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.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A sense of place......

The english language has some truly simple words in it, such as disease, meaning not being at ease and ‘belonging’ meaning ‘ being long’ in a place. I guess being long in a place, staying for a while gives us the opportunity to really get to know the place, getting a sense of the place and with whom we share this corner of the earth. Throughout the seasons, I notice plants coming and going and yet if I linger long enough, I should be able to map out where the wild garlic grows, where I can pick blackberries and sloes. Where the best apples are, wild flowers and mushrooms. As a child I still had a sense of wonder. My parents lived in a house near a brook in which I spent quite some time playing with stones and watching the water flow. The forests that surrounded it had clearings in which a type of blueberry ‘ myrtilles’ could be found and during the summer months I would find that clearing and claim my berries. Although I no longer visit that corner of earth, my children enjoyed their trips to grandma enormously, not only because she had simple rituals such as making biscuits and going for long walks, but also because she had a map of the garden and the brook, where the children added their treasure finds and beauty spots for others to explore next visit.
When our children revisit the place we ‘ belonged’ in childhood, they experience it with wonder that long has left the adult perspective and yet the treasures they find are the ones I too looked upon with wonder . Maybe a simple gift we can give ourselves is to make a treasure map of where we live, where our life belongs and add the wonderful places we like so much with clues .... X marks the spot of the puffball mushroom to be found at around a particular time of the year. The place where sloes are collected could be marked and the book of adventures could include the family recipe to make sloe gin, to be enjoyed as adults by the fire in darkest January. How lovely too to give that book to the next people who will make your house their home in the future, your children or others. Its a simple gift but also priceless local information, a little magic book with a built in treasure hunt, including the history of your garden, why you planted that tree or the rosebush that was given for mothers day. Its this perspective that gives us a sense of belonging and a sense of adventure when we get itchy feet. It takes time to make such a book, but in making it together you may discover what gives you a sense of place and where you belong and with whom. It certainly will reduce your carbon footprint and increase your local knowledge. While the moon shines bright tonight and a frost descends on our valley, I can see orion’s belt in the sky and add a heavenly starry sky to my treasure map.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Waste watchers

Big brother is watching you. At a bin near you?
In order to help us all recycle our rubbish, the government in the Uk is going to allow local councils to have wheelie bins with chips inside that will measure the amount of waste created by each household. I can see a few issues with that :
people will drive to the countryside and tip rubbish if they do not want to pay for it by weight.
on bin day, people may put rubbish in their neighbours bin to avoid paying.....
Some may even bury their waste in the garden or take it to town to put in the community bins.

Another article which caught my attention about how Bristol Council has tried to cope with recycling and forcing changes on its inhabitants.

In order to save the amount of rubbish we create, we can only achieve changes if we bring less into the home. If we buy apples loose, and pack them in a paper bag, we can eat the apples, compost the peel and the paper or recycle the paper. If you buy 6 apples, wrapped in plastic on a plastic tray you are left with the tray and the plastic which will cost you money to deal with in your rubbish collection. To counteract this, we need to become more savvy while shopping and reduce the amount of things we buy and the amount of packaging they come in. I wrote to the council saying that plastic bags from supermarkets could not be recycled and at my last visit I noticed a wheelie bin specifically for those bags, so again, maybe someone needs to communicate about these issues.

What will happen with all the packaging and gifts coming up at Christmas time. Lets have some ideas on virtual, clutterfree presents. I can think of the following :
food with packaging that can be recycled
activities together
vouchers to spend time together
bubble baths, clothes and candles ( of course not for me as I have a collection of these)

what are your ideas for a clutterfree Christmas?

On the other hand, here is a way to raise money for your school by collecting second hand clothes, bags,shoes etc. The fundraising activity has been organised by the parents of our local village school and hopefully the whole community will see that this is a positive way to raise money for the school and recycle clothes etc. Of course, they will travel to other countries and this is only one solution to a complex issue.

This is a small village and not only are they responding to the above, they also filled 192 shoeboxes with gifts for children in Roumania. Not a single electronic toy was in it, pencils, paper, soft toys, hats, socks, soap and toothpaste to name a few useful things.

In my opinion, and it is only my opinion, to reduce rubbish we will have to pay for, we need to bring less of it in our homes, and so we need to be savvy when we buy things and look beyond the convenience of it all. It will require a shift in our behaviour that it is cheaper to buy new than to repair or do without.

A lot of changes have happened with for instance, washing powder. It used to be in a box, then it became liquid in a bottle, now small liquid pouches in a box. I suppose it requires consumer there such a word?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A time for reflection

Its the 5th November today, remember, remember the 5th of November.......
A popular British rhyme is often quoted on Guy Fawkes Night, in memory of the Gunpowder Plot:
Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The Gunpowder Treason and plot ;
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
'Twas his intent.
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below.
Poor old England to overthrow.
By God's providence he was catch'd,
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holloa boys, Holloa boys, let the bells ring
Holloa boys, Holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip Hoorah !
Hip hip Hoorah !
A penny loaf to feed ol'Pope,
A farthing cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down,
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar,'
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head,
Then we'll say: ol'Pope is dead.

