No one likes to feel intimidated.  And sometimes it can happen in the most unlikely places.  Today, I had to walk out of a bookshop without buying a book.  I did have a very nice sandwich and a drink though.

Books have never held any fear for me.  I knew my childhood stories by heart before I could read.  And, once I’d learned, my favourite day was library day.  I read my way merrily through childhood, through adolescence and into adult-hood.  Books were my friends.

When the Kindle came along I thought it was my ticket to paradise.  Hundreds of books, adjustable type, reading in the dark?  What bliss!  The Oasis looks really nice, with its ergonomic design and page-turning buttons.  I’m saving my pennies.

Lately, though, I’ve been missing real books.  Books with pages and the smell of fresh, black type.  Books with covers.  Books with spines.  Tactile books.  I’ve been missing browsing in bookshops and coming home with something I start to read on the bus.  My bookshelves are mostly empty and I miss their welcome when I come home.  I miss running my fingers along the spines and remembering or wondering what treasures they shelter.  I miss books.

I was in town today and decided to rectify the situation by buying a book (or maybe two?)  I honestly thought it’d be easy.  I even thought I might enjoy it.  So I went to the bookshop and started browsing.  And I was intimidated by the books.

Some of them looked terribly long.  Some of them looked heavy, in weight if not in subject.  Others had type that might be hard to read.  And what if I spent £7.99 and didn’t like it?  More to the point, what if I spent £7.99 and couldn’t read it?  I have never, ever, in all my life met a book I couldn’t read.  I’ve met books I didn’t want to read.  I’ve been forced to read books I would cheerfully have consigned to the bin.  I’ve stopped reading under the 50 Page Rule.  I have never, ever, met a book I couldn’t read.  But, as I wandered through the store, feeling increasingly panicked, I realised that I may no longer be able to read a real book.

Is this how people who don’t read feel when faced with a shelf full of titles?  I’d like to … I could … Oh, but I probably can’t.  So I’ll just not try and then I won’t have failed.  Come and we’ll buy a DVD instead?  Well, I didn’t buy a DVD.  I went to the charity shop next door and bought a paperback for £2.  I started reading it on the bus home.  It smells musty and feels soft in my hands.  And my eyesight does appear to be good enough to cope without back-lighting.

The Kindle is lovely.  No matter how many pages a book contains or how many books in the Kindle, it feels the same in my hand.  If I’m tired, or the light is bad, I can change the text and the illumination.  It helpfully tells me how far into the book I have gone and how much longer it will take me to finish it.  It’s easy to read on the Kindle.  Maybe it’s too easy.


Little House of Purpose

Did you get up this morning with a sense of purpose?  Do you know what you need to achieve in this day?  Are these things that are genuinely important to you?  Or are you obligated to go through the motions of Monday morning without buying in to the activities of the day?

For the Ingalls family the purpose was survival.  Little House in the Big Woods opens at the beginning of winter with the house stuffed full of food, ready for the cold and dark of the short days and long nights.  Ma and Pa had not bought most of this food – they had worked through the year to provide it for their own survival.  Now Pa butchers a pig and banks the house against chill winds.  Ma keeps the fire burning with the wood he has chopped while the girls snuggle under home-made quilts.  The little house is snug and safe.  The family will eat the fruits of their labour as the year turns.

The book takes us on a journey through the year as we see a garden planted, game hunted and the oats harvested.  Once again, the little house and its family are ready for winter.  And so the year turns.

For a long time, my purpose was pleasure.  I had a good job and worked hard Monday to Friday in order to party at the weekends.  On Mondays, I’d wake up feeling dreadful and drag myself through another week of meaningless activity so I could get drunk again on Friday night.  When I realised that this was neither pleasurable nor truly living I lost what sense of purpose I had.  I looked for it in hours of overtime, snatching sleep where I could but was not satisfied.  I looked for it in things, amassing more and more clutter around me with the money I brought home.  But I was not satisfied.  My life was meaningless.

Eventually, having chased one promotion too many, I became very ill and had to give up work.  Oh, the relief!  But what now?  I slept.  I slept for days, weeks, months and years.  If I was unhappy, I slept.  Bored, I slept.  Angry, I slept.  And when I couldn’t sleep any more, I stuffed myself full of processed food so that my body slept in self-defence.  Sleeping isn’t living.  It’s living without any purpose at all.

