I’m keeping on my rose tinted spectacles…..

Despite the many hardships smallholders/permaculturists and those following their own path to self-sufficiency endure, it seems to me that there are far more positives to this lifestyle than negatives. Or maybe that is just because I really do see everything through rose-tinted spectacles and that’s how I enjoy living it?

It certainly isn’t an easy life or for the faint hearted.

Some examples: Well there is the lugging of firewood, the cutting, stacking and sawing that accompanies a life in a basic cottage where wood is the only fuel that heats your home and your water. Then there is the dusty job of cleaning out the stove/ fireplace, the making of compost, the baking of bread, cheesemakiing, brewing and fermenting food and drinks, mucking out animal housing, erecting fencing, growing food, walking to and from your paddocks daily, the carrying  and stacking of bales of hay, filling of haynets and hayracks, filling and carrying of water buckets and topping up of troughs, the carrying of hefty 25kg sacks of animal feed, much sweeping of yards, the heavy wheelbarrowing of loads of well-rotted manure onto veg beds, preserving your food and cleaning up your clothes and cottage interiors of all the hay and mud that seems to be the identity badge of the self-sufficient / small-scale farmer.

I have days when utter exhaustion wipes out any sense of wellbeing and enthusiasm, just like anyone else does, yet those rough days tend to be balanced out with far more days filled with pure joy at having witnessed something wonderful. Today it was the joy of seeing some jays, four of them actually, a bee fly and a red admiral butterfly on our walk back from the pony paddocks and at having achieved a long sought after goal or dream, like getting a long-awaited pre-loved, used polytunnel frame gifted to me!

I may spend my days covered in hay and animal hair now. I may not look smart or glamorous. I may even be considered scruffy by some!  ha! But it is the special moments that make it all worthwhile, ……moments such as when I am heading outside to milk one of my goats, Tansy…
I have dragged myself out of a warm bed reluctantly.( I love my sleep!)
I am alone.
It is very early in the morning.
The world is just waking up.
Birds in the surrounding trees and hedgerows are singing their uplifting good morning song and flitting from branch to branch, foraging for food. The moorhens that live on the river here, scuttle out of my wildlife pond and rush up the steep bank back onto their own territory, embarrassed at being caught out trespassing in the garden wildlife pond or occasionally a pair of mallards, that also often visit my pond, catch me unawares and fly up in front of me as I walk across the garden, making my heart leap out of my chest! haha!

Trout rise in the river taking gnats and other small insects from above the waterline, and then they are gone, as swiftly as the appeared, leaving behind beautiful reflective patterns made up of concentric rings, rippling outwards on the water’s surface, as they disappear into the depths again. There is so much that makes this life worthwhile.

I try to keep to a routine here at Riverside. Not because I am OCD about the endless jobs that need doing, far from it,  but because it makes everything run more smoothly. Animals get used to it and milking needs to be done at the same time each day anyway.

I feed Marigold first.. a scoop of goat mix , so that she can eat her breakfast quietly whilst Tansy is eating hers on the milking stand. Goats are not patient creatures and the sound of one eating, will undoubtedly cause the others to yell loudly, until they get some grub too. So Marigold is not made to wait. Plus I really enjoy the quiet time I get whilst I do the milking and contemplate the day ahead.

I then open Tansy’s little stable and she skips out and heads straight for the milking stand in the feed room. She hops up on her own and puts her head in the yoke and begins to eat hungrily. Goats are always hungry 🙂 I give a scoop of goat mix to her kids whilst mum is busy scoffing her own food…..and then I sit down beside her and clean her udders gently with the udder wipes.

Softly I lay my head against Tansy’s side and talk to her as I milk her, she tilts her head at me listening between mouthfuls, her cheeks bulging, her jaw in constant motion..chewing or cudding. We have eye contact..an understanding…. it is hard to explain. I tickle her tummy now and then, and she arches her back and goes all gooey eyed..she makes a mellow snickering noises..not quite a bleat, more a soft mellow purr ..Can goats can purr?…It is the sound of contentment. She knows she is loved and cared for.

