Saturday, June 30, 2007

Endings can be beginnings

Day's End by Monte Nagler
Day's End

The silence last week has mainly been due to the fact that I have graduated from college after spending time with a fantastic group of people on a counselling/ psychotherapy course.
Downshifting is not only about leaving the ratrace, but to find an authentic way to express who I am and to make a contribution to society in a different way. We all celebrated our journey so far and some members of the course will be leaving their jobs to face an uncertain future and take a downshifthing step.

Our tutor left us with the following advice which I share with you. Taking the plunge to downshift means that in essence the world you live in and in which you have found your place, needs to change, needs to disintegrate to allow you to rebuild it into the life you want to live as an authentic expression of yourself.

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart again. Then they come together and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, fo misery, for joy.
From : When things fall apart; Heart advice for difficult times by Penna Chodron

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Time to reflect

Remember What Is - Chinese Saying
Remember What Is - Chinese Saying

I am going to take the next few days off from writing as a time of quiet and reflection and will be back towards the end of the week.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Who owns your bank account?

Easy, ofcourse, you have signed up to direct debits. That means that the company you have bought something from, automatically debits your account for a certain amount.
Now, how many of you have looked at the direct debits and standing orders leaving your account and wondered why it is leaving your account?

Some questions :
Is is essential? Does it help towards a downshifting life?
What benefit does it give me? Who benefits?
If it is necessary....can I get it cheaper?
Energy consumption - can I reduce the payments by reducing consumption

etc etc
You get the drift:
Here are some common Direct debits that we are sold:
appliance insurance : if you actually saved the same amount, you would be able to purchase a new item over a number of years. Do you need the appliance? Can you do without?
My parents had a formula which came to mind when I started downshifting. Imagine your appliance costs £ 250. It has a life expectancy of 5 years, that means that you need to save up £ 50 per year to be able to replace it when it breaks down. Compare that with the cost of the insurance option offered, look at the guarantees that are offered for free and make a choice.
magazine subscriptions
memberships of organisations - do they still meet your values and beliefs?
leisure - DVD rentals, television, book clubs.....

Anna on MiddleAgeshed asked Heather - what do you have to do in life? It clearly shows that quite often we do things because we feel we have to, its expected, its what people do, its what the neighbours do, it has become a habit etc etc. The fact is, every choice has a consequence and as a result, you need to ask yourself whether you can live with the consequence of your choice.
What do you do with the money saved? You pay off debts, or you save the same amount towards your downshifting nest egg. Often we imagine going from full throttle to stop and think it is easy. Downshifting may simply mean, now working 5 days, next year working 4 days and so on. You can then change money for time and make a choice about how you spend that time.

Often, we have difficulty saying NO. I am working on that one.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

10 ways to holiday flight free

Family Camping by Ocean, Have a Great Vacation
Family Camping by Ocean, Have a Great Vacation

1. Stay at home. Visit your local attractions and view your home as a holiday cottage.
2. Stay in the Uk. It boasts many miles of coastline and fantastic countryside.
3. Support local businesses. Stay in local hotels,visit local producers and places to eat out, farmers markets etc. Find out about local recipes and ingredients. Use the internet to do some local research before you go. The reasons for supporting local businesses is that many in the UK countryside depend on your tourism custom to do what they do best. Choose local instead of the usual chains you know of.
4. Travel to organic destinations. , find out more by visiting
5. Try out a working holiday in the countryside by volunteering on farms. This could be an excellent introduction to learning skills for downshifting, gardening and small farming.
6. Use to find alternative ways of travelling in the UK and Europe.
7. Package holidays are giving profits to large companies....very little goes to the local people - search for other ways to have a holiday.
8. Whilst on holiday, save water when you can. Opt not to have your towels changed daily.The average tourist uses 10 times as much water as the locals when on holiday.
9. Try to find out which world airlines, hotels and travel agents meet environmental standards set by the World Travel and Tourism Council.
10. Get hold of a copy of Tourism Concern’s Ethical Travel Guide.

Further useful resources to check out : - a forum for green travellers to discuss current issues and swap information. - Irish eco destination A guide to rail travel in the UK. All timetables are listed. - Download a guide to public bus and train services in the UK. - offers car free guides to national parks and other countryside areas in the UK. - low cost inter city coach travel. - provides infor on regional public transport and allows you to plan journey and compare ways of getting there with approximate timings. - train timetables and ticket ordering for all UK rail services - low cost inter city coach travel.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lighter footprint

Gimmick or useful tool? Judge for yourself.
The carbon footprint online calculator allows you to put in data and then check how you score against the average Uk family. There is also a USA calculator if you live further afield.

In my case, my personal primary footprint is 990 against a UK national average of 5013 and the amount we are aiming at individually to have an impact on global warming would be 2500 per person.

The website goes on to give hints as to how you reduce your carbon footprint, and one of the biggest changes you can easily make is to change your energy supply from usual suppliers to renewable energy suppliers. To check out the difference you can check out with uswitch how much more or less it would cost you. In practice for us it has increased the cost by 10% but reduced our footprint by 750kg per year.

