Wednesday, December 27, 2006

At Home

Bowl of Salad at Work by Peter Ardito

Today you can find one teenager still asleep, Dh reading the newspaper in the kitchen, accompanied by my DD having a late breakfast. The older people are stretching their legs by taking a leisurely walk and small children are quite contented with their toys and playing nicely in their rooms. I can be found, trying to create some post holiday magic in the kitchen and finding new ways of creating a feast with leftover gammon and turkey. There will be salads today which is easy to do.
Yesterday we visited a friend and had some mulled wine and applejuice with Cake, mince pies and a lot of good cheer.
The weather is holding up, its colder but the sun is trying to shine through. The chickens continue to do yard big housekeeping and get chased occassionally by the dog who thinks they should not be out this far towards the house.
As far as my pressies go, I received a DVD series of ‘The Little House on the Prairie’, some waterproof clogs, a large scented candle, some sock yarn and a book about Belgian Waffles as well as a book about the life and times of Mrs Beeton. I am very pleased with the gifts I received. I also received a bunch of flowers through the post and a magazine subscription of Resurgence, which I look forward to reading every two months. Resurgence has some links and articles that seem worth browsing through.
I received an email from college over the holidays with an interesting message at the bottom which read

PThink before you print - only print this e-mail if absolutely necessary

I guess this would be a good rule to follow, if you do not need to print out an email you save on paper, printer and ink which is a good start. I can only imagine the mountains of paper that get created at college through emails,which then have to be shredded and recycled. Not printing them might save a few trees.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Downshifting bookstore UK

Two Women Both Wearing Box Pleated Skirts Browse Around a Bookshop

If you wish to support my site, you can, and it is entirely optional, do so by buying a book through the downshifting bookstore ( added in the links sidebar). I will add books that have been of interest to me. I am not doing this to make you buy something but it seemed a good way to show a list of books that I have or have found useful so far on this journey. If you do buy from the site, I will receive a 5% credit which in turn will enable me to buy some more books. As I said, it is optional, I do not wish you to think that I would want to encourage you to consume but if you are going to consume anyway and you want to do so by supporting me, you could use this way.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dusting and housekeeping

Fir trees in the fog by Melissa Farlow

The fog is still shrouding most of the Uk and all internal flights have been cancelled. Trains are overloaded, airports full of passengers and the roads are clogging up. Home for Christmas may not be a reality for many who will remember this holiday as a travel nightmare. The trains will be on strike for 52 hours and generally the country will come to a standstill. It is not good for people but it is for the planet.

I am waiting for family to arrive and will have to be patient as we wait to hear how they progress towards us. A warm fire awaits them.

In the meantime I am doing some dusting on this blog, changing the template and bringing some new categories in the side line, a resources list of books that I have found useful so far and a picture which will be changed on a regular basis so you can see how the homestead looks as we go along.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas baking

As the day nears I am doing some last minute cleaning before the family arrives. In fact we do a lock in after the 23rd to the 3rd January 2007. That means we do not go anywhere at all unless it is local. There will be plenty of festivities but mainly we try to avoid the shops, any food shopping and certainly towns and malls. I am sure it brings relief to go shopping when you spend time together ..our alternative is to take the dog for a walk.

Winter officially starts today and the frost and fog create an icy cover over the frosty hard earth. The chickens need a little more care as their water freezes up but all other animals hide from the cold as we do. The fire is roaring, the cats lie near as well as the dog and people sit around with their books and knitting. Others are frantically rehearsing parts in Christmas plays and I will be doing come baking today.
Mince pies, butter biscuits and a chocolate log for days to come.

On a technical note, blogger has updated its service with easier options to load up pictures from my computer directly, so maybe I shall be doing some blog cleaning to give it a more personal space for the New Year.

Posting will be erratic in the meantime. Here’s my card to you all.......

Have a fantastic Christmas and a splendiferous New Year. May Good Fortune be Boundless and your Health be sound. May your laughter be frequent and raucous and LOUD! Here’s to chats on the phone, letters, comments and the odd lunch dates where we can be who we are in the company of friends.

Virtual gifts

Woman Has Been Very Busy Shopping So Much So That Her Helper is Hidden Under a Pile of Parcels

My sister in law lives in Canada and every year I struggle what to send her. Apart from ovengloves which she absolutely adores, it really has bugged me over the years to send large parcels of stuff to the other side of the world. The first year she moved to Canada, at a time I was heavily pregnant ( when I was a bit mellow etc), I packaged up the whole English Christmas including pudding, sauce, cake etc ( you have to be pregnant to do this and not think the postage through). The man at the post office did look strangely at the box which weighed over 25 lbs and was covered in brown paper with little messages and artistic holiday decorations. The recipients of the box had to travel 6 miles to the post office to go and get it and then thought, who would be silly enough to send them a huge box like that with such huge postage. I did say I was pregnant at the time.
Over the years, I have looked at small gifts, clothing, videos etc ( although that is difficult due to different formats), and eventually settled for books which I could order from the supplier in Canada saving postage and packing and airmiles office staff.
This year I hit upon the idea to send them an email voucher with the request that they choose their own reading material. it was sent on the 9th December instantly so they would have time to choose their own reading gift. Needless to say they approved and it sorted my problem out too.
Now I wonder whether the ovengloves were just a plan to stop me sending heavy stuff......

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

When the grass is greener on the other side of the fence

In the mid bleak winter, Frost stood hard as iron.....
Frost descended yesterday, a magical mist of cloud and ice hovered around the valley for the majority of the day, followed by some sunshine in the afternoon. This morning the leaves on the trees that had been holding out have fallen to the ground and the fire in the homestead rears heat.
Outside the chickens, minus cockerill have taken it upon themselves to fly about and explore all the bugs that grow in the garden. I am not adverse to them being out in the garden at this time of the year as a bit of bug clearing by chickens can only enhance soil hygiene, but they are venturing out on the road watched by the beady eyes of the cat population and that cannot be a good thing. The girls have been shut in the shed today for their own protection and tonight we will be giving them a feather cut on one side to stop them flying off that easily. It sounds a cruel thing to do, but in the end I need to protect my salad crop in the polytunnel which has been nibbled on.

Each decision you make has an impact somewhere. When we moved the chickens daily in their ark, pheasants would come and feed on the corn that was left behind. The chickens were safe from the fox but they had limited space to move about in. Moving them to a fenced enclosure stopped the pheasants but the chickens have managed to dig and scratch a patch of grass to mudbath in 3 weeks and are now looking at more grass to eat, which is understandable. The space covered by the chicken ark also houses the winter quarters of a doormouse which has made a neat and sensible warm home underneath with all the pieces of straw that fall through the chickenwire. Its as tight as a ball, safe from the elements and cats, and the chickens covering it at night make it warm from above. I do not like to cut the chicken’s wing feathers but in the end, that seems the most sensible solution at the moment. They receive plenty of green material each day to keep them busy...yet...the grass is obviously greener on the other side of the fence.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I am currently reading Heat by George Monbiot , a book that talks about global warming and possible solutions. Its drastic as he advocates that we need to cut 90% of our usage of fossil fuels. Its rather technical and I am wading my way through it.
One of the suggestions is that to make this work without too much hardship, we need to have a system of rationing, i.e. that each country should have a proportion of the earth’s resources equivalent to the people they have in the country and then if they do not use it they should be able to sell it to the countries that do use it. That sounds fair. He compares it to rationing during the war.
I tested my children on what they would be prepared to give up and found that actually they are quite reluctant to give up something they already have. So a tactic seems to stay with what you have at the moment and not replace it when it runs out. My oldest son pointed out that when you take something away it has a knock on effect on something else. Lets say we took the TV away, then he thinks he would be spending more time on the computer. If you take the computer away, he would spend more time watching TV. There is an element of non creativity about that. My suggestions fell on deaf ears...but the it is nearly the holiday season. I will have more time to think this one through.