Our bonfire is stacked high with the prunings of the cut branches and has been building up for the last month. It is a welcome tradition in a time when nature stands still. The bees in the hive are dormant, the bird song has gone, everyone retires in their homes and after the harvest we can sit and take stock of how we are doing on balance. Downshifting may not produce a monetary profit but on balance we have gained a better balance and understanding of the rhythms and cycle of life and how we have an active part in it. Man has always felt a deep connection with nature, his life was dominated by it, nature was respected as not doing so created immediate repercussions. Having distanced ourselves from nature and put it out of our awareness, we are now reminded that what we took for granted is actually pouncing and making an entrance in our awareness through news of global warming and strange weather patterns. This is the first year where we have not had our Indian summer weeks in September and where the temperature lingered above average until the end of October. Last week we went from 23 degrees C to - 2 in a the span of 7 days and that is a shock as usually it diminishes gradually so we can adapt easier. We can light fires but I guess the animals out there might be spared a thought.
I reflect at this time about the harvest, what I have contributed and taken from this world and on balance, despite best efforts, I am still consuming 1.6 planets. To get to 1 and create that balance will require some more effort, creativity and ingenuity.
The first change I am working on is on changing the perception of Christmas Time and be more focussed in my giving. Its quiet in the garden and this will give me time to get the needles out, the sewing machine out and create some truly individual gift baskets.

In the Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama says:
When life becomes too complicated and we feel overwhelmed, it’s often useful just to stand back and remind ourselves of our overall purpose, our overall goal. When faced with a feeling of stagnation and confusion, it may be helpful to take an hour, an afternoon, or even several days to simply reflect on what it is that will truly bring us happiness, and then reset our priorities based on that.This can put our life back in proper context, allow a fresh perspective and enable us to see which direction to take.
Our day-to day- existence is very much alive with hope, although there is no guarantee that tomorrow at this time we will be here. But still we are working on the basis of hope. So, we need to make the best use of our time. I believe that the proper utilisation of time is this ; if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them. So let us reflect on what is truly of value in our life, what gives meaning to our lives and set our priorities based on that. ( Dalai Lama,1998, p 46)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dark days ahead

Energy check - did one again, my does the month fly by that fast and we are slightly up on average but I guess that is because the nights are drawing in and the lights are on more than before. The unit average is now 19.1 per day but again that is not bad for 5 of us.
We are settling into a different routine in the fall and winter. Less gardening and more focus on the inside of the house. Morning chores include cleaning the fire place and laying down the beginnings of the evening fire. Dh goes out and cuts some more logs to size ( which gives him some exercise) and the log baskets get filled to the brim. My main tasks for the day are baking bread, cleaning following my rota, decluttering. I got volunteered by my son to make some floor cushions for the school as apparently I am the only mother with a sewing machine ( really? does anyone else use these still?) It appears not many people even know how to sew on a button. Whilst decluttering I had found 10 yards of fabric with fish and starfish on it in blues, sand coloured and gold and that will certainly put a smile on the children’s faces when they have story time or discuss the next eco project.
This afternoon we made a glazed chocolate cake which we will enjoy tomorrow. At about 4 pm when it gets a little darker, the fire is lit, the candles are lit and we settle down to some reading, mending or sewing or whatever else we feel like doing. Last night was so cold upstairs the quilts and blankets came out. Layering is the key.....
I am reading ‘ Further along the road less travelled’ by Scott Peck. Some years ago, I was invited to take a pick of someone’s books, after she passed away and now that I have some more time, I am enjoying just picking one out and having a read.

A large to do list has arrived on my fridge door.....its an ongoing list of things I think need attending like a leak in the pipe of our cooking stove. Its week 2 with a bucket to catch the hot water, which then gets used to do the washing up, but getting it mended has to be on the list. Other jobs include hanging up pictures ( the walls got painted 3 months ago but gardening tasks were a priority). I have an image of Badger, Toad and Rat in Wind in the Willows and I am quite contented with my little home here in the country. Stay out of the dark woods......

Friday, November 03, 2006

Compulsive buys

A few posts ago I talked about my addiction to purchasing black trousers, having found a large amount of pairs in the closet. I know I have an addiction to buying yarn but that would be normal for knitters. I sent some of that stash to a friend who has moved away as a housewarming and wedding pressie and she phoned me today. As I said, relationships are more important to me than stuff. I managed to scan some more pictures today and found candles. 4 packets of long tapered candles. Upstairs in my stash cupboard, I found more candles. I have a total of 9 boxes. I do like them very much, especially the scented ones but again I have more than a year’s worth here which is a bit much. Good to have candles as they are part of the emergency provisions, but 9 boxes do not need adding to. Another of my buying addictions is vases. Its entirely laughable, but I have 15 vases of all sorts of sizes and materials, from glass to pottery, glazed and unglazed. Would be good if I was a florist but I probably need to sort them and just keep a 5 in a variety of sizes for the home grown flowers. I know I bought vases because they remain hidden in the closet under the stuff.
I have put a giant to do list on the fridge with tasks to do and one of them is to select vases and freecycle the others.