One day I sowed some seeds.  And then I watered them.  I had to get up every day to water my seeds.  Would they grow?  Tiny green shoots appeared.  Now I had to get up every day to water my plants.  And, amazingly, they grew.  I ate salad that autumn and cooked with home-grown coriander.  Getting up and going outside every day wasn’t easy but, as my collection of container plants grew, I found purpose and peace.  I kept a diary, noting down the work I planned for each day, work that would provide me with food.  One day I cooked a meal made entirely of home-grown ingredients.

My gardening outgrew my parent’s little greenhouse and back garden (and probably also their patience!) and I moved to an allotment.  That first year, I filled my freezer with food for the winter and thought about life and the little house.  By my work, I had provided for myself what I needed to survive.  And that is my sense of purpose.

If you’re drifting through your days or can’t find meaning in your life plant some seeds and watch them grow.  It’s magical!

Routines in the Big Woods

Way before there was FlyLady with her Before Bedtime Routine there was Little House in the Big Woods.

In this book, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes life with Ma and Pa and her sisters Mary and Carrie as they live for a year in their little log house deep in the woods.  Each day of the week has its own work as Ma washes on Monday, irons on Tuesday and, after working hard all week, rests on Sunday.  Each day follows the same routine with the daily chores of dishwashing and bed making being done first, then the work for that day of the week.  Once the work is done there’s some time for play before the evening’s chores see the animals tended and the family settle down to singing and storytelling after dinner while Pa greases his boots and Ma does the mending.  Laura’s life is ordered and regulated by these routines while the wheel of the year turns through each season with its specific work and play.

There are no aimless days.  No one wanders from one activity to the next wondering what will make her happy.  The tedium of channel surfing has not even been imagined.  Instead, life is securely anchored by the routines.

I need routines and lists.  Without them I drift through my days and go to bed feeling frustrated with the day.  Without a routine of work and play I spend all of my time on one or the other, lose my balance and tumble into sloth.  Today has been such a day and I would like nothing more than to go to bed (it’s 11:12am) with a bar of chocolate and the TV for company.

It’s a long time since I’ve done FlyLady but, as I look at Laura and Ma going through their routines, I’m thinking that it might be time for me to look at mine.

Reclaiming Little House

How many times have I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books?  Too many to count already and yet I keep reading.

It seems to me that there’s much within the pages that has been lost in modern life.  I don’t want to give up my Kindle, central heating or pizza on a Friday night but I do want to revisit the past and bring back into the present what’s helpful to me.  I’ve noticed that (at least the first few of) Laura’s books each has a theme running through it and, at the moment, I’m re-reading looking for those themes and thinking about how to apply them to my life.  I think of the project as ‘Reclaiming Little House’.  I’m reclaiming a simpler, more purposeful and fulfilling way of life.

When I visit any of the Little Houses I see happy lives lived without my favourite vices and I’m encouraged to live without them too.  Sometimes the idea lasts only until I turn the page.  But sometimes the idea becomes endeavour and I move a step closer to where I want to be – sitting by the fire at the end of the day knowing that I’ve done my best.

A Mistake Rectified

We all make mistakes, right?  And I made a big one when I gave up Lottie and Ailsa at the end of August.

The time from then until now has been miserable.  I’ve not been depressed, just deeply unhappy.  It was like having my foundation pulled away leaving me tottering.  I was without direction, unfulfilled and adrift.  I spent most of my time in bed alternately eating and sleeping.  As a result I’m back up to my heaviest ever weight (less 1lb).  When I was out of bed I wandered aimlessly around the house.  It was horrible.

So I emailed the Allotment Secretary on Saturday and … they’re letting me have Ailsa back!  Today!  And a friend is going to help me clear her up.  I have my happy back again and will never again be voluntarily garden-less.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Chorizo

This recipe started life in the BBC’s Good Food magazine as ‘Potage Dubarry with Crispy Chorizo’.  I’ve tweaked the ingredients a bit and converted the method for the slow cooker but you could make it on the hob if you wanted.  It’s a filling soup/sauce which freezes well and can be reheated from frozen.