I am trying to give up the car but it is proving very taxing at the moment. We will continue to look at options and see what we can do about them without having too much hardship. We live in the depth of the countryside 3 miles from the nearest town and although walking there is an option, it takes a lot of energy and time to do so. Nice walk though.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Intelligent sheep

Sheep on the Hillside by Colleen Sgroi

The children are beginning to show signs of holiday fever. Adults in our household have holiday apathy and the two together make an interesting mix. I am happy they are excited, there are many community activities on the calendar. They are all involved in plays and concerts which means transport to and from. It requires organisation and although I am that, the pace certainly quickens to a run at this time of the year. Downshifting has meant that time has a different value for us and we do not necessarily adapt to the rush from the outside as well as we did before. It can seem a stark contrast between the two areas of our life.
It has meant that we have talked about what activities we actually enjoy and not just the ones we do every year and feel obliged to participate in. We have two invites for the same evening. Our little hamlet hosts a drinks event at the local manor house ( a 1 mile walk away) and then dinner will be at one of our neighbours. All within walking distance with people from our community which gives us an opportunity to see what has been going on with eachother while time has been hurtling by.
Today we ventured out for a nature walk with our labrador and looked at some different sheep in the field. We had never come across this type before and when speaking to one of our eccentric villagers about them she announced they were endangered species of sheep and she wanted them to graze her land. We talked about the doormice in the hedge, the owls that patrol the area and the buzzards that occassionally can be heard and seen around. We all stood talking on the drive wearing wellington boots, warm woolly hats and caught up with the world. I love haphazard meetings like that. Home again, I went in search of the rare sheep, Castlemilk Moorit, which apparently are decorative sheep with a short fleece, fawn with chocolate tones underneath that make good tweed. I spin fibre and had never heard of them. Short fibre would be hard to spin anyhow. I bemoaned the fact that an awful lot of animals whose fleeces had a particular purpose have disappeared in favour of one particular type of sheep. There is so much we have lost over the last 100 years through monoculture. Now my neighbour is not going to make any money from these sheep as they do not appear to have either good meat value or fleece so decorative seems a good thing to be. They are indeed beautiful to watch. My Dh and I laughed at the words she uttered ‘ these are intelligent sheep’. Well they have to have something and again, we both laughed because we have always considered sheep to be slightly silly and far from intelligent but maybe we are just ignorant and have ever only met silly sheep. It was good to laugh together at a new discovery.
Home again, the kettle went on, cup of tea in hand I sat down to do some sewing, knitting and spinning of the summers fleece I dyed, carded and quite understand how expensive it would be to produce a cardigan or jumper from animal to person. I am sad that many skills have been lost and yet at the same time my excitement today has been to gaze on a different sort of animal and learn more about it.
There is a whole world out there we have lost and have forgotten about.
Urban girl found a gas camping stove in her attic which will be put to good use next year during the making of potions of plant dyes to dye the fleeces with.
I like to read the foxfire stories about older folk who talk through homesteading things and will share some in another post.


The ash tree fell down in the recent storms and as you can see it conveniently fell inward. The boys were rather upset as they had been building a platform on it and used it as a makeshift treehouse. Ash trees however do not have long roots, so I am told, and thus we had warned them that they could not construct a tall tree house as it could keel over any time. This ofcourse happened. ( a lesson they learnt that when parents say things like that they do not mean to spoil their fun but there can be some wisdom in it).

We need to get to the tree but currently the soil has had so much rain intake that we could be wading around. My Dh is trying to borrow the chainsaw and cut the tree into convenient size chunks that will light the fire next year. Ash is very useful because as a wood you can burn it green or dried so it can be used immediately if you need to.

The trees are part of a hedge that simply has been left to grow wild and part of our management plan for the future is to restore the hedge using traditional skills. This has not yet happened as we have been trying to create the vegetable and fruit garden as a priority. I never like to cut down trees but some of them are covered in ivy and are not much alive either. It is a major project and shelved for the time being. The trees also provide shade and shelter from winds.

Our homestead is small and set in a bowl of an old stone quarry. It is southfacing and the trees shelter the winds which has created a small microclimate which we are trying to understand and work with. All plants grow towards the light and with some beds having a backdrop of a 50 foot cliff face, means that all my beans can be found at the beginning of the row growing towards the light.

Its a unique setting, its not big by all means, just a large garden space which we are cultivating and surprisingly it provides quite a lot of produce.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

On polytunnels

Polytunnels are plastic domes that serve to extend the season either way. In the british climate I cannot be assured of a crop of tomatoes, peppers etc even strawberries without extra heat. The plastic covering over the beds does just that and raises the temperature. Its a bit like a greenhouse but as we live in an old quarry and lots of debris falls down from the cliff face a greenhouse would have been too risky.

The polytunnel has 6 raised beds and a bench to bring plants on. It allows me to overwinter seedlings and plant them out when frosts have stopped and more importantly to grow some salads in our cool climate. The first bed you see on the left hand side has some spring cabbage in it, then a bed with mixed spicy salad and some leeks, the third bed has some peas and lettuces and the last bed currently grows some green manure which will be cut and dug in before the crop goes in in spring. I grow strawberries in hanging baskets which is working quite well. It looks a bit sad at this time of the year but it is a dormant season in the garden.

When the sun shines, its lovely, out of the wind and I can be found doing some gardening even when it is raining outside. I also have a chair in there and quite often retreat as a bit of light good for the plants is good for me too. My moral drops when light quality drops in winter so I make the most of it, take to my chair with cup of tea and spend some time admiring the plants.
( Eccentric personality).

December on the homestead

We are more indoors than outdoors at the moment. Some storm damage needs to be worked through. A big tree needs cutting up into logs and stored but as yet the paddock is still too wet to walk in so it will have to wait.
In the polytunnel the broad beans have been planted out in the raised bed, the pheasant has been in to eat the tops of my peas but garden greens and lettuces still stand proud. I water only twice per week but open the tunnel every day to allow some airflow.
On the bench the sweetpeas are poking through and some other flowering plants are holding their own. These will be planted out in the spring to provide some colour.
There is not much daylight at the moment and the chickens are slowing down too. It is a sure sign that humans should be slowing down too. I look at the larder and the amount of canned goods there are stored and feel grateful.
Time to relax, listen to some music and plan the next year’s garden.
I also have a harvest of fleece to spin in readyness for dying in the summer when the plants are in full bloom.
On the holiday front, the house is benefitting from a good deep clean, more decluttering takes place, the candles are coming out to give us some cheer. I like listening to music as well as the children play their instruments. There are choir practices to attend in the village. I am concentrating on the building of community at the moment.

The transport survey is going well......

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A box of dates

Did you think it was going to be about the dried fruit variety, that could be an answer of course.

After the holiday season I usually lose some energy because daylight is less and I miss the sun terribly. Usually, there is less to do in the garden and I am feeling a bit low.

Her is the antidate ( pun intended!)

Imagine receiving a little box full of diary dates with surprises on it such as :

winter picnic in the woods, wellies required.
walk on the beach
theatre outing
back massage
1 hour free time so you can have that bath with candlelight
Candle lit dinner
Pedicure - sit back and relax
Your evening to control what we watch on the TV ( if you do)
Home-movie night in, popcorn, beer
Musical evening where you get entertained
Games night in
a chore your partner hates doing
A clean car, no ironing
Visit to a museum
Trip to the library

The secret is to plan the dates in the diary and to make sure that your partner or loved one can look forward to them and to be adventurous.

It costs very little, just your time, effort and sense of fun. Go for it!

clutter free gift ideas

Clutter-Free Gift Ideas

If you’ve been expending energy getting more organized lately, the approaching holiday may have you filled with mixed feelings. It’s likely you’re relationship with “stuff” isn’t what it’s always been. You may have a new found appreciation for clutter --- more specifically, avoiding it at all costs. This new relationship with stuff adds an interesting twist to the traditional holiday shopping extravaganza. Doesn’t it? How do you balance the spirit of gift giving with the desire to avoid clutter?

The first step is to decide what clutter is to you and those on your shopping list. Then, employ shopping strategies that avoid clutter for you and those you love. I think of clutter as anything that is taking up space, getting in the way, or not serving its intended purpose. It’s something that takes away energy, instead of creating it. You may have a slightly different definition of clutter, but the key to giving (or receiving) clutter-free gifts is purposeful gift giving. Giving something that will be used and enjoyed by the recipient.

Here are some tips and ideas for creating a clutter-free holiday in your gift giving and receiving.

1. Ask your gift recipients for some ideas. What’s on your gift recipient’s wish list this year? The best way to avoid your gift becoming clutter is to buy something they’ve pre-selected and really want. You know they’ll use it and you know they’ll love it. You can add a personal touch by adding something that goes well with the original gift. For example, if your friend wants a coffee press, include a bag of gourmet coffee and some after coffee mints. If your husband has a book on his wish list, add a book mark. If your daughter wants a journal, add a special writing pen.

2. Give consumable gifts to create less opportunity for clutter. Give an indulgence … something the gift recipient will use up and feel pampered and loved. Bath products are a perennial favorite. Other consumable gift ideas include cookies, cookie mixes, bread mixes, fancy jams and jellies. Keep in mind your recipient’s taste and dietary preferences.

