Advent

Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. Lots of people have put their trees up already, my quick straw poll of the office says that most of them are going up next weekend, people should do what makes them happy, if you want a Christmas tree now, put it up.

I will wait until Christmas Eve, because I don’t want to miss the anticipation of Advent. This year, I have my usual paper calendar and candle, a beauty advent calendar and Ma and I are sharing a wine advent calendar. We are in Advent now so listen to Christmas music, I’ve been doing this for a couple of years after reading about someone else who did. It’s fantastic, on Monday morning, I came into work listening to Bob Dylan singing ‘Must Be Santa’ – it’s impossible to be gloomy when that’s playing but it’s also really apt as we’re in Chanukah, and I’m waiting for Neil Diamond singing The Chanukah Song to make the week complete. 

There are loads of things to do in December that aren’t a tree but are about Christmas and feeling Christmassy. The 6 December is St Nicholas’ day, which basically involves being nice and giving away sweets (or leaving them in people’s shoes!), I won’t be punching heretics, which is the other thing, he’s known for, but he is my name saint so it makes sense.  There also Christingle, which is definitely a Protestant thing,  Luther and or the Moravian churches invented a Christkindl, meaning “Little Christ Child” festival which celebrates Christ as the Light of the World, it doesn’t seem to have a specific date, and can happen sometime between Advent and Epiphany, in the UK it was used to fundraise for the Children’s Society (the more you know!) , in which an orange stands in for the world, a candle for Christ’s Light, red ribbon for His blood, and finally sweets and dried fruit to represent the fruits of the earth and the seasons. When we did it we used cloves, which made it into a pomander. Which is probably good for an afternoon with a glass of wine activity. I will also need to find some time for Christmas baking, which I’ve just about got planned.

Activities and Advent calendars aside, I do want to spend some of the next three and a half weeks, waiting. It’s the thing, I find most spiritually useful in Advent and not because I need to learn to be patient (yes I absolutely do!). Waiting and patience rewarded is baked into Advent. Not just because we get the child in the manger, but in the story of Elizabeth and her desperate waiting for a child which she does finally get but not quite in the way she expected.

It’s a common failure of Christianity, that story about waiting and about getting what we desire. The concept that we are rewarded by God for faithfulness. We get muddled, thinking that if we asked God for what we want, and if we’re patient and good, it’ll happen. That if we’re not, it’s because we didn’t ask properly, or wait long enough or behaved well enough. We ask for a lot, for a home, security, money or at least not having to worry about it, a partner, children, freedom from sickness or pain. If enough of those things happen, we think it’s because we deserve them, we’ve been rewarded.

A friend of mine calls it ‘Harry Potter Jesus’, but the truth is that what God wants for us doesn’t always mesh with what we want for ourselves, sometimes God’s answer is no.

It’s hard to reconcile the idea of a God that wants good things for us, with that hard no. The disconnect is painful, we’re supposed to believe that God loves us and we should be grateful for what we do have and everyone else seems to have the desire of their heart and you don’t and it’s hard and it’s sometimes lonely but it’s God’s plan for you. Why can’t you get want you want, why doesn’t God love you enough. It really sucks, ask me how I know.  

Which is why I love the wait in Advent. At the end of Advent, I know what I’m getting, there will be a child, who will grow up to be a man, who understands all about that no. He understands how difficult it is to reconcile God’s Love with not having the things we want, when He said He loved us. He also shows me that real faith isn’t about reward but service.  

So I wait, and there will be lights and presents and joy and work and service. And someone who has run that race and can show me how.

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Monday Miscellany: Not a great week

Happy Monday!

Last week wasn’t an epic week, I had Monday off and worked from home on Tuesday and had a migraine on Wednesday. It’s dark and I’m off my game, the migraines have been better but sometimes they just strike from nowhere especially when I’m not as clued in for signs, I was away with the fairies on Tuesday, which was obviously a migraine warning. I rallied on Thursday and Friday, and then in the middle of Friday Night had a nose bleed, quite a bad nosebleed.

The middle of the night is the worse time to have something like this happen, especially when you live on your own and have white bedding. At 3am in the morning it felt like a veritable tsunami of blood and I was by myself and it took longer than 30 minutes to stop. It wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had but it wasn’t actually that bad (I’m blaming all the swabs I’m having to stick up my nose on a regular basis at the moment!), it did necessitate having to change the bed in the morning but worse things can happen.