There are a lot of useful tips and easy measures to reduce your primary footprint. The secondary footprint takes more effort and depends on your consumer habits. We have ticked off many of the following suggestions :
1. - reducing your meat consumption - eat 3 meat meals per week and only buy locally produced organic meat.
2. Do not buy bottled water, use tap water instead. We also do no longer buy cordials, lemonade, coke etc but instead drink herbal teas, fruit cordials made at home or just....water.
3. Buy local fruit and vegetables or grow your own - we grow our own apart from oranges, lemons etc. We eat in season as much as possible and growing vegetables takes about 15 mins work a day. The rest depends on cooperation of weather, soil conditions and garden pests.
4. Shop locally, visit farmer's markets and engage in your local foodproducing community.
take a shopping bag, cash and build up muscle power.
5. Do not buy overpackaged goods. Choose them loose and use paper bags or packaging that can be recycled.
6. Avoid products made in China and India - because they travel far and you could be selective and purchase items made in countries that are ecologically aware. ( if you do choose products made in other countries you may by your consumption be unwittingly adding to the global footprint).
7. Check out your leisure activities - do they add to the carbon emissions or are they reducing them. The question to ask yourself here is I adding to the solution or the problem here?

On balance, we need to stop doing things on automatic and take responsibility for the choices we make. It is a continious process and takes time, but one step at a time gets you there.
All you need to do is make a start.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rain again

I can hear you, we british have an obsession with the weather. Its the first conversation point that happens when you do not know the person very well and as it varies on a regular basis provides a never ending variety of words to play with.
Recently, we have had just a few words to exchange and conversations have been scant, mainly because everyone hides in their house. It is meant to be midsummer and spirits are low...nights will be drawing in after the 21st June again and hey we are heading for winter.
The garden work has been halted and this weekend we had a rather soggy garden's open festival in our village. The village hall was packed with many digging into the village feast, talking not only about gardens but about the weather. I did not open my garden ( as unfortunately weeds are not allowed when you show your garden) but did partake in selling raffle tickets. I like village events like these because you get to meet everyone, talk about the weather and then move on to the news, who is where, what is happening etc. As not a lot happens in any event, the conversation ends with a moan about the weather.

I do no mind the rain as the alternative pushes me back in the house to fibre arts. Today I finished spinning the long job of rollo's fleece and ventured out in between showers to take the artistic shot. Rain or no rain, thats got to be my conversation point for today. I hope to take it out to Shirley soon and see if she is willing to give me a fleece later on in the year to turn into squishy, softness.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Nil miles dinner

I reflected on our achievement Thursday evening to create a meal totally home grown bar one item.

The menu consisted of :
  • omelettes with shredded courgette flowers and herbs from the garden.
  • stir fried mangetout peas and baby courgettes
  • new potatoes with a hint of mint
  • Water to drink.

It seems nothing probably to you, reading this blog, but it means to us that we have stopped relying on the supermarket for everything we eat. The only ingredient that we could not replace was the olive oil used to make the omelettes with.

I guess there will always be ingredients that we need to buy but the general aim was to reduce our dependency on supermarkets, produce our own foods and source local food. We are well on our way to achieving that and most of the ingredients travelled 50 yards and were picked and eaten the same day. It does not get fresher than that.

It's strawberry time between mid june and mid july in my neighbourhood and I will be picking to preserve some for the future. More on that next week.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ways to start downshifting

Iceland poppies- fragile paper petals, a beautiful moment.

Downshifting requires you to continue to have some sort of income. If your plans involve quitting your job now or in the future then you need to work at reducing your money out with money in by reducing your living costs. If you are going to take time out, or start a business you may wish to save up 6 months worth of living expenses to give you enough money to live on while your plans take fruition.

Anyone can downshift but it is a voluntary act. It means trading a high standard of living with high stress to a higher quality of life. A downshifted life is often richer in time than in money. This is contrary to what we have been told and brought up in, in that our standard of living needs to be high and success is measured based on our monetary successes and gains. If however, our success were measured in terms of the quality of our wellbeing, relationships and communities, we could argue that the downshifters life is richer. To downshift you may want some savings to make the transition easier, you could sell some of your possessions, declutter. After that you may wish to move to a smaller home, in a less expensive area or search where exactly you can envisage living and making the best out of the resources you have been given.Matt and AJ from, moved from the Uk to Nova Scotia because that made downshifting for them easier than here in the UK.

What about debts?
Debt has become a way of life since the eighties when the boom or bust culture took hold in the UK. Previously to that, a generation who had been brought up by parents from the depression era and having lived through the second world war, were in general terms much more frugal and self sufficient. If you are in debt you may wish to look at how much you are paying for the lifestyle you are living and work a plan to reduce that debt. It can be very satisfying to see your debt levels decrease and your quality of life increase without feeling some depravation in the process. It has taken us 3 years so far to declutter and reduce our living expenses and it is an ongoing process. I am about to have another purge of knitting magazines that are collecting dust on the bookshelf and that could be sold via ebay to avid collectors. Our tastes do change on the downshifting path.