3. Give gifts without strings attached. Sure, tie your brown packages (or red, green or blue for that matter) with strings ... just don’t give with strings attached. Often, when people receive a gift they feel like they need to keep it forever, simply because it was a gift. It doesn’t matter if they love it or use it; since it was a gift they feel obligated to keep it indefinitely. Put your gift recipient at ease by including a gift receipt. Take it a step further by including a note letting your friend know you want them to have something they’ll love and enjoy and if what you selected doesn’t fit the bill you’d love them to use the gift receipt and select something they’ll really love.

4. Give experience gifts. Gift certificates to the movies, dinner out at a favorite restaurant, the spa, or to sporting events create a gift that avoids clutter and doesn’t get forgotten the day after it’s given. Include young gift recipients in this strategy as well by creating coupons for trips to the park, the zoo or a water slide. This is a gift for your young gift recipient as well as their parents --- a two-for-one gift of sorts.

5. Give gift cards. Do you love to get a gift card? I know I do. Gift cards are a fantastic option for the person on your to-buy list that already has everything or has a wish list full of items that exceed your budget. Consider giving a gift card and having others that are buying for the same person give gift cards from the same store, too. If you select a store with a wide range of product options your gift recipient can pool the gift cards he receives and select something he’ll love.

6. Stuff stockings with something useful. The stocking can be a haven for clutter … little things, inexpensive things, breakable things, cluttery things. Avoid this potential clutter trap by going practical … sugar free chewing gum, toothpaste, new toothbrushes, socks, mittens, gloves, card games, or jewelry are all wonderful ways to stuff the stocking without creating clutter.

7. Avoid clutter for yourself by keeping handy ideas of things you’d love to receive. Often, when someone asks what you’d like, it’s hard to come up with an idea on the spot. So jot your ideas in a notebook or planner you carry with you. Then, if someone asks what you’d like this year … you’ll have ideas at the ready. Seem awkward? Just say “Thanks so much for asking … I do have some things on my wish list this year.”

8. Avoid picking up a second for you. I don’t spend a lot of time shopping … life is too full of other things for me. So the holidays offer a rare opportunity to get out and do some good, old fashioned shopping. The temptation to pick up just a few things for myself can be great. Does this ever happen to you? You find the perfect gift for someone on your list and pick up a second one for yourself. Yep, I’ve been guilty, too. This is a great time of year to avoid bringing anything you don’t absolutely need into your house. You’ll have plenty to do finding homes for all the new things people are out buying for you for your holiday gifts.

With a little foresight, avoiding clutter this holiday season is as sure as ice in St. Louis ;)

Aby Garvey is a professional organizer and the owner of simplify 101, inc. Her mission is to help you create time and space for what matters most in your home, business, and life. Aby is the author of the e-book "the happy scrapper - simple solutions to get organized and get scrapping!" She publishes a monthly organizing and time management email newsletter available by visiting her web site at

Friday, December 08, 2006

Green is hip

I am blessed with super friends. Its a special day for me soon and my friend turned up tonight with a bunch of flowers. I love purple and the flowers and paper are purple and vibrant green. It felt really special even more because actually it will not be my special day until after the weekend. I love the beauty of flowers, they bring a touch of nature in the house and bring hope of the future ( to me anyway). I grow vegetables but because I like flowers so much. I grow a bed of cut and come again flowers from sweetpeas to sunflowers and a lot in between. This is not really a season for flowers in the garden but it is a completely compostable present in a few weeks time. It does not clutter the house, it has scent and..well I am chuffed that my friend has thought this through. The were bought locally as well.

The other news is that politicians are running away with the green message. The chancellor in the Uk is going to up the taxes on flights and fuel which no doubt will make some people think twice about holidays and others again will just pay. I agree that if you want to use more than the next person it will come with a pricetag. It feels a responsible way to act.

The second thing is that they are trying to change planning laws which will enable householders to install solarpanels and windpower with less bureaucracy attached to it which has to be good news too.

There is also a move to make new houses zero carbon which will be a good step in the right direction.

And then there has been more freak weather in the Uk. Yesterday the sky got really dark and we had one flash of lightning and a huge bang of thunder followed by lashings of rainwater. Our little paddock area needs a boat at the moment and the poor chickens are wading in mud. The tornado in London was unexpected and trees have been falling quickly. These are not usual weather patterns in the UK, thunderstorms in November are not usual.

Make light work of debt...

Debt in general is not considered a good thing and yet sometimes without it we cannot buy what we need. Lets say you wanted to buy a homestead. Not many of us would have the money upfront to go and buy it without some debt.

Is there good and bad debt? In my eyes, I would advocate to avoid it alltogether, but if you have to borrow to reach your goals the following might be worth considering :

the item you buy should go up in value and not down, usual trends, so for instance if house prices rise by 8% per year and your mortgage rate is 5% then the asset will still grow in a positive way even though you are paying interest on the loan you took out. Selling your home will then realise sufficient to pay off any outstanding loan. The aim is to pay the loan off as soon as possible.

If the item you buy depreciates in value, such as a car for example, then that would be a bad debt because your initial loan will not only accrue interest at 8% but the value will drop by 15% per year putting you in a spiral where you will never catch up.

If you want to buy an item, look to see how you can obtain it for nothing ( freecycle or sharing), second hand at the best price, or see if buying it somewhere else will give you more value for your money.

In the fifties, my parents bought a car with another couple; it gave them both means of transport and they just had to agree on who had the car when. Sharing meant that they got the car for half the price, half of the time but that they needed to get organised about its use.

Tools could be shared in your neighbourhood, that would mean that only one person would need a hedgetrimmer, someone else would have the chainsaw etc. Tools would be available to eachother when jobs needed doing, there would be less clutter and you would have a sense of community. We share a big ladder with our neighbour and he bought it in the shop with his 10% discount card. We store it as he does not have the room but when he needs to clean his windows we chat and he gets the ladder out. We also share lawnmowers, his is for a small garden that is quite flat and we opted for a model that will tackle longer grass and together we have the tools for whatever length of grass when it comes to it. Creating community and sharing with others can effect a saving,

The behaviour exhibited by many at the moment is that in order to keep spirits up, they need to go shopping and buy something on credit. Then the credit cards come in and they have to go and buy more because they feel bad........see what I mean.

To turn this around simply means that you need to be in control of what goes out. Ideally when you want or need to buy something you would have the money saved up but when that is not possible and you take on a debt...take it on, pay it off as soon as you can and make it serve you and not the other way around.

Let’s say the shop offers a 1 year interest free loan with no payments on a new sofa and you want that sofa. ( try and resist but if its useless) Make a note in your diary or on your computer system to create an alarm to revisit this debt. Invest the money in a savings account, let it accrue interest, pay off the sofa at the end of the year and cash in your interest. You win/win, you have the use of the sofa and you gain interest on their money. What usually happens is that people forget about the loan, get stung with high interest rates when the date is passed and go into resentment. So make it work for you. When you buy something the money has to be spent somewhere.

Another scenario that I have to say has happened to me in my early not so wise money times and I felt I had no choice but. I wanted to get a job to have more income. The job meant that I needed to travel a lot and my car was not that safe to drive so I bought a car with loan payments. I also needed to pay for my travel to and from work, lunches out, clothes to keep up with fashion, image haircuts on a regular basis, stress releasing activities such as massages, gym get the drift. The actual balance at the end of the month was actually that I was working 45 hours per week for a lifestyle and for someone else. When the job went, not only did I lose the monthly paycheque but I needed to continue to pay the car loan payments, and when I sold the car and cleared some of the loan, I ended up with a smaller loan and nothing to show for it. The moral of the story is to check out all the hidden costs of your purchases. Less may be more. I lived with a virtual partner at the time, I say virtual because we never saw each other, we had no control over our spending and we had no relationship either with eachother nor with money. It ended badly, with having to sell everything and starting afresh. So I guess I can speak from bitter experience...and ofcourse I am now wiser and greyer a little less about image and am with the right guy, affectionately called scrooge.

Debt can only work if you make it work for you and not if you become a slave to its power.

Remember that the skills you have have a price attached to it, and make up your mind how you can best market yourself , where the cost of living against your salary gives you the best value and the life you want. Take back your individual power and make informed decisions.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Holiday Sanity

You know the scenario, it surely plays the same in your house.
The calendar is filling up with dates and parties to go to. All family members have outings, need transport, need to bring some sort of seasonal food. There are gifts and cards to sort, and then.....the holiday meal.

I have a plan, a back up plan and a disaster plan.

The plan is simply a menu for the whole month of December and first week of January. Rest assured that you will only have to work on this once, each year it just needs tweaking with new and different styles but the backbone of your holiday season will be sorted.

