Mothers Make It Work: We’re Owl in it Together (Part 1)

When I was born, the Aged Ps had been married for a few years, and my dad worked very long hours and was often sent out of the country for weeks at a time. So, when I was very small, my mum’s biggest challenge was to manage the household by herself and care for a small (and loud) child at the same time.

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The Aged P with Debs G (4 months old): Mealtime is playtime

In order to keep the house clean and tidy, mum would make the best of baby morning and afternoon naptimes to mop the floors, wipe down the surfaces and do the laundry. She felt that it was most important to keep the floor and beds clean and tidy, as these were the places that would be most in contact with the baby.

As I grew older and more mobile, she bought a soft rug for me to play on, and trained me to stay on that rug during playtime so that she could complete her daily chores without worrying if I would be up to mischief.

If my dad was travelling, she would make sure that we were home every evening at the same time, as my dad would ring the house at 6pm without fail to talk to us. This was a very important daily ritual for the whole family, and even now, when my dad travels for work or if mum travels to visit my sister, they will FaceTime or Skype with each other at least once a day.

I will always appreciate the lengths that my mum went through to make sure that I acknowledged and remembered my dad, and understood where he was. She would bring out his photograph and point to it. She would point to the map and teach me to say the names of the places where he was working. She would make up songs about how much we loved each other. So, although he wasn’t physically present, I knew how important he was and our relationship was never diluted.

Although mum really loves to cook, going to the market daily with an infant in tow was pretty tiring for her, so she would only purchase enough to make breakfast and dinner every day. Additionally, as a child, I would always be full of beans in the morning, so she wouldn’t really be able to take the time out to prepare her own lunch if she wanted to spend that time meaningfully with me.

So, for lunch, mum first tried a local ‘tingkat’ or food delivery service, but soon tired of the repetitive menu. In the end, she made an agreement with one of our neighbours who had a large family and would set aside a portion of food for her. (Although the neighbour would often reserve the worst parts of whatever she happened to be cooking for my mum to eat – bony pieces like the chicken neck and the ends of vegetables – it at least saved her the trouble of meal planning and cooking!)

Mum often volunteered as the church organist and she sang in the church choir, so she would bring me along with her to attend rehearsals during the week. As an infant, I slept quietly in my moses basket during these times, and as I grew, I learned to sing along with her.

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Breakfast before play school (Debs G at 2 years old)

The year that I turned 2 years old, one of mum’s friends persuaded her to send me to playschool.

Although she felt that I was too tiny for schooling, it was around this time that my elderly maternal grandfather started to require regular medical checkups. As the only daughter who didn’t hold a paying full-time job, it was left to her to accompany my maternal grandfather to his various appointments. Sending me to playschool would allow her a few hours in the morning with which to manage this.

However, one day, the medical appointment ran overly long and she was late in picking me up from playschool. By the time she arrived, she found to her utmost horror that all the teachers and the school principal had gone home, leaving me alone outside the darkened building with nobody but the school caretaker to watch over me.

You can imagine how traumatised we both were from that experience.

From that day onwards, as soon as we drove past the trees leading up the driveway to the playschool, mum said that I would start crying uncontrollably. She arranged to send me to a different school and I seemed perfectly happy with that – but she was much more careful to pick me up on time. This of course meant that she had to do much more shuttling back and forth if the medical appointments ran long, as she would pick me up from school and then drop me off at my maternal grandmother’s house, then return to the hospital to accompany my grandfather.

In Mobile, Alabama (Debs G at 3 years old): Before a ballet recital

Midway through my third year, my dad was posted to the US for further studies. He couldn’t bear to leave his family behind, so we all moved with him to a small town of Mobile in Alabama, which was near the university where my dad was studying sports medicine.

We were the only chinese family there in the Deep South of America.

It could have been dreadfully lonely, but my parents saw this as a great adventure.

The community in that small town was very welcoming, and they were very respectful of my parents, who were not only english-speaking, but polite and well-educated. It took my parents a while to understand the sleepy southern drawl but eventually they got used to it.

