lives, and this gave fascinating and at times painful insights into everyday lives in and after apartheid in South Africa. Not always cheerful, but certainly uplifting overall.
How to be a Victorian (Ruth Goodman)
I found this in a charity shop. I loved the Victorian Farm series, and watch it over and over whenever it's repeated on the tv. This book goes into far more detail about the everyday lives of Victorians, both rich and poor, and covers things like making breakfast, making and washing clothes, education, work, and bringing up children. There's quite a bit about the political situation at the time too, and contemporary campaigns around women and children working in mines and the introduction of compulsory education.
Nightwalk: A Journey to the Heart of Nature (Chris Yates)
I loved this. I've always been a little bit scared of being outside at night (although it doesn't always stop me), and this was a beautiful account of the author's nocturnal ramblings which made me want to stride out in the moonlight. Utterly charming.
A Gleaming Landscape: 100 Years of the Guardian's Country Diary (Martin Wainright)
Another charity shop find, and another in my ever-growing stash of books about the coutryside. This is a collection of Country Diary columns from the Guardian newspaper over the last 100 years, one from each year. The columns themselves are short, and there's a bit of context about the political and social history of the time at the start of each chapter - the war years were especially interesting. It did feel a little disjointed with columns from so many different authors, but it was quite fascinating to see the changes through the years.
Health (Peter Aggleton)
I picked this up to read for work, but it was so interesting that I actually read most of it sitting in a cafe on Saturday morning. It's old now (written in 1990), but gives a really clear, straightforward account of the social and structural issues surrounding health and how we understand what it means to be healthy and ill. Not exactly fun, but really interesting.
The Shock Doctrine (Naomi Klein)
I read Naomi Klein's first book No Logo when I was at university many years ago now, and it had a profound effect on me and what I went on to do. I'm a few years behind with this one, and have got it out of the library several times and taken it back without reading it. It's a weighty tome (650 ish pages), dense with detail and facts, and really not fun at all. It charts the rise of what the author calls 'disaster capitalism' - the exploitation of countries that are experiencing disaster (whether natural or human-made) by large corporations for profit-making purposes. It's not exactly an easy read, but I'm making myself read the whole lot, because I think it's important to try to get a grasp on how things come to be the way they are. I've not quite finished it yet - it's definitely not a read-as-you're-dozing-off book...
So there we are. A fairly random assortment, and I'm pretty sure I've missed at least one out. I'm so very much looking forward to having my books back out of boxes when we move, I'm sure there are plenty that I haven't read at all yet...
How not to knit
Well, it was a good job I didn't hold my breath when it seemed like something might happen with the house the other day. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened at all (except various parties revealing their incompetence, but there's nothing new in that). I'm resigning myself to staying in our currently house for the next ten years at the rate we're going.
So let's put all that aside for a little while and talk about knitting.
For the last few months, on and off, I've been knitting a couple of pair of socks for a couple of friends. I wrote about the first pair back in October, and finally finished them and started the second. I was absolutely thrilled to come across this stripey wool in a charity shop, it was almost a full ball, and knits into a glorious riot of colour and speckles.
I was delighted with the first sock. Look at it! What fun!
I had a brief moment of do-I-really-have-to-knit-another-one-the-same sock tedium, and then embarked on the second. Which went well - until I realised that my 'almost a complete ball of wall' wasn't quite 'almost complete' enough, and that I didn't have enough wool to finish the second sock...
Most vexing - if I'd have realised earlier, I could have made the leg part shorter and then I might have made it, or made the cuff a different colour. At this stage though, without unravelling the whole lot and starting again (which I didn't want to do as these were meant to be a Christmas present), there was only one thing for it - I'd have to make the toes a different colour on both of them.
I started with the painful task of unravelling the toes on the first one, which gave me a bit more wool to add some to the second one. There was no chance of me finding an exact match for this wool without an awful lot of messing (it didn't come with a label), so I decided to use something else that I already had. Sadly, most of my stash is in boxes in the cellar, so my choice was limited.
I settled on this blue, green and brown stripey wool, which looked at least like some of the colours might vaguely match.
They do - kind of. But the stripes are a lot thicker and darker, and I'm not convinced.
I'm reserving judgement until I've finished the second, although I've been informed that as it is now February, I really should just finish the darn things and get them sent off, especially as they're going to a different country and may take a while to get there anyway.