Buy the big items such as turkey, gammon and anything that can be frozen as soon as possible, prices go up and choice diminishes at the end of the month. The Christmas Cake and Pudding are made already and getting mature with sherry by the week.
Stock up on wines and drinks if you must!

The back up plan, is a couple of frozen or canned homemade standbys such as Chili Con carne, Spaghetti Sauce and Soup.

The disaster plan is 1 hour of rest with some nice music and a simple smoked salmon and scrambled egg dish with nice toasted bread.

I also parboil my potatoes and freeze them so all I need do is pop them in the oven when needed and if your family is like mine and you have a good 10 people to lunch, sorting the potatoes out will save your sanity.

The first week of January I always book myself in for a bodymassage as by then I usually have a stiff neck, tense muscles and could do with giving myself some me time.( its on my wishlist for the holiday season each year).

There are lots of holiday organisation tips on flylady and organised home links in the side bar.

Most importantly, if you still have time...sit down with everyone in your family and find out what makes their holiday special. I did this last year and had a lot less work and more brussels sprouts in this house. I made this for 10 years, had to then think of what to do with them when no-one ate them. Why continue traditions that no one likes in your family, reassess and create your own individual holiday meal, if you fancy duck, chicken or goose, then have individual and enjoy the process.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mostly I would like to be remembered

Mostly, I would like to be remembered
As someone who was passionate for life.
The days of unsought ecstasies are numbered,
However long we linger in the light.
I was one who cultivated wonder,
Less of one contented to explain,
Delighted by the promises of hunger,
Enduring for their joy the years of pain.
Gifts I had aplenty: Some I savored,
Others sacrificed for others' needs.
Remember me as someone who was favored,
Despite constraints, to tumble in the leads,
Ocean to what winds I could not be,
Nightrider through what worlds I could not see.

Your Money or your Life

Following on from Nik’s comment ( thanks Nik) I am sharing a book review I wrote in my journal about the exact book mentioned.

Your Money or your Life by Joe Dominguez

Having been a Financial Adviser I thought I had a good idea but this book really is an eye opener for people who wish to compare the amount of money coming in and how to manage money going out.
It is simple to read and offers 9 steps to Financial Independence ( when your income = outgoings from savings ( i.e. other sources than paid employment). It challenged my values about money and the world I had built surrounding it. Following the steps I have clearly identified areas in my life on which I spend money and which are not aligned with my current thinking and do not provide fulfillment.

This is definitely a book I would recommend if you are trying to simplify your life, if you are facing a major life change and want to conquer the money thing.

Another book I like is the Lilypad List by Marina Van Eyck

I really loved reading this book, in fact I had difficulty putting it down. It tells the story of frogs and how they live in their pond, how to achieve a picture in our mind of what a simple life would mean to us.

The checklist is:
Everything is perfect
Time out is essential
Sensory awareness is the key to delight
We can trust the process
We are all cells of the Living Earth
We all make a difference
There is only the now moment

Whatever you do to simplify your life and balance it out, you will be making a difference to the resources you consume and therefore to the earth and the community around you.

This book is about the wisdom of one person who has tried many ways of simplifying her life and if that is what draws you to read on. It is not a practical guide on how to achieve it but a proces to allow reflection of what simplifying your life means to you, what values it elicits and concludes with a list of resources. You can read more about the lilypad list on the website.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Car poll update

Thanks to all of you who voted in the side bar. Before making a drastic decision about the car one person made a very sensible suggestion to put the car to grass for 3 months and see how I get on.
In order to effect change I usually keep a diary or journal in which I write my every move on a particular subject, such as a cash book if I wanted to see what the money is being spent on. I am doing this now with travel and transport questions, noting where I am going, can I go by taxi, bus etc and the actual cost and time. This will enable me in February to make a decision on how to go forward.
There will be challenges with regards to for instance getting supplies food for the animals. We shall see how each challenge looks on a daily basis.
We can take soo much for granted.
On the homestead, we have had a tree blown down which means that we will be Ok for fire wood next year. Ash can be burnt any time and we will be replanting a tree in the spring to take its place. It will take about 15 years to get as big as the one that fell down.
The storms still rage and branches and debris clothe the soil. Walking in the countryside is an exhilarating experience at the moment and good at helping mental cobwebs disperse.
Advent heralds community activities and yesterday the old and young met for an evening of carol singing, mince pies and a glass of wine. Winter has to be around soon.

Monday, December 04, 2006


If you are about to go out and add to your credit cards ( which ofcourse you are not are you?), have a look at sort it website, it is by a political party in the UK but offers some useful tools to tackle debt and consumer spending. It has a useful monthly cash planner too.

An alternative to giving money as a present is to offer people a printable gift voucher. You can print your own off here. Some suggestions are as follows:
❑ 5 hours of cleaning, ironing
❑ cook someone a meal
❑ supply 6 eggs weekly for a month
❑ redeem against some plants in spring
❑ help for a declutter weekend
❑ 3 hours of painting
❑ digging your garden
❑ spring cleaning
❑ baby sitting
❑ window cleaning
❑ sewing, breadmaking, flower arranging lesson whatever your talent

One family in our village for instance is being offered a weekly cleaning service while her husband is off to Iraq on duty. This will relieve this Mum from some chores. Each week a new bunch of flowers will be added by another person. The biggest impact on others need not be made by money but by giving your time and showing you care.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Let music lift your spirits

An invite from one of our choir members plus an offered lift to a concert in town seemed a good antidote to the colder, wetter weather so I said yes. I am glad I did, not only did it take me back to a place where I had lived 16 years ago but the actual sound of an orchestra and 100 voices really did something to raise the vibration in the place.
I had forgotten that music had an important role to play in my life. The human voice was the instrument that carried our stories, our traditions and emotions in the past. Now you are lucky to find a person humming or singing along.
The power of music is fascinating and sometimes can communicate more intensely than words. A piece of music can take you on a journey somewhere, lift your awareness higher and fill a hall with some splendid community.
Not only classical works, but modern new composers fill our ears with a reflection of sounds that can inspire us, can fill us with awe. It does not always have to be a film to set your world alight, a good book could do the same as a piece of music. The world is filled with an immense amount of noise that may drown the individual voice, so people feel they can only communicate with limited means, technological ones. Watching TV gives the impression that you belong to a community and yet, you are alone watching it. No doubt it provides some sense of entertainment....yet I cannot help feeling that we have lost some element of partnership, team work and community at the same time.
Many performances are given by people offering their voices and instruments for the benefit of all of us, without monetary payment simply the thrill to be part of a group that meets every week and gets to perform in front of an appreciative crowd. Before music became available on tape, CD or even wireless, this was the only way to listen to an original work being performed.
I urge you to see if there is some music in your community and if you feel drawn to join a group, please add your voice to a heavenly choir or band. I assure you listening to it will lift your spirits and human vibration. You will hear some sounds that are different and meet people who take a pride in the instruments they play and practice daily for your enjoyment.
Make it a special outing.
I have added a few concert tickets to my holiday list as a must......if I invite some people for an evening out, not only will they participate in a unique evening but we will enjoy eachothers company. It may not be a physical present but the memory of it may last longer than a box of chocolates.

Think outside the box.....Give community and enjoyment this season of good cheer!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Severe weather warning

The whole of the Uk is bracing itself for severe stormy weather and heavy rain....its nearly a full moon which will make water levels rise even more, flooding may be a problem. Winds will reach 70 to 80 mph which may result in structural damage. The expression
batten down the hatches

comes to mind.

Yet at the same time, a storm can clear the atmosphere and enable us to be more focussed on the future.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Holiday options

So, how are we going to deal with the Christmas card scenario this year?
Usually I sit down at the table and wade through an awful lot of letter writing and card writing at this time of the year and I also get a lot of cards sent to me. I believe it keeps the postie on his toes, and costs a lot on stamps and trees. What could we do different :

❑ family and friends that are nearby could use a phonecall and chat
❑ email cards to those on email
❑ make a date to visit those you have not seen for over a year
❑ send a calendar with the date you would like them to visit
❑ learn some songs and go carol singing....

That should have reduced the list down, now you could make your own cards by printing photos on plain paper and sending that off.
If you are still buying cards, buy them so proceeds go to a charity of your choice or make your own, a simple tree will do. Be creative.....
When the cards arrive this year, and they will,display them. After the holiday season I cut mine up into gift tags for the next holiday season and gift some to the many collection points that are around so they can be recycled.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

He crows no more.....

