That difficult age

You may have been wondering about my lack of blogging this year… in fact I have been too. I started the year with grand plans for book writing, but these didn’t actually come to fruition until the last month and even then my writing is a bit erratic. To begin with I thought that I was just feeling uninspired and then Max died and I was feeling sad, but as the year progressed I realised that I was suffering from what I can only describe as brain fog, sometimes accompanied by poor sleep and lethargy and sometimes accompanied by feelings of stress. I bimbled along for a while before realising that these were symptoms of the menopause. It’s a funny old thing – if you are pregnant, you can talk about the effects of your hormones on your body and your brain quite freely (and get support and sympathy), but if (like 100% of women will be at some stage in their life) you are menopausal, you keep quiet. This means that you don’t know what to expect; I was beginning to think I was going bonkers.

The really strange thing was, as soon as I realised and started chatting to my friends of a similar age, it all seemed much more manageable and normal. Mr Snail was worried about me too, and finding out that what I am going through is normal has helped him immensely. Everybody has different experiences, but I found some common threads – often mental rather than physical. The classic symptom is the hot flush, which I started having these about six years ago. They are rare for me now and I assumed that their gradual disappearance meant that is was all over – I was wrong. Brain fog, however, seems to be something most women I have talked to experience.

Anyway, this is the real reason why I haven’t been writing much. It seems to have adversely affected my creativity too and so I haven’t produced so many fun/lovely/quirky things to show you. However, I’m hoping that my newfound honesty and support network (including Sister of Snail, Mrs Robinson and The Great Creator) will buoy me up and help me find a new perspective.

I’ve toyed with writing this post for the past few weeks and wondered whether it was just too much to share, but then I watched a programme on the BBC the other day about the subject, which highlighted the need to talk about this and not to feel ashamed or embarrassed.  So, here I am. Sorry gents if you find this uncomfortable, but if you ever encounter women, this is something that is relevant to you too and which it would be useful to understand. So, lets start some conversations and accept that we all go through changes in our lives during which we need support and understanding.

I’ll just finish with two of my favourite songs from the wonderful Henry Priestman both about getting older… listen to the lyrics, they are wonderful.

 

 

Finding Rainbows

We make a special space in our lives and our hearts for our pets, and when we lose them, we are left with a hole. Max was a huge part of our lives and his care was one of our major concerns during the last few months of his life so his departure left me very sad and empty. But, what kind friends I have… in very short order a parcel arrived all the way from Pauline (The Contented Crafter) in New Zealand, with a very special light-catcher made to commemorate Max’s life. There is even a little heart shaped frame in which I have placed a photo.

Isn’t it lovely? And, in combination with my other light catcher (made specially by Pauline for the limery) I have rainbows (which look lovelier in real life)

like the ones that Max left in my memory.

Daisy is doing a good job of making new rainbows in our life and she and Sam seem to be enjoying each other’s company.

What joy to give another unwanted dog a home… although I can’t for the life of me understand why she was taken back to the rescue. Perhaps it was the singing.

Within or without?

Where does happiness come from?

Do you make your own or does it arrive as a gift from others?

These days I’m a relatively happy person. But then I’m lucky – a roof over my head, a partner to share life’s ups and downs, enough food on the table and no financial worries. It’s a good start and it means I don’t wake up every day fretting about the practicalities of life. But after that, I think it’s probably more about attitude than anything else. We all know that waking up feeling cross or sad or scared (for whatever reason) sets the tone for the whole day, whilst starting out feeling positive generally results in a much better day.

So, with my positive hat on (ooh – perhaps I should make one), here are some (simple)things that have made me happy recently…

Gosh, I realize now that my ‘happy’ certainly originates close to home: eggs from our hens and things made from them (ice cream and French toast), a spot of mending, some (British wool) knitting and a jar of honey from some friends’ bees. The preserved fruit that went with the French toast came from further afield, but I did bottle it myself… only the maple syrup was not a product (at least in part) of my own work.

Clearly what makes me happy is domesticity. How about you?

 

 

 

Who’s a chicken?

For more than two months now UK poultry have had to be confined to keep them separate from wild birds because of the risk of avian ‘flu’. Originally it was suggested that they should be housed 24/7, but when it was realised that is was not possible, netted areas with water and feed kept under a solid cover was deemed to be acceptable. The end to this restriction is in sight: after the end of February birds will be allowed to range once again as long as various mitigation measures are in place.

