Monday 19 November 2012


It occurs to me that my life is boring. I am very definitely discontent.

Part of it is that I am having a not-quite-optimal day; the secondary router dying (leaving my desktop without internet), the dishwasher needed to be re-run, those have contributed to a less-than-chirpy mood. It's bigger than that, though.

I have no big goals at the moment. There's my bucket list, of course, but the vast majority of things on there are a very long way away.

Day-to-day my life involves domestic stuff. Keeping house. This isn't emotionally fufilling, nor is it interesting to talk about. Parts of it have specific interest - the various ways in which I try to cut our ongoing costs, for instance, or sometimes try out new recipes, but by and large it just holds no interest for me. Keeping the house kind of clean certainly isn't something I'm passionate about. While I'm fairly interested in reducing my environmental impact, and eating from local producers, and eating organic, once I've done what I can do, there's just not that much more to talk about.

Keeping my plants alive, whilst in a way kind of interesting, isn't really all that fascinating. I mean, I water them every so often. Other than that, I look at them. What else, really, is there to do? Glaring at them does not make them go faster (much as sometimes I wish it would).

Speaking of, something else has sprouted! It's the little one on the left. I think it's a nasturtium or sweet pea. I can't quite recall which I planted there. The one on the right is probably a cornflower. This is justifying my decision to only plant 2 seeds per variety, in case I had good germination success.

There's health and fitness stuff. The problem there is mostly that I find it hard to do things. And hard to recover. I find it difficult to willingly sign up for extra pain, when most days, I'm in pain anyway. Not to mention my tedious and irritating tendency to crash and burn after a few weeks, and end up worse than when I started. I'm currently addressing that, somewhat, by doing my daily records, and trying to correlate that to my daily activities. This should help me find my limits without breaking through them and suffering the consequences. In the meantime, though, it means that any significant level of fitness activity is right out.

There's knitting. When I have the energy/lack of back pain for it anyway. And when I do, I knit. Also, the nice postman gave me a present the other day. 800m/100g, hand dyed silk. Mmmmm. I'm going to enjoy turning that into something pretty, that's for sure. But I don't do enough of this kind of thing to really make much interest of.

Photography has a daunting backlog of photographs for me to go through at present. The more there is to do, the harder it seems, the less likely I am to do anything. Sound familiar? It's stupid, I know, but there it is.

Music is waiting on speakers for the listening of, and me getting my backside across London to get an adjustable thumbrest installed on my clarinet for the making of. Speakers arrive tomorrow, and well, I'll get the thumbrest done ... sometime. Probably.

Fashion, clothing, style, what-have-you, is waiting on a lot more energy. I am getting to grips with how I feel about myself, and really trying to find clothing that is accessible (in terms both of cost and of effort involved in wear and care). I had a colour stylist appointment the other day, and discovered that I am horribly difficult for a professional to pinpoint, in terms of an optimal colour palette. In the stylist's words, my personal style is dramatic and functional. A lot of this is news at 11, so to speak, but it's nice to hear my self vision confirmed by an outside observer. I would like to have a few fashion shoots done with various outfits and looks, but of course, that requires money, time, and energy. And I'd like to be somewhat slenderer before making a permanent record of what I look like. See above about energy, etc.

Still, on the weight loss front, I'm at least not failing too badly. My diet is (fairly) clean. I've gone up a little, but not much. I'm still hoping to see 72kgsish in January, and below 70kgs for my birthday. This occupies a fair amount of brain time, for me, but is one of those things which I can't help but feel probably isn't interesting to a wider audience.

It does occur to me that one of the reasons I am discontent and bored is that while some of the things I do are all very nice and well and good, they aren't productive. I don't produce, I don't get paid. A fairly core part of my self-value system, in this case, the part dealing with how I conduct my life, is how much and what I contribute to my family unit, and society at large. I don't even pay taxes. Of course, I am crazy lucky to be in this position and not worrying about where my next meal is coming from, and this is all very first world problems. Knowing I ought to be grateful for what I have does not, however, make me feel cheerful, so much as guilty for not being cheerful.

