counting blessings

I left my bubble this weekend, which was terrifying and necessary

I went to Tuscany to visit some very dear friends, I ate some amazing food

walked miles, talked the hind legs off several donkeys, hugged friends and strangers, basked in the sun, admired the amazing views

we took part in an online “how to make gnocchi” course

which was bloody funny and utterly disastrous, but Bella pulled it out the bag at the end and turned the whole thing into a delicious omelette (minus the snotty gnocchi)

whilst sitting on top of a mountain with a group of strangers, amongst the stones and earth, listening to an explanation of the how’s and why’s of grafting grapes and the necessity to grow bio-dynamically and the vision one man has for the future of wine

I realised that the dreams we have for our own futures are not always logical or even sensible but what is clear is if we are honest with ourselves we can do the most extraordinary things…….this is something that I most admired about Rick and his crazy idea’s

seemingly coming out of nowhere and to anyone else completely impossible and bonkers, but with the right amount of determination, anything is possible, because when we focus and follow our hearts, there is an energy that becomes available to us that is not something we can control, it comes from elsewhere….

After many conversations about death and life and the after life and what happens to us when we leave, I do know that all of us are connected to everything, we are everywhere and the longer we disconnect ourselves from each other and nature the worse it will become

so, get out there, get your hands dirty, do something that terrifies you, hug a stranger, eat something you have never eaten before, have a dream that is beyond you’re wildest fantasy, do something for someone with no strings attached, give stuff away, be grateful for everything you have and above all, just try to be nice to each other because you just never know what is going to happen and how much you might wish you had done things differently……….

raising hopes and beds


The original garden was a useable space but with terrible soil and a bit of a slope towards the road with a cedar at the end, the tree blocked the view from the balcony upstairs and it was hanging on the main electricity cable for the whole street, so it had to come down

Rick got the saw mill out and sliced it up with the idea that it would be used for stairs in the house..unfortunately with his passing that is not going to happen so I am gifting it to a friend who is going to make some furniture with it

Rick had started the raised bed project after I left, dug foundations, moved a lot of heavy clay and started some of the block work

I was totally overwhelmed when I arrived back, and kept looking at all the sacks of sand and stone and the unfinished raised beds (which sort of resembled giant graves) and mountains of clay in the garden and just couldn’t contemplate doing any of it, let alone completing it

having gone through an enormous range of emotions relating to Rick’s death, I’ve now had a moment to breathe and evaluate my situation, I have decided that Italy will be where I stay for the time being, after all I bought this house because I loved it, it’s where all my things are, it’s where I last shared a meal with Rick and for a brief moment it was the place that gave us both hope for the future, a common goal and a roof over our heads……

With a lot of encouragement from new friends and old, I decided to finish the project myself, I know I lived with a builder for 24 years but I never did any actual building, but I thought, how hard can it be????

I finished bed 2

I needed to cut some of the blocks but am terrified of spinning blades and electricity, it took me a few days of various consultations with men friends, some plucking up of courage and remembering what Rick would say…….Just do it Doris….I did

With bed 2 finished, I decided to waterproof the insides of the beds, and then back fill with various bits of hardcore lying around, including the old toilet and sink, prunings, ash from the fire, manure from a friend and the soil that had come out of the foundations and some bought compost

I levelled off the area between both the beds and made some steps. I used some of Rick’s old burnt chisels and files as supports, got rid of a bag of gone off cement, mixed with sand and the last of the stones

I had to put an extra course on half of bed one, because the ground level at the front of the bed was the same height as the bed and it looked all wrong…

new back bit - 1
A friend donated some lovely old bricks for me to finish off the tops of both beds

The foundations were already in for the third raised bed and just about enough blocks for 3 courses, so I did that too

I painted everything white, planted all the plants I’d been growing in my tiny propogator, sowed a lot of seed

laid a very wonky beginnings of a patio with some other found bricks

bought some bark chippings

and today I have picked my first radish…..

I have to say without sounding too boasty I am rather pleased with myself, I had a vision, Rick saw it too he started it, I am finishing it

Even with him gone, we still make a good team

I look like a midget but I'm not, he was very big
(Photo taken in 2009 after first potato harvest in Portugal)

I’ve got my zest(er) back

I’m in Italy, in a tiny house with a tiny garden, in the middle of a tiny village, surrounded by stunning countryside, friendly people and delicisousness in the bushes and in the shops (when we are allowed to go to them)!!!

I’ve started replacing all the wonderful things I had, one thing that I was very upset about was the loss of my microplane, I know it’s easy to replace, but it wasn’t just about replacing things and filling my life up again

I had been fundamentally changed by the fire, so I didn’t really want to cook much anymore, I did kind of get into it last autumn, when we arrived in Italy and spent days foraging and making sloe cheese, quince everything and figgy stuff

which I loved, but then I lost the desire again with the breakdown of my marriage and the subsequent, sudden death of my husband…….

