Summer in May

The weather has been glorious this month! Hot and sunny with the occasional storm. The plants are growing like mad and the redstarts and blue tits that were nesting in our house have fledged.

We were supposed to spend a week in the Hebrides with my family at the start of the month and I am sad that it was corona-cancelled. I was so looking forward to some family time. The trip has been postponed until next year, when Leona will be running along the beach!

Lockdown is easing in our region and it’s very nice to be able to see the possibility of normality again. We met up with some friends for a walk around the reservoir one day and I went to the river with Leona to meet some friends when it was really hot. We sat in the shade and kept cool with our feet in the water.

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The garden

We’ve been weeding, sowing, planting out and harvesting – May is always a busy time in the garden. The weeding always feels like a thankless task at this time of year but if I can keep on top of it now then the summer is a lot easier.

Lots of grass has been scythed and added to the field or the compost heap. The comfrey got so tall that it’s all fallen over, but the bees keep on buzzing all the same.

There are berries popping up for the first time this spring, which is very exciting. The raspberry plants we put in last year are starting to set fruit. The Japanese wineberry that I grew from seed two years ago is putting on flowers. The few blueberries are busy swelling up and there are a few handfuls of strawberries every day. I am getting the first tastes of my dream of going around the forest garden in the morning to collect a bowlful of fruit for breakfast!

I’ve put out a mulberry tree and a small-leaved lime into the field. They’re both only about 10cm tall, so it will be a while before they’re contributing to the harvest basket. But some of the plants that were already out in the field are growing well. The sea buckthorns have put on half a meter of growth already this year. The black mulberry has come back from a slug attack with renewed vigour. The green manure crops have gone to seed and some of the cover crops have gone so mad that I need to go around rediscovering the little trees and bushes I’ve put out!

I’ve sowed my courgettes, pumpkins, sweetcorn, popcorn, sunflowers and beans, which have popped up quickly in the hot weather. Then I had to make a load more space to put them all in.

My elderflower champagne worked beautifully. We went through the first batch pretty quickly but the second and third batches were left longer and are more alcoholic, so we’re taking our time with them. It’s fizzy and refreshing and delicious, just as I had hoped.

The house

We have been working on the mezzanine floor and chimney. Dave fixed the joists for the central part of the mezzanine floor into the beams, thereby securing the beams in place without the need to weld them. We placed chipboard on top so that we can go up the ladder and stand in our bedroom, which is cool. There is a good amount of head room in the middle – I can only just reach the Velux windows to open and close them.

Dave dismantled the tiles and flashing around the chimney to adjust the height and make it straight before putting it all back together again in its rightful place.

We’ve been trying to plan how to build the remaining two parts of the floor, which need to be slightly higher than the central section. And the stairs, which need to be built without any margin for error because we’re short on head room on every level. It’s fiddly and there are lots of factors to consider, but we finally have come up with a plan. So then I spent a few afternoons pugging up the remaining holes in the pointing.

Dave has been getting a bit frustrated by the pace of progress with a baby in tow, but I think it’s been going quite well. There are days when we manage to inch our way towards our goal, discussing and working with Leona asleep in the sling, and other days where we seem to achieve nothing but the bare minimum of laundry, food and walking the dog. But such is life.

Family

Leona is six months old! They say the days are long and the years are short and that seems to be about right. I’ve enjoyed these six months more than I could have imagined.

We have spent a fair bit of time just hanging out together. Leona has more time awake these days and needs more stimulation, so it’s nice that we’ve been able to see people again – she’s always happy to see a new face. We’re back to taking walks through the village and chatting over garden gates. We had a visit from Kasper and Elise one day – they were Workaway volunteers with us last year and have bought their own piece of paradise 20 minutes from us.

We’ve had a few more hospital trips and I had a week or two out of action after a high dose steroid treatment. We still don’t seem any closer to a diagnosis for me. I’m getting a bit fed up of the hassle but hopefully we’re getting somewhere.

It really feels like summer already. The long grass sends clouds of pollen into the air as you walk through it, Dave has stocked up on hay fever medicine, the days are long and warm and the garden is growing.

Taken six months apart…

Feeding my curiosity

In the years since I quit my job, I’ve had the beautiful freedom of time to learn what I want. The last six months in particular have allowed me time to read and learn whilst breastfeeding and contact napping. I’m not talking about learning facts, like “pandas are born smaller than a mouse”, which is just interesting. I’m talking about learning things that change how you see the world. Like when you realise how much extra land, water and other resources are required to make 1kg of beef compared to 1kg of beans and your eyes widen, give way to a deflated sigh and you start googling ‘can tofu ever be delicious?’ whilst thinking how blissful ignorance was.