There is a possibility that if I was healthy, and if I didn't need to work in order to create and maintain a suitable level of buffer money, I would feel the same kind of discontent, were I not engaged in some form of volunteer work, or freelance research, or similar.

It is probably shallow of me that a fairly major way in which I judge myself is on my financial input. It also appears to be a fairly immutable aspect of my character. I'll note I don't judge anyone else this way; like many things, I have one rule for me, and another rule for everyone else. Having a disabling condition isn't good enough excuse for me, emotionally, although intellectually I realise this is kind of crazy. "Look at Stephen Hawking" says the emotions, while my brain retaliates with "... different problems, different person, and a whole hell of a lot smarter than me." No bets on which usually wins.

I guess the way to fix this is to get a damn job.

So I just applied for a work-from-home, freelance editing job. I'll be applying for a few more, I think. I can write, I can do the spelling and grammar thing, and whilst it probably won't be *much* money (and, oh god, I have to figure out taxes, VAT and all that), it's a lot better than sitting on my backside bewailing my fate. Positive action, etc. This kind of work seems to be something I can reasonably do; I have the experience (from both writing my own documentation and working as a writer at Red Hat), and writing is something I can do with reasonable competence on minimal energy. Full time, not so much, and in person, not so much; but as a from-home, flexible delivery schedule thing - that, definitely. So long as the other router doesn't break.

Wednesday 14 November 2012


I moan and wail all the time about sitting at home doing nothing.

Now, there's a lot of truth to that: I certainly don't spend 40hrs of week getting paid, nor do I actually really produce anything obviously tangible at the end of any given day, usually.

On the other hand, I've been using Workflowy to write a series of task lists. This list is the list that combines what I do, what needs to be done, and what I want to be doing. Without having a job, it comes to somewhere between 4 and 10 hours a day of stuff in the do daily section. Okay, some of what's on the list is pretty optional, and I certainly don't get all that done every day.

I do need to make a list which differentiates between what I am doing and what I want to be doing. Which is actually a task on that list.

The time estimates in there derive from how long it takes for me to do those tasks, by the way. I do time myself doing things fairly frequently. It's a bit weird, but I've been doing it since I was a child, and it's fairly firmly ingrained.

One of the things that Steve of Nerd Fitness talks about with managing to establish habits is reducing the willpower needed to perform the habit. My internalisation of this concept has a lot to do with my experience doing automated testing and with having my nose rubbed in the barriers to doing anything at all on any given day.

My daily tasks are a lot of overhead to try and automate. To be honest, I'm not sure how to automate most of it, short of having a minder. I outsource the majority of the house cleaning by getting a house cleaner to come in once a week for two hours. Several of the daily tasks are there because doing something small once a day is easier than doing something huge once a week. Partially because I'll remember to do it if it's habitual, and partially because small things require small amounts of energy.

Little things help with this. I leave tabs in firefox open so that I don't have to remember to finalise my grocery orders, check my inbox, write a new blog post, check facebook, or where the clarinet repair place is. This does result in a lot of tabs open at any given time, but on the other hand, if I close all those tabs, it takes me a lot of energy to find and reopen them. The usual result of that is me not writing here, not reading my email, not doing my groceries until the last minute (which screws things up because then I usually don't get a good delivery slot), not interacting with people on facebook, and just losing the long running tasks.

Somehow, I also do the other things, the things that need to be done weekly or monthly or at longer intervals. Well, some of them.

And I have a growing backlog of one-off things to do.

There was a time in my life where I did most of the listed activities, had a full time job, and an active social life. That was around 5 years ago. A lot of what I do, or think about, is trying to get me back into a state where that kind of thing is possible for me again.

A lot of the rest is the mundane maintain the status quo activities. Personally, I don't find them inspiring, which is probably easy to see from the word choices I make when talking or writing about them. Being a housewife has never struck me as an emotionally fulfilling or satisfactory lifestyle for me. Being a systems administrator falls into the same emotional band. Nothing against sysadmins or house spouses, but I'm a progress bar kind of girl.