I’ve been in Italy since lockdown, organising what has fondly become known as “Italy death bollox” and whilst I was appreciating being here, in a remote and beautiful country, I still had no desire to cook much. let alone forage………

It’s been a long time since I lived anywhere where there were any hedgerows, and it’s a wonderful thing, there’s so much diversity here, you don’t even have to look very hard, you just have to have the right eyes in, a bit like mushroom hunting, once you tune into your environment a multitude of abundance reveals itself…..

What’s nice about foraging is the chance to just stop and admire what is growing out there, the countryside is rife with life, identifying it and making it into something is therapeutic not to mention practical, what’s even better is that when you crack open a jar of something, from whatever season it came from, you are instantly reminded of that time, the picking of it, the light, the sounds, the winding down of the days, the changing of the seasons, this is one of the most evocative things about growing, preserving and making, it’s a reminder that the simple things are the best, it’s the time that you were most calm and happy and grateful, to just be with nature and give thanks by turning her gifts into a culinary delight, elderflower cordial heralds the beginning of a new season for me, a season of abundance, after the quiet time of winter in the hedgerows, it’s a new start, a fresh start with a fresh drink to whet the appetite and forge ahead with a new strength and vigour and determination……..here we go again!!!

the next chapter

the time has come to move on……the farm, which was our home, is now up for sale.

this magical place has been here for us to restore our spirits in the wake of such tragedy, but now it needs some fresh hands and fresh hearts

We are hoping that the new caretakers will love it as much as we have and see all the potential it has to offer

The farm is made up of 3.5 hectares in total, consisting of 3 flat meadows, pine forest, chestnut woodland, 2 olive groves (more than 80 olive trees), a river, spring head and levada system, 100m bore hole and water mine, and a 100+sqm registered building plot

In the meadows, we variously planted all the things that went to towards our self sufficient life, some of them in large quantities like potatoes, wheat, corn, onions and garlic, squashes and soya beans just to name a few.

Where once our house stood, is a registered 100+sqm footprint building plot, with access from the tarmac roadThe building site on the farm is south facing making it perfect for solar gain, we previously had solar power and a solar water set up

The meadows are planted with fruit trees (plum, apple, cherry, peach, pomegranate and almonds), there are some very old fig trees dotted around, a nespera and a persimmon

The top fruit orchard is planted with loganberries and tayberries, all the meadows are also planted with a mixture of black locust, oaks and elder

The middle meadow is an established garden with herbs, comfrey, perennials and more fruit trees and kiwis, there is easy access down to the meadows either via slopes for machinery or steps

The woodlands, and pine forest (which once provided the main material for the construction of the house) and the olives all suffered from the fires in 2017, they are all coming back, the olives have been carefully pruned and looked after and are thriving, they will produce oil in a couple of years. although, the forest and woodland are returning, they are ripe for a permaculture/re-forestation project

The farm comes with a ready to move in to, newly decorated caravan, it easily sleeps 2 people. it has an oven and gas hob and gas fridge, lots of worktops and a tonne of cupboard space. a lounge area with table, lots of windows, all powered by it’s own solar system which is included in the price, we will also donate two extra solar panels and a hot water solar panel

the outdoor space around the caravan has an outdoor sink area and an outdoor camp style bathroom. the farm comes with 2 IBC tanks and a pump and control box for the borehole

There is a small newly built battery house, for the solar system and storage

The farm is in a very quiet valley, on a tarmac road with easy access to the caravan/building site. Mains water has recently been piped in along the road and will be turned on in 2020, a small request to the local council will allow you to have access to mains water, once it has been turned on.

The village of Benfeita (which has just received it’s green flag as an eco village) is a 5 minute walk away with it’s wonderful river beach and cafe, post office and shop, not to mention the thriving community of young and industrious people

The nearest town is Coja, which has a school, medical centre, shops, bank and a post office, it is a 10 minute drive away, it has a monthly market and a river beach and laundarette….and a lot of other events throughout the year, the bigger towns of Arganil, Tabua and Oliveira do Hospital are all 30-40 minutes away, Coimbra, with train connections to major cities is 45 minutes away. the nearest airports are Lisbon and Porto, both 2+ hours drive away.

