August was predictably a bit rubbish. It seemed tiresomely slow as it was happening because I spent a lot of it just laying on the sofa too tired to do anything.
But we did start the month with a joyous weekend with Jules. I was on my steroid high, the weather was glorious and the company was delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed it, making the most of feeling good whilst it lasted.
After those sweet three energetic days, I had two weeks of low energy, low milk supply, Dave having to do all of the chores and spending time with Leona whilst I zombied on the sofa and we got nothing else done.
No sooner had I recovered from that and I was in the hospital getting my first rituximab infusion. Cue another 10 days of being too tired to do much.
For the first four weeks after that infusion I was warned by the nurse to take extreme caution to stay safe and healthy because my immune system took a big dip. I noticed that little cuts and grazes didn’t heal well and I did my best to keep away from everyone to avoid catching any bugs. I made some plantain salve for faster wound healing, which has worked a treat.
Thankfully after that, things improved a lot. I feel better now than I have for a long time! Hopefully that means the treatment is working and we can relax a little.
Dave managed to make some progress on the mezzanine here and there when Leona was napping or I felt up to being sole carer for a few hours. All of the floor joists are in and all of the uprights for the stud walls are in place. It’s looking really good.
Then in late September once everything had calmed down a bit, we got some more time to work on it. I cleaned up an off-cut of chestnut to use as a banister rail. Dave put down some OSB panels for the central part of the floor.
Once I was feeling energetic again and we had a week of sunshine at the start of September, we enjoyed working in the field whilst Leona played in the grass. Scything, brambling, weeding and mulching have left some select areas in a much better state.
A year ago we were just finishing with the earthworks and the field was a bare, rocky desert. Now it’s almost completely greened up! The green manures and nitrogen fixers have been doing their thing. Some of the trees and bushes have been surviving, and a few are thriving. Starting plants from seed was a bit of a gamble but I’m happy with the outcome so far, especially considering how little effort I have put in.
Forest Garden Successes
Some of the best plants I have grown from seed include four sea buckthorn bushes that we’ve put by the field boundary to make a wind break. They have put on loads of growth this year and are well of their way to making an impact on the landscape. Two wild cherry trees that I dug out of a forest path and put in the front garden have outgrown me this year, more than doubling their height this season. A couple of the honey locust trees I started from seed are looking really good too. One or two of the wild service trees are doing very well. The rhubarb and strawberry patch is enjoying Dave’s weeding and mulching and providing tasty treats. The physalis plants are out of control, littering the ground with berries. The raspberries are very happy and one of the Japanese wineberry plants is taking over the garden. The comfrey is absolutely wild. The buddleia is getting massive. And the cherry tree I bought two years ago and put in the garden is starting to look established.
Against the odds, my two liquorice shrubs have survived the cold winter and the dry summer in spite of almost complete neglect. Some rosemary bushes from seed and cuttings are slowly and steadily getting bigger. My black mulberry tree that I started from seed has come back with renewed vigour after a spring slug attack. The various currant bushes (red, white, black and golden) are doing well enough to propagate this winter. The Oregon grape bushes I sowed from seed are hanging on and looking like they might make it. The bay tree that Nik and Ellie rooted from cuttings is growing slowly but surely. The two fruit trees we bought are settling in well – Dave has been keeping the mulch rings nicely fed and weed-suppressed.
We are a long way from anything that feels like a forest garden, but I think it’s nice to see a few things working out well so far.
Forest garden failures
The plethora of failures include cuttings I made of various figs (some are still hanging on, we will see what happens), elder cuttings, berry bushes we planted on the terraces that got waterlogged, and the struggling small-leafed lime tree that is optimistically planted in the hedge, which may or may not make it. And loads of things that I can’t even remember because they never even germinated!
The garden has been suffering the same neglect as the field for many months. But it continues to provide loads of herbs, tonnes of physalis, plenty of courgettes, some kale, nasturtium, beetroot and raspberries. I rustled through the undergrowth to pluck a few kilos of onions from some overgrown beds. I collected and froze the sweetcorn. The giant sunflowers are huge and heavy with ripening seeds! And the pumpkins and beans are coming on nicely too.
Autumn has arrived. The days are shortening, the nights are cooler, the sun is lower and the ground is littered with the first of the fallen leaves. I love this time of year. In August we picked elderberries. In September the paths are littered with apples, blackberries and hazelnuts. I’ve picked my first pumpkins and the first of the beans are drying in the attic.
Since all our friends here are hippies, of course we had a solstice celebration. These ceremonious occasions have always had me feeling divided. Part of me thinks that it’s silly to do things like stand in a circle holding hands and breathing in the moment or contemplating your feelings. But part of me longs for these occasions that give the time and space to reflect in a way that I usually don’t make time for. And really I suspect that my dismissive feelings about any silliness are more a reflection of my own resistance to feeling my feelings. Mockery doesn’t need to self-reflect.