On the other hand, without routine, I very quickly come apart at the seams. A set daily, weekly, monthly routine frees up a lot of effort that would otherwise be spent on decision making. Or at least transfers to to times where it's manageable to set up, review, and debug.

The problem with routine is that when things change, they don't. Not by themselves. They're brittle under change. For me, it usually takes some weeks at least to settle after a change, or after an event which causes routine to be broken for more than a few days. Enough flexibility to cope with this kind of thing and it's usually not firm enough for in to be useful on a day to day basis. Or I just don't have the skills to design resilient routines that suit me and my life. Of course, when the proverbial hits the fan, what usually happens to me is out-of-control sleep - so I'm either unconscious or a zombie, barely capable of basic self care, much less anything else. Especially not if I'm emotionally exhausted, and I don't have the spare willpower to force myself to do things.

Part of my coping strategy is the quite large number of tasks on my list; doing these tasks helps minimise the collateral impact that occurs when my routine stops happening, and gives me slack time in which to recover. This helps in minimising anxiety during recovery, but does impose a burden of anxiety at other times.

Another aspect is what I like to call 'proactive laziness'. That essentially means doing a tiny extra thing now so I have less to do later. Things like having all the recipes I use regularly printed out and kept in a display folder in the kitchen, so I don't spend half an hour or so wandering around the internet going 'I know I had the link somewhere...', which is a waste of my time and effort. I'll note I've been pretty slack with this lately, which is my first thing to tackle in this challenge cycle.

I really wish I had a program I could fill out with my various tasklists, put in a few parameters, which would serve me up a nice page where I could tick things off, postpone things, etc etc. Remember the Milk is the least worst of this kind of thing that I've found. Its reminders, however, were simultaneously too irritating and too easy to ignore. I might give it another go again. Setup is a bit of a pain in the ass. I'll give it another go again anyway.

With such aids to memory, the difficult thing I find is figuring out what to put in, and what to leave out. Do I really need a reminder to empty, restack, and run the dishwasher? Probably not. Do I need a reminder with an irritating noise to tell me to shower? Probably, yes. Do I need an absolutely-impossible-to-ignore reminder to tell me to take my pills, but only when I'm awake? Definitely.

It's the conditional nature of things that's almost impossible to automate. I don't know, in advance, what kind of day I'm going to have tomorrow; whether it'll be one of those days where I'll take my meds, feel reasonably positive, get out of the house, and do things, or whether it'll be one of those days where I'll drag myself out of bed, to the couch, and desperately try to maintain some sort of grip on consciousness. Or if I'll be awake, but spend the day in one long frustrated scream inside my skull, because this isn't how I wanted my life to be.

At this point, I don't know what causes the ultra low energy days (except when it's obvious, like Monday when I was really ill). I'm working on finding patterns by filling out my daily symptoms, and keeping my activity logs so I have at least some correlation to what's happening in my life, and where my energy limits actually are. Once I have this information, I hope to be able to work exercise into my life again, and smooth out my energy level swings a bit. That, and manage my other energy sinks better.

This has turned into a bit of a ramble, but eh. It's my blog. So there.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Feats IV - taking it easy

So yesterday was a washout, so to speak. And a mess, so to speak. That is the first time in my adult life I've had a 24hr stomach flu, and hopefully the last. My todo list definitely went undone.

My plants are growing! Overnight one sprung. Now if only I could remember which one it was. I'll give the others a little while to see if they also spring, and plant more seeds if they don't. Also I really have to do something about the gerbras and poppies .... soon. Maybe tomorrow.

Today I did stuff like tidy the house, read my email, water my plants, and not eat very much. For some reason, I just don't feel like it today. I gave some thought to cooking the meatloaf I'd planned for yesterday, but with the dearly beloved at some work thing, and not feeling like eating anyhow, I decided to not bother.

I watered my orchid, which involved filling the container it sits in with water, a few drops of orchid fertilizer, letting the orchid sit in it for about 15min, then taking the orchid out and dumping the water. Apparently this is how to water orchids, or so the internet tells me.