Feel free to peruse the blog, that shows our whole adventure here from start to finish, it’s been an amazing journey

the farm is for sale for €55,000

if you are interested in the farm, please feel free to email me with questions

baby steps

The journey since the fire has been excruciating and difficult for both us…….we’ve done the journeying separately and together. Circumstances dictated that I return to the land and that he didn’t. I couldn’t turn my back on the one place that had afforded us so much hope and joy, in the wake of the fire, when all seemed utterly lost and broken, clinging to the one thing that had given both of us so much pleasure and pain was my only option, but not his. His reasons for not returning were complicated, mine were more simplistic.

Since returning to the land I  have :

had remains of house removed, upsetting

sold scrap metal (twice, long story), boring

had new driveway made from old house, expensive

bought a caravan, weird and exciting

caravan bought - 1

had caravan moved to site of burnt house, macabre

caravan moving - 1

had metal structure built over caravan from burnt crap and some new crap, resourceful

metal structure - 1.jpg

had battery house built, and solar stuff bought and installed, deja vu

battery house - 1 (1).jpg

had grape wires and posts replaced, expensive


had over 80 olive trees pruned or chopped down, distressing and hard work

olive pruning - 1 (1)

had a chunk of burnt forest removed, relief

firewood - 1 (1).jpg

painted the crap out of the caravan, exhausting but satisfying

painting - 1

removed loads of stuff from caravan, freeing

rubbish - 1

had bore hole pump fixed, strenuous and mucky

bore hole pump - 1

had running water plumbed into outdoor sink, luxurious

sink - 1

made myself a loo, with an old chair, a Leatherman and a rusty saw, awesome

enjoyed the cowboy shower, familiar


In between all this, I’ve nurtured the gardens

Planted new trees

Saved some flower seeds

had the world’s smallest wood burner installed, very very necessary

Completing all this has given me such a huge sense of achievement, creating an almost instant home, a place to lick my wounds was utterly necessary, siting it where I have was almost like a calling, one that I could not ignore

I have hope again, hope where there was none, a feeling that I never, ever want to feel again
It has filled my heart with joy, to see the land restore itself, hear the river running, listen to the buzzards playing, the owls calling at night all the sounds that were so familiar to me, the sounds that told me I was home, the sounds that gave me comfort and held me when nothing else could.
This is a place that welcomes me, enriches me and anchors me….the process is almost complete, it’s job almost done, it’s nearly time to move on, the shortening of the days offers time to rest and reflect, the dawning of the next chapter will emerge as the sun starts to rise in the sky and the days are no longer dark……

 

sad endings and new beginnings

the last thing I had that hadn’t been consumed or destroyed by the fire has now been swept away by a tsunami type flash flood on my land

The river broke over the top of the 8 foot high wall that borders the land, chucking burnt trees and branches, litter, lumps of coal and a tonne of top soil and ash all over my garden, it swept away all the trees, bulbs and herbs that I had been growing in pots, most of them have disappeared completely, no doubt littering someone else’s land downstream and blocking up the river

I am so completely heart broken by this turn of events that I can’t even cry anymore, I just shrugged and laughed……

So I’m off for a break, somewhere far away, where everything is white instead of black

where I am not constantly reminded of the grief that is consuming my life, where I can get a different perspective and not have to climb huge hurdles everyday just to stay on top of things, or fix something that is very broken or unfixable, or tidy up a terrible mess……..there’s only so much anyone can take until we break, I’m not waiting around to be broken by this, so I’ll cut my losses and get away before I too am so broken that I will be unfixable………

I am happily saying goodbye to 2017 and am looking forward to welcoming in the new year with an open heart and open mind………happy new year everyone

attachments

As the enormity of what’s happened starts to sink in, I’ve realised that I have less stuff now than when I left home at 17, the only difference is that I have a husband and two dogs, oh and some vehicles

Last year my best friend, a friend I had had for 34 years suddenly stopped communicating with me, whilst there may have been a myriad of reasons, it was hard to not take it personally, the grief and anger I had, overwhelmed me at times and ate away at me, the realisation that I would never have such a friendship again, it was 34 years worth of friendship, marriages, births, deaths, breakdowns and of course laughter, joy and all the other stuff of life…….

