Making Adjustments

A lot can change in a month.

September 10th was my last post about Forest Gardens and Permaculture in the UK, and now I have a big list of updates to unpack. It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this blog, but I’m hoping that getting all down on a page will help to take some off the weight off from all the things that have been piling up.

R.I.P Renault Express

We had to scrap our van!

It served us well over the time we had it. Adventures, markets, driving to Portugal, visiting friends, carrying wood. We even had that comfy bed in the back.

But on our way to the UK I drove us to France to get the plane from Bordeaux. About an hour from the city, after one of the many peages (tolls), there was a strange rickety noise coming from under the hood and I pulled off as soon as I could. The car was slowing down and, poof!

Just before entering a roundabout it stalled and smoke started coming out of the engine.

Luckily I managed to capture Nik’s reaction as he observed the situation:

We walked to a nearby garage – lucky we happened to stop so close – and the tow guy brought the van over.

The head gasket thing needed looking at, sending off for testing and possibly replacing. The parts themselves aren’t crazy costly, but the labour time was a lot. It was going to be about 1000 euros and that’s not even guaranteeing it could be fixed. We bought the whole van for 500€!

There was no way we could afford this, so we sat on the decision whilst in the UK. Having it break down and scrapping it or losing a grand on the same day was too much to handle, especially when all our stuff was in there and we had a flight to catch the next day.

In the end, I had to sign the papers for it to be destroyed. I hope they at least salvage the parts for selling at a scrapyard, we’d only recently replaced the tyres and the window winder!

aurevoir beauté

I’m kind of sad about it, but also taking the ‘crisis as opportunity’ approach: this will be an amazing way to save money and the planet.

No petrol, no MOTs, no fixing stuff, no road tax, less stress, no parking fines, walking more, and going to stay with people instead of driving late at night.

There are always pros and cons to both options, but as it turns out, we haven’t really needed it the last month. We’ve been lucky to have friends help us buying building material, and have eaten lots from the garden and bought cheese and eggs from the local shop.

Rest in peace lovely van, thank you for the good times!

No More Markets

Another deciding factor in whether we should give up the van, was that there are next to no markets anymore. We haven’t been able to work for months since COVID kicked off in March. For a while we were receiving compensation because of the state of alarm, but then it stopped. Unfortunately, artesanal markets did not revive, so we were unable to make any money.

Selling at markets was the primary reason we bought the car, so without an income to support its heavy costs, it just didn’t really make sense. And as we’re coming into winter and predictions aren’t looking good rona-wise, it seemed unlikely that there would be a revival of markets in which we could sell falafel and other homeade foods.

it was fun while it lasted

It was a short and sweet journey, but against our wills, it looks like we’ll have to take a long pause on the market stall.

Doing Up The Kitchen

With so much more time on our hands, and the persistent desire to travel to South America, we thought it would be a good idea to make our kitchen less cave-like. Brighten it up with some pale paint, refit the rotting cupboards, and get a professional electrician to come and bring in some light.

It will be a nicer place to be for us and more desirable if we went to rent it out whilst travelling.

So far, we have managed to gather the materials needed and limed some of the lower walls. Luckily we were able to pick up sixty-six hand painted tiles from La Rioja whilst on the way back from Bordeaux in the rental car paid for by the insurance. (This was so fun to drive).

the taxi driver was a bit pissed off to be taking everything but the kitchen sink
(we got that later off wallapop)

Said kitchen sink was found on a second hand site and shipped from Alicante. It weighs over 100kg so it was quite a feat getting it here. The tiles and the sink are the two features we invested money in. We thought it was worth it as they will never break and are pretty timeless. Both are probably over one hundred years old, made in Spain, and built to last. We think this will go with the rustic feel of the house, too.

the back-breaking fregadero

The wood for the kitchen counters was salvaged from a fallen down Horreo in a friends’ village. We were a bit unsure about taking it but the neighbours actually encouraged us and ended up helping it into the car, as well as offering Nik a beer and gifting me a handmade leather bracelet. People are wonderful here!

Dave has been really enthusastic about helping us get the wood to a good state using his nice tools. A big planer and a table saw have been instrumental in taking off the woodwormed parts to reveal the shiny, century-old chestnut.

Two other friends, Kasper & Elise, also came over to help us liming the walls. This was so much more fun and quick with other people! We ate lunch, drank wine then got to work and finished one wall in under an hour.

On Raf & Birgit’s advice, we’ve also painted the ceilings white, or very pale pink, to reflect more light. It was a cheap and easy change and has already made a huge difference!

So, there are still some big jobs left to do:

  • finish the wood
  • insert the tiles
  • buy a new boiler and plumb it in
  • fix the electrics
  • mount the sink and wood
  • build the rocket mass heater

Oh, and perfect the design! We haven’t fully decided how to lay it out yet but as so many of the components are irregularly sized we will have to design around them a bit. Anyway, I’m just glad we’ve made a start.

Mushroom Hunting

It’s autumn! Hurrah!