I thinned the poppies somewhat - I'll do the rests of it tomorrow, when I have decent light, and possibly also plant them out into my as yet unoccupied pot. Along with some thyme.

What else? I read The Last Continent, and started on Carpe Jugulum. I did a set of pushups, using the kitchen table because I can't do proper ones. I did some stretches to help my spine.

So, things happened. Other things didn't happen. Tomorrow, there may be cooking. And possibly repotting of seedlings.

Time for an early night.

Proactive Laziness: War is Peace - week 1.

My first goal for this six week cycle is this:

WAR IS PEACE: Challenge my war on myself - Find and change one negative thought cycle or behaviour a week.

I've noticed, of late, I've let my proactive laziness slip. Little habits that make my life so much easier over the next 24hrs that I've stopped doing. These are a few of the little habits I'd like to re-establish:

  • Running the dishwasher before I go to bed, instead of first thing in the morning
  • Unstacking the dishwasher first thing in the morning
  • Taking a small, out of place object with me when moving between rooms
  • Filling my water bottle straight away when it is empty
  • Think about tomorrow's dinner and take meat out of the freezer the night before, instead of being stressed out at 3pm
  • Printing out and filing new recipes so that when I want to use them again, they're right there, instead of being lost in my browser history
  • Writing a meal plan on the weekend when I finalise my groceries so I have some idea what to do for the previous goal

That's a lot of things to suddenly start doing. So I'll try to do at least one of these, every day.

Edited for extended explanation:

I realise upon rereading that this appears to be entirely developing new habits rather than challenging bad ones. It was clearer in my head. Anyway, I'm challenging my habit of 'I'll just do it later', also known as laziness, by changing my laziness to a positive version.

Or possibly challenging the degradation of good habits.

This is a learning experience. I'm sure I'll have a good format etc sorted out by week 6. 

The whys and wherefores of the development of the degradation of said habits ... that's something I have to think about. And possibly write about.  Stay tuned.

Monday 12 November 2012

Feats III - weekend edition.

Saturday, November 10th:
Bad sleep last night. Drippy nose, shoulder and neck pain. Woke up with eyes and face more swollen than yesterday.
Had morning dose, and an antihistamine.
Organised to have dinner with my father in law.
Had breakfast at Love Walk Cafe with the dearly beloved, at about 1pm.
Emptied drip cup under sink.
Put away clothing that had migrated to the living room.
Cuddled on the couch with the dearly beloved for half an hour.
Had afternoon dose.
Looked up a few recipes for the coming week, to make sure I had everything I need in my groceries, cupboard, and fridge.
Made a note to myself to actually print out the recipes that I use, so that I can use them again without scratching my head going 'I wonder where I got that from'. This is one of those proactive laziness things I need to start doing more of.
Stacked and ran dishwasher.
Finished Pyramids, started Reaper Man.
Caught up to 7th October on twitter. Yes, I have a backlog.
Had a nice dinner at a posh place with my dearly beloved and father in law. Omnomnom.

Sunday, November 11th:
Cooked a rocking lamb roast dinner.
Tidied up afterwards.
Started being violently ill around 1am.

Monday, November 12th.
Continued being violently ill.

Friday 9 November 2012

Inversions: Challenge cycle Nov to Dec

New cycle, new challenge points. 4 goals, six weeks, but this time, some inspiration from George Orwell. 
Six Week Challenge The Fourth: Nov 12th to Dec 
Goal 1: WAR IS PEACE: Challenge my war on myself - Find and change one negative thought cycle or behaviour a week
I've developed some negative patterns. Not caring for myself, eating things that I know will bite me back, avoiding new experiences, that kind of thing. I don't necessarily expect any changes to stick; but awareness of habitual thoughts and actions is the first step.   
Goal 2: IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH: Challenge my ignorance - Complete monitoring every day
I've started using Patients Like Me to gather information about what's actually going on inside my head and body. This involves at-least-daily quick updates of overall mood, and recording what each of my major symptoms is doing. I may talk more indepth about this at another time. I will also attempt to keep a daily log of what I do, and publish it here on my blog. I may or may not publish my recorded charts of symptoms at the end of the period.
Goal 3: FREEDOM IS SLAVERY: Challenge Immobility, Inflexibility, and Atrophy - do my physio exercises daily
Well, that one's obvious. Although, if I manage to do other physical things, I get bonus points here.
Goal 4: DOUBLETHINK: Challenge my mind - Research and write at least one article on my blog a week about something I've learnt
Again, this is pretty obvious. I'm going to say it has to be at least 400 words, although I will allow new recipes, tea reviews, book reviews, introspection, and similar. 

