Tuesday, 16 January 2018

WWOOFing in the U.K: Feltham's Farm

(Well, I did promise :-)

You never really know what to expect. You can Google map things, read up as best you can about where you're going, communicate forthrightly with your hosts, but until you step out of the vehicle or walk up to the yard or wherever you intended to end up, you never really know.

Actually, we couldn't map this piece of paradise beforehand. It was on a small laneway that the Google car must have thought too insignificant to bother with. I'm rather glad it didn't.

What I remember is Peggy's kindness in picking us four up from the country train station, tired from our early London departure but excited, and she very hospitably worrying about where to put the knapsacks, maybe because of a dog blanket? That part is vague. I remember harrowing hedged narrow streets (we later discovered that all British country roads are harrowing, hedged and narrow), and a warm welcome with a scrumptious lunch set out on long tables under an umbrella and a blue sky. Smiling, friendly faces. A quiet and friendly dog. Tow-headed children. Delectable handmade cheese (!) and Zinadine trying miner's lettuce salad willingly, out of the blue, for the first time. And declaring it delicious. Easy banter and interested, interesting people.

There was an ease about this place that immediately put us at ease.

Peggy and Marcus showed us the ropes, made a thorough tour (including our very comfortable bedrooms, which were separate from the main house: it was kind of like two houses smushed together), let us know again what they expected, and then they were gone! Off to visit family and leaving us, trusting us, to take care of the farm for eleven days (under the guidance of the other WWOOFer, Mohamed, thank goodness).

What an adventure. Almost a year two years later and my heart still aches for this place.

I want to communicate how receiving trust opens up vast resources of willingness. Because Peggy and Marcus entrusted their place to us, the natural and logical response on our part was to work harder than was required. They were happy to have us cook for ourselves and Mohamed, do some groceries, and take care of a couple of holiday cottage change-overs. We tried to do more to repay their kindness. It was the least we could do, and it enabled us to learn a lot in the process.

To wake up to mornings like this:

To end the days with this:

To have access to fresh food like this (more greens and eggs than we could possibly eat!):

What is that worth? How do you say thank-you?

The children grew. They became more elastic, shedding their urban limitations, their self-imposed checks and balances, and instead roamed, climbed, sketched, followed chickens, collected eggs, fed the animals, worked in the orchard, harvested greens, disappeared, and sank into pastures of buttercups and mountains of hay.

The husband grew. Full days of digging a drainage trench, splitting wood, working with a neighbour farmer and Mohamed putting in fence posts and cow-proof guards for precious newly planted trees, playing with the kids, cooking, and the special task of brining and turning Marcus' handcrafted cheese.

And me? Quiet coffee at 4:30am, quiet walks around the farmyard before everyone else awoke, first light, first breath of day....I was in heaven. Flour on my hands, sunshine yellow yolks and sunshine early through the kitchen windows. Green walls, red checked tablecloth, benches and chairs in a happy mingle.

A kitchen door open to the yard, welcome, with piles of boots at the side, curious chicks at the sill, comings and goings and "Mama look at this!" Learning how to chop wood. Making the holiday house spic and span and welcoming with wildflowers. Whittling some handles for the bedroom doors upstairs, just because it seemed like a worthwhile thing to do. Heavy achey limbs at the end of the day and sinking into the kind of tired that rewards you with deep sleep and no dreams.

And the walks, oh the walks. The walks deserve their own post, which is next soon.

Things we discovered: we love chickens. We have an intense dislike for roosters. The raised beds of greens on the driveway are a brilliant use of space. Running a holiday cottage is something we would enjoy. There are always other people who have been doing this longer than you. Listening to them can save so much time and IF we have a small farm someday, we would very much like to model it on Peggy and Marcus'.

And then they all came back. There was a whirlwind reunion, some photos and an hour or so where Peggy and Marcus graciously answered all of our "Please tell us what's it like to move from London to a small-holding? How did you get here? How are you making it work? Why? What? How?"

Then we had to say good-bye. It's a good thing our next couple of days were going to be something unusual. It helped the good-bye be bittersweet rather than heartache.

Thank you, Peggy and Marcus and Mohamed, for making our days at Feltham's Farm some of our family's sweetest.

Monday, 15 January 2018

A Year Later

It was two years ago that we started to plan our change in course as a family, and it's been half as long since I've written here.

Zinadine's there - he's running ahead, of course...
It was also almost two years ago that I packed up my studio and we put it, and most of our other worldly belongings, into storage. Our cat Shadow moved in with my brother, for which we were very grateful. The process was emotional and yet freeing, in ways we did not expect. After our travels, when we returned briefly to our home, it was to the stylised house we had curated for its sale, not truly the home in which we had grown as a family.

I don't recognise this house; it looks like grown-ups live here.....
Bye house!
Then every final book and toy and art project and every last piece of furniture joined the assemblage in storage, and we lived out of our backpacks (well, a backpack and carry-on each - luxury!) again.

