A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the tag “gardening”

From Back to Front

Potential frustration: the sun was actually shining but I’ve been struggling with a real lack of energy reserves lately. A tandem ride would knock me out too much. So, what to do?

The sun kept tantalising me by stretching its rays over the patio outside the back door. It was the first time this year the sun had been high enough in the sky to reach this far. I couldn’t ignore this moment!

So I stole outside with my little gardening bag containing all my tools and began digging about in the earth. I did a little planting and some leaf collecting and, as I did so, caught the smell of the soil as it was churned up fresh in my hands, and listened to the birds, twittering loudly but largely invisibly from the hedge.

It did me the world of good.


a daffodil peeks out into the sun

Later, a friend popped by and we had a good old catch-up. It was great. However, afterwards, I could not stop thoughts from whizzing about my head (nothing untoward, just non-stop). They seemed to be ricocheting around like balls in a pinball machine. It was starting to undo my lovely day.

I looked outside and the sky was still uncharacteristically blue. I went and sat on the front step and breathed. I listened to more birds chatting and heard the distant sound of aeroplanes. The odd person walked by, enjoying the day.

Then, feeling slightly daring, I closed my eyes. I began to concentrate more thoroughly on my breath. I started doing some yogic breathing, filling my belly, then breathing up into my chest and lifting my shoulders. Slowly, I reversed the movement, and continued. Gradually, I could feel my mind clearing, fewer thoughts were circulating. When I opened my eyes again, I felt stilled.

The feeling stayed all evening:  a sense of calm and of my body and mind having been completely refreshed. And I’d only travelled from my back door to my front door all day!


I’ve come to a decision: to not go to archery any more. Well, to not think about whether I can fit going to archery into my weekend any more. I haven’t actually been able to go for a while now, and it’s not always been because of the weather!

I’ve found that if I do go, that tends to be my activity for the weekend and, if I’m planning to go on a Sunday, then I have to remember not to be over-active on the Saturday. For example, probably not going on a day out, and definitely not going on a tandem ride. It’s just taken up too much thought and there are other things I’d like to have time to do.

enjoying the garden

enjoying the garden

I really enjoy being in the garden and it is at least as tiring as archery (I mean, provides as much exercise!), gives me just as much fresh air, and I’ve usually got something to show for it afterwards too – even if it is just a pile of weeds!

As you know, we’ve been on birdwatching expeditions too recently … and I really want to get back on the tandem. I don’t know where the time has gone!

I’ve really enjoyed doing the archery and particularly meeting new people. I really didn’t expect my trip to the Paralympics taster day two years ago to lead this far! From having a go at archery that day, I decided to take a local course. I had no expectation of taking it any further but the people were so friendly that I thought why not join for a year and see how it goes … and it went really well!

successful weeding!

successful weeding!

I didn’t ever become very accomplished but I enjoyed myself and got outside on winter days where I didn’t really expect to leave the house. And I actually enjoyed the biting cold! (For a while!)

It has also reminded me that I can keep on trying new things … though for now the garden beckons!


Back to Basics

I’ve felt as though I’ve been indoors more than I wanted to be recently. I’ve had a dragging fatigue which hasn’t helped. However, I’d had enough and decided to take myself in hand!

spring sunshine

spring sunshine

The sun was shining; I grabbed a book, pulled on a coat and plonked myself on the front step. I remembered how easy it was to get some fresh air – and no exercise required either!

I started to think about the garden, and to consider what pottering I could do without too much exertion. So I’ve pruned my roses. I’ve swept a few leaves. And I’ve acquired a garden sheep.

garden sheep

garden sheep

I’ve also had coffee with a friend, entirely outside! It must be spring! I came home feeling very ‘outdoorsed’ – and, again, no exercise involved and a very pleasant hour spent!

The flowers are beginning to emerge now, too, which always lifts my mood, and the garden is aflutter with busy birds. I will definitely be sitting outside with a book and mug of tea whenever I get the chance!

emerging primroses

emerging primroses

Step by Step

garden steps

garden steps

Our garden is completely wrong for someone with MS – it is full of steps. Some days I look at those steps and know that they are a climb too far.

The situation hasn’t been helped by the garden growing increasingly wild over the last two years as neither Pete nor I have been able to manage it. Then it started to feel like a really big task, so it became even more unattractive. However, this summer we’ve been at home more than usual and the weather’s been pretty kind, so we’ve been tempted to tackle the undergrowth.