On Saturday, it felt like winter finally decided to show up and show us it wasn’t mucking around. Ma came over, we sorted seeds and worked out what we needed to buy for next season and then trolled around to the plot to collect some produce and went to Sainsburys to buy fizz for Christmas (we are consistent).

Yesterday, I eventually got up and did some housework and some planning for this week and dropped off a blueberry bush (well at the minute it’s a blueberry stick) to a small friend.

It’s November so of course this cherry tree would be in blossom…

This week is all about work and prep for the event of December, not not Christmas, but my mum’s birthday! The plan is family lunch at mine so that will be fun (and chaos, with the littlest nephew involved!). In between, I want to get a start on things like cheese stars and mince pies and maybe even writing Christmas cards because it is Advent already….

At work we are motoring towards the end of the year, we have about three weeks before everyone starts going on holiday, so it’s busy and that’s mostly what I’m doing this week, being busy at work!

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Sunday Music: Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending

First Sunday of Advent. If I get excited about singing ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’, my mum who grew up in the Salvation Army and is therefore pretty much a Methodist, is excited by Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending. It’s Charles Wesley (naturally!) and therefore forms the background of music I hear a lot in December.

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Monday Miscellany: Adventures in Dog Sitting

Happy Monday!

So the thing I couldn’t talk about last week was that I spent the weekend looking after Mike and Christelle’s dogs, while Mike whisked Christelle off to France to see her family for the first time in two years!

It was an early birthday present for Christelle, and a very instructional weekend for me! So this is what three days with Gabbie and Baylen (the dogs taught me) I love dogs but I’m never going to own one. I don’t enjoy having something that dependent on me and I’m still allergic to them. Not massively but enough that by Saturday night I was coughing enough that I was considering a COVID test and I had itchy eyes and nose.

So that was a lesson learned. Also Baylen had an upset stomach on Friday night and Gabbie was so disgruntled on Saturday, she left a ‘present’ outside my bedroom! I haven’t cleaned that much poo up since the littlest nephew was in nappies!

Speaking of nephews today the eldest one turns 12. I feel old! He sent me a text to thank me for his birthday present, it feels like a long time ago when he first joined the family!

12 years ago

My plans for this week are work, home and start to think about Ma’s birthday and Christmas. It feels like a long time away but Ma’s birthday is the start of December and is actually only 12 days away. That’s the first weekend of December, I’m away the weekend after that and then there’s one weekend and it’s Christmas! I’m not even close to ready!

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Friday Links: Mistakes were made but no one is going to admit it…

Happy Friday!

These are going up late because it’s been a week…

The revised HS2 plan may be viable – but don’t expect Boris Johnson to deliver it

Johnson really cares about creating new jobs – especially if your name is Paul Dacre

The Lords is a scandal in plain sight. If we won’t abolish it now, then when?

When inflation bites, support for the Tories will further erode

Starmer has found a fruitful line of attack: fighting Tory corruption is a patriotic duty

So the more racism in cricket, the less it should be investigated? Right, guys

Sustainable gin and family-sized crisps! My week eating a climatarian diet

Volume control: how creating my library brought order in a world of chaos

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Allotment Adventures: Infrastructure

It’s November and our time on the plot is limited, partly by the light, we can go during the day which means the weekend and partly because its winter and nearly Christmas and we have other things to do! In the last couple of weeks we’ve been doing the longer term things that are boring but worth it. A lot of it involved woodchip.

We woodchipped the back of the plot between the composting bins and the polytunnel. I also filled a compost bin up with woodchip to sit and turn itself into compost.

I know there are lots of opinions on the use of woodchip on paths as it does increase the number of woodlice but I’ve not found it to be too much of an issue and there’s no denying that it improves the conditions of the soil that we walk on. I don’t own the plot at some point someone else will take it on and if they choose not to use the raised beds, the will be able to use all of it because by then the paths will be in good nick and not exhausted and weedy like it was when I took it over. I’m building something for the next person.

I also planted peppermints and lime mint in separate containers and lemon curd thyme in the jasmine bed. In the new bed next to the polytunnel, I planted more edelweiss lavender and moved the peony into that bed (it will probably sulk next spring and not flower but I’ll be happy if it lives!). That bed is looking really bare, my next thing is to move the pink rambling roses in the rose garden into the back of it, that then creates space for me to move three rose bushes at the back of the plot by the compost bins into the rose garden. Of course I need to weed the heck out of the rose garden and the pond area to because it’s autumn, everything needs tidying.