Instead of shyly keeping to herself, like most people would in a new environment, Mum made an concerted effort to be actively became involved in the community, bringing me to the local play school and dance studio and taking part in town events. She joined a quilting class and a cake decorating class in the mornings when I was at play school. Some afternoons, if my dad was at class, she would meet with the other housewives in the backyard of the rental complex where we lived. They would sit on the grass and chat whilst the kids played together.

She was always smiling and gracious to everyone. She would exchange recipes with her neighbours and very often, people would come round to our house carrying an empty bowl to enjoy some authentic chinese cooking or bring some delicious meals to share. At the first neighbourhood potluck party, all of our neighbours had never seen or eaten chinese food before, and the whole dish of stir-fried vegetables and fried beehoon noodles disappeared in a blink of an eye. Our neighbour was so impressed with the delicate pieces of thinly sliced meat amongst the crunchy julienned vegetables that he remarked that my mum “can take one piece of meat and feed an army”!

Until now, Mum still keeps in touch with her friends from Alabama – in fact our neighbour’s grandson has recently come to Singapore to work!

Of course, it was the constant travelling and their commitment to their elderly parents that probably made the Aged Ps decide put off having a second child until I was five years old and much more independent…but that’s a story for another post.

P.S. Happy Birthday Mummy!

This post is part of the ‘Mothers Make It Work!’ Blog Train hosted by Owls Well. To read other inspiring stories please click on the picture below.

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If you would like to travel to the previous stops on this Blog Train and read more interesting birth stories, you can start with this very thoughtfully written one here, penned by Angie over at Life’s Tiny Miracles.

18261241_120300003540885353_2103005318_o-768x512 Angie is the Mommy behind the Life’s Tiny Miracles blog. The journey to Motherhood has been a bittersweet experience for her. As a mom of 5 kids (3 in Heaven), Angie embraces every bit of this season: the tears, the insanity, the sacrifices and the joy that comes from knowing she’s loved as a wife, a friend, a daughter and a Mom. In her post, she talks about the importance of a strong and supportive community in a mother’s journey.

18518925_10155077378855202_1525611593_oAt next week’s stop we will be visiting Michelle over at Mummy Wee.

Michelle is a mum to 6 kids and now that she has packed her last child off to school, she has time to channel her energies to her 7th baby, an enrichment centre she feels passionately about. I for one am very excited to read about how she manages all her kids – from her preschooler to her teenaged daughters – whilst working full-time at The Little Executive!

Queen of Konmari Challenge Stage 3: Papers

Okay, I admit that I was really dreading this stage of the Konmari process, for the following reasons:

  1. I would have to open up and empty out all the cupboards and drawers in the study room.
  2. It just seemed like sorting through years of papers would just be interminable.

In actual fact, it was not as bad as I expected, although I did get very familiar feeling of self-loathing after the first hour of gathering all the papers in one place. This feeling very quickly dissipated once I shut the spare room door on the whole mountain of mess.

In all, it only took me a total of six tidying sessions (each an hour long) to finish this part of the Konmari challenge and it was all relatively painless.

I found clearing the papers very manageable for the following reasons:

  1. 30% of the papers I’d accumulated consisted of junk mail, warranties for items I no longer own, letters contained outdated information, magazines and research journals = all junk = could be recycled straightaway without any sort of emotional turmoil
  2. 50% of the papers consisted of sentimental items or craft/decorative items = different Konmari category and could be saved in cardboard boxes for later. Hooray for procrastination!

In actual fact, I only really needed to properly sort through about 20% of the mountain of papers that I accumulated!

Yay!

Following Konmari’s instructions to the letter (pun intended), I did make an effort to open up every single envelope, and unfold each slip of paper one by one, instead of just throwing things away as a stack.

I’m so glad that I did this because I found:

  1. My husband’s Kindle which he thought he lost at work years ago – it was tucked between the pages of an old medical journal which was sandwiched between some old revision notes.
  2. $60 in cash monies! Yay! Who doesn’t love finding money?! These were crumpled up notes and stuffed into random envelopes, and completely wrapped up in receipts.
  3. A Lip Smacker lip balm, still in pristine condition within it’s original packaging. Somehow it found itself inside an accordion file with a bunch of old household bills. I opened it up and it smelled so good. I am now using it every day so that I can smell exactly like a strawberry banana.