1 cauliflower (as florets)
2 shallots (chopped)
2 potatoes (chopped)
500ml milk
500ml hot water
4tsps vegetable stock powder
150ml double cream
12 slices chorizo
1 handful coriander (chopped)


  1. Preheat the slow cooker on high while you prepare the veg.
  2. Put all ingredients into slow cooker and stir well.
  3. Put on the lid, reduce the heat the low and leave to cook.
  4. Whizz with stick blender until smooth.

Basque Chicken Stew

This is an adaptation of a Slimming World recipe.  The diet isn’t suitable for me but their food is wonderful.  I made it in the slow cooker but you could use the stove or the oven.  It freezes well and can be reheated from frozen.


4 skinless chicken breasts (cut into bite-sized chunks)
2 red peppers (de-seeded and chopped)
1 yellow pepper (de-seeded and chopped)
6 shallots (chopped)
200ml chicken stock (use one cube with hot water)
500mls passata
1tsp paprika
Fresh tarragon (chopped)
Fresh flat-leaf parsley (chopped)


  1. Set the slow cooker to high while you prepare the vegetables.
  2. Put all ingredients into the slow cooker and mix well.
  3. Put on the lid, reduce the heat to low and leave until cooked.

Nancy Sleeth – Almost Amish


Have you ever read a book and thought ‘Wow!  This could really be life-changing!’?  It’s a long time since that’s happened to me but Nancy Sleeth’s book did.  In fact, it made such an impression when I read it on my Kindle that I’ve ordered a paper copy for further study.

Nancy and her husband started simplifying their lives after a few life events made them re-evaluate their American dream lifestyle.  They reduced their carbon footprint, drew closer to God and offered hospitality to their neighbours.  Today they have a rich and fulfilling life.

Since I gave up Lottie and Ailsa I’ve been feeling lost.  I need to rebuild my life but don’t have a pattern to follow.  I know that I tend to latch onto an idea and follow it obsessively until I crash and burn and that these ideas often come from books like Nancy’s which present a life where the grass is greener than in mine.  But Almost Amish fits really well with what I genuinely believe.  I have no sense of being a square peg or that I’m in danger of forcing myself into someone else’s round hole.  And it leaves room for another Lottie when the time comes 🙂


Cheesy Mince

This began life as a BBC Good Food recipe for Cottage Pie Bake.  I’m not that fond of mashed potato so I’ve adapted into a slow cooker mince recipe.  It’s very tasty, freezes well and can be reheated from frozen.  I ate some with rice and sweetcorn the other night.


1kg beef mince
250g bacon lardons
50g butter
200g shallots (chopped)
2 celery sticks (chopped)
3tbsp plain flour
1l hot water
2 beef stock cubes
3tbsp Worcestershire sauce
3 sprigs of fresh thyme (strip the leaves, discard the stalks)
3 bay leaves
300g carrots (chopped)
250g mature cheddar (grated)


  1. Set the slow cooker to high and put in the mince and bacon.
  2. Melt the butter and fry the shallots and celery until softened.  Add the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the water and stir until the sauce thickens slightly.  Stir in the crumbled stock cubes and Worcestershire sauce before adding to the slow cooker.
  3. Add the thyme leaves, bay leaves, carrots and cheddar to the slow cooker.  Stir well, put on the lid and reduce the heat to low until cooked.

Blight: Goodbye Lottie

There is good news and there is bad news.

I learned in the middle of August that I’m going to be offered a new plot at a site just ten minutes from my home.  Don’t know when this will happen but I’m hoping to have it for next season.  This knowledge left me in a bit of a quandary – a bird in the hand would mean continuing to work Lottie and Ailsa (with a one hour travelling time) and then walking away.  But I prefer to make a clean break and sometimes you have to let something good go in order to make room for something better.  So I decided to give up my plots at the end of this season (the first Sunday in October).

Then the bad news swept in.  I’d started clearing my belongings and notified the Committee that I’d be leaving.  When I went up a couple of weeks ago for another load of stuff I found Ailsa was not as I’d left her.  I don’t know who or why and they don’t really matter.  I decided to leave immediately.

My parents were great.  We took two cars over and filled them both and M&D are storing my things at their house (they have a garden and a garage and I don’t).  But it was heartbreaking.

I’ve spent some time back with the Crisis Team while I went through the stages of bereavement and grieving.  Now I’m ready start rebuilding.  And life is good again.