It was a beautiful sunrise and it lifted my spirits enormously. there was a stormy atmosphere in the sky, branches swept all around and I hurried indoors to get on with some chores. When the wind died down, I noticed a change in the air, and a quiet that pervaded the garden.
Something was wrong and not as usual...the cats both came in although it was not raining and not looking happy at all. The leaves were blowing all around our quarry.
This afternoon I discovered that squeek, the cockerill died. Not that the chickens were that concerned about it, apart from one. That has to be the one that seemed to be designated to have looked after the old fellow by the others. Squeek was a gift and a 4 yr old Orpington which had silvery feathers. He did look a bit of colour in the last few days, but I thought it was just the colder weather, and come to think of it, he seemed a bit slower. He did a good job of keeping them in check when the chickens arrived some months ago.
In that way, maybe freedom had a price for him and the day that was so beautiful to start with has been spoilt in a way too. For cockerills it must have been a lovely day to die with such a fantastic sky to look up to.

hauntingly beautiful sunrise

LinkThe magic of this morning's colours got me out there quick to snap away. Its strange weather, we do not normally get these colours on the hills in November and although hauntingly beautiful in my eyes, I am also wary about the changing weather patterns. Tornados in Wales yesterday. Severe weather warnings abound again....and yet the temperature is far too hot for this time of the year.

It may be magical but it acts as a warning beacon in my eyes......
I had to get the kids out there to look at it, because this was a truly magnificent sight before breakfast.

keep voting on the poll.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Careless or carless?

Its been quite a week. Yesterday there must have been some disturbance in electro magnetic fields. I cannot give it another explanation. My alarm clock decided to start waking me up in the middle of the night although the dials quite clearly showed it was getting up time. That should have been a sign of things to come. I do believe this is the time to start addressing transport issues in earnest.
Yesterday I managed to pick up a parking ticket and end up with my car at the garage with another anticipated bill which is far more than I want and can afford to pay. Careless you might say. And yet, public transport in my area is non existent which leaves me with in reality very little choice about what I can do. The garage people are always very helpful and offer 5 star service with a similar price tag attached to it. I am not sure when exactly a car is not worth having, usually when it is costing you more than it is worth but my car is only 4 years old and I had hoped to have it available for at least another 6 years. It is serviced, oiled, pampered regularly and yet, another unexpected transport expense.
The AA provide a chart which shows the cost per mile of your car and ofcourse as standing charges are standard the cost of running a car when you travel less is on average going to be higher than if you travel a lot. In my case, the mileage has been drastically reduced from over 10,000 miles per year to less than 5000 and that would equate to a 33% increase in cost per mile. This puts the price of running my car at £ 277 per month which is a lot compared to the amount of car journeys I make. I already share transport with other people and yet that would be an average of about £ 9 per day sitting on my drive. The bus fare to town is £ 7.00 and takes a good 1 hour each way to go, so financially, responsibly the use of the car is a very expensive commodity. Yet hand on heart, I am reluctant to make such a change because it is hard to do. Any change you make has to be gradual and yet a saving of £ 277 seems worth it too. My reluctance stems from the fact that I am spoilt, ignorant and actually deep down feel that not having a car would be a depravation of some kind. I promise nothing at the moment apart from to sit with this dilemma, mull it over and maybe play with other scenarios in my head. Step 1 is knowing there is a problem, then seeing what I want to happen and then working out how I can make that a reality. It still remains a difficult choice to make and if I find this hard then other people will find it hard as well.
I have added a poll in the right hand bar so you can cast your vote as to how you would solve this dilemma. It might help give me some idea of what others would do.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Friday, November 24, 2006

The man in seat 61

You may know that I travelled some weeks ago and took a train journey. It was pleasant enough as long as I left London, going to London was a bit tricky but I think I can improve that part for next time. ( May look at going by bus to London and staying with a friend) or taking the local bus to Heathrow and going from there.
Back to the man in seat 61. This is a fantastic site that will give you information and links on how to travel to almost anywhere in the world by avoiding planes.
The man in seat 61 is a career railway man with a passion for trains and a lot of knowledge to boot.
Travelling by train in the Uk is still going to be a hard thing to achieve, but you could try the boat and plan your journey differently. Its worth some planning. One of the things I enjoyed versus plains was being able to take my knitting, having a sensible luggage size ( as you have to carry everything) and actually being able to take in some of the local scenery. If you need luxury, try first class..........
If you still need persuading read on .......
If you need a calculation of how much your plane journey produces towards global warming you could have a stab at this calculator. Another good site is the travel calculator which will work out your emissions on work and leisure journeys during the year and offer you tips on how to reduce your impact.
My next long trip is scheduled in the spring next year but that leaves me plenty of time to plan an effective, smooth journey with least impact on the planet and my wallet. Sometimes we need to travel in a hurry and so if you have some time ...........

Thursday, November 23, 2006

magic moments

A snapshot in time, when life simply overwhelms me, I walk ( very slowly) to the top of the hill near my home. The sun warms my face and when I lift my eyes up to the hills, this is the view that greets me. Its ever changing in its colours and its the same hills, Coleridge walked when he wrote his poems.......

Verse, a breeze'mid blossoms straying
where hope clung feeding, like a bee-
Both were mine! Life went a-maying
With nature, Hope and Poesy,
When I was young!

Excerpt of Youth and Age
Sometimes, nature can reunite us with that devine feeling of connectedness. My feet walk maybe centuries later, yet I breathe in the beauty of its place and connect with its energy.
Time out.........not only for naughty children.....time out is a valuable time to reflect and check which path you walk. I am trying to walk mine and when global warming news hits my mind, asks for action, I walk amongst these hills and drink in their beauty and their magic.
Have you got a magical place to go to?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chickens bid for their freedom

My chickens have been in a sort of moveable coop that every day gets taken to a new piece of grass. The reason being that it controls the amount of grass they consume but also provides protection from the local predator, Mr Fox. I wanted them to be free range though and we had to sit together and see how that could be achieved. Growing our fruit and vegetables may not mix with free range chickens so although they are free range they do not have the run of the whole paddock. The boys have worked hard at building an enclosure with chicken wire and posts so that during the winter when the grass no longer grows, they at least have a larger area to have a mudbath in. It was a truly moving moment when they found the door to the outside and found fresh ground. Lots of scratching, lazing in the sun. They came back in at night and I feel happier about having given them more choice, more grass and more running space to get away from eachother.
I am not bothered whether they lay an egg each day, they give me plenty and I could watch them for hours, its a peaceful activity.Some days they don’t feel like laying eggs and looking at the weather I cannot blame them. They have a certain wisdom and their own rhythm and if the cake making needs to be postponed because I do not have the ingredients so be it, everything happens with a little patience.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ode to hairdressers

How hard can it be to cut hair? Hard I tell you. Yesterday we met some friends who are adept at using a barber tool to cut the hair of their children and having to drive a while to find a hairdresser who is open in our neighbourhood, I thought I would have a go. I thought about it.....sat the small boy down, had a small go at cutting his hair. He is not image conscious, thankfully, and he really loves his Mom. He has forgiven me. I did not have the heart to shave his locks, and I had no wish to traumatize him either but laughing aside, it could have been a traumatising moment in his life, the night, his mother thought she could cut hair. Just shows, there are things other people do better and should continue to do, and haircutting is one of those things. The second son refused and wanted just his fringe cutting ( he is less of a risk taker) although he wanted chocolate as pay off. The older one who actually asked to have his hair trimmed, sort of trusted me but as he is off to a party during the week I did not have the heart to make him look awful.
I am not afraid to have a go at new skills, but will need some practice at this one and maybe the drive to town and the barber seem the better option. It seems the boys agree. Only DH was willing to have his head shaven but on reflection....he has little to lose.
Pass that one by I think.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Planning for succession

How do you organise your seeds and how do you decide what to plant when.

I have made a list of the fruit and vegetables I would want to grow next year, each year I grow the ones I have been successful with, if I had a bad year, like cabbages for the moment, I will give it another chance and if it does not work will give it a 2 year break which should in principle get rid of any pests that are a problem. If you have a new garden you may not be aware of what grows well and what not but each year can only be improved upon.

I have made a spreadsheet with the amounts needed, planting times, when I expect a harvest and the amount of space needed to provide a crop and this has been transplanted on a general design plan of my garden. I grow things in tubs and raised beds so that it gives me some flexibility whilst at the same time keeping a 4 year crop rotation system going at the same time.

I bought a folder which has 12 compartments, one for each month, but you could also use 12 small envelopes in a shoebox, whatever works best for you or is at hand. It is important to make that box waterproof as usually it gets splashed a bit in the greenhouse. I have 2 sections, one for flowers and one for vegetables and then at the beginning of each month, I should find the seed packets for what i want to plant and can check it on my large plan. The garden blueprint has been laminated and is displayed for easy reference.

