August and Everything After

If the first half of the year seemed to drag on forever, I’m finding that summer is whizzing by. Without trying to make light of a global pandemic, the things that have been required of us have become humdrum. Humans are very adaptable and I’ve only been asked to work from home and wear a mask in enclosed spaces. In the last week of July, as I started to think about August, it was raining. I was sitting in my kitchen wearing a jumper because it was cold and grey and wet. Last weekend was a heatwave, so it’s still summer but it is the last month of summer. We might have a September and October of good summer-ish weather but the nights have just started to get a little bit longer and days shorter and autumn is waiting in the wings.

In a year where so much has changed, the prospect of autumn is still not something I’m keen on. There are beautiful autumn and winter days, there are family birthdays and harvests and Christmas, but the days are dark and my brain chemistry doesn’t cope as well as I, or any of the people around me, would like. Now that my birthday is out of the way, it’s time for me to think about habits that are going to help me get through winter.

Lots has been said about mental health and wellbeing this year and I don’t want to add to the noise, but I do want to encourage you to think that your actions can make a difference to your mental health. Biology and circumstances are a huge part of poor mental health, I’ve experienced that and if you are suffering right now, I’m not going to tell you that a walk or the power of positive thinking will cure you. That’s nonsense. This isn’t your fault, but what I can say is that after years of dealing with this, is that managing mental health is a process, it’s constant, there is not quick fix or a magic pill that will make it all better. Sometimes you’ll need more help and sometimes less but what you do can mitigate some of the peaks and troughs and help you to monitor your mood, which can help, even if it’s just that you’ll be able to get help that bit sooner.

So that said, let’s get to the part where I tell you what I’m going to do in August, if you’ve been around for a bit, none of this will be new or surprising, the reason I do them so often is that they work for me.

  1. Tidy

I work better when the flat works. I’ve been re-arranging some space and chucking things out to make the flat less cluttered and easier to use. Last month, I started hoovering the kitchen and hall every day and everywhere else weekly. I loathe hoovering, but I live in a house with wooden floors and they are very dusty, sweeping doesn’t really work and hoovering does. So this is something I need to force myself to keep doing through August so that by September it’s habit.

2. Exercise

Also started in July was morning yoga, this and body balance is going to be key to starting my day at home when it’s dark and I don’t need to be out of bed until the last minute. Last winter, I did yoga on work from home days and it’s good for me. So morning yoga on work days and body balance at least twice a week and when it’s not raining a daily lunch time walk.

3. The Golden Hour

I need to bring back the routine of getting away from screens and into bed. Last winter, the Golden Hour was actually the Golden Hour and a Half. A time to switch screens off, reset the flat so it was ready to go the next morning and have a bath (I’m still absolutely convinced that 30 minutes in a hot bath helps me be less depressed, even if there has only been one study to that effect – it’s about raising the body temp!). So for weekdays, we start that again.

It’s not much but it helps me…

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Monday Miscellany: Birthday Week Adventures

Here we are, another Monday and my first post of the month. The beginning of August is my time, I relax and celebrate surviving another year, but birthday week is done and today, I’m back to work (from the kitchen table)

So far August has been lovely, I spent time with my family.

Smallest nephew has learnt to take photos with his kindle

Time on the plot

View from the back of the plot, it was a bit cooler in the shade!

Ma and I did a dump run, a trip to Ikea, a trip to the garden centre and some DIY at Ma’s all on the same day! I went to tea at Jo’s, learnt to pressure can with godchildren 3, 4 and 5.

I feel that I had a week that was a great balance of social, relaxed and productive. It was also a bit hot towards the end of the week! It’s definitely middle-aged but I’m completely embracing it!

Birthday flowers from allotment friends

This week is a four day week, because on Friday, Jo, Ms T and I are going to Hampton Court, the clock is ticking on them going back to Coté d’Ivoire and I want to see as much of them as I can while they are here!

It’s all about work and allotment until the August Bank Holiday, and then it’s small nephew’s birthday and schools going back and assuming that that doesn’t affect the R rate, then Ma and I get our long awaited holiday in Amble at the end of Sept!

So that’s the next couple of months sorted…

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Friday Links: They never expect the Spainish quarantine..

Happy Friday! So I have no links about the Prime Minister’s anti obesity campaign or the quarantine for people on holiday in Spain. I just can’t.

Here are this week’s links…

The Tories are struggling to find a way to make Keir Starmer look bad

Tackling racism on social media is just the tip of the iceberg

Ireland isn’t really a utopia – it’s just its neighbour is a gurning claptrapocracy

No, Trump can’t delay the election

The End of Open-Plan Everything

The Poison of Male Incivility

Annunziata Rees-Mogg has kindly shared that potatoes are cheaper than oven chips. That’s food poverty sorted then

I Watched Indian Matchmaking With My Indian Mother & It Changed Our Relationship Forever

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Food at Home: Hummus

I’ve not eaten food I didn’t cook for quite a while now, I’ve seen people talk about how lovely it’s been since lockdown has eased, to go out to a restaurant and I know lots of people have been ordering take away during lockdown.