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Approved disinfectant and Self-assessment form

The situation varies a little across the UK, but here in Wales all poultry keepers are required to complete a self-assessment form which they must have available if they are inspected. This outlines the actions that they are taking to minimise contact between wild birds and stock (e.g. use of bird scarers) and the biosecurity measures being implemented (e.g. hosing down and disinfecting concrete paths, disinfecting boots after accessing poultry).

For the duration of the restrictions, the hens Chez Snail have been happily foraging in the fruit cage, which has been connected to their small run and house by a netted corridor. Their small run always has a ‘roof’ over it to give them somewhere to shelter from the rain, so their feeder has been in there. Now they are going to be allowed to range free round their half of the garden, however, a different sort of feeder seemed like a good idea. So, I bought a rodent-proof, wildbird-proof feeder…

The hen stands on the pedal,the lid opens and there’s the food. It can only be activated by something weighing more than 500g, so garden birds and most rodents won’t even be able to open the lid. We can keep this out on their range without fear of attracting wild birds.

The only issue now, is training them to use it. Yesterday, we put it into the fruit cage propped the lid open and there was some interest…

Today, even with the lid propped open, they very carefully avoided it… hens really are chicken when it comes to new things. So, Mr Snail has been out there showing them the ropes… with some success:

I hope they get the hang of it soon – or at least before the end of the month!

Loveliness

I saw this as I was coming home this afternoon… it’s good to enjoy the loveliness in this world…

The colours were even better in real life.

It’s beginning to look a lot like solstice

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Last 25 December we had a picnic in the limery

As many of you know, we don’t celebrate Christmas Chez Snail, although we do have a nice relaxing day on 25 December. The thing that we celebrate here is the solstice – the real turning of the year, the time when the light starts to return and we look forward to the abundance of the coming seasons. Some would say it’s pagan, but for me it’s a primal thing – deeply embedded in all of us – a spark of hope as the days start to get longer and the prospect of summer calls to us. So, the solstice is a genuine reason to celebrate, which we do with food (not presents).

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Solstice lights in 2015

This year on the solstice we are going to be eating pork…ethically sourced of course. I’ll be cooking it long and slow to create ‘pulled pork’ and I’ll be baking bread rolls to serve it on. There will be a leafy salad and various home-made condiments and then we’ll finish with some sort of cake made using the abundance of eggs that our hens are still laying. We’ll eat in the limery – the source of so much abundance over the past year, and we’ll celebrate the coming of light with light – beeswax candles and fairy lights.

If you are in the northern hemisphere perhaps you too will raise a glass to the prospect of summer, and if you are in the southern hemisphere I hope you will be revelling in warm log days and the bounty of summer*.

-oOo-

* Of course, if you live in the tropics, such points in the year mean little and I hope that you will be enjoying your mangoes and papayas as often as possible!

From underwear to underarms

This week, whilst we are addressing delicate issues, let’s talk about deodorant. As regular readers will know, I’m trying to move away from items that come packaged in plastic and to use products that don’t include petrochemicals as ingredients. I do think that there is a place for plastic, but its indiscriminate use does annoy me. Over the past few years I’ve managed to reduce the amount of stuff in the bathroom that comes wrapped in plastic and to make some of my own toiletries so I know what’s in them:

  • my manual toothbrush is made of bamboo (although I also use an electric toothbrush that is plastic)
  • my shampoo is bought in bulk to minimise the packaging, and when the current lot is used up I plan to start using a solid shampoo bar (less water transported around the country and, hopefully, no plastic in the packaging and all-natural ingredients with no palm oil)
  • I make my own moisturiser and although some of the ingredients come in plastic, there’s a lot less packaging overall than when buying jars of fancy lotions and creams
  • I stopped using shower gel/liquid hand wash and now only use soap, from  either It’s Baaath Time or The All Natural Soap Company. The latter use no plastic at all in their packaging, whilst the former is under new ownership (by a friend of mine) and I’m not sure what the packaging will be like from now on, but I know it won’t be excessive. Neither company use artificial additives or palm oil.
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a lot less plastic than before

Thus, most of my basic needs are now being covered in a plastic-reduced, ethical ingredients way apart from toothpaste and deodorant. I can’t bear to give up toothpaste and I’m not even going to try to make my own… it’s just one step too far for me. I do, however, buy an ‘ethical’ brand. Deodorant, though, seemed easily doable after reading this blog post by Jen Gale. Best of all, I had all the ingredients – coconut oil, bicarbonate of soda, cornflour and essential oils – already in the house. Basically, you mash everything up together (6-8 tbsps coconut oil, ¼-½ cup bicarb, ¼ cup cornflour, a few drops of essential oils), put it in a pot and then rub it in as required (the coconut oil melts with the heat from your skin and is absorbed very quickly). I made the whole job easy by using my Kenwood mixer to do the combining of ingredients, but you can just use a fork. The choice of essential oils is personal, but I used six drops each of orange, tea tree and mint.