Of the 10% of papers that I had left, I kept the following:

  1. Personal documents for each family member (mostly certificates) – filed into separate pocket folders with one for each family member
  2. Family documents like bank account details, mortgage and leases, medical and insurance information and other legal documents – filed into one large pocket folder
  3. Deeds, warranties and manuals pertaining to our house and household appliances – filed into a single ring binder
  4. Bills and bank statements: only 2 years worth – filed into a single ring binder
  5. The Barn Owls Work Stuff – put into a cardboard box for him to sort through at his convenience
  6. Papers that need immediate attention – filed in clear plastic folder and kept on my desk
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Reduced several boxes of papers down to half a shelf of files.

As you can see from the picture above, all of the household papers are now neatly and clearly organised into files which only take up half of my shelf. Everything else was shredded and sent to the recycling bin – yes sir, yes sir, ten bags full!

P.S. Why am I doing this? Here’s why.

P.P.S. Check out the rest of the Queen of Konmari series here.

If you haven’t read the books already, you can get them here:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

Life Science in a Jar: Caterpillars

Whilst J was busy rearing mealworms, Little E asked me if she could also keep a pet. It just so happened that one of my old schoolmates is a primary school science teacher (henceforth referred to in this post as Mrs Great), and she had access to some caterpillars. She offered to give Little E a few of them and I was so excited to have another opportunity to study some more little creatures up close!

The very next day, Mrs Great rocked up with a clear tupperware that had four spiky black caterpillars, each about a centimetre long, happily nibbling away on spray of lime leaves. I don’t have a lime plant at home, so I was a little bit worried about having enough leaves for all the caterpillars – but Mrs Great assured me that there were probably enough leaves to last the caterpillars about two weeks.

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Some Very Hungry Caterpillars in different stages of maturity

The next day, about half the leaves were gone, and the little black caterpillars had doubled in size, developing streaks of bright green. There were also little dry balls of caterpillar poo rolling about the bottom of the tupperware, which I emptied out into a flower pot on my balcony. This wasn’t a particularly nasty job as everything smelled pleasantly of lime juice.

On the third day, one of the caterpillars had turned a bright green and was the size of my little finger. It was eating up the lime leaves at an alarming rate. I sent a text message to my friend Mrs Great, who was kind enough to drop by with a bunch of lime leaves, but I knew that at the rate the caterpillars were going, I would definitely need to find more lime leaves before the end of the week.

Sure enough, by the start of the fifth day, it was clear that I would need to find more lime leaves for the caterpillars or they would certainly starve.

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Running out of leaves!

Unfortunately, I went to three different supermarkets and three different wet markets and nobody had any lime leaves for sale! By this time, Little E was nearly in tears, upset that her caterpillars might starve to death.

However, as I was driving home, I passed by my local community garden. I stopped by, hoping against hope that I would find the leaves that I needed.

I didn’t think I’d be able to identify a lime plant without it’s signature green fruit, so I ran around taking pictures of various little plants and sending them to Mrs Great for identification. Fortunately, one of the pot plants had a tiny little green lime hanging on the one of the stems! Hooray! Community gardens save the day!

I plucked off a spray of leaves and triumphantly brought it to Little E who was waiting in the car for me.

The Aged P also went to talk to the security guard of her flat who keeps a variety of plants in his little guard outpost – and he so happened to have a lime kaffir plant that he was carefully cultivating. She managed to convince him to part with a few leaves which I kept in a cup of water to keep them fresh.

I was almost down to the last spray of lime kaffir leaves when we noticed that the caterpillars had stopped eating and were curling up on themselves, wiggling very slowly. One by one, they each moulted one last time, forming chrysalids that were securely fastened to the sides of the tupperware by silken threads.