Goals are subject to review and update if I find they are not working, or similar. 

This goalset is somewhat less physical than the previous ones I've set, rather more meta and very introspective. I will still attempt to maintain and increase my physical activity, but my focus is very sharply on what's causing me to not be doing said physical activity.  As always, my greatest enemy is myself.

Feats II.

November 9th:
  • Didn't sleep because of owwie neck and shoulder. Sigh.
  • Had AM dose.
  • Was told I was appreciated for all the stuff I make happen around here. That made me happy. I sometimes feel the magic house fairy is invisible.
  • Started thinking about and writing down my life/fitness goals for the next six week cycle.
  • Worked on my ToDo list
  • Started my bucket list
  • Wrote more about tasks and management or lack thereof of same.
  • Tried to call mum and dad on skype.
  • Spent time on Facebook.
  • Cleaned up my inbox a bit.
  • Did my veg box order for next week.
  • Had painkillers.
  • Reported a website error to my veg box company.
  • Filled in a survey for Ocado, in hopes of winning 100 quid grocery money.
  • Found inspiration for my six week goal cycle. 
  • Wrote more, nearly fell asleep sitting up.
  • Ate food, had a cup of tea, and read Animal Farm.
  • Told Ocado that their automail was spamming me about a non existent delivery. Got an autoresponder email back. Nice.
  • Browsed Ikea's website for lighting to put near my plants.
  • Got sidetracked into looking up lightbulbs on This would be more useful if I knew what kind of lightbulbs were in the sockets in my house.
  • Tried to reach a lightbulb.
  • Started my Ocado shop for next week.
  • Wrote meal plan for up to next Tuesday. Well, some of it.
  • Re-investigated slowcookers, and definitely decided on the Cusinart PSC650U. 
  • Bought the slowcooker, it should arrive Monday. Before midday.
  • Looked at about a billion slowcooker recipes.
  • Took my laundry in.
  • Emptied out the drip catch cup for the third time today.
  • Randomly found a recipe for Vegan butter for baking.
  • And then I found a recipe for Gluten Free Brioche. No prizes for guessing what I want to experiment with at some point. 
  • Wrote up my goals properly. Ish, anyway.
  • Had some dinner.
  • Had a hot bath.
Today was one of those days where I feel like I did bugger all and just moped at my desk and was generally a bit of a washout. It's a pretty active kind of bugger all now that I'm looking at it, though.

Feats I.

The achievement posts I was doing earlier this year worked for propping up my self esteem and making me a) feel like I was doing something and b) giving me the wherewithal to do more things.

Numbering restart, change of title, etc.

The photo is a vintage car I saw on my walk to the nursery. 