Messy

We also ordered all the raised beds and we’ve put three of them in at the front. There are three more square beds to install in front of the raspberries and two to go in the polytunnel. We also moved some gooseberries, woodchipped the front and planted the onions and garlic. There is more garlic to plant but we’ll get to that the next time we’re there.

Before
After, three new beds, new woodchip and planted garlic and onions

We also harvested some food. Chard, kale, cabbages, turnips, parsnips, carrots and leeks

Produce Haul

In case this all sounds like a long worklist and you’re wondering why we do it, well the food is a good incentive but look at the pretty blueberry leaves

And the totally unseasonal strawberry

And admire again how tidy the new beds at the front of the plot looks and how the jasmine is growing…

Jasmine

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Monday Miscellany: November Sucks

Happy Monday!

I’m still finding November difficult but I’m starting to come out of it. This week, I got a grip on the flat because Sue and Richard came to dinner and inviting people to dinner is a guaranteed way to get me to clean and hoover (I am so my mother’s child!)

I also had the joy of a duck and a partridge from my boss which meant I spent some of Saturday, plucking and drawing the birds. It’s not pleasant but it is honest, if you are going to eat meat then dealing with the reality of it, the dead animal, is uncomfortable but worth doing. One of the things that the modern diet does is divorce us from the reality of how our food is made. If you eat meat, you should have to look it in the eye, if you eat ultra processed food you should deal with the reality of what it costs the environment.

Duck, not the best processing but I’m not experienced!

This week I’ve been incensed by the COP 26 mantra of go vegan. Mixed farming is the most environmentally friendly way to eat, it captures carbon and increases diversity. Eating ultra processed vegan food is not more environmentally friendly than eating ethically raised meat. And both of those things are too expensive for the majority of the planet. While I’m on a roll, why was food waste not on the list of things to talk about at COP 26? An estimated 40% of food the world produces goes to waste, in a world where people are starving, surely we can do better?

Hope

In other news, I finally got myself to a Grace service. It was reflecting on the end of COP 26 and there was communion, which I really needed. It’s always changing and it’s always the same. I was really excited to go to the December service, until I realised that I was going to Sarah’s that weekend!

Mercy

So a pretty social weekend for me and I was feeling pretty good about life, on Sunday night I was cleaning the kitchen and discovered that I’d had an unwelcome visitor. I don’t like mice. I do check and clean often but there haven’t been any droppings, but I did find one in the traps this time last year and downstairs had a couple in January. So I need to go to checking once or twice a week and bleaching surfaces more ofter to make sure they don’t come back and set up home.

FFS

Plans for this week are about mice deterrence and work, I’m in the office Monday to Wednesday. Going to the office in a chunk of days was something that I decided to do after a couple of therapy sessions centred on how scattered I’m feeling at the moment, hybrid working is surprisingly difficult for me in winter.

I’m home on Thursday and working from a secret location on Friday. I’ll be away for the weekend but it’s secret, you’ll find out next week (it’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds I promise!)

Have a good week!

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Winter Blues

As I mentioned last week, I’m struggling with the light levels at the moment. Right now, we’re in the ‘dead cat bounce’ part of the year and while I feel like I’ve been preparing for this since August, it’s always a pain to adjust so I can cope. Over the next few weeks, I need to force myself to do the things that will help. I’ve said this before and it’s still true, the worst thing about SAD and some depression, is you have to make some effort to make it better, coping strategies do help but you have to do them, things don’t magically get better by themselves. Actually SAD does magically get better sometime around March/April but that’s a long way off and a long time to spend being miserable (also work won’t just give me the time off so if I want things like food and shelter, then I need to get a grip)

There are things you can do to help SAD, some people swear by a blue light lamp and I’ve written before about why that isn’t something I do. Some winters are easier than others, last winter was much easier for me than the one before because I didn’t have to get up at 6am to go to the office and it was much easier to organise my work and home life. However, right now I need to be in the office a couple of times a week so here are some of my strategies:

Grit Your Teeth and Do the Housework – All things are easier to cope with if where you live is tidy, if my space is messy and chaotic then I feel messy and chaotic. At a bare minimum, I tidy the kitchen every night, I make sure that I’m on top of the laundry and I try to hoover at least once a month. Also changing your bed linen once a week is the best small gift you can give yourself, getting into a lovely clean bed is the best thing so do that for yourself. Basically decide what has to be done and do it, even if you do one things a night, it helps.

Diet and Food Prep – We all know that eating junk doesn’t help you to feel good. So making sure that you have food ready to go for when you’re tired and hungry is a good thing. I eat a lot of soup and vegetable stir fry in winter, because they are easy to prep and quick to cook and save me from the temptation of crisps instead of dinner.