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The Chrysalid and the Lime Butterfly

About a week later, the first butterfly emerged from it’s chrysalis! Little E was so excited, watching it pump it’s wings to fully inflate them and dry them out. We released it on our balcony and it rested there for a few hours before fluttering off.

As for the other three chrysalids, we noticed that all three had turned translucent one morning – we could see the black and white butterfly wings folded up beneath the surface of each chrysalis – so I told Little E to bring the tupperware to her kindergarten and share the magic of the butterfly with her classmates.

Sure enough the butterflies emerged from their chrysalids midway through her class time, much to the delight of everyone present. The teachers gently picked them up and released them into the school’s eco-garden, with Little E and all her classmates waving and yelling “Goodbye! Goodbye!”

Video Game Family Time: Overcooked

Sometimes, sitting down to play with your kids can also include playing video games together with them, especially if it’s a lazy rainy weekend afternoon!

Here at Owls Well, we don’t see video games as a way for kids to isolate themselves but as a way for families and siblings to bond with each other over a shared experience.

In this Video Game Family Time series, I’ll be talking about some video games that we like to play together as a family and some rules that we have to keep everyone playing together nicely.

Here’s another game that is a lot of fun for a rainy afternoon: Overcooked!

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Picture Source: Ghost Town Games

Overcooked is a hilariously chaotic co-operative game by the two person team over at indie game studio, Ghost Town Games. It’s a real fun game that is guaranteed to have the whole family either working together like a well oiled machine or (much more likely) rolling on the floor cackling with glee as everything goes berserk.

In this game, players control cute little chefs who have to work together fulfil as many customer orders as possible (by preparing ingredients, cooking, plating and serving), whilst dodging hazards and obstacles, all within a fixed time limit. Each level is roughly 3-5 minutes long, and it usually takes about 2-3 rounds before everyone figures out how to work together to beat the level, so it’s a good game to play if you’re trying to keep game time really short.

This game has both a co-operative mode for up to four players as well as a competitive multiplayer mode where you can divide up into two teams. The controls are very straightforward so it’s good for beginners who are still working on their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, and the graphics are crisp and cute.

 

Whilst playing, we’d often find ourselves shouting out orders and instructions to each other, laughing our heads off whilst our little chefs crash into each other, burn the soup or accidentally fall out of the kitchen! I love the way that the game emphasises the importance of close communication between players, encouraging us to work together as a family to improve efficiency in our virtual kitchen!

We also like to take turns to designate a ‘head chef’ for each round, who will assign jobs and call out the orders as they come through!

When we are playing together in Overcooked, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We are kind to each other – no intentionally sabotaging the game or being nasty with our words
  2. We are helpful – we are partners and work together towards a common goal
  3. We remember to maintain our sense of humour – this is a game that involves some yelling and giving orders, but that doesn’t mean we get angry or upset with each other!
  4. When Mummy and Daddy say that game time is over, everyone puts their controllers down immediately with no fuss or bargaining.

If there’s a video game that you think is great fun for families – share it with me in the comments!

Life Science in a Jar: Mealworms

J came home one day and asked for a disposable tupperware for school. His Science teacher wanted each child to bring home a mealworm to rear over the March school holidays.

I didn’t know anything about mealworms so whilst he was in school, I did a little bit of research and found out that they are quite easy to rear – all they need for food and bedding is dry oatmeal. They get enough water from their food, so it isn’t necessary to provide a water bowl, which acts more like a death trap for unsuspecting mealworms.

Of course, when J brought the mealworms home, both the mealworms were lying in a small puddle of water. It had been a hot day and J thought they might need a drink – all living things need water to survive, right?

WRONG.

Neither of the mealworms appeared to be moving, so I told J that he might have accidentally drowned both of them. Poor J was crestfallen.

“Poor innocent mealworms,” he moaned, peering at the motionless creatures, “They were so active before and now they’re just lying on their backs! They look so stiff.”

Just then, A Becky C happened to phone up for a chat. Well, I remembered all of a sudden that she used to rear mealworms in an old pencil case! Ah ha! Help has arrived!

“DEBS!!!! I have something important to tell you!” she chirped in my ear.