8th Nov:
  • Woke up around 8am.
  • Filled in my status update on Patients Like Me.
  • Had AM dose.
  • Showered, including using my new Biotherm skincare stuff.
  • Did laundry.
  • Talked to Mum on Skype for a while. 
  • Hung out laundry.
  • Wrote a generic update on how I've been going over the last few months.
  • Signed up to become a "Friend of Normand Park". It's a park nearby, with allotments. I'm thinking about getting an allotment next year.
  • Checked and emptied undersink dripcatching cup. Cleaned up mess, replaced with larger cup, since apparently 350ml is too small for 24hrs worth of drip.
  • Had PM dose. 
  • Had food.
  • Went to World's End Nurseries, got 20L bag of compost, carried it home. Ow. 
  • Had a bottle of coke on the walk there, because I was feeling tired.
  • Got started on my overall tasklist, using Workflowy. I'll write a post about my tasklist at some point.
  • Changed next week's physio appointment time because something came up for my physio. Bonus: it now no longer conflicts with my style/colour assessment appointment. 
  • Drank about 2L of water or so. And 2 very large mugs of yerba mate tea. I'm testing to see if inadequate hydration has been a contributing factor to my ongoing fatigue and uncertain sleep. 
  • Packed up a bunch of stuff to give away at a clothes swap - mostly shoes, socks, and some businesswear that needs a new home.
  • Started writing post about my tasklist. Meta, wot.
  • At said clothes swap, accidentally came home with a full length coat, 2 skirts, and a handbag.
  • SAW PEOPLE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A MONTH. Hi, goths. Howzit goin'?
  • Got home at 2am. Did not leave stuff in cab.  
  • Emptied the not-quite-full leak-catching cup underneath the sink. That's about 500mL of drip in about 8hrs. Worrying. It has definitely got worse in the last week or two.
  • Made oven chips for a early-morning-before-bed snack. 
Misc thoughts:

I really enjoyed seeing people tonight. I wish I could see people more often, form deeper relationships, etc. I miss that kind of thing. Immensely. But no one lives out this way, and no one knows me well enough to want to make the effort of coming out this way (fair enough, really).  I miss being part of an ongoing social conversation. I miss being noteworthy. Honestly, I doubt anyone around here missed me in my six week absence. I'm simply not embedded enough on anyone's radar for that to be noticeable. Not surprising, really, given that I'm simply not around most of the time. I'm pretty sure such a thing would be ... well, challenging, to say the least.

At any rate, it's about the time of day (4am) where I should do the sleeping thing. 'night all.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Generic Update Post

I've been disappeared for about the last ... oh, two or three months.

The Olympics happened. I went to the Women's Epee, and I have photographs, which I will publish ... at some point. Once I get a better grip on the whole RAW thing.

I missed going to the Paralympics dressage because I was unable to wake up on the day. I was angry as hell about that.

I've been cooking roasts a lot lately. And tuna bake. And also making stock, which the at-home version is soooo much better than the storebought. And cheaper, even when I buy bones.

I haven't been doing much, or really any, photography. I just ... haven't had the will for it. I'm hoping to change that, starting with photographing my plants ... well, probably not daily, in all honesty, but at least sometimes. Maybe if I get really tricksy, I'll do a stop motion. Once I figure out how. And setup. And that kind of thing.

I've been trying to figure out how to continue my wine studies. I can't really swing the 2000 GBP and 18 days twice a year - which is what I'd need to attend the required residency schools. I can't swing the 8000 GBP (and I'm not sure about the hour or so travel every day) to complete the degree here, either. The Master of Wine requires I already have the degree and industry experience, so that's right out.

.... actually, my woes there will end up being a post in themselves. I'll do that later. Suffice to say, I am frustrated and angry and depressed over the whole thing.

Said frustration has transferred itself to doing any study at all. So I haven't been doing that, either. 

Fitness? I laugh at it. I was doing okay in September, but that came crashing to a halt. I need to re-establish a regular routine, but as always, logistics get in the way.

General health? Well, I haven't had a cold or gotten sick. I have had severe issues with sleeping - the anxiety over study, general existential angst, etc, has been giving me a bit of insomnia. And I was off my medication for a week because I was too exhausted and tired and sleepy to go down the road to get more.

So what have I actually been doing? Playing world of warcraft, reading a lot. Also, researching the wine thing takes a lot of time. Doing chores. There's another post in here about how I'm not doing anything coherent because I don't have anything to aim at, but again, I'll leave that set of angst for later.

What am I planning on doing? Making plants stay alive, figuring out if it is at all possible for me to continue study, getting less unfit, reducing my ongoing overheads task list. Which I need to write and braindump.

So, how have you been?

Wednesday 7 November 2012

The survival of the ... tallest?