NOTE TO SELF- which has been placed in my purse.....
Do not buy:
black trousers

What is your compulsive buy?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Down or up the path.....

Digital scrapbooks

After a few warmer days, the first frost came yesterday which meant we lit our first woodstove fire in the evening. The planted naturtium, which had still been in bloom, dramatically dies off when the temperature plummets and thus provides me with a natural sign that the nights are getting too cold and plants that need sheltering need to come in.
With the same, attention starts to be focussed on the inside of the house. A new freecyle group has been set up locally which means that to recycle we will have less far to travel. I am still decluttering the colder evenings mean more time for reading I am making time to cull the bookshelves and donate the books to Oxfam or sell them on Amazon or Greenmetropolis. ( links in the sidebar).
One other project is to have a look at all the photos we have accumulated over the years, scan them and transfer them on disks. This will reduce space. I am hoping to create some digital albums for members of my family, a bit like a digital scrapbook. It will be available to them when they grow up as a reminder of their childhood. Works of art created by the children get photographed and stored in the same way. It is almost impossible to keep it all in the attic and would be a burden to go through later in life. This way, it can still be admired and be part of the digital memory box.

We had a lovely time watching home videos of family occasions and reflecting on the older family members that are no longer with us. Family videos can give a fascinating insight into daily life along the years, as we discovered in the House of Alleyn in Gent. Its a part of history and each family has its own history. I am trying to make it available to my childen in the future should they be interested.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Back to reality

The house is in a topsy turvy state. Not by accident I have to say, but generally because we are having some heating installed. Not that we are likely to use it a lot, but thanks to a grant we were able to have it installed in the house.The floorboards are up, each room has had its furniture put aside and the children have been very careful not to thread on nails etc. You may wonder why we are having heating installed when we are trying to downshift and reduce our use of fossil fuels. Well, about 3 weeks of each year we really do feel the cold and are chilled to the bone. I found out that we could apply for a grant to have heating installed and well, if you get an offer like that, why turn it down? My Dh suggested that it would increase the value of the house and would be less offputting to future occupiers. It will not be a regular used appliance but more like a back up system when all other options leave us cold. I am comfortable with a low temperature in the house, I love a woodstove in the evening and I am not adverse to wearing woolly jumpers and socks, even fingerless mittens to keep warm. I am happy to sit in the lounge with my feet up the sofa, covered in a quilt, indulging in a hot cup of tea and reading a good book. That sounds healthy. I have difficulty during 3 weeks of the year, where the temperature goes below freezing and you wake up with a dampness in the air, ice on the inside of the windows and no matter how you try to stay warm, the house is invaded with a dampness that pervades your bones and seems to stick. The british climate is not friendly to people in the long-term. The wonderful days of fall are followed by dark, damp, dreary days in January and February. Its not the same when you have a blue sky and a cracking frost, that lifts the soul up and invites you to go for a long walk, breathing in clear air and watching your breath make small smoke in front of you. The weather I am talking about is a depressing, dark, gloomy, damp foggy day when all the lights need to be on, the dampness invades your home and spirits. On days like that I am hoping that by keeping the temperature constant and drying a bit of the dampness out of the air, quality of life will be increased. I will still wear the socks, the woolly jumper, start a woodstove fire in the afternoon and light candles to perfume the air but will not feel it necessary to iron my sheets before going to bed. There is something comforting in going to bed with a hot water bottle, under a large quilt but dampness is another matter.

In the garden, we are continuing to tidy up, cut shrubs and build a large bonfire of all the branches that we cannot shred and reuse. Large branches are cut for firewood, smaller ones shredded as mulch, and the ones left over are built up to be a large bonfire for November the 5th when it is Bonfire Night.

Tonight on Halloween, we carved mini pumpkins and put little lights in them on the windowsills. The larger pumpkins are still in the polytunnel and will be eaten as the season progresses. We do not celebrate as people do in the USA, Halloween is a smaller venture here but nevertheless it signifies a recognition that the dark days of winter are on its way, so a little fun and joviality is called for. We do celebrate as a family but do not actually buy into the commercialism of it anymore. I can look scary anyday if I put my mind to it! We did talk about what the children wanted to happen as we enter winter and the biggest request was for home made waffles when they return from school and it is dark outside. On days, when spirits need lifting, boys carrying schoolbags will be greeted with the smell of freshly baked waffles as well as large steaming mugs of hot chocolate. A feeling of coming home is as simple as that, and as easily created.