“NONONONO WAIT WAIT LISTEN LISTEN THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!” I shrieked back. “I THINK THE MEALWORMS HAVE DROWNED!”

A Becky C laughed at me, then said “Okay calm down. If they aren’t swimming around in water, they might still be okay. Just dry them off with a tissue. Mealworms are very stupid. Sometimes they get so stressed that they think that they’re dead, but they aren’t. The only way to tell that they are actually dead is if they start to curl up and decompose. Then you’ll know that they’re dead.”

So J dried the mealworms off with a tissue and sure enough, after a few minutes, one of the mealworms started to twitch it’s legs ever so slightly. Then it seemed to wake up and start crawling around again. The other mealworm just lay quietly but every so often it would twitch and shudder, as if remembering it’s watery ordeal.

I transferred the mealworms into a dry container with a nice layer of dried oatmeal, and both the mealworms immediately buried themselves in the meal.

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Three stages of the mealworm’s lifecycle

By the next day, one of the mealworms was fully revived and was running laps around the perimeter of the container. The other worm was very lethargic. It moved so little that we were convinced that it was dead.

Turns out, the blessed creature was busy pupating – it eventually shed its skin and turned into greyish-white pupa. A week or so later, the pupa split open and a white beetle crawled out, which turned brown, then black.

J and Little E took turns feeding the mealworm and darkling beetle. Occasionally, if they were eating a piece of fruit, they’d drop a small piece in as a treat to the beetles.

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Keeping an eye on things

Of course, Thumper was most fascinated by the little creatures and would check on them many times an hour. I had to teach him to stop picking up the container and shaking it around, which would send both the mealworm and darkling beetle into spasms. Eventually, he learned to grip the edge of the table instead and just bring his head down to the table surface to peek at the insects. I’m so glad that he’s learned how to respect small creatures!

Both of J’s mealworms have completed their life cycles and are now darkling beetles, and J is hoping that they will start breeding soon. (Also, Little E is complaining that she doesn’t have a pet. So let’s see what we can do about that.)

Queen of Konmari Challenge: Stage 2 – Books

Well, I thought that sorting out the books would be a piece of cake, but it turns out I was so, so wrong. Putting my books through the Konmari wringer was very difficult for me, basically because it was just so labour-intensive!

I started off by walking around the house, just picking up every single stray book and putting them on the spare room bed. This took me about half an hour, and as you can see from the picture below, I hadn’t even emptied my book shelves before the bed was completely covered in books.

Once I started emptying my bookshelves, that’s when I started feeling nauseous and lightheaded. My thoughts were all over the place. How could I possible get rid of any of these precious books?! It was unthinkable! What am I doing? WHY am I doing this? THESE ARE BOOKS!! Also, why have I put random bits of paper and all sorts of rubbish around my books?

I was almost going to stop, but I decided to press on. I broke out into a cold sweat and started retching whilst trying to get all the books out of the cupboard and into stacks as quickly as possible. I also managed to gather together a bag of garbage, mostly half written notes, receipts or grocery lists, even junk mail that had somehow found their way into the pages of my books.

It took me a whole hour to get all my books together.

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On left: All the books from around the house. On Right: All the books.

After I emptied my bookshelves, I had so many books stacked on the floor and on the bed, that I had essentially blocked off my exit from the spare bedroom! Additionally, the books on the bed weren’t staying in neat stacks but had started to slide all over the place, and I risked knocking the whole lot onto the floor.

This is probably why Konmari advises one to lay everything out on the floor. It’s much easier to step around piles on the floor to get things that are out of arms’ reach, and if anything starts to tip over, at least it won’t fall too far! I shall keep this in mind once I reach the part where I have to handle breakables.

Fortunately, the spare room is connected to the children’s room by a balcony, so I had the kids let me in through their balcony (you can see how this could have gone VERY wrong, huh?).

I shut the spare room door and told the kids not to enter, then I went to get a drink of water and sit down for a few minutes to calm down. Then, I threw away the bag of rubbish that I accumulated. That was where I decided to stop for the day, because I knew I didn’t have the emotional strength in me to start sorting through the books as well.