Anyway, on this occasion I went with Leona. Everyone in turn had written down something from the past they wanted to leave behind, burned the piece of paper and cut some of their hair as a sign of change that autumn marks. Then a few talented souls played music and sang songs about being one with the Earth and such. Leona was sleeping in the sling and I was stood back from the circle watching my friends sing and dance, filling my heart with joy and making me realise how happy I was in that moment. I felt well. I felt relieved that I’m finally on my medication. I wasn’t fatigued, I didn’t have a tummy ache, I wasn’t stressed, I didn’t have anywhere else to be. I started to feel some happy tears coming. I thought about how hard the last year or so has been. It was only now that I felt good and happy that I was able to reflect clearly on how stressful it’s been. And I realised that I haven’t cried for months. I’ve been in survival mode for such a long time that I hadn’t allowed myself to feel sad about it all. It was a cathartic moment and I’m very grateful to have such wonderful friends.
We were given the ugly but wonderful gift of a kombucha scoby, which I used to start my own batch of kombucha. And I’ve managed to give away two scobies to other neighbours – long live the ferments! I’ve also tried a new method for sauerkraut, which is ridiculously easy and has yielded the tastiest results so far – all tang and no sweaty socks!
I have spent almost two months on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP). I track my nutrient intake to make sure we are getting what we need and have realised the value of eating big helpings of nettles, spinach, kale and chard. We both feel really good. I usually manage to get enough sleep these days too. It has been time-consuming sticking to the protocol but it has been worth it.
Leona has been brilliant lately, so fun to be around and changing so much. She has just turned 10 months. She loves waving to people. She wants to do everything herself. She has taken her first shaky solo steps. And she has started opening drawers and cupboards to systematically throw all of the items over her shoulder one by one.
We haven’t been out and about as much as I would usually like on account of my treatment and the recent surge in corona virus cases but we spend time with the neighbours, take trips to the river and little outings around the village and the nearby woods.
Learn & Grow
We hosted a cycle tourist called Hannes for a few days and he camped in our field during a spell of glorious weather. He went about barefoot most of the time – something I have longed to do for years but rarely prioritise. I felt inspired and I downloaded Whole Body Barefoot to get my transition to barefoot on the right track. With Leona starting to walk, it’s a great time to do it. It slows me down and stops me being impatient. Annoyingly though, her tiny feet are already tougher than mine!
Dave and I have starting practicing “Non-violent Communication”. It has been a total game-changer for us! I first heard about NVC in relation to parenting, but after Signe lent us the book by Marshall Rosenberg, I realised that this skill has the power to work in every aspect of life. We used to go around in circles arguing about things (“You’re not listening”, “No, you’re not listening!”). Now we can start to think, feel and talk in a way that allows us to be understood, to empathise and to work together to find solutions.
My main take-away is that there is no objective right and wrong or good and bad. This took a long time to accept – that there isn’t the ‘best’ way of doing things. Our perception of something as good, bad, dangerous, ridiculous, organised, funny, meddling or helpful depends on our personal needs. And we can change the way we talk to reflect this realisation.
“Stop fussing Leona. We have to get in the car now – we’re going to be late!” becomes instead “If we don’t leave in the next few minutes, we’re going to be late. I like to arrive on time to let everyone to spend their time productively. How about we do one more lap of the car park then get in the car?” This might seem a cumbersome way to talk at first – and it does take some getting used to. But in the end it saves so much time. And it might be just the shift in my emotional state rather than the words, but it usually works a treat.
“Dave, what are you doing?” (Implying “That’s a ridiculous way to hang the laundry!”), becomes instead “Dave, when you hang the small items on the far line it takes me longer to bring them in because I struggle to reach it. Would you be willing to hang the few large items on the far line and the smaller ones on the closer line so that I can bring the laundry in more easily?” “Sure.” Side note: It turns out that Dave put the big items on the far line so that all of the items are in direct sunlight – not ridiculous at all.
Until we accept that our own ways of doing things are based on our own needs rather than what is ‘best’, we can’t look at other people’s ways of doing things as valid and we can’t communicate about them effectively.
Of course sometimes one feels too tired, hungry or frustrated to put the new skills into practice (it’s hard to change the habits of a lifetime), but overall discussions are much more productive. In the first two days after reading it, we cleared up a few relationship-long arguments. I am feeling very relieved and I feel like we can tackle anything right now.
In summary, it’s been tough but things are going well right now. I do feel a bit wary of relaxing in case anything else goes wrong, but hopefully we have reached our new normal. Long may the good times last!