Hello and welcome to The Compost Bin. I'm Compostwoman and I live with my family in rural Herefordshire. We have nearly four acres of garden and woodland, all managed organically, which we share with Chickens, Cats, Guinea Pigs and assorted wildlife. We also grow a lot of our own food, run courses in all sorts of things and make a lot of compost!

I work as an environmental educator, writer and Forest School leader at Moors Wood and I also volunteer as a Master Composter and hens@home mentor with Garden Organic. We try to live a more self sufficient lifestyle here, as best we can, while still having a comfortable life and lots of fun.

To learn more about us click on the About Compostwoman tab and remember to click on the photos to make them full size!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Musings on my life and on losing 7 stone in weight

Warning, this is a long post :)

I used to be "not fat". In 1985, when we got married, I was really quite slim :) 

and although I put on some weight over the years, even in 1995 I was still  "a little bit plump" rather than morbidly obese.

 I was fit and healthy, very active with a full time and demanding job, a house and garden ( not Compost Mansions but a smaller house and garden in Worcester) and Compostman and I spent weekends from March to October out competing in Speed Hillclimbs and Sprints in our racing car. We were pretty good at it as well :) Weekday evenings were spent fettling the car for the next event, or digging the garden and yes! there was composting involved even then :)

But, as some of you may know, a few years  after we moved to Compost Mansions in 1997 I became  very ill as a result of an adverse  reaction to an antibiotic, while being treated for an infected gallbladder.  Overnight in Feb 2001 I developed an auto immune, rheumatoid condition called Erythema Nodosum, along with various other unpleasant ailments. Although I took all the medication on offer I struggled to even walk or grip a mug or wash myself, felt terrible all the time and expended what little energy I did have, to make sure Compostgirl (a baby and then small child at this time)  did not suffer because I was unwell. 

Despite being so unwell I still did all sorts of stuff with her, looked after her as a SAHM, we went out to parties and play sessions and had friends round  and I was very good at struggling on and putting on a "brave face" to everyone bar a few close friends and Compostman. And then, after Compostgirl had gone to bed, I would collapse. I was advised by the medics to rest as much as possible but realistically, how can a parent with a young child, AND a house, AND animals and any kind of work, (we lived here so there was always work to be done outside) manage to "rest" ? I used to ask the medics that, but I could never get an answer!  

We had no living parents or siblings or other relatives to help us - so it was just my wonderful Compostman who shouldered most of the extra work, along with a couple of good and lovely friends ( you know who you are :) and I love you  forever for helping us in our years of need) To be truthful I don't like to remember how awful that period was, as apart from having Compostgirl, life was pretty grim.

Anyway, I spent several years on many different medications, and in and out of hospital, being seen by all sorts of different specialists and having many, some very unpleasant, tests. The most alarming was when I had a scan which required me to become radioactive beforehand - I swallowed the drink with the isotope in, and THEN I was told to go off into Hereford for a couple of hours while it was absorbed, but "not to sit close to anyone" and also "not to cuddle my baby or breast feed her for 24 hours " because I was radioactive !!! 

I was not impressed with this.

To cut a long story short, I was very ill and very incapacitated for several years and on top of everything else was also additionally diagnosed with CFS.

June 2006

By 2006, by dint of applying holistic therapies, an organic diet, pacing myself and conserving my energy whenever I could (and dropping the medication in favour of herbal and aromatherapy pain remedies - it worked for me but check with your GP first!), I had recovered enough to get back to a small amount of work (as opposed to the unpaid work I do, and did then,  here, day in day out!)  so I volunteered as a Master Composter, then became self employed - first teaching Organic Gardening and running Eco clubs in schools,then in 2008 I trained as a Forest School leader and finally in 2010  trained as an Adult Lecturer. You can read about all this elsewhere on this blog :)

I still felt exhausted a lot of the time and I would be flattened by any bugs "doing the rounds" but on the whole I had a bit more of a normal life.  At least until the evening, which was when I would collapse.


April 2008

I was VERY active both at work and on our smallholding and I continued to eat apparently very healthily and also lead a healthy lifestyle -   but still was gaining weight. Eating less and doing more did not work for me.

March 2010

By mid 2013 I was feeling worse and worse again, brain fog, joint aches, bloating after meals, passing wind, itchy eyes, itch skin and all sorts of niggling ailments which were "nothing in particular" but which made my life miserable. It was a struggle to keep working. I just wanted to sleep all the time. I also would be overcome with the desire to eat endless slices of wholemeal toast and Marmite, even after a couple of slices for breakfast  - I would crave more all day. I did not often have any more, but it was there in my mind. I also craved sandwiches and pasta and potatoes. 

July 2013

Oct 2013

As the months went by I got fatter and more bloated, despite (as far as I could see) not eating any more food than before. My weight and mood would fluctuate quite a bit and I was SO tired, all the time. I assumed this was the extra weight I was lugging around as well as  "just" the CFS affecting me.

