Monday, December 6, 2010

Reality bites.

It snowed again today - 7 hours without stopping.  Scotland is at a standstill.  No doubt, as I type this, some poor folks will still be sitting in the motorway jams they have been in since 11 am this morning.
We have had no post, no deliveries, no buses for over a week. Nothing is moving, all is quiet.

 While I have enjoyed this short hiatus from the hurly burly, ten days of snow is beginning to impact on our lives a bit. We are not prepared for Winters like this, and it has made me stop and reflect on just what our real needs are, and what we can learn from this experience. Food, warmth and waterproof clothing are the main necessities.  Thankfully, we have good outdoor Winter wear, although it is becoming a drag having to get all kitted up in the boots, trousers, anorak, hat, gloves and find a spade, even just to empty the bins!  Recycling and composting are much more difficult when we have to dig our way to the bins. Ah well.

Apart from fresh milk, I have not needed to buy any food since before the storm.  Our store cupboard and tiny freezer have provided us with warm and nutritious meals, and one of the hens is still laying.  We make bread or scones, soups, stews and grain dishes. Who knows, I may even need to open that packet of organic amaranth that has lived on the dry goods shelf for a couple of years.  Our fresh veg is running  low.  Plenty onions and roots, but the green stuff is buried under deep deep snow.  Yesterday, craving some fresh kale, I ventured down to the veg plot. I waded through snow up to the top of my thighs, ducked below a telephone cable that had come down in the garden and headed for where I hoped was the kale patch.  I forgot the spade !!! I dug down, down, down with my bare hands and found a frozen stalk of kale.  Scrabbling around and pulling frantically, I collected enough for dinner, and headed back up to plunge my freezing hands under the hot tap.

 How to address this in the future?  next year we will be living and growing on the croft.  it may - no, it will, take a year or so to really get established, but our plan is to be as self sufficient in fruit and veg as we possibly can. Our biggest problem has always been the storage of produce.  We are pretty good at growing, but harvesting and storing has not been our forte.Now we have out buildings and a barn, which we will restore, but they are not  close to the house, so not very' permaculture', as my husband says.  I have always been taken with the idea of root cellars, so you can imagine my delight when we uncovered the remains of an old byre, in the garden, a few feet away from  the croft house (see above)  It is pretty tumble down and overgrown, but much of the structure is still there, not to mention the old flagstone floor.  Our neighbour has an old stone building right next to our fence, and he has said we can use the stone from that to build up the walls.  My vision is for a low, longish but narrow structure, full of fresh and preserved produce.  Crocks of fermented, dried and pickled veg will line the shelves, and roots and greens will be stored at floor level.  I see it very clearly.

 We are running out of coal and wood.  We are waiting on a delivery, but the transport chaos here means we could be waiting a long time.  Sitting by the fireside on these dark cold nights provides much more than physical warmth - it nourishes the soul.  When we have not been looking out of the window, marvelling at the dancing snowflakes, we have gazed deeply into the flickering caverns of the fire.
Fuel self-sufficiency is our first acheivable goal for next year. As crofters, we have been allocated our own peat bank. Peat was the crofters main source of fuel,but this practice died out years ago, as folk installed 'the oil' to heat their homes. Now, of course, there has been a bit of a revival with the high oil prices.  We will be heading out to the peats next spring, so no doubt there will be plenty of blog posts about that.  This impressive stack is sadly not ours, but one in the next village.  It is what we are aiming for.

And so, back to the here and now.  Meal planning is becoming more of a challenge, we wait until dusk to light the fire, and we have a leak in the conservatory.  It is not bad, but it is persistent, and we cannot see where it is coming from. It is where the conservatory roof joins on to the house wall, so we suspect it could be a loose piece of flashing, but the snow is deep on the roof and we can't trace it.  At least it is only the seasonal table that is out of action, so I am thankful for that.

It has, however, meant that Mother Mary has been flooded out and has had to move to temporary accommodation. Some things never change.  Still, she resolutely moves along that star path towards the light, as always, full of Grace.
Warm wishes to you all. xx


  1. Sending you love and your visions for the future. *hugs* Emma x

  2. Oh my, I am feeling deeply for you! Our snow has all but gone, and although its still minus 5 here, and icy, we do have the ability to get out and about. I do hope things improve soon weather wise, I would be lost in your situation. I am rubbish at providing long term sustenance!! Mostly the weeks food barely lasts that long. I also love to grow veg, but I tend to be a summer grower, winter veg has me somewhat baffled. I love the ideas you have for storing veg. It sounds perfect, it is making me think about spring and planning ahead. Sending lots of warm wishes to you, Liz

  3. Holy cow! That is a lot of snow!
    I like that you are working on a "plan". I'll be interested to read about peat bogs...