I made mine a couple of weeks ago, so I have had chance to test it out before writing, and I can report that it seems to work. I guess that, like all deodorants, if you were  exercising vigorously, it wouldn’t stand a chance, but for everyday wear it seems good. Of course, if you are looking for an antiperspirant, this will not do the job, but I’m not convinced that it’s healthy to block your sweat glands – there are good reasons to sweat! The choice of essential oils is up to you, which means that you can use a mix of perfumes to suit your nose and that these can be as strong or subtle as you like. I especially like peppermint, as it makes the skin tingle a little.

This seems to be a relatively easy win for me – the mixture is quick to make, I didn’t have to buy any special ingredients and I just use it as normal as part of my regular morning routine. And so far no one has complained about the way I smell… but if I start spending more time with my on-line friends than my face-to-face ones, you’ll know why!

Bathtime

Personal hygiene is important whether you are a human or a hen. We have an area of wood chip in the part of the garden that the hens occupy and this provides perfect conditions for a dust bath when the weather is dry. The new girls seem to be especially keen

I even managed to get a little film of Mags in action:

Oh for it to be that easy for humans! Over the years of writing this blog, I’ve pondered several times about eco-friendly grooming, finally settling on buying shampoo in bulk (I haven’t yet found a shampoo bar I like, although I haven’t given up on the idea) and washing with real soap (bars not liquid). I’ve tried a number of different soaps and particularly like the stuff made out of goats’ milk. Sadly, the little business that I bought some from a couple of months ago don’t have any in stock at the moment, so a new search was required… and I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a company that not only makes soap without the use of any palm oil, they also don’t use plastic in their packaging. I’ve only just ordered from The All Natural Soap Company so I can’t show you a picture and I can’t say for sure whether they live up to their own description, but I have high hopes… I will report back.

Fit for life

As I get older I find myself becoming less active. Last year was a particular challenge – the building work over much of the summer kept me from gardening and then the subsequent wet months kept me indoors and whilst this meant I was very productive with my knitting and crochet, I was also very sedentary. How unfit I had become was brought home to me when I dashed out into the garden on a dry day to get some mulch down and do some other chores… and after half an hour I was flagging and red in the face.

Now, you can’t live your life to the full unless you have the energy and stamina to get on and do things. I know that I’m going to be busy in the garden this year and I don’t want this to be a trial because I am so unfit. Fortunately, it’s been a little drier over recent weeks and so we’ve been out walking the dogs a couple of miles most days, but I wanted to do something more… to get into the habit of exercising. I considered a variety of options, but I think my days of aerobics classes are long-gone and the prospect of visiting a gym fills me with dread.

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All set!

So, my answer has been to start going swimming – it’s relatively gentle and once you’re in the water no one can see how hot and bothered you might be getting! Once suitable attire had been sourced, I made my first trip to the pool. I had forgotten how much I like being in the water, but the fact that I do has made it easy to make this a regular form of exercise. An additional incentive is that I have purchased an annual pass and I need to go 56 times in the year to make it cheaper than paying for each visit individually. I’m well on target as I’ve been ten times (twice a week) in the past month. One major plus is that three times a week the pool opens at 7am, so I have been able to do all my swimming first thing without it interfering with the rest of my life. I may have found my ideal way (except the chlorine) to get more active!

I’m hoping this extra exercise is going to mean I have much more energy and stamina for all those other things I want to do and so there will be even more going on than before chez snail!

Longer days

So, here we are on the other side of the solstice and looking forward to the days lengthening…

Chez Snail we don’t ‘do’ Christmas, but we do celebrate the solstice – the turning of the year and the promise of more light. We know that there’s a long way to go before the spring arrives, but we love the fact that the longest night is behinds us.

We were hoping to enjoy a solstice walk with the dogs, but the dreadful weather transpired against us, so I spent the afternoon in the limery having a good clean up, harvesting the rest of the chillies and getting it ready for the first sowing of seeds in the new year. Once it was all clean and tidy we were able to enjoy the promise of summer in there in the form of a glass or two of Kir made with Herefordshire framboise (raspberries truly are the taste of summer) along with fairy-lights and candles.

Today, a very slightly longer day than yesterday, we awoke to the promise of sunshine.

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The promise of a dry day

And, indeed, the clouds cleared and we were able to take the dogs for a walk on the beach. I know we haven’t seen the end of the rain, but at least we will be planting seeds in a couple of weeks…

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