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In these dark days of the coronavirus, never has it been more important to grow as much of our food as we can. Many of my followers over on my Facebook page, Sue Reed Writes, have said they are filling pots and buckets, digging up flower beds, and starting their own veggie patches, many for the first time. Whilst I appreciate not all have access to a garden or yard, and garden centres are out of bounds, there is still plenty we can do, even if it is only sprouting seeds on a window-sill in a jam jar. (I’ll write more about that in a few days).

This may inspire you to get an allotment when all this is over, we loved our allotment when we lived on industrial Teeside. It was a community with dozens of surrogate grandads, where advice and plant swops were bountiful. My sister-in-law had an allotment, and rather than grow veggies on it, used it as a place to meet with friends and have barbecues. We can only dream of those times at the moment, but they will come again, take heart.

I’m an old timer and have been growing my own food since I was knee high to a grasshopper, learning from my Nana and Grandad, and parents, who, as wartime children, grew up with the habit of growing food in the garden. They were told to Dig for Victory, and I see that hashtag is now trending on Twitter.

My grandad was famed for his green fingers, and I remember the story of him putting in a stick to support one of his prize fuchsias only to have it turn into a peach tree. My fingers may not be that green, but I do have lots of experience, and am more than happy to impart that knowledge to you.

I wrote a blog for seven years, The Bridge Cottage Way, named after the house, we live in, and wrote about living as sustainably as we can, using what we have, and reducing the drain on the planet’s resources. There is a wealth of information there. Do give it a visit – the blog that is, not the house! I would like to revive this writing, and will write regular gardening posts here, as well as give tips about foraging and eating seasonally. I’ll also add recipes that I love. I do think that in these Covid19 days, we need to return to traditional ways of providing our own food wherever we can. I am certainly thinking twice before heading to the supermarket.

Sowing seeds
Sowing seeds

This week has been mainly about sowing seeds. Traditionally, peas should be planted on St Patricks Day, but it was far too cold to put them in the ground here in Northumberland, but I’ve put some in seeds trays in the greenhouse. I’m growing two varieties of peas, and two types of mangetout this year. I’ve just finished pruning last year’s summer fruiting raspberry canes, so will use the pruned sticks for pea supports. I’ve tyed the new season’s canes to the chicken wire for support. these are summer fruiting, with the fruit coming on the new growth. Autumn fruiting shold be chopped down as soon as they have fruited.

Pruning raspberries
Pruning raspberries

If you’re thinking that you left it too late to but plant pots or seed trays, try making your own using cartons and pots from the kitchen. I wrote about this on the Bridge Cottage Way blog, in Reducing Plastic Consumption by Making Your Own Plant Pots. There are also plenty of places selling seeds online, so don’t let Covid19 be the excuse for not growing! I went to ebay and found plenty of places sending out seeds.

I’ve put broad beans in the ground this week and have covered them in some black weed suppressant I had lurking in the shed. A black bin liner will do the job too. It’s not really to suppress the weeds, but to keep the frost off and warm up the ground. It’s still cold at night, so beware of setting off anything too delicate. Leave all those tender plant seeds for a bit, like courgettes, runner beans, cucumbers etc, especially if you live in colder climes like me.

Tomato, leek, and chilli seeds can be set away now, along with lettuce, beetroot, chard rocket and spinach. I love beetroot, and so does my mother. My husband says it is the food of the devil, so maybe it is a woman thing? Do you like beetroot?

What’s available right now? You may have seen some wild garlic on your permitted one walk a day, without even realising what it was, and what you can do with it. I wrote about Wild Garlic – Food for Free, the other week. Hugh Fearnley-Whittonstall has given us some recipes for using nettles, and I like to mix wild garlic with nettle tops. We have our own chickens here at Bridge Cottage, and a wild garlic and nettle tortilla or a quiche will be on the table at the weekend.

Rhubarb is ready in the garden too, and I wrote about that a while back in Wrestling Rhubarb. The rhubarb gin recipe is wonderful, although I’m now tee total, so none of that for me! There was a post about rhubarb too on the Bridge Cottage Way blog – It was called, ‘Seasonal Eating – April’ It’s worth a look for some great rhubarb recipes or just to see a fresh young face!!

Rhubarb season
Rhubarb season

Many are saying compost in in short supply, and I’ve just had a flashback to me collecting the tops of mole hills from the field where we lived in Upper Weardale many moons ago! This is a time to make the best of what we have, so be inventive, swop seeds where you can, and give any spare rhubarb you have to your neighbours. Keeping your two-metre distance of course and washing any donations thoroughly.

These are difficult days for us all, but I hope my posts will bring a bit of distraction, and inspiration as we navigate our way through the coronavirus.

Sending love to all from isolation in Northumberland.

Stay safe my friends.

What does self-care mean to you? Is it just a new-fangled buzz word for the twenty-first century, or a vital part of our lives? Did our grandmothers practise self-care, and if not, should they have done? Thanks to my sober journey and with inspiration from Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club community, I am learning about self-care and the art of putting oneself first.