I'm not one for matching the stripes on my socks anyway. I'm lazy, and prefer an element of chance when it comes to sock colours. Next time I'll definitely be wary of using charity shop wool though (unless it's definitely a full ball) - and I might even weigh these ones before I send them just to make sure I know how much wool they use.
Still, whatever they look like, they are cheerful and cosy and will hopefully get a good reception. I'll post pictures if I ever finish the second one (and don't start unravelling the first again).
Where do the days go? More and more I find it's been a week, or two, or even three since I've popped in here.
I'm not even going to try to catch. The last three weeks have been a flurry of snow, work, cafes and very nearly moving house. Not quite, not yet, but hopefully very soon.
There have been some spectacular sunrises, most of which I've seen while out running. I can't always persuade myself out of bed that early, but when I do, I rarely regret it.
Yesterday my running paid off (kind of) as me and my sister did a trail race. This is the first one in a series of four, and it was lovely to run a shorter race for a change, rather than our epic out-all-day half marathon fiascos. This one took just under an hour - we were cold and muddy with wet feet, but we were finished by half past ten and there was free tea and cake at the finish.
When we'd wrapped up, I took her for a walk up the footpath and past the new house.
(Don't worry, there is an actual driveway we can use once we've moved in). I have to confess to having a bit of a wobble. It really is quite far away, and quite rural, and there is a lot of space. I've never been responsible for any grass before, let alone several acres. The house has been empty for about nine months now, and has probably been taken over by spiders and mice.
What are we doing?
Well, you can't always be sensible, and we're not going to back out now. It's ever so beautiful out there (and also ever so cold). It'll be an adventure I'm sure (and we can always move back to the city if we hate it).
I don't think I'm going to mind pegging the washing out with that view. In fact, since being an adult, I don't think I've lived anywhere with a washing line, so hanging the washing out will be possibly the most exciting household task for a while. I used to hate it as a child, and always wondered why my mum liked it so much (although maybe she didn't?) but I might be getting closer to understanding.
Today might bring some news... although I won't hold my breath. There are a couple of small things to sort out, and we are relying on one person in the chain doing what they said they would do over the weekend, but I won't be letting my phone far out of my sight today.
For me, 2017 was definitely not a year of running. I did a half marathon in January and then... nothing. A small flurry in May, when I thought I might be doing a local trail race, but that tailed off when things got serious on the house moving front.
Recently though I've started again. I've watched a friend (EssexHebridean) do the couch to 5k and after eight short weeks of regular, consistent running (something I've never managed to do since I started in 2003), she is now running faster than I ever have, even at my fittest.
I'm extremely impressed with her, and extremely unimpressed with myself. I know I get quicker if I run regularly - yet in thirteen years I think I've only ever done three runs in a single week a handful of times. Even when I was training for the marathon, I was more likely to do one run every fortnight than anything more regular (which explains my shoddy marathon times...).
I like running, but I've never really pushed myself very hard. I go out for a run, and barely get above walking pace. There's nothing wrong with this of course, but I know I'm capable of more.
Anyway, inspired by Robyn and other friends who have taken up running regularly, and by looking back at old race photographs and the fun I've had running with my sister, I decided to get back out there. And of course, I motivate myself best with a race... so we've entered a series of short trail races over near the new house (which we still aren't living in... yawn). The first one is the first weekend of February - just over two weeks away - and needless to say I am not remotely prepared.
But I have been out. Before work, in the semi darkness, running round the park, trying not to slip on the ice. And early morning, in the gym, before anyone else is there, trying not to feel self conscious when the next person comes in.
Not much, not fast, but regular.
For now. We'll see how long it lasts...
This year, I want to get a bit more proficient at identifying wildlife. I'm pretty good with birds, and can identify most of the common British birds by sight (but not by sound, except for the very obvious ones).
My knowledge of trees is a little more ropey. I can identify the most common ones (oak, sycamore, beech, silver birch, cherry, elder, willow, hawthorne, holly, poplar etc) by either leaves, bark or other key features, but I am shockingly bad at identifying trees in winter.
The other day I was walking across town - the sky was grey and nondescript and I fell to idly looking at the silhouettes of the trees.
They're surprisingly different (or maybe it's not too surprising...). Some have twigs that point upwards, some droop down. Some have many small twigs clustered together, while others are more sparse. The outlines are different too - some spread wide, others more compact.
