Todays reading is something very special to me. Since I started to follow Helen Redfern of A Bookish Baker on Instagram I was really curious about her life on the countryside, with a dog DogFace, a duck DuckFace, hens and the rest of her human family. So I tried my luck and asked her kindly for an interview, whether she would share her knowledge and bits of slow countryside life with us. And she said yes! I know you you will all get so much join and value from the chat we had so enjoy reading and if you don’t follow her yet, head over her magical Instagram!
For everyone who doesn’t know you, can you tell me a bit about yourself? Who are you, what do you do etc.? Where can people find you?
My name is Helen and I write online as A Bookish Baker. The bookish bit was to reflect the reading and writing side of me and the baker was because I baked a lot of cakes. Over the years, however, my interests have become wider (chickens, ducks, the seasons) but the name stuck.
Now I like to think I tell stories online through words, photographs and video.
You live on a beautiful countryside. What made you move out from the city and start a totally new life? Can you share with me your countryside story?
It wasn’t a deliberate decision. Our only priority was to move to a house with more space (our old house was on a modern English housing estate with a postage stamp garden) but just as the wand chose Harry, the house chose us. And we had far more space than we’d anticipated!
With the new house came land and we also inherited three ducks. Which led to us getting chickens, a dog, a cat, more ducks, more chickens, planting an orchard, planting more trees, experimenting with wildflowers, more chickens, more ducks…one thing just snowballed into another. My husband had to rein me in because otherwise we’d have alpacas, pigs and donkeys by now and I’d never get any writing done!
When we first moved here I felt everything was urgent. I needed to get chickens immediately, but didn’t know where to start. That thought stressed me out for weeks. Same with the tree-planting and the wildflowers. I hate wanting to do something but not knowing how to do it. Long story short I ended up burning out – which is ridiculous as, on paper, we have an idillic, ‘slow’ life.
So I had to learn to slow down. I had to stop rushing about from one job to another and just sit and watch the chickens and ducks for a while. And, once I started to do that, once I started to notice the seasons and changes in the weather, I started to recover. This then seeped into my writing, my Instagram and my blog.
Could you tell me more about the transition? It might be quit challenge for someone living in the big city to suddenly be in the middle of nowhere. What did you have to learn, what did you have to accept or leave behind? How are those two kinds of living, city vs country, different?
For me, and it might be different for others, the difference is how you approach living in the two different places. As I said in the last question – when we first moved here I was trying to live the ‘slow’ life at an incredibly fast pace. It just didn’t work. I really had to learn to slow down and accept I cannot work, look after my children, the house, the garden and field along with the animals with 100% perfection 100% of the time. Mother Nature is in control. There are weeds. Sometimes the grass is too long. Nettles grow very fast. You might get a sick animal. Or a plague of pests. You have to adapt. City life – rushing to catch the tube, grabbing a quick breakfast on your way to work, meeting after meeting – it’s a city and office-working mindset. That mindset does not work in the countryside.
I missed my friends in the beginning. Most of the time I’m happy with my own company but sometimes you need to see people for the good of your own mental health. It’s more of a mission to arrange to meet friends now but when I do I never regret it.
Do you think the country side life is for everyone?
If you live here you have to be prepared to forgo your book or TV in order to sort out the animals or pull up nettles. When we first moved here we used to say, ‘what did we do with our time before we moved here?’ We couldn’t believe how much we could do in a day. (But then, as I said above, we worked out we were doing too much in a day. It wasn’t a long term strategy!) One of my good friends says it’s too quiet here, she’d miss the shops, the bustle of people. Others think it’s too boring. Personally I think something happens here every single day. It’s never boring. You just have to open your eyes.
Your everyday posts seems so calm, slow and grounded. Do you have any tips for bringing countryside calmness and slowness into every day busy city life? Is it even possible?
Yes, I think it’s possible. It’s trying not to do too much in a day so you miss the details. It’s about not chasing the hustle, not being busy all the time. Another friend told me that it’s important I sit down and look at everything I’ve achieved, instead of thinking about what our next tasks were .You have to change your mindset.
Yesterday I pottered in my kitchen, made a Sunday lunch, tidied, changed my bed sheets. I allowed my mind to breathe. Which also ensured I was fired up for the start of the working week.
In practical terms you need to get outside. Wherever you are you can take a walk for five minutes and look up at the trees. Notice where they are in their yearly cycle. Look for the blossom, the fruit or the change in the leaves. I often take my iPhone with me. Not to keep in touch with the online world but to film these small moments. When I get in I put these moments together with music that reflects my mood for Instagram Stories.
You speak a lot about changing seasons and how nature is beautiful in any moment, in its own special way. How do you embrace seasonal change and do you have any tips for an upcoming Autumn and how to get the most out of it?
I look forward to the changes in the seasons. But the amazing thing is, the seasons are never still. Every day something new is happening. You just have to look. Even in the depths of winter, when you’re thinking that you can’t take any more of the cold, you can look closely at a tree and see the buds are beginning to get ready. There’s small cracks in them. Tiny cracks that bring with them the promise of spring.
Autumn, for me, is a reminder to slow down. Yes we have practical jobs outdoors to do to get ready for the winter months but the change in the leaves, the colder evenings, the lighting of the fire, all say – slow down. Read a book. Tuck a cosy blanket around you. Hibernate. We cannot keep going at a million miles an hour. We miss seasonal details, the view, family and friends.
If ever there was a time to eat seasonally then it’s now. Trees laden with apples, pears, plums and damsons. Making jam or cakes from the fruit. Then you have the vegetables: brussels sprouts, squash, potatoes, leeks… Putting together a simple soup with simple bread (bought or homemade) when the nights are drawing in, a casserole slow-cooking in the oven making the house smell amazing…it’s comforting and healthy.
Is it the nature you draw inspiration for your photos or writing from? Or is there something more to it? Would you share any sources of inspiration for you when you feel down, uninspired or out of creative ideas?
A lot of it is nature. It’s no surprise that I feel most inspired during autumn or spring when there’s more happening outside. I think during both these seasons it’s the colour of nature that inspires me. I love the pinks of spring from the tree blossom and the oranges, reds and browns from autumn.
I also love the light. Those early mornings when I tend to the chickens and ducks are so incredibly special.