How realistic is to live on less?
The media continue to tempt us to buy into the feelings and consume. We also consume to fill holes in our life. We go for that holiday because we are stressed out at work, we need a massage, take away meals because working has stressed us out and we have no time to cook. etc etc.You can turn that around by booking yourself a week at home as a holiday and try the following :
  • a week without TV, radio, newspapers and magazines and monitor how you are less tempted to spend money on what you think you ought to have in your life.
  • stay away from supermarkets that week. Plan your menu and source local producers, visit them and get to know what is available locally. You will need to work hard in a different way but notice how much money you save and how you engage with your food.
  • Do not eat take aways. If you feel the need, take time to get the best china out and prepare a meal for yourself or partner as if you were in charge of the best restaurant in town. Check out what atmosphere you like when you eat a meal together. Candles, best cutlery and china make it special.
  • Set yourself a budget for the week, in cash and only spend what you need and what is in your pocket. Forget credit cards for the week and get in touch with physically counting coins and notes when you pay for your purchases. Engage with real currency instead of virtual money.
If you do not think you can manage all of these in a week, try one of them, take small steps and notice why you are reluctant and why it seems so difficult.

Will it make me poor and plunge me into poverty?

Check out now what your mental picture of poverty means. Check out the reality of poverty in the world and check your standard of living again. Against consumer society’s standards you may well be considered poor, again because the measure of being on the breadline is determined by the amount of money you receive against the average considered necessary to live in the world as it is. It is possible to live on a lot less. There is a difference between poverty ( i.e. not having food, shelter and warmth on a daily basis) and frugal simplicity. Poverty is not a voluntary act, it is disabling as where downshifting and living a simpler, frugal life is empowering and enriching. In my experience, relapses into consuming and feeling deprived are normal initial responses to downshifting. It requires focus to stay informed and make choices that lead to a richer inner life. A journal to see how you have progressed is worth checking out from time to time to see how you are adapting and how downshifting is working out for you. You may lose will gain others.

To downshift you need a certain confidence to earn money when necessary, to stay flexible, learn new skills and keep in mind that what you are working towards is a harmonious life, living using available resources without depleting the earth. It is not an easy choice as you are in fact rowing against the tide of consuming the earth, but instead of flowing towards the edge caught in the torrent of the stream, you are learning to check out the sites, admire the wildlife and find nice resting places along the way. Yes you need to keep alert, focussed and check reality.
Most importantly, network with others who walk like you do and learn from eachother.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lily beetles

The beauty of the courgette flower. Edible as well, you can pick them, cover them in tempura batter and fry them for a delicious snack.

Some insects you do not want in the garden. If you look closely at the lily bud, you will see 2 little red dots. Caught mating on my lilies! On further inspection the plant is littered with what look like bird droppings, so with tissues in hand I have been wiping the plants off.
Better pictures of this bug can be seen here.

A new chore therefore every day is going to see and wipe down those lilies. I am trying to be as organic as possible and the bugs have a rather lovely colour to them when fully grown but I like my lilies better.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

steps to becoming vegetarian

Pork by Steven Norman

This article may be upsetting.

This is the question Barbara left me with after her comment a few days ago :

I wonder if you have done any research on what is being reported about the benefits of a vegetarian/vegan diet versus a diet containing meat with regard to walking more gently on the earth and depletion of its resources.

Best to you, Barbara in Georgia USA

I immediately responded that I had but it has prompted me over the last few days to reflect on my answer and decide what I can do about it.
gives some answers to the amount of resources needed to bring the meat to your plate and to some extent I agree with their information. I also do not understand why cattle need to be moved all around the countryside from farm to farm in an effort to make the cattle bigger, faster so that it reaches the supermarket,easily packaged etc.

I have been a meat eater all my life ( its a habit, its the norm in my family) but in the last few years have chosen to purchase meat not from the supermarket but from local producers. ( So called happy meat). Our farm visit was thoughtprovoking and yes, the boys were put off by consciously linking the sausages to the cute pigs they saw. Was this a cruel thing to do? I think not. As consumers we are so removed from the actual process and thinking that yes, for those sausages to arrive on the table, an animal was bred and killed. It is convenient that we do not want to look at that, that the meat arrives ready to consume and yet it does not remove the actual fact that the animal was killed for us. The first step for me has been to acknowledge and thank the animal for giving its life so that I might have some protein in my body.

The next step for me was to reduce the actual amount of meat I eat. I introduced 2 no meat days on the menu ( jacket potatoes being one, soup the other and a vegetable past dish are favourites). I am not keen on meat substitues made from soya because I feel that if you are not going to eat meat, then you do not eat meat. I have found that my awareness of other things beside meat is limited. I do cook vegetarian dishes but usually not as a rule and that is being explored at the moment too. In the meantime, I have reduced the amount of meat, locally purchased to sufficient ( i.e. no more than a fist size per meal per person) in an effort to wean myself of too much meat.

Salads and soups are becoming more the norm as opposed to beef.,chicken and ham sandwiches.