Take Vitamin D – The NHS advises that you take a vitamin D supplement in winter, so take one. It’s not expensive and worth it.

Be in the daylight – Linked to vitamin D, try and get outside in the daylight for a bit. I’m a natural hermit, I could just stay indoors all the time with very little difficulty but it does help to be outside, so I try to get a walk outside when the sun is up. Most usually in the week that’s a walk at lunchtime or on the weekend it’s time on the plot.

Bedtime – I bang on about this all the time, but set times for going to bed and getting up are important. SAD is different from most depressive illnesses as sufferers tend to sleep more than depressed people do. I find I sleep more but have more periods of being awake at 3 in the morning. So I just act like I have insomnia, golden hour, set bed times and set wake up times, even when I’m working from home. We sleep train toddlers, we also need to sleep train ourselves!

There are other things, I’ve written about them here and here. The thing to hang onto is that this too will pass, soon it’ll be Spring and I’ll feel so much better.

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Friday Links: Corruption is a Tory Hobby….

Happy Friday!

End of the avocado: why chefs are ditching the unsustainable fruit

Mr Sunak, rising taxes and soaring prices do not add up to an Age of Optimism. A good budget, isn’t necessarily one which is good just for me, however, the budget will leave me nearly £300 a year less well off next year. As I said in April all of my utility bills and council tax went up to the tune of about £20 a month, my rent also went up in July. A lot of that was offset for me by not having to pay as much on travel. However, in next year all of that is due to increase again and with the changes to National Insurance, I’m going to be worse off. Please don’t mistake this for a whinge about how bad I have it, I have no dependents and so have options in terms of my spending that could offset some of the rises. The pandemic has shown us that there are a lot of people who don’t have those options and are barely breaking even now. If you were in my situation and earning less, or the same as me but have children, well then you have less options and less money and things are about to get even more horrible.

This fish spat with France is just another product of Johnson’s broken Brexit. It is electioneering, it’s also a loss of patience with Johnson and Frost and their complete lack of diplomacy and ability. I would say that it’s consequences…

Spurs have one of the great stadiums and all it cost them was the team. I’ve consistency said that Daniel Levy’s problem is that he can’t bear anyone else in the club being more loved than him. I couldn’t understand why he sacked Pochettino or appointed Mourinho, it was just silly and as it turns out, wrong.

Politicians talk about net zero – but not the sacrifices we must make to get there

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Allotment Adventures: The Winter Work List

Once the clocks go back, and it’s too dark to pop in after work, we visit the allotment less. We do still grow things over the cold season and right now we’ll still harvesting carrots, turnips, kale, chard, parsnips, cabbage and salsify. We’ll also overwinter broad beans, garlic and onions again this year. Having growing things to harvest and check on over the winter is also a way to encourage me to visit the plot because we always have a winter work list! 

I like to use the winter to plan but also to make the structural changes that the plot needs for the next season. I always say that the work is never done but I’m so close to having the lay out of the plot done and working for me, this winter is the last big push. There’s also work that you have to do in winter, transporting plants and so on. So here is Plot 186’s winter work list, which along with generally keeping everything tidy and harvesting produce, should see us ready to start again in the Spring:

  • New raised beds. Hopefully this will be it for new beds. The very hastily constructed lawn edging beds will (bar two) go and be replaced by 6 square beds. The polytunnel will have two new beds, one across the back and one down the side. We’ve ordered them and will assemble and then position them and then I’ll order compost.
  • Moving plants. The peony, two of the pink roses in the rose garden and the red and yellow roses at the back are moving. Some of the bulbs next to the herb beds will move to the ‘wilderness’ area, two of the white lavenders are moving to the new flower bed. Finally the three gooseberry bushes that I replanted last year need to move as the rhubarb is cramping their style.
  • Repotting the blueberries. I have nine blueberry bushes, one of them is going to a friend and 7 of them need new pots. I need to order ericaceous compost and do that.
  • Clearing and covering beds. As beds get cleared, they need topping up with fresh compost and covering for spring. Obviously new beds need filling. This isn’t going to be a one and done job, I’ll need to barrow the compost to the plot so I expect to be pushing a wheelbarrow at least until February.
  • Reupping the wood chip. Whether from free woodchip or from buying it, paths need re cardboading and covering with woodchip.
  • Planning for next year. This is the good bit, working out what we’ll grow where, what varieties we want and when we’ll start, and how we’ll work the polytunnel into our plans

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