I found myself tending the steps. It was partly a necessity: unless I could clear them I couldn’t climb them. They are made from railway sleepers with grass between them, and there’s a hedge to the side of the main flight. The sleepers were covered in moss, the grass was overgrown and you had to fight the hedge to walk past it.

my first success

my first success

I sat down on the sleepers and began to attack the growth. It was very soothing. As I worked, I could hear birds singing in the hedge, and could smell the earth as I pulled up the weeds. Though I’d brought gardening gloves, I discarded them in order to enjoy the feel of the dirt between my fingers.

Once one step was cleared I could climb to the next and repeat the process. Sometimes I was watched by our curious rabbit, not sure about someone encroaching on her territory.

Time passed without me noticing. That first day, I found that I’d been outside all afternoon and it felt wonderful! I’d had oodles of fresh air and had been doing something useful and satisfying. When I looked up at the steps I was amazed at the difference – the steps were actually visible once more, and it was lovely to see the railway sleepers, fixed with much effort by Pete, back in all their glory.

I was now hooked. I headed up the steps when time and energy permitted, cutting and scraping away at the layers of growth, getting gradually higher. Around me, Pete fought back pernicious brambles, so that shrubs that I’d planted several years ago, reappeared suddenly as mature plants that looked like they belonged there.

being watched

being watched

Being fully involved in the uncovering of our garden has given me extra energy. I’ve not thought about not being able to climb the steps. I’ve just done it because the desire to be in the garden has been strong enough to get me up there.

I struggle severely getting down the steps again – I have to take care not to fall. Clearly I am exerting myself, despite thinking that I’m just pottering with my hands. I do squat on my haunches and tug at stubborn clumps of grass, and I can feel my stomach muscles working as I use the secateurs. It must all add up. That my legs are complaining and I collapse exhausted on to the settee show that I’m doing some exercise.

a step too far ... for next year

a step too far … for next year

I’ve also noticed something else – when I have a break from yoga over the summer or at Christmas my body usually stiffens and aches so that I’m forced to do some exercises at home. However, this summer that didn’t happen. Maybe steps aren’t so bad for someone with MS!

Getting My Hands Dirty

Last night, I lay on the settee, utterly exhausted, my legs lying useless in front of me. However, I felt totally content: I had spent the weekend gardening. Obviously, I hadn’t been ‘gardening’ to the extent that most people mean by the term but it had sure jiggered me probably more than it does most people – and I’ll bet I got at least as much pleasure out of it!

I love geraniums!

I love geraniums!

This summer, Pete and I have been around more than usual for one reason or another and we have turned our eye to the garden, or the jungle that it had rather become. We were lucky to have more time at the same time that there has been less rain (unlike two years ago when it never stopped) and Pete’s Knee wasn’t playing up (unlike much of last summer).

more geraniums

more geraniums

So, armed with new tools, we have been able to fight back the brambles, grass and next-door’s ever-encroaching hedge, and parts of the garden that I’ve not seen for three summers have now reappeared! It’s been marvellous, and we’ve even had sun to enjoy it with.

I content myself with smaller amounts of clipping but have many bramble scratches to attest to my efforts! I’ve also been eyeing up a space close to the back door that has now appeared thanks to Pete’s major attack on a particularly virulent section of hedge.

This weekend I had the chance to go to the garden centre with a friend and I went armed with a list and plans for the new corner! It was lovely to be able to buy some plants again and work out what would work where. (I have learnt through trial and much error over the years but am very much still learning!) Once home, I set out my wares on the garden table.

my purchases

my purchases

Then I sat for a while in the lovely shade, deciding whether I could brave the sun and do some digging. Eventually, I broke cover and managed to dig one hole and plant one plant before retreating, beaten by the heat. I did manage to find a home for the owl I’d not been able to resist though!

garden owl

garden owl

On day two, I was in the garden before the sun and made the most of the actually rather fresh and breezy (and rather pleasant) day, and got all the other plants bedded in before allowing myself to take any notice of my body’s loud complaints. When I did sit down on the garden chair I couldn’t move from it for a considerable time. It didn’t matter though, as I had no desire to do so: I had a cup of tea in my hand and was in a good position to appreciate the extra splashes of colour that had appeared.