Here are my 10 steps to becoming a vegetarian:

  1. Research. Explore. Get the facts. Read lots. Knowledge is power
  2. Think about the animals. Think about your body. Think about the earth. And if you're not tired from all that thinking, consider how your food choices impact the people around you and the world. No need to make any decisions. Just allow yourself time to ponder.
  3. Talk to vegetarians. Talk to non-vegetarians. Ask questions. Share your thoughts. Join a club. Start a club. Hang out with vegetarians. Then do more thinking.
  4. Make a game of it. Bet your friend you can go a whole month without steak Setting goals can be serious or fun. Depends on your attitude.
  5. Learning to cook in a whole new way can be exciting. Take a class. Get books from the library. Try out new recipes on a friend. Allow yourself to get creative, to play. Have some fun with it. Meatless meals are possible
  6. Make mealtime special. Sit down. Use the good china and cloth napkins. Play nice music before you dig in, and take a moment to be thankful. As you eat, chew carefully, savoring each bite. Slow down. Notice the tastes, sensations. See how it feels to really experience food this way.
  7. Try to be aware of your body's needs. Sleep when you're tired. Eat when you're hungry. Pay attention to your body - which foods feel good, which don't? Notice how certain foods drain your energy, mood, emotions, concentration and sleep pattern. Respect your body. Learn the connection between what you put in your body and what you get out of it.
  8. Consider fasting. Look into juicing. Explore macrobiotics or raw food diets.
  9. You may get resistance from friends and family. Be ready for it. (Family dinners can be especially stressful - breaking "food traditions" is hard on everyone.) Be strong, but not self-righteous. Trust yourself. Prepare, too, for your own self-doubts. Am I getting enough vitamins? Am I doing the right thing? This is normal. Relax. Talk to your friends. Build a support group. Refer back to your books. And if you do "fall off the wagon," see how you feel, and get back on! Give yourself room to be human, and time to adjust.
  10. Mark the day on your calendar that you stopped eating meat. Treat yourself to a massage. But realise that vegetarianism is an ongoing process, and the "journey" is more than half the fun!

I am personally at step 2.

here are some interesting sites to get inspiration from.
Vegetarian resource group - lots of info on being a vegan
Vegan lunch box - infor and inspiration of what to put in your lunchbox and much more
Compassionate cooks - a podcast abour changing your meals one step at a time
Vegetarian meal plans - a blog with a menu, great recipes and gorgeous photos of food.

As a by the by, reducing my portions and introducing more veg and fruit, less sugar and more water has reduced my weight by 8 lbs so far over the last 2 months. Less is more.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Love that wilt not let me go

There are no better days than June in England to enjoy the beautiful lushness, the green and the colours that surround us. In my heart today I felt some sadness at having taken the decision to sell our home, a place that abounds with beauty. I feel privileged to be a caretaker of this place and this garden. The colours are stunning and the wildlife abundant and it truly is a parnership between us ( even with the slugs).
I noticed a toad in my polytunnel and am happy to share the place with it. It eats slugs and keeps some other bugs at bay. Birds have been getting closer to us over the last few weeks, and I have a cheeky blackbird that hops in the polytunnel, looks am me sideways, hops on the strawberry bush and pecks away. I am happy to share, in turn I am sure he helps around the place in some way.

I got this foxglove as a seedling at last year's garden's open and I love the pattern and the colours in it. No idea of its variety but it just has a stunning colour and pattern to it.
I am in love with the place I live, and on some level, it does not want to let me go.

Yesterday, we saw the most amazing sight. Into the garden came a swarm of bees, the buzzing was overwhelming and it sounded like a huge bee argument ' Shall we settle here, its lovely, lots of flowers, a sallow tree, come on guys.......)They hovered together, in a sort of dance and moved together. I am not sure how they do that but it was beautiful to look at. In the afternoon we had a visit from the local beekeeper society with a new beekeeper keen to catch his first swarm. It was swelteringly hot and it was such a beautiful thing to watch happen.
I learnt a lot about bees. Its on my list one day, beekeeping......and an impromptu visit by a new swarm made me focus on that to put it a notch higher on my list.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

If you down to the farm this weekend

Fear- Eleanor Roosevelt
Fear- Eleanor Roosevelt

This weekend I am hoping to visit the farm that produces meat locally. The boys and I are going on an educational visit to find out exactly where those sausages come from, how they are made, why the people chose to do this. It is part of open days at LEAF farms and is a fantastic opportunity not only to go finding local food sources but also to engage with the farmers and find out why exactly they do what they do. It is about knowing your food sources.The site shows you a simple way to find out who near you is opening their doors on Sunday the 10th June and well, we need no further invitation. Go and put your postcode in and hunt for your local food producers.

Food has been on my mind lately. I took part in the middleageshed podcast a few weeks ago and looked seriously at the amounts of food we consume. This was followed by a picture photo show showing what the world eats in a week........look at it and draw your own conclusions.

Voluntary simplicity to me therefore implies that I must try not to eat more than I need and that will be a biggie to crack. My scales dramatically show my body fat content and again, I wonder how it got to be to that amount. I know........I can make changes.....less is more. Just because it is on offer does not mean I need to have it. If consuming less in material terms is possible then consuming less in food is also necessary and possible. Desserts have been off the menu for the last month apart from Sundays and it has been little hardship to the family members. They have had fruit and yoghurt on offer and have been quite happy with that.