Brown leaves, rain and fungi. Woolly jumpers, warm porridge, cold mornings.

I’m loving it so far, and we’ve really gotten into our foraging as mycelium fruits have started to poke their heads out of the ground.

I invested in two new books for us as since we bought the Asturias-based one two years ago it’s clear that the obession isn’t going anywhere. We both love the River Cottage Mushroom Handbook and the Collins Guide To Mushrooms & Toadstools.

The River Cottage is the favourite just because it distinguishes between edible and toxic. The Collins has incredible photos and a wealth of varieties, but slightly annoyingly doesn’t have any symbols for edible and toxic which means once identified you have to check it on the internet for edibility. So it’s a bit fussy if you’re wanting a field guide to know what to take home and what to leave in the forest. Think we’ll go through it with a red pen!

Living Off The Land

We have been blessed with amazing harvests this year.

We’ve braided and hung the corn for drying then milling into flour. Over the weekend I winnowed our amaranth and we have just under a kilo.

We’ve got leeks aplenty, plaited onions to keep us through the winter, garlic, potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, courgettes, beetroot, and the squash are starting to ripen now.

It really has been amazing to have the resource of the garden whilst jobless. We’ve narrowed our shopping list down to flour, eggs, cheese, bananas, oil and oranges. A few extra treats like chocolate and coffee definitely get thrown in there but having a pantry stocked full of brown rice, oats, lentils and chickpeas helps a lot.

We’ve even eaten our own fruit from the tomato tree that produced for the first time this year! They’re like passion fruit mixed with papaya and tomato. Great with pancakes and yoghurt.

The chayotes are coming in by the bucketload, I still can’t believe they’re all from one plant. This vegetable continues to astound me year after year.

Alternative Ideas

Since there have been no hints of society returning back to ‘normal’ within the next few months, we have come up with some other ways of putting our time to good use and making an income at the same time.

Nik is planning to get back into English teaching, online and in person. He’s trying to get his laptop set up for a company he has found on the internet, and is in the process of designing a poster and sending it out.

I was encouraged by some friends to make the leap and establish myself as a listening therapist. I was nervous at first but have spent time creating a website and posters to share around.

I feel like it’s an important time to start as corona restrictions seem to be getting tighter again, the nights are drawing in and the days are short. It’s getting cold and it’s always nice to be listened to.


Ah, you know, it does feel good to get this all down in some kind of order.

Looking at it like this makes me feel a lot more optimistic about the things we have achieved, and less pessimistic about those we haven’t.

We’ve had a few setbacks this year in terms of the car, repeated market cancellation, and travel plans put on hold. But in the grand scheme of things, there is nothing to complain about.

We have a beautiful house and an abundant garden, wonderful friends and lots of support. I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to live here and enjoy a relatively peaceful life in the mountains, and am feeling for those people stuck in cities again and those who have been more drastically effected by the virus.

We can be very cut off here and it’s easy to assume the rest of the world is just as safe, but it’s really not the case.

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Let’s talk about conspiracy theories and privilege… Ok, so y’all already know one of the leading tenants I live my life by is this: listen to the people who are marginalized in the ways that you’re privileged and follow their lead. It’s a phrase that popped out of my mouth during an IG live I did years and years ago and I’ve held it close since. It just hits on so much nuance that’s always been hard for me to distill previously. Anyway, I’m seeing SO MANY white & white adjacent POC folks talking about conspiracy theories and blasting opinions like facts, and I wanna ask, what the hell is going on?! Are y’all listening? Cause what I am still hearing is Black & Indigenous communities speaking about the profound losses they’re experiencing. Are y’all listening? Does this pandemic not feel real to you because you haven’t personally experienced it? (@narmeentangerine shared a quote she read with me early on in lockdown about this that went something like, ‘the pandemic and racism have a lot it common: folks who haven’t experienced it don’t believe it’s real.’) It’s actually SO SIMPLE to wade through the garbage mind clutter of this reality to reach truth. LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE WHO ARE MARGINALIZED IN THE WAYS THAT YOU’RE PRIVILEGED AND FOLLOW THEIR LEAD. Y’all, it’s so simple. Do this on repeat. That’s really it. So believe whatever you believe, AND ALSO wear your goddamn mask, hang outside in small groups, and keep distance. Vote for the most vulnerable members of our communities – not for your conspiracy theories. (How is this one hard to comprehend?) Listen to the communities that are most affected and most vulnerable right now. It’s actually not even a little bit political. It’s basic respect for human life. Even if you’re personally not affected, listen to the people who are. Center Black & Indigenous voices. Center Black Trans Women. Center the voices of those who are disabled. Center the voices of those who are most at risk right now. This isn’t a drill. This isn’t a test run. *Live your ethics with your actions.* Do you feel personally called out by this? How about you go do something about that.

A post shared by Vyana Novus (they/them) (@vyana.novus) on

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This post by Vyana Novus made me think, so I’ll share it here, and end with that thought.

Peace and Pollen x

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