For succession sewing, I just move the seed envelope to the appropriate month. When I collect seeds from the plants at the end of the season, I label them and put them in the appropriate month.

This is a system that works for me. I also have a gardening diary and produce diary which informs me what to do when and how it worked out so I can monitor how to make the best of things.

I am sure these things were done for generation upon generation but I do not rely always on what the garden centre offers as advice. By using heirloom seeds, I should be able to collect and continue season after season without having to purchase seeds on a regular basis and hence reduce the costs of gardening. Of course I do buy some seeds each year, lettuce varieties being one and seed potatoes but the beans and peas for sure are easy to collect.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

To the fair

Today, we have been to the Christmas fair which is held every year in a local manor house. It is no longer a manor house but a nature study centre. Each year, local people get together to organise a Christmas Fair in which locals can buy from locals. To get there, you need to drive down a single muddy track and park in a field. You pay an entrance fee and walk around rooms and rooms full of crafts people showing off what they have made during the year. Everything from beaded dog collars, fairy plant pots, decorations, knitted gloves, plants, soaps, art, cheese, bags. It also includes a refreshment tent where everything is home cooked and people flock to shop that way. It is a good way to display your wares and it is great for us to find out who does what. I bought my Christmas pudding there from ‘ Plum Duff’( lovely name) and received a handmade wooden advent calendar, which will be perpetual. Received, did they give it away? No hush, it’s my birthday soon and every year I buy myself a treat there. This is a Christmas tree with 24 drawers in it so the Christmas Fairy ( shhhh....) can fill it with goodies for those in the household. No more chocolate, plastic advent calendars. Instead, the Christmas Fairy is going to have to put her eco friendy thinking cap on and come up with some fresh ideas. Not only is it a buy local exercise, they also give away 50% of the proceeds to a local charity. The one they chose this year is the playbus which takes play opportunities to children in small villages in the area where there is no other provision. One little tip though, I leave my cheque book at home, they only deal in cash and I take as much as I want to spend. When its gone....its gone and I go home. Seems old fashioned but it does mean you need to look around, use maths in your head to figure out what you are going to buy, go around again. Spending money, actual cash money, is entirely different than writing a cheque or putting the card in the machine. You actually have to count it out and hand it over and somehow it makes you more careful with it. Somehow I prefer this type of shopping, parting with cash hurts a little more that way.
I support this fair because it ticks many of the boxes:
❑ buy local
❑ local crafts people
❑ engage in community events
❑ share profits to charitable causes
Why not seek out the same in your area, a farmers market, a country market and see what you can find.
I also forgot to tell you that they have an evening event so you can go exclusive shopping by candlelight if you want but it costs double and is usually a freezing get a glass of mulled wine while you shop. You don’t get that at your local mall.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

local, organic, fair trade, ethical....consumer

I really appreciate all of you leaving comments and apologise for putting the moderation button on but I do receive an equal amount of unsavoury spam which has to be deleted.
I try the links on what appear to be bonefide comments only to find that they lead to other websites where I certainly would not wish any of you to go to! So please, even if you leave me an anonymous comment, rest assured that it is appreciated...I hope this blog will enable others to gain from the experience and information on downshifting that is available between us.
My inbox and mailbox are lighter, since I took myself from automated lists and I receive less paper in the house to recycle.
Information to get us to consume is everywhere and are also targeted at our vulnerable young children.
The good news is that the Uk will be banning food adverts with sugar etc to children before 9 pm which at least will mean that children no longer get brain washed as to which cereal they fancy when they go shopping. As adults we may be oblivious to these subliminal messages ( or at least we have more control over choices) but as a child whose brain is still developing, these messages are dangerous as they do not know the difference between reality and can take what is shown on TV as read. I cannot say that my children do not watch TV, but less of it now and when they were little and accompanied me to the shops, they would give me the exact words of the advert at aged 3 about which washing powder was the best to buy as well as cereals to buy. Just pays to be protective of their young immature brains. A lot goes on in them and if you can stop advert junkmail from blocking their neurons, you may have a bigger chance to get them to notice other things that may be more important, such as individual thoughts. As with junkmail comments in my inbox, even when they keep coming, some of the information is registered somewhere whether I like it or not, if as an adult I find these distracting then it has to be the same for any young child. We are not sheep, aimlessly following where the crowds take us or even where others want us to follow...we still have the ability to make individual responsible choices we can make and it pays to give our children the confidence to to do the same. It may be irritating when your teenage son wants to be different and is testing his own beliefs and values that create a conflict with yours. In the end analysis it also proves that he has the capacity to try and make up his own mind and form his own views of the world that surrounds him and how he wants to take his place in it.
I used to tell the children that they were adverts and the words had been put in their head and that they had a choice as to whether they thought it was a good product.....easy on washing powders, more difficult on other things but as they have got older they are aware that they have individual thoughts and can make individual choices. This also has fostered a sense of responsibility and follows through that when we choose to continue to buy a piece of clothing that is cheap and manufactured using child labour, that that is also a choice to enable that to continue. What value does it have?

As consumers we can make choices or choose not to consume which is also a choice. When we buy something, let it be something we need and let us make a responsible choice as to where it comes from, who made it.
This means the debate widens from organic, fair trade, local to ethical shopping on all fronts and that is a big change to tackle all at once. As with everything, each journey starts with a small step and each one of us can take a step in the right direction......if we choose to do so.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Christmas cake

Mom's Kitchen by Linda Grayson

"Thirty-four years ago, I inherited the family fruitcake. Fruitcake is the only food durable enough to become a family heirloom. It had been in my grandmother's possession since 1880, and she passed it to a niece in 1933. Surprisingly, the niece, who had always seemed to detest me, left it to me in her will....I would have renounced my inheritance except for the sentiment of the thing, for the family fruitcake was the symbol of our family's roots. When my grandmother inherited it, it was already 86 years old, having been baked by her great-grandfather in 1794 as a Christmas gift for President George Washington. Washington, with his high-flown view of ethical standards for Government workers, sent it back with thanks, explaining that he thought it unseemly for Presidents to accept gifts weighing more than 80 pounds, even though they were only eight inches in diameter...There is no doubt...about the fruitcake's great age. Sawing into it six Christmasses ago, I came across a fragment of a 1794 newspaper with an account of the lynching of a real-estate speculator in New York City."
---"Fruitcake is Forever," Russell Baker, New York Times, December 25, 1983, Section 6 (p. 10)

This one will not keep that long but it is a tested recipe. Substitute rum or brandy for sherry if you wish.

Remember to make 3 days time to marinate the fruit in the sherry. This is essential to plump up and flavour the fruit. If you cut the soaking time there will be surplus liquid which will alter the texture of the cake. You should make this at least 3 weeks ahead of Christmas for eaten too early it will be too crumbly.

makes 1 x 23 cm or 9 inch cake

6 oz raisins
12 oz glace cherries rinsed and dried thoroughly
1 lb 2 oz currants
12 oz sultanas
1/4 pint sherry ( medium)
finely grated zest of 2 oranges
9 oz softened butter
9 oz light muscovado sugar ( light brown)
4 eggs
1 tablespoon black treacle ( molasses)
3 oz blanched almonds, chopped
3 oz self raising flour
6 oz of plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons mixed ground spice


First prepare the fruit ; chop the raisins with a damp knife and quarter the cherries. Put all the fruit into a container, pour over the sherry and stir in the orange zest. Cover with a lid and leave to soak for 3 days stirring daily.

Grease and line a 23 cm / 9 inch deep round cake tin with greased greaseproof paper. preheat the oven to 140 degrees C, 275F/ gas 1

measure butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and almonds into a large bowl and beat well. Add the flours and spice and mix thoroughly until blended. Stir in the soaked fruit. Spoon into the prepared cake tin and level the surface. Cover the top of the cake loosely with a double layer of greaseproof paper ( this will prevent it from burning brown).

Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 5 to 5 1/2 hours or until the cake feels firm to the touch and is rich golden brown. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean. Leave in the cake tin to cool.

When cool, pierce the cake at intervals with a fine skewer and feed with a little sherry. Wrap the completely cold cake in a double layer of greaseproof paper and again in foil and store in a cool place for up to 3 months, feeding it at intervals with more sherry. Don’t remove the lining paper when storing as this helps to keep the cake moist).

To decorate, brush sieved, warmed apricot jam over the top of the cake. Arrange glace cherries, glace fruits and nuts over the jam and brush again with jam.