Today, I was hit with the realisation that I need to kill about 90% of the current plants I have (mostly poppies, because there are many many successfully germinated seeds).

It's a process known as 'thinning'. The pouches are waaaay too small to support more than one mature plant, so I have to pick one seedling to live, and take out the rest.

Of course, I could just plant the rest out ... if I had somewhere to plant them out to. I do have a shiny new pot, but even though it's super duper with four subpots for separate plants, I have managed to successfully germinate many many more. And besides, I want herbs in that pot so they're all together. Oh, and I have no potting mix for the pot. Yet.

Blah. If I'd known, I'd have planted many fewer seeds. I am going to write to the company that makes these cute little pouches and suggest some changes to the instructions.

It has occurred to me that for someone who spent significant portions of their childhood in the garden, I'm abysmally ignorant about plants. Although, to be fair, indoor pots in London are a rather different matter from a backyard in Brisbane. The yearly cultivation of nasturtiums, for instance, involved collecting the seeds, pulling up the old plants, forking the soil over a lot, sprinkling seeds hither and yon, covering with dirt, and watering. Instead of about 2 square metres of as far down as Dad cared to dig, I have about 2 metres of 14cm wide windowsill, the middle third of which is directly over a radiator. That's ignoring differences in humidity, temperature, and light levels, which I never really was told about in so many words anyhow, mostly I think because Mum and Dad knew what worked without learning from a book or by scientific experiment.

So; I know a lot about how to grow potatoes,  pumpkins, beetroot, bananas, tomatoes, strawberries, nasturtium, alyssum, watermelons, and bottlebrush trees. In a backyard in Queensland during non drought times. Oh, and a maidenhair fern in my bedroom.

Growing herbs in a pot on a balcony is something I've failed at a few times, generally due to not watering them for a couple months. That kills most plants when there's no rain, I think. And extra heat from reflected sunlight. I've also never grown from seed in a pot before; I've always repotted already established plants. As part of my wine degree, I've studied botany as far as vines are concerned, but when dealing with living things, book learning and the real world are often quite divergent. Knowing a bit about viticulture hasn't really helped me with my current learning experience.

The effort will be worth it, I think. Having green and flowers around cheers me up a lot. Leafy things help with air quality too, which in London is a bit of an issue. Sometimes, if I've spent a day out of the house, I get black when I blow my nose. Without going near industrial areas, or fires, or any such thing. It's disturbing, to say the least. And my skin tends to flake off because it's really dry up this end of the house (we have a mould problem up the other end).

Currently, the things I need to know are:

Which plants like what kind of dirt?
Where do I get that dirt of the non-stinky-suitable-for-indoors type?
Where do I get advice for doing this kind of thing? In person, that is.


Some hours later, I've replanted the Sunflowers - one in the original pouch, one in the failed basil pouch, and one in a new box I got today. The two shortest seedlings got tossed. I'm going to be slightly surprised if all the replants survive even though I was as gentle as I could be. I'd left it too long so the roots were entangled, and I had to handle them pretty extensively to separate the seedlings. On the bright side, this probably means I can save some more of the gerbras (there's 11). The new box has also been planted with seeds of nasturtium, cornflower, and sweat pea - two of each. There are spare seeds, which in my mind, is a much better situation than spare seedlings. I also spent some quality time with my thyme, picking out the dead bits, and discovered (or perhaps just noticed?) that it, too, is in fact a collection of seedlings, of which there are now somewhat fewer, as I pulled out the dead and really struggling ones.

I got down to the Fulham Palace Garden Centre, and purchased plant food, both of the make herbs happy and the make orchids happy variety. The orchid stuff I'll start using soon, the general herb stuff not until things have settled in a bit more - don't want to burn the seedlings by giving them more than they can handle. Unfortunately none of the staff on could tell me much about indoor growing, but they gave me some generic advice. I did get a nice 3hr wander around my neighbourhood, and saw some interesting things, so it definitely wasn't a wasted trip.

Oh, and ego boosting - apparently germinating from seed is difficult and chancy and requires skill, and ending up with far too many seedlings is not the usual case.