  4. I know winter is a time for inward times, but looks like it is thrust upon youi there, whether you like it or not. What better use of time to think of the plans for nest year, a root store sounds wonderful. Hope you get a thaw soon.

    Many warm wishes

  5. I have just 'found' your blog and have seen a world that I hardly knew existed - it never snows in this part of NZ where I live.
    I have enjoyed going back through your old posts and seeing your wonderful photos.

  6. Jacqui you make me ashamed of myself for feeling tired after two weeks of walking miles in the snowy city because there are no buses, or they are all full. At least food and heat are not a problem for us just now.
    That peat stack looks like a prize-winner! I know peats are a lot of hard work, but they will be worth it next winter. I wish I could send you some vegetables - but here in Aberdeen very little post has come through since last week. Mary's star path is lovely. Does she advance one star a day? Take good care.

  7. Persistent cold saps your energy and inspiration I think. This morning, all our pipes are frozen up again, so simple things like washing clothes and washing bodies is a trial and we too have a leak that has been worrying me for some time and we're not sure where the source is. It was -12 here last night, I imagine it's probably double that where you are. I have so many plans for this farm, I'm itching to build my compost bays, plant my edible hedging, clear the brambles so we can get to the orchard, but instead, all we seem to do is get through the day doing all we can to keep warm, thaw taps, stash water when the pipes eventually start running again etc etc. Thankfully, the roads here are clear, so food isn't a problem. My friend in Laggan usually puts a sheep or a deer in her freezer along with lots of milk for Winter as they regularly get cut off.

    You'll get there, at the moment, I feel like we're at the mercy of the elements. We moved out of our cosy Alison estate house, longing for fresh air and open spaces and each day is a steep learning curve and we learn different ways to keep home and body warm. Next year, we'll be more experienced and know what to expect.

    My Irish husband would recognise that peat pile!! He has fond memories of cosy pubs with sods of peat smouldering in the grate.

    Your blog is fascinating to read, not just as a factual account of harsh weather, but because of the warmth that comes from it, your observations and thoughts. xxxxxxxxxxxxx

  8. amazing!!

    you know, it really does give one the gift of perspective....and i'm viewing with a greater gratitude our warm house and our (fairly stocked) cupboards.

    thank you for this!


  9. Jaqui, now that is what we call a 'proper' winter. Sending big warming hugs to you xx

  10. I can not even imagine snow like this, I hope your are safe, warm and well and that soon the snow eases a

    Thank you Jacqui, for this wonderful insight into the daily challenges of life when trying to live of the land it opens my eyes to see the things I could not imagine.

  11. Well, nothing is sacred, and nothing in winter is necessarily as one would wish. Even here in the north Cotswolds, there have been 'winter' moments over the last 40 years. I have learned to read the weather, the Atlantic weather charts, to 'stay ahead of the flight' and buy in perishable stores (milk, butter, bread mixes, fruit, etc). Always have candles at the ready and in the winter when we had power cuts for days on end, kept warm by knitting a vast shawl by candlelight - as it grew it kept my feet warm. Living became a question of planning ahead, when the snow-drifts were above the height of road signs. Feeding the hens necessitated a trek though drifts and unthawing their water was not easy. I'll be thinking of you, and hope that your little one is thriving.

  12. P.S. So, hard as it is, take heart; cold is healthier than city heat, and what you have worked towards, and are experiencing now - even if unexpected - will be such a useful lesson for your little boy in surviving whatever nature throws at you.

  13. Sending you cloudless skies and cups of cheer. Stay safe and warm.

  14. hot cups of chocolate love and blankets of cuddles to keep you warm xxx

  15. I admire your resilience and fortitude. I've loved reading your posts and the comment about Our Blessed Mother is so true!

    Hope you manage to get hold of some extra supplies of food soon.

    Hugs and a prayer San x

  16. Jacqui,
    Thank you for sharing. Even in your hardship, your "voice" rings out with great strength and grace. Many blessings to you.

  17. We woke up to snow like this morning. It looks very similar to yours. We have the most frigid temperatures but honestly....I don't care. I love snow and to have it in December is a welcome gift. We crafted all day long. I'm sorry for your hardship and hope you get your roof leak mended soon.

  18. Oh, my! I've missed something somewhere! How did you get from 1/3 acre to the country? How did you manage to be convinced/convince others to do such a brave thing? We have gone from town to country, to town to country, to town to country ourselves, obviously many times. This last we are striving to homestead but in a state where yearly rainfall is only about 33". Instead of small dogs taking off chickens we have to be concerned with coyotes and hawks. Instead of heavy snows we deal with drought. It's all an adventure! I so enjoy reading your journey.


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