I have not, while I do eat out occasionally under usual circumstances, and I am going to miss the lunch at Hawksmoor we had planned for my birthday (Hawksmoor are only opening for lunch at the weekends and I don’t want to go into the centre of London for dinner or at the weekends at the moment) but I’ll live. I don’t really order in food either, the last time I had a take away at home was when I had my foot op (five years) and other than that, we have fish and chips when we’re in Amble.

Lockdown didn’t change how much of my own cooking I eat and in some ways (not having to pack lunch or breakfast) has made it a lot easier. It’s been a time, I’ve been able to be more creative not less but while I am at home more, I’m still working so I’ve needed to meal plan, I have more time to cook but not all the time in the world! I’ve made hummus before, this one from Felicity Cloake (made you’ll note when I was unemployed and had much more time) and have often made it from a can of chickpeas. One of the joys of having had a blog for such a long time and of running it entirely for my own enjoyment is that I can and will repeat recipes when I find a new one that works.

Say hello to the new hummus recipe! I’ve taken to making this on a Sunday so I can eat it for lunch with vegetables and flatbread through the week. It has a few steps but it’s pretty hands off and makes really smooth hummus. My biggest variation from the recipe has been in the amount of garlic (about eight cloves instead of just one) and often more lemon juice. Do use the reserved liquid, what appears to be a soft and perfect hummus when it’s warm and straight out of the food processor can turn into a concrete brick when it’s been in the fridge a couple of days! I have used both tahini and peanut butter when I’ve run out of tahini, both work fine.

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Allotment Adventures: Tidying up

The theme of my week was tidying up and it continued into the allotment. Ma and I re-purposed some furniture from the flat and re-arranged the shed.

Floor space! Looking back we seem always to have a shed tidy at this time of year, it might be because we’re preparing for visitors for my birthday. Whatever the reason, it’s done.

This wasn’t the only thing being tidied up. Ma went to work at the front of the plot and got all the weeds and californian poppies up. We love the poppies but they do start to go over and when the grass gets to a certain point we just pull it all up, lots of the seed pods have already burst so we won’t be short of poppies and it’s nice to see how the day lillies are spreading.

I tidied up the rampant tomatoes and weeded the flower beds. And I watered, which is a massive task right now. The jump from a half to a full plot is huge in terms of watering..

As with everything else this year, the tomatoes are behind, but they are there!

The spare squash in the second squash bed are starting to take off, I planted a summer squash in there too and it’s a patty pan. So while I did not at all manage restraint with the winter squash, I managed total restraint with the tomatoes (35 plants) and the summer squash (one courgette, one patty pan and one crookneck). Bow before my awesome power! Though maybe not too near the winter squash bed, you might not find your way out!

The kale has also put on a growth spurt, as had the bindweed. It’s going to take time to stop that stuff at the top of the plot. As the new beds become free, we’re going to add another row of planks and make them deeper, which will help with control and means another year when all our money is spent on compost! The annoying thing is that is really works, none of the raised beds are very weedy and I’ve been mulching the new flower areas and it works so well. Ok technically, the red mountain spinach is a weed but it looks pretty and I like a bit of wildness in the garden!

Ma is coming down this afternoon to do a bit of weeding, I’ll be there for lunchtime watering but probably not a lot of weeding. On Saturday, the family are visiting so the boys and Ms T can have a look, I need a competition for them, last time it was name all the fruit and veg plants, I remember Ms T was very impressed with the £2 prize, Oli was aiming for a fiver!

So there probably won’t be much work done but we have work plans for Tuesday and maybe Friday!

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Home: Making some changes

I’ve been living in this flat for just over 11 years, when I moved in, I made a deliberate choice not to buy everything I thought I wanted for the flat. In the first year I got a sofa and a table for the kitchen and it took me about 9 years to find the ‘right’ (right = chairs I like, that are right for the flat and that I can afford!) kitchen chairs and I still don’t have a proper wardrobe.

This year, how I live in and use the flat has drastically changed. I’ve been home all the time and even as lockdown restrictions are easing, I’m still working from home and likely to be for quite some time. At work we are talking about more home working even once the office is open because of the need for social distancing. In my office, where my team had desks for 16 people we now have space for 6, so there is going to be a need for more home working until there is a vaccine. My job is not hugely dependent on working in the office and I’m fortunate that I don’t share my space here, so I’m not a priority for going into the office once it’s open.