It seemed to me that the shape of the branches was so distinct that there was likely to be an online guide I could consult, so as I walked I took pictures of as many different types as I could see (which also helped to take my mind off my freezing fingers).
However, it turns out I can't find what I was looking for online at all! The best I can find is an A-Z guide to native UK trees produced by the Woodland Trust. This does have winter pictures of each tree, but they're quite small, and you have to click through to each species in turn and then click through the pictures to find the winter one.
The Dendrologist (a journal sadly no longer printed) has this handy winter twig identification guide, which doesn't really help with these photographs, but might if I go out collecting twigs instead. There is also perhaps a more useful dichotomous key from Virginia Tech Dendrology department, although it is obviously North American, so I am not sure how much the species differ.
Of course, it's easier with leaves. Country Life magazine has a simple pictorial guide to the most common species, and the Forestry Commission has a tree name trail - pretty much exactly what I was looking for but using leaves rather than twig shapes. I'll make sure to come back to that in the summer.
I'm pretty sure the answer is to consult a book. I'm also pretty sure that we have a tree identification book, locked deep in a box in the cellar somewhere. In the meantime, you might see me around town collecting sticks and doing bark rubbings.
I made my own lip balm
I found a tiny bit of beeswax in a drawer under the sink, leftover from a previous attempt at making my own soap. I'm not going to be making soap again until we've moved, but I haven't made toiletries of any kind for a while, and fancied having a go at my own lip balm.
Surprisingly, I've not made lip balm before. It's pretty straightforward. I had a quick read of these instructions, and then didn't really follow them at all.
The key, it seems, is to mix oils that are solid at room temperature with those that are liquid. I'm sure there are numerous recipes out there that will tell you the 'right' amount, but I confess I just guessed and used what I had in the cupboard.
So mine contains that little bit of beeswax, a splash of coconut oil (again left over from soap making) and a bit of the olive oil we use for cooking. I also added some lipstick that I found lying around - a cheap one I picked up goodness knows when, that is far too dark for me, and barely stays on for five minutes.
Everything got melted and stirred together in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water, and then I poured it into these little tins that I've had lying around for literally years, waiting for a job.
I hadn't realised that both tins had tiny holes where the hinges fit, and so I ended up with lip balm spilled all over the chopping board. Oops.
Never mind, it's not toxic, so I scraped it off, melted it down, and added it in a tiny bit at a time while it set.
The verdict? Perfectly acceptable. With hindsight I should have used the whole of the lipstick - I'm not going to be using it for anything else, and the colour is barely noticeable in the lip balm. I might also have used a little more olive oil, although I'm not certain about that - it's quite solid but does soften with the heat of your finger, and you wouldn't want it too soft.
I've missed making things, and am really looking forward to experimenting a bit more once we move.
Wetlands (and some more woods)
Last week, in the not-quite-real time between the start of the new year and the return to work, I met a friend at Idle Valley nature reserve.
We've met there before, as it's roughly half way between my house and his. There are lakes, and a lot of birds, and (most importantly) a cafe.
On this day it was rather soggy, and we waited for a while in the cafe for the rain to ease off. They have several pairs of binoculars and a telescope that you can try out, and we had a jolly time watching the flocks of birds rise from the lake then drop back down, then rise and circle each other in an elaborate dance.
Eventually the rain eased enough for us to brave a walk around the lake.
Wandering round the reserve, I was reminded of my intention to visit all the nature reserves run by my local Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust. I'd finally made it to number eight back in October, but there were still four to go. I'd very much like to visit them all before we move miles away into the countryside with other exciting places to explore.
So when the sun shone last weekend, I took myself off to Greno Woods - reserve number nine on my list.
It was rather nippy, and also gave me a nice excuse to wear my wellies, which don't get nearly as much use as I'd like.
The sun shone through the trees and picked out the vivid green of the holly. It was quite magical.
I wasn't really following a footpath, just wandering about wherever my fancy took me, and eventually I found myself out of the woods.
I sat for a while on a bench looking at the view, and would have sat for longer, but it was so cold I feared I might seize up if I stayed still for too long, so back into the woods I went.
After a couple of hours of wandering, I was rather peckish and in need of lunch. Sadly, having paid no attention to which direction I was going in, I was thoroughly lost, and it took rather a lot more wandering to find myself again, by which time I was quite chilly and a teensy bit grumpy.
I did make it home eventually though, to a well deserved bowl of soup.
Just three reserves left to go now (I think). I might just make it before we go after all...