When dry, wrap in cellophane paper with a bow, or give in a cake tin with a label and ingredients as a gift for Christmas.

Cleaning gardening pots

Hi there

I found your blog recently and am really enjoying it.

I have a quick question as I recently tidied up the garden a bit and have put the pots aside (which I grew courgettes in this year) to be washed out. I wasn't sure whether to just use water or soapy water or water with a bit of tea tree oil. Do you just use a bucket of water with some vinegar added to it? About how much? Any particular kind? Sorry if these seem like silly questions but I'll take advice from anyone who's already done something I plan on doing!

Its raining today so washing pots is not on the agenda as I usually choose one of those sunny days.
There are many ways in which you can wash the pots, many suggest using bleach or some antibacterial and antifungal liquid but this is what works well for me so far :

I use 3 buckets, one water to get the dirt off, one with soapy water ( ecover or something eco friendly) to get the dirt off and lastly a bucket with cold water in which I put cider vinegar. One part to nine parts of water. Adding tea tree oil and rosemary oil acts as an antibacterial and antifungal agent.

If you want to sanitize them after that you could always put them in the dishwasher to get them pristine, without any detergent, just to get them steam cleaned as such but I have found that the above usually is sufficient to keep pests at bay.

I found out the hard way, by not cleaning my pots and trays this way, small slug eggs would hibernate and hatch into lovely tiny slug and snails and feast on my little seedlings. Better to spend some time cleaning than to have to deal with the pests that you are carefully nurturing.

I have 3 sizes of pots, small, medium and large as well as some trays that take 6 seedlings per tray and they are all stackable and washable and thus each year, I need no new pots. When I give plants to people, when I barter I ask them to return the pots to me if possible and I explain that by doing so they will save me to have to buy any more.

As with everything, general garden hygiene is a good thing to observe. It is never going to be spotless but a bit of time scrubbing between now and spring will not only keep you warm and active but also prevent gardening disasters in the next season.

During Victorian times, the smallest boy in the gardening team, probably about aged 8 would be given the task to work in the ‘ pot house’. His task was to keep the posts clean and tidy, sorting and tidying them. It may sound a menial task but the success of producing year round produce for the manor house depended to a certain extent on the boy’s work. It was usually done in the cold winter months, not only to keep the gardening boy busy and earning a wage during the winter months but also to prevent diseases spreading between plants. In those days, the pots would have been made from clay and had different sizes to them. I have a few older pots and they are not winter hardy. The clay pots were cleaned before the frost could get at them which would freeze in the pores of the clay and break them.

I prefer clay pots to plastic ones but I have what I have at the moment and am happy to make them work until they crack. I have no pothouse but pots are shelved in the polytunnel under the bench. I can work there any day really, even when it rains as it is under cover.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Home work

What can I mean by that? Not the kind you did at school. Today has been quite a productive day. I have been organising the kitchen and looking at what tools I have for the job of cooking. I found quite a few things that I have not used in years so made a decision to part with broken crockery, mugs and plates that are being smashed down to go in the bottom of our claypots for next year.
We went and chose the mini peach tree for the sun facing front garden. It was great to go and dig that hole, mixing the earth with some compost made last year to give the tree a good start. I am uncertain what sort of crop of peaches it will give us next year, but it promises to be pretty in blossom and hopefully some fruit on it. I did not go for a maiden tree ( single branch) but for a tree that is about 3 years old so that the prospect of fruit will be greater next year.

The central heating is installed and we have opted for an overall temperature of 19 degrees during the day with a slightly higher one between 7 and 9 pm, when we would normally sit in front of the fire. If we do have a fire then it just simply does not click in. The thermostat is an all singing dancing, remote thing with different heating patterns for each day so that in principle if you work 5 days per week and are home at weekends you could not have the heating on during the week. In that way it is effective. Still, we deliberately have set the thermostat at a lower temperature that is comfortable and may still reduce it further if needs be.

I put the last of the dried seeds in an envelope, labelled for next year and have put all the pots ready to be washed out. This will be a job for a sunny day with bucket and brush. I wash the pots out each year with some vinegar in the water to stop bugs from overwintering and eating my seedlings in the spring. The mangetout peas are coming up in the guttering as are the broad beans and if the frost holds out for a while we will be able to plant them outside. They overwinter well. The cabbages are still a disaster but can provide good green chicken food. The chickens look a bit sorry at this time of the year but are working hard at giving us some excellent fresh eggs. Today’s news shows that eggs imported from Spain to the Uk have salmonella present. I have no worries about that as we have our own chickens and fresh eggs on hand but it highlights the ridiculous miles and packaging these eggs have to do before they reach the supermarkets.

One article which makes fun reading is about eco activism, people going shopping and unwrapping their goods at the checkout to show how much packaging the supermarket is generating.This week environment minister Ben Bradshaw urged shoppers to teach supermarkets a lesson by dumping wasteful packaging at the cash till. It's not often a member of the government recommends direct action. What would the big chains make of it?

The rest of the day has been spent working in the food factory, making some chilli for tea, home made ice cream, blackberries slowly cooked with a dash of rum and soaking the fruit for the Christmas cake. Recipe will be posted separately.

I managed to argue with the bank and speak of discrimination and they have backed away from the fee for 12 months. That will give me time to see what can be done about it. I argued that the product they wanted me to take out was not suitable as I do not drive, go on holiday and spend much of time at home. Sometimes challenging the charges can be worthwhile.

Evenings are spent playing board games, knitting that sweater which is this year’s warm new piece and spinning yarn from local sheep.

I am looking at my home as a lovely place to be and encourage the family team members to voice what would make it lovelier, nicer and a more pleasant place to be and what has come out is heartwarming. You may have thought that is was about new videos, going out etc, but no, they love the new home cooking from scratch, eating canned peaches with ice cream in November and tasting the sun remembering last summer and above all they want to play board games and have old fashioned fun. That is good, because Santa has been barred from bringing electronic toys.....

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Frugality

Frugality and economy are home virtues without which no household can prosper. Dr. Johnson says:"Frugality may be termed the daughter of Prudence, the sister of Temperance, the parent of Liberty. He that is extravagant will quickly become poor, and poverty will enforce dependence and invite corruption." The necessity of practising economy should be evident to every one, whether in popossessionf an income no more than sufficient for a family's requirements, or of a large fortune which put financial adversity out of the question. We must always remember that it is a great merit in housekeeping to manage a little well. "He is a good waggoner," says Bishop Hall, "that can turn in a little room. To live well in abundances the praise of the estate, not of the person. I will study more how to give a good account of my little, than how to make it more." In this there is true wisdom and it may be added, that those who can mange a little well, are most likely to succeed in their management of larger matters. Economy and frugality must never, however, be allowed to degenerate into parsimony and meanness.
Beeton's Book of Household Management. Mrs. Isabella Beeton

Perhaps the most serious and most difficult of all the duties of the housewife is the keeping of her expenditure well within the sum she is allowed for the household use. On the one hand she does not wished to be classed as extravagant, nor on the other hand does she want to be called mean; and she cannot avoid either of these extremes except by the greatest care and planning. Yet what housewife does not take a pride in managing to show that she can save a little out of the household money. Without at the same time stinting the family in anything necessary to their comfort.
Useful Hints on Household Management. Martha Millar

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


I do not dispute that my bank has given me excellent service in the past, that it wants to continue to give me a good service but to do this it now feels that it needs to start charging me a monthly fee of £ 10 per account to do so. I can avoid these charges by guaranteeing that I will deposit a certain sum each month into the accounts or I could avoid the charges by purchasing an additional product which is more expensive than £ 10. I can understand their excellent argument rationally but on the other hand why would I want to buy a product that is going to be of no use to me at all : free (?) annual travel insurance, instant mobile balance reports, special offers on hotels and restaurants etc. A point that strikes me is that although I have made full use of my consumer powers in the past, they have had a sizeable salary paid in over a vast 15 years and they have earnt interest on that money while it shifted in and out and had the 4 day timelapse in which time they probably invested it and got paid interest, I see it as a success. The success surely must be that I have come up in some warning system, code red, as costing them money, as I am spending little and acting outside the norm.
So I am going to be forced to downshift the amounts of accounts I have, as it appears that the rules apply to many banks now, and put many of my eggs in one basket ( a point I do not usually agree with as diversifying has its benefits), however this bank states simply that my accounts no longer are viable to them and that they can do without my 20 year custom. Am I sad about that, not really, just deeply disappointed that in a society where generally debt is a problem and saving non existent that people who do not go into debt and hence do not make the bank rich, should be pushed out. What message are they giving us here?