Downshifthing to me means finding a balance in my use of the earth's resources and it does not get closer than looking at my diet and what foods I eat, where they come from and who has messed with it before it gets to me, how many miles it has travelled. Its ludicrous when you look at that equasion. Can we change this? I know I can make a continious effort of small steps towards change. Will it be hard, you bet....this is really hitting at a sore point...I love my food and I believe that means I have to engage with its creation, manufacture and waste disposal.I have quite a bit of surplus waist and waste. Reducing that is quite an undertaking.......

never scold a cat!

There are days when my humour needs to is one of them.The weather yesterday must have lulled us all into a sense of warmth, today I awoke to a cold day.
This is not going to be a moan, but in reality proves I have relaxed quite a bit since my downshifting path walk.

The alarm clock woke me up abruptly, but what stunned me more was the sight of DS2 asking to use the hairdryer. ( Its 7.05? why does he need the hairdryer?) He reassuringly tells me that he is off to a school trip with the choir ( he is the only boy in it!) and he obviously needs to look his best. I tap him gently on the shoulder, and turn over. A few minutes later in a slumber I realise that I better get up.... I thought a nice shower would wake me out of my slumber, but I get interrupted by DS 1 who says the shower is no longer working and he blames DS 2 ( usual between brothers). Can he use my shower ( OK I have 2 in the house, pre downshifting days and I am selling the house!).
I tell him to wait patiently and when eventually I open the door I am greeted with few words. I gently walk down the stairs to the kitchen to make myself that cup of tea which by now I am in desperate need for. The dog vies for attention and I wonder why my porridge is not in the oven. It is not there because I forgot about making it last night. I scout around in the pantry seeing what cereal I could finish off and opt for cornflakes with nuts ( last in the packet). The milk I get out of the fridge is tepid but I notice little, I am hopeful for my cup of tea.
The boys go off to school without any further hiccup and I breathe a sigh of relief that the morning session is over. I receive a phonecall thanking me for doing a talk about bodymind for a local charity and am told ’it mattered little that you arrived late’. I do not react, but slightly worried I walk over to look at my calendar, and yes, there it is in black and white, 7 pm and I arrived at 7.30. Back in the kitchen I notice the fridge is unplugged and realise that this matches with the tepid milk. How long has it been switched off? When DH does the ironing, he does unplug the fridge but I cannot remember when he last did do the ironing. I ask.......oh, it must have been the survey man who plugged in his computer yesterday. ( Hmm that is about 24 hours ago). Out of the corner of my eye I notice the cat playing with a mouse on the lawn.

I check the butter in the fridge and it is soft......... Having switched it back on, I look at the dog and tell DH we should just go for a walk and take a bit of fresh air. The dog is mystified. I gather my stick, treats, coat and scarf ( it is cold!), and when I gently start I am accompanied by DH, dog and.......CAT! No matter how much I tell the cat to go home, it follows us, making a loud racket up the hill. The dog scolds the cat and we look at eachother and walk on. At the top of the hill, the cat’s boundaries, the cat lets out a howl and I decide that I better walk back with the cat and leave Dh to go on his walk with the dog. It would be simpler. The cat turns with me and still makes a dreadful noise. After a few minutes I hear Dh shouting the name of the dog, but no, the dog runs towards me, the cat and home. Dh gives up and walks back with me.

Home again, I decide to put the kettle on and have another cup of tea.... ( usual strategy coming back from the walk). The cat goes and lies on the lawn.
DH goes into the larder and comes out saying....where is that cat? It is stretched on the lawn.........there is a mouse in here. He goes outside to grab the cat, and tells it squarely it is going to have to earn its living and go and catch the mouse in the larder. I am sitting at the table with my cup of tea......... Loud noises go on, shouts of ...... there., I have seen it 3 times, why can you not see the mouse. The cat shows no interest. I suggest he leaves the cat in the larder and leaves him to it or tries to catch the mouse himself to release it outside. It falls on deaf ears but eventually I am able to tempt him to the kitchen with a steaming cup of coffee. We wait and hear some action. He peeps his head around the door only to find that the cat is ignoring the mouse completely. DH is in despair at this point and then something really funny happens..............

the cat leaves.

is followed by the black labrador going in the larder......

retrieving the mouse......

holding it in its mouth.....

dropping it on the lawn....

where the cat looks at it, finds it soggy and walks away.

( I know you want to know what happened to the traumatised has found a resting place in the hedge).

I am not sure what the vibrations are around the house here......but I must get back to that cup of tea. I reflect and laugh as I recall the whaling cat and suddenly understand he was probably saying......stop......stop...emergency..I lost a mouse in the larder!

Garden update

The tomatoes are finally growing higher. The bed space is taken up with 3 tomatoe plants, some lettuces and some leftover onion seedlings. I am uncertain about the onion seedlings but I guess they could be used as salad onions . The lettuces may not last when the weather hots up, they may bolt, but they add greenery to the chicken food.
Waiting in pots are cucumbers and butternut squash. The potatoes need to be lifted and then these will find their place in the cleared bed.
Its been too hot in the polytunnel and the last of the first batch of lettuces has bolted.....I have been picking leaf by leaf but today, its chicken food.
Snowpeas galore. As you can see a small bed can yield quite a harvest. I used a small frame covered with chickenwire to encourage it to graft on, which it has done to some extent. The weight of the pods does however pull some of them down.