It is possible that I'll get out again tomorrow if I find another garden centre, and maybe I'll even come home with a bag of potting mix. If I do, I'll replant the thyme into the new pot - some of it, anyway. Or I might come home with more plants. It all depends. Mostly on my whims. But it's my windowsill and I'll turn it into a garden if I want to.

... Incidentally, I've worked out that I can probably grow about 36 plants total in the space I have. I don't think I'm going to go quite that far, though. Not this week, anyway.

At any rate, it's off to bed with me, to dream of green things.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

In which I try to develop a green thumb

It's been a while. Stuff happened, and didn't.

Winter's coming on here, quite quickly. Amongst other things, this means that there are giant drifts of leaves everywhere to jump in, and dead looking trees.

Last winter, one of the things that contributed to me feeling quite lowly was the lack of greenery in my life. London is excessively urban in that way - I have to walk about 10min to get to some grass, for instance. So, to combat this issue, I'm growing my own green.

My window sill has lots of stuff on it. Currently, Thyme (which usually lives in the kitchen but needs a bit of sun once in a while), Sunflowers (no flowers yet), Poppies, and Gerbras.  It's fun watching them grow, and also fun trying to figure out when and if to water them. I also tried to grow basil, but ... well, I'm trying again soon. Possibly with more success. And in the meantime, I have spare soil to grow other seeds in!

sunflowers growing in pouch but not flowering yet poppies germinating in pouch gerbras germinating in pouch

The flowers came with instructions, in those handy dandy pouch thingies that are their current homes. It's so exciting watching the successful seeds germinate, and actually seeing the plants change day to day. It's less exciting cleaning up dropped petals. I'm currently agonising over thinning out the sprouting gerbras, poppies, and baby sunflowers - I want all the flowers! But they do look a bit crowded in there.

The pouches look a little silly, and I strongly suspect they're going to be unstable when the plants get bigger. The pouches don't drain, and poking around germinating root systems is generally a bad idea, so I'm doing a lot of guessing with the watering. I strongly suspect that overwatering is why my basil seeds didn't germinate. That's a new one for me - generally I've killed plants by not watering them. I was trying to follow the "DO NOT OVER WATER" warning on the label, obviously without success.

The thyme came in a pot, and it's also currently living in a measuring jug, that being the handiest container nearby when I wanted a drip tray and crude self watering system. It timeshares (see what I did there?) with another plant in the kitchen that is stubbornly refusing to reflower. Time for pots and potting mix, definitely. And drip trays.

 Also, the dearly beloved brought home something beautiful for me:

Gorgeous, innit? It very helpfully came with no instructions or identification at all. However, some time on the internet has told me it is probably a Phalaenopsis aka Moth orchid. Some more time on the internet has told me I should water and fertilize it once a week or thereabouts, keep it on my desk (with jaunts behind my PC to get a breeze now and again), and mostly ignore it except to admire it and take photographs. I might need to get a better pot than a repurposed plastic box, though.

It's good to have fresh herbs always there - and at 1p extra to buy a pot instead of some cut herbs, pretty economical after about a week. In Brisbane I had to keep something alive rather longer to break even, if I recall correctly - especially since given climatic conditions, I had to repot the thing straight away. And water daily because of said climate so keeping them alive was a real struggle. Which was fun when there were water restrictions.

I'm hoping to grow some rosemary, mint, coriander and sage (as well as the basil, again). I have a powerade bottle that makes a pretty good indoor watering tin, currently resident on my desk with filtered water in it (so it's at the same temperature as the plants, the water from the tap is icy and filled with chlorine and dissolved solids). I may have to acquire some fertilizer for both the herbs and the orchid. And another powerade bottle for distribution of fertilizer. I'm hoping to get out of the house tomorrow and go for a brisk walk to the nearest nursery to acquire the required substances.

I sincerely hope they all survive when I next go on a long trip, but maybe my landlady will be okay with plantsitting them. I'll have to ask the next time I see her.

So, here's to my new hobby of keeping plants alive.