Keeping a low profile for the Christmas season

Its that time of year where going anywhere near town is going to fill you with Christmas Spirit, bags of packaging and a variety of useless presents.
I have an aunt who each year for the fun of it, used to ask for useless presents. Indeed most years she got exactly that, but then again that was in the seventies.
What can you do to reduce the stress of planning Christmas :

Stay away from the shopping centres at least until January 2007
Staying away will mean you won’t use fuel to get there.
Do not purchase electrical items or toys with batteries.
Give clothing, food or money.
Be creative and make some food presents from scratch

What is in store here at downshifting path. My Dh has a little notebook in which he writes the things I come up with during the year, such as, little gadgets for my knitting, spinning, gardening and homekeeping. He on the other hand leaves me a list of what clothes he needs and is known to want only practical, useful things such as trousers, slippers, shirts etc. You might think this is unimaginative but it is practical. He gets what he wants and his wardrobe needs are satisfied at least twice yearly as he has a summer birthday. My list also includes books ( you might have guessed), yarn, plants and seeds and a sewing basket this year.
Its more difficult for friends and relatives, as they may not subscribe to our less is more lifestyle, and yet again, they will receive some of the items that they love or loath ( you never know) but I have never met anyone who has said yuck to any of the food presents I have given.

here are some of my favourite food baskets to make up this season:

❑ A family film bucket which either includes a DVD or a voucher to go to the movies, popcorn, sweeties, chocolate and a small booklet on the best 100 movies to watch.

❑ Toasted Tootsies, The mulled cider basket which contains two pottery mugs, a gallon of cider, the recipe and spices to make the mulled cider and includes 2 pairs of handmade socks to enable the couple to go for a long walk. It also contains a book on ghost stories to read on dark dark nights near the fire.

❑ Bread basket - encourage someone to make a loaf of bread, includes a large mixing bowl, your recipe for easy to make loaf, loaf tin, yeast, flour, apron and oven gloves.....wrap in remaining square of fabric which can act as a table cloth or table runner.

❑ Afternoon tea - small shopping basket lined with floral fabric which will make a small tablecloth, with recipe and ingredients for scones, scone cutter, 2 jars of home made jam, packet of can add a small book on the history of tea or afternoon tea etc etc.

❑ Bake someone a fruitcake and put it in a lovely gift tin, with the recipe attached, if they like it it may encourage them to make it next year. ( You might get the tin back...could become a party tick, pass the cake)

❑ Theatre tickets, booked from one couple to another with a program which makes a night out, if they have children, you could give 2 tickets and offer to babysit for the evening.
❑ Notecards, pen and stamps for an older person who likes to stay in touch with friends.
❑ The chocolate lovers box, a variety of all things chocolate from hot chocolate, to bars of chocolate, a truly indulgent pressie.

Hopefully this will inspire you to go out there, buy simple ingredients and make up your own individual gift baskets and save a packet, some money out of your wallet and create more relationships than junk.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Off Your trolley?

Ok, time to set a new trend. If you can shop locally, want to carry a lot and save your arms, because let’s face it, a week’s shopping in plastic bags is going to make your muscles ache, the trendy thing to do is to use a trolley. If you are in the city, that’s a good thing to have, in the country the bike and baskets may do a similar thing, In any case, you are using your power, a storage facility that is reused and you can go in shops and just fill the thing up and wheel it away.

So what choices are open to you with regards to trolleys:

You could go for the basket on wheels handmade in Somerset by PH Coate & Son (, 01823 490249) and costs £58.90.
The most designer-label trolley around is by Orla Kiely (, 020-7240 4022), with a price to match: £220. It looks more like a suitcase on wheels (but it is a shopping trolley, it opens at the top and the zip extends quite a way down the sides so you can easily get to things), so it's good if you want a shopping trolley that's a bit incognito, and you can pretend you're on the way back from the station or airport.

In terms of the most practical shopping trolley, you need to go to a branch of Debenhams that has the Molly by Tripp (, 0845-345 6085), £29. It comes in a variety of colours. The height of the trolley is adjustable and it folds up when not in use; it even has a bicycle bell!
One of the cheapest and funkiest around is by Habitat (, 020-7614 5500), although the new colours are neutral to bland.
But cheapest of all is the Foldaway Shopping Trolley, £10.95, code 20659, in black or green (, 015394 88100). It folds into a little bag so is very portable, but does have something of the old lady about it.

We sent urban girl with small flat out into fashionable city to do her shopping with her Molly trolley and she made the following comments :

Got some stares from people, thought I might be out to shoplift although that would not be easy with 2 bags to undo, outer layer and inner layer to waterproof bag.
Do not wear a woolly hat it does make you indistinguishable from the old lady image,
It got filled up easily but when I got home it was a bother to take it up the stairs.
The bell makes an interesting addition. The public on the highway was not sure who had priority, the old lady, the young mum with pram or me with the shopping trolley. I may have looked more dangerous or just unknown so was given priority.

All in all, it could be the way forward to carry your shopping locally and in the end it will be a case of either being a basket case or off your trolley, whichever you choose, some people will continue to see you as mad, different and just plain weird. Never mind, you know why you are doing it...and in the end that is all that matters.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Carbon neutral lifestyle

"It suggests the problem can be solved by a small donation"Jutta Kill, Forests and the European Union Resource Network (FERN)
"The most problematic aspect of carbon offsetting is that it gives out the wrong message. By suggesting the problem can be resolved by a small financial donation, it creates an illusion that it isn't that bad. Where's the educational impetus in that? 

"Then there are the issues with tree planting. In one project in India, money was paid for mango trees but many were never planted and a considerable number didn't survive: local people were given the saplings but no funding for watering and a prolonged drought meant many trees died. Our colleagues in India say this happens to numerous tree plantations. Many companies acknowledge the problems but keep these projects in their portfolios as the public likes the idea of planting trees. 

"Other projects can also be problematic. For example, giving out energy-efficient light bulbs where people struggle with power cuts doesn't help the supply problems and the people can't afford to replace the bulbs. But it's all about selling ideas and it's easier to catch the public imagination with the notion of an impoverished community in, say, Uganda, getting energy-efficient stoves than with the idea of improving insulation on a British housing estate - which may offer similar, or better, results in carbon terms. 

"Instead of buying carbon offsets, we should support local, renewable-energy projects such as wind power and micro-hydro schemes. With regional projects, you can actually see what is happening; if you pay someone else to run a project on the other side of the world, there's a much greater possibility of something going wrong. We can support worthwhile green projects without using a carbon-offset company as a middleman."

Some companies do this as a rule and I wondered how much it would cost me each year to offset my carbon print with regards to energy use. A description of what it means can be found on the carbonneutral website which also provides a calculator and local projects you can invest in to offset your use of CO2 releases in the atmosphere. The first step has to be to reduce the amount you contribute whether you are a company or individual and I think the idea to offset it against local projects has potential. Its a useful exercise to check what your emissions are and what you can do to work on a zero carbon footprint.If you are serious about achieving zero carbon footprint then of course you go ahead and find out what you need to do about that. I agree with the principle but I am still working on reducing the energy, food and consumer needs I have and when I get to a level that is sustainable I am certainly open to investing in making my footprint as light as possible. Its a work in progress for me. In the end analysis we all have to pay in one way or another for what we use, but it gets out of balance when other countries suffer because I have used too many resources.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Too hot to handle

Few, its tropical in the house with central heating. The men have finished most of the pipe work and tearing up floorboards. Before the weekend they have left us with a fully functioning system apart from the thermostat which an electrician will come and install on Monday.
Initially the children got really excited about the heat, we started peeling off layers of wool clothing until we could do no more to stay decent and then we just laughed and laughed. It was sooo hot that we had to go and shut the thing off again. That was 30 mins into having the heating system on. We became aware that the woolly socks we wear, the jumpers and quilts we used seemed useless against the temperature rise but when we shut the system down, it cooled down very quickly and noticeably in the house. The conclusion therefore is that central heating is like a bandaid to an ongoing lack of warmth. We also felt that over the years we had acclimatised to lower temperatures and as the seasons change, we change our clothing requirements. The house is old and the walls take a long time to heat up and then slowly release the heat, and it stays cool during the summer. That sounds ecologically sound to me. So what now? We took the decision not to have it on again as promised until the temperature dives to such a low that we are not able to keep warm. I am so glad that my knitting of socks and jumpers will be ongoing and that the wool provided by sheep, mixed with some alpaca will continue to provide us with insulation against the elements. On a positive note, should we ever feel like a change of climate we do not need to travel far, just flick a switch....which has to be better than flying to warmer climates.