The next morning, I was feeling slightly better, so I started out by going through the children’s books first. I slowly took out books that I never really liked, completed books that the kids would be unlikely to read again, or books that were repeats (surprisingly we had many of these). I kept all the books that I loved and that I loved to read to the kids, or books that I loved to see the children reading on their own.

Then, I went back and looked through the stack of children’s books that I didn’t like, and removed all of the ones that I knew that the children loved.

Then I sorted the ‘keepers’ into piles using my Volcano Method. This is when I pile stuff of the same category together until they form a chain of volcanos. Eventually, things start to flow down the sides to form new islands of interrelated topics. You can see in the picture below, the neat stacks of book volcanoes on the far left.

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Sorting the books using the Volcano Method

At the end of the second hour-long tidying session, I had a tall stack of children’s books that I (and the children – I let them eyeball the books first) had decided not to keep but could be donated or given away (you can see them in the pictures above), some random textbooks that could probably be given away, and a bunch of books that needed to be returned to my friends! I also kept finding random brochures and magazines which totalled TWELVE plastic bags! I threw all of those into the recycling bin.

I spent the third session just putting all the children’s books back into the cupboards. By this time, the cupboards had been well aired out, and I’d also replaced the dehumidifiers to keep the books from getting musty.

I organised the books by reading level, and I’d also tried to arrange them vaguely by height, putting the taller books to the right of the cupboard. I put books that I wanted the kids to read at their eye level – that is, picture books right at the bottom for 1 year old Thumper, early readers and easy chapter books for 5 year old Little E on the bottom and middle shelves, advanced books on the top shelf for 8 year old J.

The next two sessions were spent sorting through and organising our collection of novels and reference books. I took all the books that I wasn’t terribly interested in and showed them to the Barn Owl, and he decided which ones he still wanted to keep. I got rid of all our outdated textbooks and manuals. I listed all the novels that we didn’t want (and weren’t worth keeping for the kids) to be given away on a freecycling website – and someone picked them up at the end of the week.

I put all our books back into the cupboards, making sure that our favourite books were at eye-level, and putting darker coloured books or book series towards the left, lighter coloured books towards the right.

Here’s what our shelves looks like now:

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Tidy and organised!

I have to find some props to hold the books up so that they don’t fall over, but the best thing about all this is that I’ve now got some space for more lovely books! YAY!

I’m really glad that I kept the books that were the kid’s favourites, even if they weren’t my favourites. They were so happy to see their beloved books displayed neatly on the shelves, it was totally worth it.

P.S. Why am I doing this? Here’s why.

P.P.S. Check out the rest of the Queen of Konmari series here.

If you haven’t read the books already, you can get them here:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

The Good Life: Field of Dreams

Summer’s finally over!  It’s time for the Autumn harvest!

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Behold!  My glorious field of two radishes!

As you can clearly see, the harvest has not exactly been bountiful this Autumn. The field you’re looking at was planted with onions, carrots, beetroots, leeks, daikons, radishes and an entire row of parsnips.

Unfortunately, the harvest failed.

There were several reasons for the failure, of course. Early in the season, the Boobook thought to help me out with the weeding and managed to weed out the baby leeks before I managed to stop him. We’ve also been having issues with the neighbour’s cat digging up some of the seeds when it comes to hang out in our garden.

But the biggest reason for major crop failure was the weather.

It has been hot in Australia, and I mean severely, extremely hot. The hottest it’s been since 1896, even. It was so hot that the remainder of seeds and sprouts basically fried in the earth before they got big enough to thrive. The only plants remaining are the two radishes you see in the picture.

The reason for the survival of the radishes is simple. They were the only plants in the garden be in the shade for the majority of the day.

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Happy little radishes.  Diagram courtesy of The Boobook

So there you have it. It’s slim pickings this Autumn, I’m afraid, but there’s no reason to fret. The backyard vegetable gardener has to be prepared for disappointment.

After all, perseverance and trial and error is how one gets a good garden.

Check out the rest of The Good Life Challenge series here.