Feb 2014

The first half of 2014 was horrible for me - I was getting fatter and more unwell but couldn't seem to lose any weight however much I tried ( and oh how I tried) . 

The turning point finally came when I was rushed into hospital on 28 June 2014 due to an infected Blandford Fly bite. My arm had turned sceptic and my blood pressure had rocketed to more than 220/135 – that’s stroke and heart attack range! 
I was admitted and spent a few days on an iv antibiotic drip, which helped the septicaemia. I was also put on medication to try to get the very high BP figure down. In addition I got a friendly but very serious talk from a consultant about how much my weight was affecting my health - all stuff I knew but had chosen to go "la la" and cover my ears about.

This time, I listened. I was in a lot of pain, very ill and very frightened. I was in an acute admissions ward, surrounded by some seriously unwell people, I had to listen to a crash team working for many hours on the lady next door.  Listening to people die around you tends to concentrate the mind a lot on mortality - I knew I had to do something to change the way things were with me,  or I would be dead soon. So this time I vowed TO DO SOMETHING about the mess I was in.

After discharge from hospital I spent another two weeks recovering at home, on lots of medication and mostly in bed, with lots of time, and serious reason, to have a good hard think about my life and the way I was treating myself.
The BP medication was making me feel even worse and I did not want to take it forever, which is what I was being told I would have to do. 

I had a copy of  Zoe Harcombe's book " Stop counting calories and start losing weight" by my bed - I had read it the previous year and found it interesting but gave up on Day 3 of Phase 1 of  The Harcombe Diet as I felt so dreadful. This time, I read it properly and suddenly it all clicked into place. This time I was motivated to do The Harcombe Diet properly. It was summer, I had unlimited organic salad growing in the garden and poly tunnel so I had no excuse. 

But mainly I was frankly terrified that if I did not do something about how fat I had become, I might not be around those I loved much longer. My mother sadly had a stroke, the first of many, when I was only 11 and she spent the rest of her life (another 15 years) in hospitals, paralysed and in a wheelchair, unable to speak and with brain damage.

The thought of putting my family through what I had gone through as a child, growing up without my mum, finally spurred me into action to improve my own health.
I did not want to die of a stroke or heart attack!

I had not had any alcohol since the day I was admitted to hospital and did not start drinking again so that helped. My diet was 'apparently' very good - lots of wholemeal home made bread and wholemeal pasta, organic meat, dairy and veg (lots of the veg home grown) but looking back my food was very heavily carb laden, especially wheat (even though it was organic and wholemeal!) I had lots of symptoms of Candida/Food Intolerance which I thought were just the CFS, and although I did not eat many sweet things my savoury choices were still carb laden and I also mixed fats and carbs all the time.

I think my food choices were feeding the Candida, to be honest.

So after two weeks of convalescence, where I did not eat as much (was sort of doing THD Phase 2 ) or drink any alcohol I got on my scales - and I had lost 16 lbs !!! Ok I thought, this is good but I knew I needed to lose a lot more weight to get my health back on track. And I had been very ill so had not had much appetite etc.

So, I decided to do things properly. I signed up for The Harcombe Diet 30 Day Blitz package that day and got started on Phase 1 properly on 12 July 2014.

I felt dreadful for the first five days without caffeine and I could have killed for toast, butter and Marmite (my food of choice) but I figured as I still felt dreadful anyway, due to recovering from illness, I would just keep on and stick to what the book said. And then...I started to feel livelier, more clear headed, less sluggish and my sleep was deep and refreshing. Each day, I felt a little better.

29 July 2014
In the first month I lost 27 lbs

Sept 2014
between July and Sept I lost 4 Stone.

Oct 2014

Since then I have slowly re-introduced various foodstuffs, one at a time. As a result I have identified that I have a real issue with wheat, as even organic, wholemeal bread seems to make me bloated with achy joints and pain in my stomach. I have more recently found that dairy products also disagree with me so have now cut out milk and cheese. Fortunately I still seem OK with butter!

Unfortunately drinking even small amounts of beer upsets me (shame!) However, drinking my home-made organic cider does not. So that’s my new “cheating” tipple of choice!

My former diet was “apparently” very good - lots of wholemeal home-made bread and wholemeal pasta, organic meat, dairy and home-grown veg. However, looking back, my food was very heavily carbohydrate laden, with lots of wheat based foods. What I now know is that my food choices were feeding the Candida lurking inside me and my wheat intolerance made it all even worse,  hence a lot of the bloating.

Oct 2014

Xmas Day 2014

Seven months in, and I can honestly say that I have not felt this good for more than a decade. I feel SO much better! I sleep well and wake up raring to go and keep active all day. I bounce around full of energy, and my BP is now within the bounds of normal so I am off the medication.