In smaller pots are 20 savoy cabbage seedlings, 20 red cabbage seedlings, some sunflower tithonia. To be planted for the flower garden: wallflowers, lupins and iceland poppies.
And not to forget....hoe, hoe hoe and deal with weeds.

The overall plan for the garden this year was to provide 1 green vegetable per day and a lettuce per day. So far it is working out quite well. Green beans, runner beans and borlotti beans I grow in larger quantities because they can be frozen and tomatoes because I am partial to tomatoe chutney, sauces, salsa and soups which will be canned later in the year.

The peppers did not do well, I only have a small sad plantlet of those but will persevere.

The green fingered photographer

As we were both mentioned on Wigglywigglers website due our efforts on bokashi, I thought I would introduce you to the green fingered photographer. Mark's pictures are fabulous and I would urge you to go and have some strawberries today. ( a strawberry is a moment where you pause, take in the feeling and absorb, releasing endorphins). Basically, looking at them could raise your happiness thermometer.

Do go and visit.......

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Snowpeas. mangetous peas

also known as mangetout or sugar peas

You can eat all of the peas, skin and all. Sugar peas have been grown by gardeners for at least a century and a half, a delicate sweet variety that has gone quietly on its way. With the advent of stir fry cooking and eastern dishes entering our awareness, snowpeas travel thousands of miles to get to our supermarkets. I have found them easy to grow this season and the harvest to be plenty.

How to prepare ?
Just top and tail the pods pulling away the strings from the edges as you go. It is difficult to get all the string off but the delicious flavour is worth a little inconvenience.
As a general rule allow 4 oz per person.

How to preserve snowpeas?

Pick freshly early in the morning, top and tail, blanch for 2 mins, cool quickly and freeze for up to 6 months.

Some recipes

I use mine as a stir fry vegetable. Chicken breast, ginger, paprika and onion, snowpeas, small sweetcorn, beansprouts, noodles. At the end I pour over a mixture of 1 tablespoon cornflour, 3 tbsp of lemon juice, 1 tbs of sugar and 3 tbs of soya sauce. Quickly done in about 15 mins for you busy cooks out there!

Mangetout Soup

1 medium onion or 5 spring onions
1 tiny clove of garlic
2 tablespoons of butter
8 oz snowpeas prepared
salt, pepper, sugar
6 to 8 oz of single cream
about 1 teaspoon of dried mint or 1 tablespoon of fresh mint

Stew the onion and garlic in butter for about 5 mins, with a lid on the pan. Cut snowpeas into three pieces, still on low heat. Add them to pan and turn them over in the butter for about 3 mins. Pour a generous 2 pints of water and add seasoning and a quarter of teaspoon of sugar, Cover and let simmer until peas are tender. Puree the soup in a blender, sieve so as to catch any remaining stringy bits. Add the cream, bring just to boiling point, stir in mint and leave for a minute, Serve with fresh bread and a hunk of local cheese.

Food blogga tells you all about minding your peas
Spring salad from the Vegan Feast Kitchen
Urban cultivation offers a good way to grow them up spirals

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

CRAGS - Carbon Rationing Groups

Britain is Still Being Rationed, Eight Years after the End of the War!
Britain is Still Being Rationed, Eight Years after the End of the War!

rational (comparative more rational, superlative most rational)
Characterized by truth or logic.
(arithmetic) (no comparative or superlative) Of a number, capable of being expressed as the ratio of two integers.

Are you serious about reducing your carbon emissions? Do you want to be accountable to others for your carbon emissions?

The reason for carbon rationing is to avert dangerous climate change and thus limit greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

Without radical action within the next decade, extreme weather, rising seas and shifting rainfall patterns threaten to cause mounting damage to societies across the world - hitting hardest those least able to adapt.
• Do you agree we all have an equal responsibility for the atmosphere upon which we all
• Do you agree with the principle of "the polluter pays"?
• Do you believe that we can show government the way?
If you answered yes to these questions, you don't need any more reasons!

How does carbon rationing work?

The atmosphere has a limited capacity to soak up green house gases. Carbon rationers believe that this represents a unique shared resource.
In a carbon rationing society, those producing more than their fair share (or ration) of green house gases can only do so by finding someone who is living within their fair share and therefore has some ration to spare. In this way, polluters are penalised, the rest of society benefits and the total amount of green house gases produced is controlled.
If we reduce the size of our ration year by year, carbon rationing becomes a pathway to a fairer, lower carbon future.
What is a Carbon Rationing Action Group or CRAG?
A CRAG is a group of people who have decided to act together to reduce their individual and collective carbon footprints. They do this in annual cycle. First they set themselves an annual emissions target or "carbon ration". Then they keep track of their emissions over the year by keeping a record of their household energy use and private car and plane travel.
Finally, at the end of the year, they take responsibility for any "carbon debt" (i.e. emissions over and above their ration) that they have built up. All carbon debts are paid into the group's "carbon fund" at an agreed rate per kilo of CO2 debt. The fund is then distributed as agreed by the members of the group.