Also this year, I’ve been more aware of preserving the harvest from the plot and after the panic buying during March, I’m concerned about what Brexit is going to do to food supply and prices. So I needed to make some space for some longer term food storage because the white cupboard in the kitchen wasn’t big enough! All of this to explain that some changes need to be made in my living space.

The first part of these changes took place this week. I re-shelved the cupboard of doom, put more things in it and took things out of other places. I also threw a bunch of stuff out and have a huge bag for the charity shop.

Things are looking much tidier overall.

The next phase will be putting a desk in the living room and moving the chest of drawers (see below) into the bedroom.

For right now, the first thing is done and the flat feels like a different space!

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Monday Miscellany: Last week of July

This year has gone so quickly and been 100 years long. However, here we are at the end of July. About this time of year as my birthday approaches, I become aware that while summer isn’t over, it’s coming to an end.

Knowing that and also knowing that at the end of this week the flat will have more people in it for my birthday lunch, I spent a lot of time this week cleaning. For the first half of last week the flat was in chaos with furniture all over the place, but once I got the Cupboard of Doom sorted and things started to go into it, the whole flat got less crowded and much cleaner.

In other news, I finally got my hair cut, so I look more like myself and less like Cousin It. Work was busy last week and isn’t likely to be any less busy as I try to sort things out before I go on leave for a week and my boss goes for two weeks. I’m hoping that August will be chance to crack on with some longer term work and prep for next year.

So this week is going to be about getting through it with a clean flat, a birthday cake and all my work done before the out of office message goes on!

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Friday Links: If you don’t look it’s not there

Happy Friday!

I’ve been really busy this week, so not much reading has been happening, but this is what I’ve read

Are the British conformist or libertarian? Our face mask response is telling

Why has there been no public information campaign about face masks? Because Johnson and the rest of the government would struggle to organise a piss up in a brewery…

The Iraq war is finally getting some proper scrutiny – from a TV programme

The Russia report points to wilful negligence by the British government

Beyond sourdough: the hobbies that helped readers cope with lockdown

Lockdown surprise! How a grey, spotty, forgotten cheese became an overnight sensation

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Allotment Adventures: A change of plan

Last Saturday, during an epic watering session of the plot (mostly of the squash!) Ma turned around and said we should put an area to sit in next to the rose garden and pond. That part of the plot gets lots of sun and we’ve done a lot to make the garden pretty so it makes sense.

Most of you will be aware that the weedfinder general is usually the brake on my crazy ideas, not this time…oh no, in the winter, we are planning on moving the two beds that currently have tomatoes in and making a long patio area that will cover that space.

We need to get through summer but the winter work list is growing, right now, we are making a seating area, moving three beds, moving the blackcurrants into two new beds, sorting out the back area to make it more composting friendly, maybe building some other beds, moving the gooseberries and making a frame for the boysenbery! (Place your bets on what we’ll actually get done – I’ve been planning to move those gooseberry bushes for 4 years!)

We made some other decisions this week too. We are getting rid of the summer raspberries. They are old and not very good in comparison to the autumn raspberries. so we are going to have four beds of autumn raspberries, three red and one yellow. Also we had a chat about our winter veg plans.

We have kale, leeks and cauliflowers in. I’ve sown chard. And next week I will sow fennel and pak choi (I really will – honest!) I also ordered 20 cabbages, 10 to go through the winter and 10 to stand and be ready in March. They’ll arrive in August and September when there are free beds. I’m not sure if there will be anymore space but if I can find some, I’ll also sow some swede, turnip and black radish. If I can’t, then I’m not going to worry about it too much. We are hoping for quite a bit of squash and I’m hopeful that we’ll get some sweet potatoes too!

We harvested the last potatoes, the apple (it’s a very early type) and the plums. You’ll also see the first courgettes, finally! and we’re a week away from crooknecks too. We might be a couple of weeks away from cucumbers too.

We’ve had more productive summers in terms of food but I haven’t had a season where I’ve done as much plot structure or weeding to do! We’ll come into our own in August!

I’m just finding it really pretty right now…

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Monday Miscellany: Haircut day

Happy Monday! Today is going to be a good day because I get a haircut and I get to catch up with Jane! We also get a trip to Ikea which means that I get to sort out the cupboard of doom with uniform shelving. Look I’m 47 in 3-ish weeks, stuff like this is fun for me!

Having spend 99% of the last four months in the house, I’m much more aware of how I need the flat to function differently, so things are changing a little, starting with the cupboard. Before Autumn I need to change the living room to accommodate a desk and this is the start of that!

Other than today’s excitement, my week is going to be the usual work/allotment mix but with added exercise because the week long headache was not on! So more yoga more regularly although I’m told by Jo that daily PE with Joe has really helped!

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