We spent the end of the summer of 2016 house-sitting for various friends and family, and then in September moved into our furnished rental in Hamilton, Ontario. We brought a few boxes (and our clothes!) into the house from our old possessions, but mostly made due without.

There should always be flowers on moving day....
We were on the hunt for a farm.

And instead, in June of 2017, for many different reasons, we found a house in Hamilton....for now ;-)

It has roses!
Fortunately, we were very very lucky. It is a lovely little light-filled house oddly perfectly suited to us in a location that is, again, perfectly suited to us, with what have turned out to be great neighbours! It did need a fair amount of work, which together we laboured through this past summer. Learned some new skills, we did.

And added some new fluffy additions to the family we did:

Say hi to angora bunnies Sherlock River Brutus Pedestrian Floofy III and Foofy.

Say hi to Streamer. Her buddy Lamborgh is hiding.
Just before Christmas we put the last coat of paint on in the last room that needed doing. And then we purchased some shelves and finally unpacked the last of the boxes: my studio and the books.

As I was sliding books onto shelves, manouvering past sleeve catching cardboard box-flaps and welcoming each book as if it were new, a welcome emotion washed over me. The emotion of home. I felt the same way as I put my fabric out. Grounded, centred, content in a deep way. This place is good. It will do.

Hello old friends....

What is also true (as a wise friend gently reminded me recently) is that over the past year and a quarter, a significant portion of my energy and attention had been gobbled up by settling into our temporary home and the never-ending search for a more permanent home. And the inescapable ruminating over what impact these changes were having on the kids. I tried to stay balanced and incorporate our usual fun and exploration (lowering expectations always helps ;-) and though I grew in some ways, especially in connecting with friends old and new, there were things that got neglected, most critically my creative self and some of my other personal goals.

I have made to time to make some things....

For a couple of days this past week I had been down, and stuggling to feel the worth of my work, in that kind of existential, what-am-I-even-doing kind of way. Even though I'm literally sitting as I type in the middle of one of the results of my hard work, as a parent my first instinct is to think that finding a home and making it a good one really is the least I can do*, so the worth seems nebulous and not concrete. (*With the understanding that in this world it is not always easy to do and that we are incredibly fortunate to be able to do so. Just sayin')

But then I had the inclination to go back over photos, over this blog, and I was reminded of why I used to write here and why I might want to continue. "Oh," I thought. "That's right, I do things!" Good things, concrete things; makings and get-togethers and workshops and connections in which I find worth.

I like this space as a witness to our daily lives. A place where I can process what happens, share it with people I love (hi all!), and maybe even with people I don't know yet.

I'm willing to see what happens here. Again.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Where We Were

Our family is finally fairly settled in our new (temporary for a year) home in Hamilton, Ontario. So after all the energy and emotion of moving it's a real pleasure to sit down and dive back into, to savour, where we've been. Our adventures last year in the U.K. were also full of energy and emotion, but of a very different kind.

A different perspective:

It's the first time we've immersed ourselves as a family in an "other" place. There have been a couple of trips with extended family, and much camping with family, friends, and just ourselves, but this was our first overseas adventure.

It was surprising, delightful, the people were kind and helpful, and, through some kindness of the universe, everything fell into place, everything clicked for us on this trip.

Mr. S. in originally from Europe, I'd lived for a year in Paris when I was nineteen, and we'd both travelled a little as younger people and lived in other places as a couple. But it had been a long time and it was a good reminder, especially after the uniquely necessarily introspective view that being a parent of younger children generates, that the world is actually a very large place with many interesting and very different people in it. Living within a bicultural family in Canada you'd think we'd know that, especially living in Toronto, but knowing your familiar diverse hometown is different than experiencing someone else's hometown. Neither Mr. S. nor I have any familial background that originates in the U.K. so it was an alien and beautiful place for us both.

Though not entirely unfamiliar ;-)

Beside the three wonderful farms that we were lucky enough to spend most of our time on, we also were fortunate enough to spend time in London and some other lovely lovely places thanks to our rail passes and the U.K.'s fabulous train network (sooooo jealous as a Canadian).

There was a lot of walking. And not "beside-the-roads-gagging-exhaust" walking. Quiet trails from town to town, cutting through fields, up hills, by old stuff, by sheep, by old names, by the sea, through forests. Glorious.

It only really properly downpoured once....which, for Britain....:-)

The kids met the Atlantic for the first time and we dipped our toes in the English Channel....

The trains, even though they were an adventure in their own way, often provided respite between busy days.

We also went to a truly amazing and unique place. A place that all four of us agree we would go back to in a heartbeat: Lundy Island. However, Lundy requires a dedicated post, so I'll save it for later...

There was a lot of exploring, but mostly we went there to learn and help on the farms. So, after this little taste of travel deliciousness, instead of an ordered travelogue I'm going to write about the three farms we stayed at in detail, so as to share (and maybe inspire in others) more WWOOFing.

Please stay tuned!

(p.s. please excuse the quality of the photos - we travelled light - just one backpack and one bag each - sometimes all of which Mr. S ended up carrying - so no camera, just my phone :)