Once I have finished taking all the milk I require, ( I leave some in her udder for her babies)  I thank her and offer her some sliced carrot from my pocket (You end up with pockets full of odd things when living a life-like this: baling twine, string, penknives, castrating rings, animal feed..even goat droppings! Don’t ask! lol). I unhook her lead from the milking stand and she slowly wanders back to her goat shed to be reunited with her babies. They finish emptying her udder out and then set about eating the Summer scented hay that I have placed in the racks for them. Water buckets are rinsed out and refilled. Then the poultry are all fed and watered. I have a stainless steel pail full of warm frothy milk to get inside, filter and cool as soon as possible.

Now this may all seem wonderful..but just imagine the same scene in Winter. It is freezing cold and very dark…yet all the above still has to be done daily.  In all weather. Buckets have to be plunged into icy water troughs to be filled. Ice has to be broken in order to get access to the water. Soggy mud underfoot means everything ends up with a liberal coating of dirt…..and no matter how careful you are, hay and mud ends up inside your house too!

I have come to the conclusion that you must either be eccentric, mad or extremely dedicated to want to do all these jobs with absolutely no break in routine. No holidays..No sick days…Not to mention the sheer effort involved in mucking out and any animal illnesses you have to deal with!…and on top of all that there is the ‘paid’ work that you squeeze in somehow! Often this is done in the dead of night when you should be sleeping or at weekends when everyone else if heading out on their jollies. So I am not sure which category you’d want to put me in?…. or maybe I am  mix of all three!  Eccentric, mad and dedicated?  Exhausted sometimes too …But I am happy  to work hard to keep the life I love so very much 😉 …and it is this life that makes my daughter so totally content, so desperate to learn more about the natural world….and I would do anything to keep that going for her. x

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These hands…..

Plunged wrist deep in damp compost. Stirring in dry gritty sand. Turning and tipping, patting and mixing. My hands provide the medium for my seeds to grow in. The ingrained soil stains the tiny creases in my skin, like rivers marked on a map and it leaves them looking well-worn, like sun-bleached driftwood….the grain showing through. These hands have the patina that comes with age and heavy use outdoors. I like it.

Delicate lifting, seedling transplanting, caterpillar picking and ladybird gazing . Like fine tweezers, they serve me, but strength they provide me. Plunging fork or spade into soil. My hands, my most important tools. These hands, my gardening friends.

Gently compressing an udder. Rhythmic gentle pressure, from one pink freshly washed finger to another, as the thumb and base of forefinger act as valve. Gentle clamping and squeezing. Finger muscles working in unison. A wave-like motion. Smoothly and calmly, as frothing and creamy. These hands extract the milk.

Mixing and stirring, thumping and rolling. Knuckles are needed… for kneading the dough. These hands help produce our daily bread and a way to de-stress.

Lifting and carrying, chopping and sawing, stacking and fetching, lighting and poking. These hands prepare the firewood and tend the wood-stove, that warms my home, my water and my heart.

Tender forehead caressing, tight squeezy hugging, proud and jokey back patting, waving and clapping and secure hand holding. My hands show their love and appreciation to my children and loved ones. These hands never run out of love.

Delicate gathering, placing and carrying. Eggs from geese, hens and quail, are carried indoors to the kitchen. Doors are opened. Full baskets are lifted and into a frying pan, a porcelain shelled nut-brown egg is cracked….neatly in half….just right!  These hands provide the means to gather and cook our meals.

Sweeping and scrubbing, rub a dub dubbing, wiping and hosing with buckets of bubbles , mopping away, your dirt and your troubles. These hands clean the dirt that comes from a life spent outdoors.

Cleaning and washing, wringing and hanging, folding and ironing (although that I do rarely). Piling up, neat stacking, clean linen, fresh smelling. These hands, they allow me to be clothed in fresh fabric, keep my home tidy and bring sunshine inside.