When I was teaching full-time and bringing up a family of three children, the nearest I got to self-care was pouring a large gin and tonic whilst cooking tea when I’d got in from work. This, however, was the antithesis of self-care and did me more harm than good. One gin and tonic, and we’re not talking pub measures here, would invariably lead to another, then the evening wasted as I fell asleep soon after the kids were in bed. I would treat myself to a lie in on a Sunday, with the Saturday Guardian and breakfast in bed, but Sunday afternoon would see me back on the dining room table doing the planning that is the dread of every teacher. I was lucky that being a special needs teacher meant I didn’t have marking to do on top! All thoughts of self-care had gone out of the window as I rushed around like a blue-arsed fly seeing to the needs of everyone else, but not thinking of little old me and what my needs were.

Freshly made juice - beetroot, lemon, melon & pomegranate
Freshly made juice – beetroot, lemon, melon & pomegranate

Fast forward to now, and I try to factor some form of self-care into my life every day. It might be a daily walk, weather permitting, along the lane, or allowing myself to read a book – it’s amazing how, even though I’d doing an MA in Creative Writing and have been told to read, read and read some more, that reading in daylight hours still feels indulgent. Self-care might be a massage booked, or a long soak in a bubble bath. It might be a tasty glass of juice (today’s was a blend of beetroot, lemon, melon and pomegranate juice) or breakfast in bed. It might just be spending ten minutes with the bedroom or bathroom door locked, practising some mindful meditation. For me, self-care means prioritising my uni work, writing every day and making the housework wait. I have a short story I’m working on at the moment, as well as two reflective essays which need to be submitted by 16th January. Today I’m writing this blog ahead of taking the decorations down and cooking dinner. After all, all three lads in our house, husband included are off for the day on their bikes, so why shouldn’t I do what I want to do?

Ninebanks Youth Hostel
Ninebanks Youth Hostel

Today my self-care was to get out of the house and go and see my friends Pauline and Ian who run the Ninebanks Youth Hostel and were having a coffee morning. I find it so easy to stay indoors and not drive out to visit people, and that in itself can cause me to go into a downward spiral. I do need to get out and see friends, as living down a country lane although beautiful, can be isolating. If I hadn’t gone out, I would have missed this beautiful rainbow, and Pauline and Ian’s excellent coffee and homemade biscuits.

Rainbow over Northumberland
Rainbow over Northumberland

Yesterday I made a teapot, at a most enjoyable workshop up at The Sill, with Dianne from Muddy Fingers Pottery. Granted, it cost money, but I’ve been saving all the money I would have spent on booze to give myself treats like this. I’m looking forward to another moment of self-care when my teapot has been glazed and fired, and I can enjoy my first cup of tea from it.

Teapot made with Muddy Fingers Pottery
Teapot made with Muddy Fingers Pottery

What is good for one person, might not be good for another, but I feel it is vital to put ourselves first. I think women in particular can be conditioned to put everyone else before themselves, but this year, I am going to be consciously thinking of how I can take care of myself on a daily basis, however big or small these acts of self-care may be.

Thank you for reading my blog this week. I’d like to say I’m going to write every week, and that is my intention at the momnet, but I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, so they may be more sporadic.

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Here is last week’s blog in case you missed it: Happy New Year 2020

View from the bedroom window on New Year's Day in rural Northumberland
View from the bedroom window on New Year’s Day 2020

It’s eleven o’clock on New Year’s Day, on a frosty but sunny morning here in Northumberland, and I’m up in the garret, happy to be writing. I’ve let my daily writing slip over the last few weeks and although shopping, cooking and wrapping presents for the family at Christmas are pretty good excuses, I need to get back to work. I’m putting a few intentions in place on New Year’s Day, (please note these are mere intentions, not the dreaded resolutions) and getting back to daily writing is one of them.

Procrastination is a terrible thing, and even this morning, despite being anxious to get up here and write, I tidied the bedroom, sorted out the washing, went down and loaded the dishwasher then thought about making a second cup of coffee. I stopped myself, heading the words of Ron Carlson who writes in his book, ‘Ron Carlson Writes a Story’ that we must stay in the room and keep writing – the coffee can wait until we are done. So, with that in mind, I’m going to treat myself on this New Year’s Day to a morning’s writing, and my second cup of coffee, and the tidying of the garret can wait til I’ve written this blog post.

I do hope you had a good Christmas. We had a relaxed and happy family time over Christmas, with Daisy our granddaughter, being centre of attention, enjoying all her new toys and books. There is nothing finer than sitting a little one on your knee and reading stories together. With her mummy working as a bookseller for Waterstones, and her Nanny a writer, this little one is getting a very bookish beginning in life. She’s particularly loving the books by Kim Lewis, with their tales of rural life on a sheep farm.

Daisy Reading with Nanny
Daisy Reading with Nanny

Did you have a good New Year’s Eve? We have a family tradition to go out to lunch together then leave the youngsters to go off and do their own thing. We were not a full pack yesterday though as my daughter had to work and although both lads came along, my eldest son was recovering from a bout of food poisoning, brought on by some dodgy oysters in a local restaurant, so was not feeling a full shilling. The poor lad managed a few bites of tapas then went home to continue his recovery alone. Not the best of New Years for him.