You can find a group near you on the carbon rationing website and if there is none near you, you could set one up. Or, if that scares you to go public, make yourself accountable first and decide what you will do with your overspending. Details of how to calculate your emissions is on the website.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Commit to be free

Reproduced with permission from Sally Lever, downshifting coach, an extract from the june Fruitful newsletter.

Commit To Be Free.

What are you committed to? How does that make you feel - trapped or free?

If you yearn for a simple life when you’re actually living in the Rat Race, you’re living by someone else’s values and it’s your commitment to that that forms your prison.

Isn’t it amazing that just that little “c” word – commitment – can put the fear of God into some people and endows others with a warm, cosy feeling of comfort and security. How does that happen?

Perhaps it will help us if we first look at the opposite of commitment – ambivalence – the “wait and see” approach. Ambivalence can seem like an easy option in life on the surface of it. What if we’re unhappy in our job or in a relationship? The easiest solution might seem to be to just “wait and see” what happens and hope that someone else will do something that will make our decision easier – make us redundant, offer us another job, be unfaithful to us, fall in love with us. There is a case I think for taking this approach for short periods of time whilst we accept our situation and become aware of how we really feel about it.

Beyond that, whilst we are “waiting and seeing” we are likely to be directing our energies to feed our resentment, anger, frustrations and general discontent rather than using them for more productive pursuits. The biggest problem with ambivalence is that, in lifestyle terms, it represents stagnation. Our life then feels stuck, boring, lifeless and depressing because, like all living things, in order to be alive we need to grow.

No-lose decision making.

So, if being in ambivalence is not a good place to be, what’s the answer?

Making a decision.

Now “decision” is another word that some find challenging. When you assume that by making a decision you are depriving yourself of the other choices you have, then you will not feel free in your commitment. To feel free, you will need to know that you still have choices whatever you decide. Those choices might not be what you assume.

Suppose you are trying to decide whether to stay in your highly stressful but well paid job with good promotion prospects or to leave for a position that is less stressful and with shorter, healthier working hours, but with a lower salary. One popular method of helping yourself make that decision might be to write down the pros and cons of each choice and weigh them up against eachother.

Unfortunately, it can be very easy to remain in ambivalence even after doing this and your lists of pros and cons may well be a source of anguish and anxiety for what could be a very long time.

In her book “Feel the Fear and do it Anyway” Susan Jeffers suggests what I believe is a much more positive and effective method which she calls her “No-Lose Decision Making Model”. In this model, there are no “right” or “wrong” decisions, just different decisions. She suggests that we view each decision we make in our lives is an opportunity for personal growth and so it is not the decisions themselves that matter so much as our attitude to the outcome of our decisions. Having said that, of course it makes sense to research our choices and to listen to our intuition before making decisions. I’m not talking about being reckless in our decision making, but rather being confident enough to know that we are:

well-informed in what we do and
can handle whatever outcomes result.
How does that relate to the job situation I described earlier? If you find yourself in this situation, remember that what you are about to commit to is a process, not an end result. In other words, you can let go of the outcome. Your freedom stems from knowing that you are responsible only for the process, not from making something happen that may ultimately be out of your control. Also, you have the additional option of knowing that you can try out both choices. For example, you could:

1. Decide to stay in your current job and take measures to reduce the stressful aspects of your job.
2. Begin to cut your living costs so that you will feel less anxious about leaving for a less well-paid job if that becomes necessary.
3. If you are not happy with the outcome of that, then you still have the choice to leave and in the knowledge that staying in your current job would not have made you happy. You will also have learnt more about what’s really important to you in your employment and this will serve you when making further decisions.


You can commit to be free when you:

Know what your choices are or are working to uncover them.
Know what you really want or how you want to be or are making moves to find this out.
Know who and what are important to you.
View decision making as an opportunity for growth.
Suggested Reading:

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway – Susan Jeffers

The Simple Living Guide – Janet Luhrs

If you want to subscribe to Sally's newsletter you can do so by sending an email to
please send a blank e-mail to subscribe at sallylever dot co dot uk

Sunday, June 03, 2007

virtual downshifting book club

What is it?

A monthly book suggestion you can read, no obligation. The aim is to encourage your views on downshifting and to share your reviews.

How do I participate?

Each month, I will make a book suggestion and ask people to write a review on their blog. Send me a link to the post at the end of the month and when I announce the next book, I will post the links to your blogs or websites.

What do I write in my review?

some examples“
Did you enjoy reading this book?
In what way was it useful, give 3 examples of lifestyle changes that you took away from this book?
Would you recommend it to other people wanting to downshift?
reviews can be sent to journey dot bc at mac dot com

Book suggestions

If you have discovered a fabulous book on downshifting and you want to have it included in the book club for review, send me the title please. We are all in this together. Each month I will pick a person who has suggested a book and offer them the next month’s book choice as a gift ( subject to them writing a review ofcourse).

How to simply get the book ?

Start with the library
Check your friends’ bookshelves
Check out Amazon and buy secondhand ( you an relist it afterwards)

June’s downshifting book choice

This month’s book choice is a classic
Voluntary simplicity by Duane Elgin

available via the bookstore

Enjoy and see you at the end of the month with your views.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Bokashi trial - month 1

Its been a month since buying my bokashi bin from Wiggly Wigglers. If you are visiting following the link on their website, welcome, look around, say hello and leave a comment, join in. I have added a directory of the labels I use on the left of the blog to help you look at bokashi posts if that is what you are interested in only.