Holding reins, as we trot along lanes, across fields, the wind on your face, carriage wheels turning, you feel every bump and steady the pace, no need to race.  Deep pressure on brush, as you groom away the dried sweat from a morning of traveller’s joy, with the sun on your backs, the smell of horse on your hands and in your head forever more. These hands care for the animals that take me places and make my heart sing.

Holding pen or pencil, crochet hook or knitting needle, typing letter or story, threading cotton through needle, mending and make doing! My hands they communicate and cooperate, confidently, they earn my keep and keep the wolf from the door ………as I attempt self-sufficiency. They try their best and that is all I ever ask of them. I can’t ask for more .

These hands…..

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Priorities: I am not superwoman!

It has been a rough few days……

A combination of influenza and norovirus infected us both and wiped my daughter and I off our feet completely for several days. A slow recovery, tainted by dizziness and nausea meant that essential jobs often got neglected. An every growing list of tasks that NEEDED to be done immediately built up and worried me, gnawed at my conscience and ate away at my inner organised self. It was torture. The list included a goat shed that had to be made ready for kidding time, field shelters that need emptying, paddocks that needed cleaning, electric fencing that needed mending, straw and hay deliveries to arrange and wood to saw and chop for the fire BUT…and I say this tentatively, we are finally on the mend and I am at last catching up with all the stuff that didn’t get done last week, when I was only leaving my bed to feed and water animals before crashing out under the duvet again. I have caught up with paddock clearing. Three piled up wheel barrow loads of pure manure shifted and piled up on the muck heap. I have dug out the goat shed, all 20 barrow loads of it. I have burnt the billy tainted bedding, disinfected the concrete floors and walls and laid a clean bed in readiness for Tansy kidding (if she is in fact pregnant).
If last week has taught me anything is it that I need to be more mentally prepared for times like this. I need to forgive myself for not having the energy to crack on with all my usual chores when I am ill and caring for a poorly ten year old. I need to relax about it all. I need to go with the flow and do my best and stop worrying, stop trying to get everything done. Hard when you have high standards and livestock that rely on you. But I need to prioritise and do the essentials and only worry about the rest when I am well again. I need to stop feeling guilty about not getting any online sales listed. Being ill is not easy when you run a micro holding on your own! Being ill is no fun even when you do not have goats, hens, quail, ponies, geese, ducks, cats, dogs and a veg garden to care for ..plus wood to cut and fetch in for the fire everyday…yet alone a poorly child who cannot stop being sick. I don’t have time to be ill, but illness takes no notice of this situation!

I was blessed to receive an emergency parcel from my family during the week, a box left outside for me with a note attached, so as to prevent those delivering it from being infected by our nasty germs. Infectious illness is a lonely affair but the note and goodies raised a smile when we were feeling very low indeed. Emergency items included bottles of drinking water, as during this time our mains water just happened to be disconnected for essential work and we were left with no running water for large parts of the week. Not ideal when dealing with norovirus! For the bottled water and other items we were very grateful! x

To top it all off my woodstove/chimney decided today would be a good day to become blocked and smoke out the cottage. This meant that I had to have all the windows wide open at 7 am this morning to try to rid the cottage of the acrid thick smoke that was choking us and I have had to cope with no heating on at a time when my daughter and I are still coughing and struggling to keep warm even with the fire lit. It certainly tested our resolve. I cannot say there were no tears. We have a builder arriving tomorrow to solve the problem.
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Like true troopers, we decided to go for a walk to warm-up, take stock of the situation and get away from the smoke…..and whilst out walking with the dogs, we saw a cluster of pure white snowdrops on the field path, they brightened our day and made us smile. Thank you snowdrops x

When we got home we dug out the old paraffin stove, dusted it off and lit that and put the kettle on as only us English do in emergencies. Normal service will be resumed shortly no doubt. So for now we are warm and we have tea, so all is well at Riverside.

There are smiles again 🙂

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Oh and we have a new family member. Meet Peaches, the latest rescue to come and live here with us.
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