Verbena and Diascia




Later, having shuffled inside to the settee, I watched the conclusion of the Tour de France. Since all those riders had made the effort to cycle round Yorkshire, I thought I’d make the effort to watch them on the television as they continued their Tour in France. It was crazy to keep on thinking, after one week, after two weeks, after three weeks, that these were the same riders who had cycled down our local roads – and were still cycling in the same race! Madmen! It was good to see Vincenzo Nibali on the winner’s rostrum, having first won the yellow jersey at the end of the day on which we saw him (I use the word ‘saw’ very loosely!).

As a bonus, when I woke up this morning I discovered that it had rained in the night so I reckon I don’t need to water my new lovelies today … possibly! Which is fortunate as my legs are still refusing to play ball. Now that’s not allowed – I’m much less keen on another day of immobility! I’ll just have to take another cup of tea outside and remind myself that it will be worth it: this will pass and the flowers will stay.



Promise of Spring

I’ve felt like Sleeping Beauty recently – well, at least the Sleeping part! I have slept and rested, and rested and slept. Time has passed. Brambles have not surrounded my home; instead, during the time that I’ve taken to my bed, the rain has ceased its pounding of the windows and the sun has begun to smile on my world.

I’ve taken my first tentative steps back outside. This has mainly consisted of sitting on the doorstep, but I have also gingerly stepped over the threshold of work. I am beginning to feel part of the world again.

Another reason for looking forward with optimism came as a result of a recent phone call, which awoke me from my slumbers and cheered me hugely. It came from the founder of a charity, EMpowered people (http://www.empoweredpeople.co.uk/), which aims to inspire adults with disabilities to take up cycling. A browse of the website is recommended, especially the videos! The charity promotes the use of suitable bikes, including power assisted and otherwise adapted bikes, as appropriate for each particular rider. So, something very much after my own heart.

 It just so happens that the charity’s founder, Simon, lives only a few miles from me and he also happens to have MS. We have previously met up, when he explained what the charity was about and told me of various events that the charity arranged throughout the year. One such upcoming event is a two-day cycle ride around the Isle of Anglesey. I had demurred from this, thinking that my being able to cycle a mere five to twelve miles made it beyond my capabilities.2-Bee-or-not-2-bee-23

It turns out that this is not the case. The ride is organised in such a way that I can dip in and out of the cycling, depending on how my body is feeling. The event is fully supported and there will be riders with a variety of disabilities involved. The phone call was to clarify any potential problems, and for me to be reassured and then confirm that Pete and I would go for it! So, we now have a trip to Wales in May to look forward to – and an added reason for me to be careful to pace myself to ensure that I’m fit enough to be able to go!

So the tandem continues to take us into the unknown! In the meantime, the crocuses have awoken too. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In Retreat

My body has been speaking out; basically the message has been “Stop!”

I tried the gentle approach: reigning in my already pared back life – cancelling my, oh so hectic, social engagements; resting for ever longer periods; focussing on fewer things at work.

It’s not been enough, So I’ve listened, and I’ve been signed off work. It’s a great relief. I can lie in bed for as many hours as I want … which is quite a lot.

Happily for me, storms have been raging outside. It saves me the effort of personal raging – not that I’ve got the energy.

I’m trying to let it flow over me. Relax. It will pass. That’s what I’m telling myself …

Meanwhile, the spring bulbs are not retreating.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When the Wind Blows

Fresh air has been in short supply recently. This has been caused by a combination of exhaustion, rain, a recurrence of Pete’s Knee and more rain.

The tandem is sitting forlornly under its covering and the archery field is probably a quagmire (I admit, I’ve not been able to get near it in the last couple of weeks). The nearest I get to nature is peering anxiously over my imperceptibly growing spring bulbs.

hopeful signs of spring

hopeful signs of spring

So, any dose of fresh air has consisted of the few yards from house to car on the way to work or, more acceptably, to meet up with a friend in a cafe. Mind you, today those few yards were quite exciting enough! The gusts of wind and slaps of rain were definitely refreshing!

At least the wild weather has coincided with a bout of enforced rest. Not that you really care when you’re too tired to move; when the walk to the kitchen to make a cup of tea is a walk too far and the top of the stairs feels like the top of a mountain.

The trickier bit I find, though, is when you’re starting to feel that little bit better, and you start being tempted to do some mild activity. My downfall was to think that baking some buns was a good idea. It wasn’t. Back to bed!

the hibernating tandem

the hibernating tandem

So I am watching the rain batter the windows whilst sitting safely behind them, and listening to the wind howl round the house whilst pulling my cosy cardigan round me and huddling up close to the fire. I do not wish to be walking on the moors, no not at all.

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