I realised that I would never have a friendship like that again, I don’t have enough time in front of me to formulate it….well I may have but I doubt very much that I will…….I learnt valuable lessons about myself and how much I had invested in something that could so easily be thrown or taken away…it was a hard lesson to learn

I can’t compare the loss of that friendship with the loss of a house, but the feelings are the same…..and I’m guessing the lessons are the same too……the attachments I had to my things, the things that I had collected from all over the world

the fabrics that I had dragged across Central and North America, literally on my back, overland, the amazing tin collection that had taken me since I was 17 to amass, mostly priceless and very rare…none of it I can or will ever have again, I can’t possibly conceive of starting it all again, so I won’t…it’s only stuff, it didn’t really matter, the attachment I had to it was probably unhealthy and to be honest I hardly ever looked at the tin collection, it never came out of it’s boxes and the fabrics I was too sentimental about to ever cut up of turn into something else…all a bit like a museum of my life….very Miss Haversham…..a bit depressing in a way

I think, on some level we would all like to be able to let go of something, but whilst that “something” is still in front of us or in existence, we can practice it and some may even achieve it, some pay a fortune for it, spending years meditating or living some kind of monastic life but do we ever really “let go”. It takes a certain kind of honesty to admit that a) you may have an attachment and then b) to admit that you haven’t really let go. This event has given me the opportunity to grow and understand in a way that obviously no-one would want, but it has happened and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, accepting it and learning from it, asking better questions and doing things differently is all that is required

so, here we go again

ourlifehandmade part two, stay tuned

falling or flying, the choice is yours

this latest experience (so far) has shown us who we really are and what we are capable of, the stuff we have inside, that can’t be incinerated by fires, or frozen solid by extreme cold

or swept away by flooding and landslides,  eaten up by earthquakes or consumed by erupting volcanoes…all of which we have experienced and seen

we can either use those resources we have inside to climb back up and crack on or allow the situation to take over and sink deeper into a pit of despair and misery……

we know what we are choosing……..

life

ourlifehandmade

Lidl breakdowns

Since the fire, I have obviously been grieving but also trying to get on with all the paperwork, logistical stuff, organising the dogs, sorting ourselves out, just on a basic level, with clothing etc..this has preoccupied me, in a good way…..now the ash has settled, life is returning, we are trying to take better care of ourselves, take time out together and apart, do some physical work, exercise, relax, laugh and spend time with friends

Sometimes I wake after only a few minutes of sleeping and weep as I’ve remembered something else that I will never see or touch again…..little things….the things that made up my life, the things I’d spent a life-time collecting or momentoes I’d kept, because of who’d given them to me or some special significance they had……..the things that told my story, treasures

I know on a philosophical level, those things don’t make me who I am, it’s besides the point, they were my things and now I don’t have them, I will never have them again, I know I can collect new things that will also have meaning and tell another story, but not that one…..that story has ended, the memories I will still have (until that fails me too)…….so now we have to build a new life with all the little bits and that is what I am finding hard to do

Every time I try to go food shopping, I go with a basic list, I come out with what I went in there for, but I always have a breakdown, I find myself staring at something on a shelf and crying…….today it was vanilla pods, they were available, and they were about €2 for one pod, it wasn’t the price or that they had never had them in Lidl before, it was that I have lost so much more than just the things that went towards making our life….I have lost the desire to cook…..this has never really happened to me before..

Those that know me or have followed the blog, will know that I love my food, I love growing it, I love cooking it, I love eating it and I love sharing it……I don’t love any of it now

I have spent my entire adult life collecting the perfect utensils

the hard to find spices, the most beautiful crockery, antique Georgian glasses, gorgeous tea towels, brilliant cookery books, handed down recipes


the list is endless, and everyday I remember something else….we can build a new home and we are starting our new story, the things will come when the time is right but that time is not now

 

there is no “normal” anymore

Like for many others in this area, there is no “normal” anymore, there’s  “before the fire”

and “after the fire”


for those of you that have followed our story and the one from before moving to Portugal, we have been constantly building since we married (21 years ago)…….

I had a home for a bit in the UK and then we built a new one….

which didn’t really become my home

we then moved to Portugal and rented various hovels!!

We’d been living in our new house for 2 years, but it was a building site most of the time, with no running hot water or bathroom, that was fine

I liked my outdoor bathroom and when the Rayburn was on there was always hot water on the stove top…..

We had almost finished all the very expensive and complicated plumbing which would have given us two sources of hot water

one from the Rayburn in the winter

and one from a solar water panel for the summer……….

we were two days away from filling up the tanks and testing the whole thing……

Having a home was the most wonderful thing, unpacking all our stuff which we hadn’t seen for years

getting it out, finding places for it, mounting pictures, paintings and photographs

actually being comfortable

cooking and eating amazing food from our gardens


harvesting for the winter


I had just finished making 120 litres of grape juice

we had, rather ironically just finished paying for and sorting out all the paperwork for a very expensive olive grove on the other side of the valley in front of the house, which has now exploded too……

having an actual life that wasn’t full of stress, hard labour, long hours……

I was so proud of the house, what we had done, how beautiful it was……ourlifehandmade

sadly that period has ended
that chapter of our lives was abruptly closed on the 15th October, a day and night that will forever be melted onto our hearts

please help us if you can :

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/sarah-and-rick-whitehead