24 Jan 2015

I look in the mirror and I am so pleased with how healthy I look. I’ve lost seven stone and dropped four dress sizes since I started this way of eating. I can finally wear clothes that I stashed away years ago!

I recently put on my ’bum bag’, with the waist-strap set from the last time I wore it, back in mid-June 2014. I had to adjust it in by 12 inches!

My family are delighted and very relieved at how much weight I have lost and how much healthier I am. Friends have commented on how good I look, how clear my skin is and how bright my eyes are. My nails are no longer flaky and chewed looking, but long and strong. I have even started varnishing them for the first time in 10 years!

Yes, I have a lot more weight to lose but I know that if I just carry on doing what I have been doing, I will get there eventually. There is loads of online support from The Harcombe Diet Club Forum and I have made some good friends on it. I also have the joy of being able to buy "normal" clothes and underwear from mainstream stores. Sounds trivial I know, but it made my life miserable not being able to just pick up a pack of knickers or a tee shirt from a High St shop!

I am now more than 2/3 of the way to the weight I want to be. I am happier, healthier and fitter than I have been for 15 years - since before I first got ill back in 2001!  I am "on target" to get back to where I was 15 years ago - and I know I can do it by sticking to The Harcombe Diet way of eating.

I have a private blog detailing my weight  reduction journey so if you would like to join, please email me.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Liliac Hen update

Still inside the house at night in her basket by the woodburner but outside during the day ( if it is warm enough)  and finally feeding herself from the ground. Also enjoying a cwtch with me as many times a day as she can manage :)

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Busy day with a trip to Hereford.

Up early today and got cracking with chores, then went into Hereford  with a very long shopping list. I need a new wind and waterproof coat as my old one leaks and is now hanging off me. So I had a look around the various outdoor clothing shops and found one I liked, which was in the Sales with a substantial discount on it, so I bought it. 

 I had a wander around the Cathedral for a bit, I love Hereford Cathedral

And I also had a wander around the streets surrounding the Cathedral - this is the High Street looking away from the Cathedral precinct.

I then got on with more shopping, all things I needed but I did look at a few "wants" while I was there :)

Home, to do a bit outside while there was still light and then do the normal evening chores. Bed early as I was very tired after my long day out :)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

In praise of the futility room :)

Now the porch is nice and clean and has dried out I can get started filling it up with seeds and plants and stuff :)

I am going to re pot all these geraniums as they are looking a bit sad. A bit of worm compost in the bottom of the pot and they will feel much better :)

It is too cold today to pot things up in the polytunnel so I have moved into the porch to work. Here is a christmas basket with two cyclamen waiting to be potted  into seperate pots and given some tlc.

I also washed more gravel trays and seed modules in the futility* room - normally I do this work in the polytunnel but it is just too cold out there for me to work without my fingers seizing up. So I have come inside to do this job. Thank goodness we have a futility* room with a sink in!

It feels so good to be doing some gardening again :) 

(It's a utility room, really. But I prefer to call it this as trying to keep it tidy is a futile task ;)  )

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A cleaning up day, with many uses for a bowl of bleach :)

I don't often use bleach ( not very environmentally friendly and not good in our septic tank in large quantities) so when I do have to make up a solution of it I tend to use it for as many different jobs as I possibly can.

Today I had some fabric for a craft project which needed lightening, so I made up a washing up bowl full of bleach and water. I left the cloths to soak for a bit until they were the shade I wanted.

I then used the bleach water to soak some tea discoloured tea towels, wash cloths and flannels before putting them in the wash.

As you may recall I use our double glazed porch as a greenhouse to start off plants for the polytunnel. I start sowing seeds on 2nd Feb ( Imbolc, or Candlemas if you are Christian) so I need to make sure the porch is nice and clean before I start.  This is my seed sowing area for early stuff and I need it to be absolutely spotless with no lingering mould spores, before I set up the heated propagators in there and get cracking on 2015 tomato, pepper, cucumber etc seed sowings.

So I then used the bowl of bleachy water to wash down the windows, window sills and walls in the porch. I then wiped the walls and windows clean with a cloth and clean water (important, otherwise the bleach dries and turns to salt on the walls, which will then provide a focus for damp to be absorbed - not good for walls!)

Compostman is going to re paint the removable bench, which lives in the porch during seed propagating season, so it is nice and clean looking and has a sealed surface. That way it won't get spoiled by water drips.

The porch looks a bit of a mess at the moment but at least it is nice and clean now :)

I then used the bleachy water to give all four of the heated propagators (bases and lids) a good clean and I also gave outer ceramic pots (used to hold house plants) and the old plant labels a good soak to make sure they, too are clean before use.

After that the water no longer smelt of bleach :) So I used it to clean the downstairs toilet then flushed it away

I also scrubbed a number of water holding trays clean with hot soapy water and lavender essential oil. That helped to hide the smell of bleach in the house a little!

Tomorrow I will have to put the porch back together again but for now it is drying and I feel pleased :)