Dave often jokes that the only consistent thing about me is that Iā€™m always changing. This is a source of pride to me now. But I remember the first major unravelling of all I knew to be true happened in my early teens and there was no pride or joy about it. It was over the course of my confirmation bible study classes, when I finally realised that I had to call myself an atheist. It was a years-long and painful process making the shift from seeing the Church as a beacon of hope, righteousness and truth to seeing the systematic indoctrination, abuse of power, perpetuation of the patriarchy and the web of lies required to keep the institution alive at all costs. I came to despise something that had previously seemed so vital, and that unravelling made my teenage years all the more turbulent. But that fundamental change in how I saw the world opened up more possibilities than I ever dreamed possible. Once I could accept that everything is up for debate, that the tenacity of an idea does not make it true, and that I have the power to change my mind upon learning new information, there was no stopping me. The pain in realising that my reality had crumbled gave way to a craving for learning and paved the way for my mind to be open to change. I realised in my late teens that I was an environmentalist. In my early 20s that I was a feminist. I craved knowledge and adventure. Once I had seen all the pain and possibility in the world, those things could not be unseen or forgotten. Thinking in this way means a life of uncertainty, opening your eyes to the unnecessary injustice and suffering in the world, constantly admitting that you were wrong, and forever changing not just what you think but also what you do and say. It requires being seen as radical and weird. By now I’m pretty used to people thinking I’m weird, so I figured I may as well carry on learning.

Over the past year, my thinking about my body and about having children has changed dramatically. It pains me to say this now, but I used to see pregnancy and breastfeeding as a kind of parasitic relationship – the mother giving her body, her nutrients, her love and care, the child receiving those things. Now I see my relationship with Leona as symbiotic, each of us getting what we need from each other.

I used to be terrified of pregnancy and childbirth, thinking they would wreck havoc on my body. But Ina May Gaskin taught me that the experience of birth can be joyful, empowering and beautiful. I used to think of babies as pretty boring, but now I know what parents everywhere knew all along – that they are small humans with needs, feelings and personalities and the ability to communicate these surprisingly effectively. I’ve gone from thinking that babies should sleep in cots to realising that there was a time before cots when every baby slept with their mother. I’ve learned the benefits of safe co-sleeping and am absolutely loving my bedtime cuddles and the extra sleep I get not having to get up in the night. I’ve gone from thinking unquestioningly that it’s normal for all babies to wear nappies, to realising that there are millions of babies around the world who never wear a nappy. I’ve gone from having a vague idea about unschooling, thinking that it sounds interesting but being unsure how kids can really learn without school, to thinking that radical unschooling and mixed-age interaction are the best ways to learn. I’ve gone from wondering how to get my baby to do what I want when I want, to learning the importance of timing things to perfection so that everyone’s needs are met with as few tears as possible. I’ve gone from wondering how to raise a polite and happy child whilst respecting their autonomy, to making the dreadful realisation that Dave and I are going to have to be polite and respectful to each other in order to lead by example. Oh the sacrifices we parents make!

I’m ever grateful to my own parents for nurturing my inquisitive nature and allowing me substantial freedoms from a young age. Questioning everything has led me to some interesting places – cycle touring, off-grid living, learning how to communicate more effectively, and apparently now parenting like a god-damn hippy!

The hardest thing about constantly learning new things is having to change your behaviour accordingly, but that’s also the best thing about it. Over the last few years I’ve become so much more content. And since Leona arrived I have been more at peace than ever. I worry less – actually I hardly worry at all. I sleep better because I’m worrying less (although sometimes I can’t sleep because I’m too busy processing all the new stuff I’ve been learning!). I don’t tend to get angry or stressed as often or as easily. I understand my feelings better. I care less about trivial things. I tend to enjoy whatever is happening in that moment, even if it isn’t what I had hoped or planned for.

I keep thinking about an article I read by a writer who returned from the UK to her native Kenya to have her baby, who had this realisation, which applies in fact not just to babies but to life in general: “I suddenly learned the not-so-difficult secret as to the joyful silence of African babies. It was a simple needs-met symbiosis that required a total suspension of ideas of ‘what should be happening’ and an embracing of what was actually going on in that moment.”

I guess we all know that life would be more enjoyable if we could just enjoy it more, but it takes time to learn what that means and how to do it. I think the key is aligning your lifestyle with your values – and that is serious work. So although there is little visible progress on the house this month, I feel I’ve made a step forward on the never-ending path towards living according to my ideology.

-Anna