We went home and lit the sauna, and being a clear starry night, with a beautiful crescent moon and Venus shining bright, it was the perfect night for steaming in the garden. Not your average New Year’s celebrations, but then again, we are not your average couple.

Lighting the round straw bale build  sauna in the garden
Lighting the round straw bale build sauna in the garden

I celebrated New Year with my favourite mocktail (recipe below) and congratulated myself on being 57 days sober. Giving up the booze has been incredible, and although it is a cliché, it really is the gift that keeps on giving. I have woken up on the perfect morning, feeling fresh, full of energy, clear headed and really looking forward to the year ahead. I would really like to give a shout out here to Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club. Over on the Sober Club website, there are so many great resources to support you in your sobriety, and well as an awesome Facebook group which is full of supportive people to motivate and encourage, and who have your back when you need it most.

If you are thinking of doing Dry January – go for it! However, I’d recommend you just keep on going into February, March and beyond. The first month is the tricky bit – the rewards get better the longer you do it for. I for one don’t intend going back to pouring booze down my neck. My friend Kath reports that Gordon is very disappointed, but she is doing her best to keep him company!

Happy New Year everyone!

Feel free to leave a comment or share this amongst your friends. I’d love a follow too over on My Facebook page Sue Reed Writes, Twitter @suereed62 or Instagram accounts.

‘Til next time.

Sue's Virgin Mojito recipe
Sue’s Virgin Mojito

Sue’s Virgin Mojito

Juice of two squeezed limes

10ml sugar syrup

Large dash or orange bitters

Soda Water

Ice

Squeeze juice of two limes into a cocktail glass, then add a good slug of sugar syrup. Add a dash of orange bitters to taste, then top up with soda water and plop a couple of ice cubes in. Decorate with a sprig of rosemary or some redcurrants or cranberries if you can be arsed!

In October, I wrote about how I was feeling on the Creative Writing MA and likened it to being ‘At the Foot of a Mountain’. It was as if I had arrived in Switzerland; with one module I was relaxing into the process of being a writer, wandering around the green pastures of the foothills, but with the other module, I felt as if I was at the rock face, unsure of where to put my hands and feet, and watching others who were already approaching the summit.

I had a lovely email back from my tutor, Lars Iyer, who told me to relax, and that ‘academic’ learning would soon become easier. He said they took mature students such as me on the course on purpose, as we had so much else to offer than academia. I took heart from this, and as I eased off the self-doubt, I relaxed, found my confidence, and I have indeed begun to find academic study easier.

We have been learning in our Prose Workshop about the Freytag Triangle for plotting a short story and have been asked to write a story where the protagonist comes to the realisation that she has learnt something. We were to write from experience, safe in the knowledge that the best writing has lots of detail and writing from memory can provide this.

I was over the moon to hear that writing our own life stories was not only allowed, but positively encouraged. I have on the past, held back from writing some of the episodes of my life for fear the regurgitation of them would upset family members. A lot of my past is not pretty. However, I’ve written without the fear of publication, and have started with a story that goes back to a very painful period in my life. I was in my early teens when I started drinking, and going on dates with men that were a lot older than me.

It has been cathartic to write the tale. I heard the other day, that trying to stuff our past down is like trying to stuff a beach ball under the waves; an analogy I can relate to very much. Our own stories are very much part of us, and we must learn to have them walk alongside us, without shame.

I’ve been working with a therapist for some time now, and it was she who first suggested I go to uni to do my MA and learn to write. She has also suggested that pain comes before shame and has shown me how I have learnt to literally stuff down my pain by using food and alcohol, unable to speak of my wounds.

Writing my story is releasing something in me, and by acknowledging the pain without shame, I am starting to move forward. I made the decision four weeks ago to give up alcohol. Those who know me well, know what a big drinker I have been, and this had had some pretty dire consequences. I have so many tales that would make your hair curl, and who knows, maybe I will write them all down one day, but then again, I may not. I haven’t decided if I should write my story, or let it be and move on.

The alcohol free life has been a revelation. I had no idea I could feel this good all anxiety has gone out of the window; my relationships are already better; I have more energy and am sleeping better; I am losing weight and my skin looks great!. I am getting support from Janey Lee Grace and The Sober Club, and have been listening to lots of ‘quit lit’ and podcasts. I’m hoping that I will be alcohol free for the rest of my life, although I do realise that at 27 days, I am very much at the beginning of my journey. I have a book title in mind for my own ‘quit lit’ – ‘Sex, Gin and Chocolate Cup Cakes’ – but have not made up my mind if I’m brave enough to write it. Who knows, maybe a year down the line I will be?

Giving up alcohol had given me the confidence to finally cash in the voucher Tim had given me for my last birthday for a flying lesson. My anxiety levels were far too high to even consider it before. It was amazing, and as I soared over the beautiful Northumberland countryside, I felt freer than I have done for years. I am flying high!

Flying over Alnwick, Northumberland

I won’t be sharing the short story about my teenage self with you at this point in time. However, watch out for a Christmas Short Story I’ve written that I’ll share with you all next week.

Thank you for reading my blog.