Above is a picture of the bokashi juice collected in the little beaker. I had honestly thought it would produce more to collect. I have been draining it every week. The liquid is not foul smelling but smells like pickle which is probably exactly as it should be. I have been adding it to a large watering can and watering the tomatoe plants with it. It will act as a feed to them.

Bin number 2 is now as full as it is going to be. I use the bins in rotation. Bin 1 collects waste from 1 to 15th of the month. Bin 2 starts same process at 15th to last day of the month. Bokashi collection and rotation days are on the calendar.
Bin 1, has reduced its contents by 50% over the rest period of 15 days since 15th may 2007. the smell is the same, pickle. I was honestly expecting a nasty smell but....nothing like that, its pleasing if you like pickles and chutney.
I have chosen to add the bokashi bin contents to the compost heap which hopefully will continue the process. I will only be adding it to one of my compost bins, the other 2 will be using just what is available and to one I will soon be adding a new batch of worms to see if is works faster the more worms you have.

Why would I want to air my rubbish on the net? If I can manage to deal with waste at home, recycle it in a non offensive way, then anyone can do it. Since composting I have reduced my purchase of compost and potting compost at the garden centre which in turn has reduced the plastic used to wrap it, the petrol to get it and the muscle power used to carry the bags. ( My DH is very happy about that).

I will at the moment not use the bokashi straight in the ground. Not that it is not a good way, but it is not a good way for our family. I have a dog with nasty habits, prone to eating either what is in the bin, what chickens leave lying about and if I dig this in the ground I have visions of bokashi waste all over my garden. I know, wish I could control the lovely lab...... She would eat anything standing up.

I hesitated initially about the cost of the bins, but then does anyone happily spend money on waste collection? I am glad to have taken the plunge, put my money down. In a way it is strangely rewarding to find a use for the waste and to keep the resources on our land even if the dog loves foraging.

Birthdays the frugal way...yet generous

Birthday Collage
Birthday Collage

It was definitely different yesterday. Instead of 4 cards, there were 2 immediate family ones, one handmade and the other funny from the boys. Others came in the post which were lovely. What made the day extra special is that DH’s sister travelled love miles to come and visit ( happens about every 4 years).
The presents were lucky man got:
  • 1 toblerone bar
  • 1 drinks bottle
  • 1 bottle of lovely red wine ( luxury!)
  • 2 shirts
  • packet of Dad’s rocks sweeties
  • nice large cup of coffee
  • smiling kids and wife
all presents arrived in one large paper bag ( which has now been stored away again)
The presents got delivered by a small boy giving his Dad a big hug.

No birthday cake, no birthday candles.....just being together, getting phonecalls and laughing our heads off when DS 2 asked whether Dad remembered the dinosaurs?

Some ways to celebrate birthdays the frugal way:

  • make a special breakfast and treat the person as the most important person in your home.
  • run a lovely bath, put lots of bubbles in it.
  • Light one candle and each say why you appreciate that person in your life
  • Distribute chores between the other family members
  • Cook a special meal from scratch
  • Celebrate achievements

In the end birthdays are about how you make the person feel, not about what stuff you give, not about what you do , but simply how you make them feel appreciated, how important they are in your life and in that of your family. Give them a heartfelt birthday to remember.

So if someone is having a birthday soon.....make it special...instead of sending a card, go visit them, call and talk to them.Show them how important they are to you.

Friday, June 01, 2007


I wrote a story called the Fleece Whisperer which I offered to fibre readers on Angora's Blog. I had submitted it twice and been rejected and thought the best thing to do would be to share it with you all. So if you have not had a chance to read it, do.
Thanks everyone for all your lovely comments so far.
This one just came in and made me feel humble....

Thank you for offering us this article, so nice and peaceful.

And you gave me the opportunity to visit your other blog, about downshiffting, and it's just what I needed to read, I think. I have been through a difficult time those last weeks, feeling bad as if I were loosing my center, just because too many things are challenging several of our life-style decisions. It seems that reading your blog, which echoes much of what I think, feel and live, could be part of a therapy, thank you ! :-)

( Off to have that cup of tea, grateful for the abundance that I am enjoying at this moment even though it is still raining!!... a tearful person adding tears to the wet weather)

wet and wetter.....

Rain Makes Me Wet
Rain Makes Me Wet

With the rain almost pouring every day, the weeds are germinating and the garden looks lusciously green.
The weather is concerning me. Last year was difficult and warm and this year, we had a lot of rain in March,none in April with very warm days up to 27 degrees. We are now in May, lots of rain and a general temperature of 17 degrees each day. Its confusing me, my wardrobe needs and causing outright confusion to plants out there and in the polytunnel.
The lettuces are bolting in the polytunnel and halted growth outside. Slugs are coming out in their millions it seems and I am out there on weeding duty in between showers.
Its fun though.........its fun when I see the snowpeas growing daily and look forward to another stir fry this evening, as a celebration of all things green.
We may even put the woodburner on tonight. Unheard of but it really feels like hot cocoa weather.Wet wellies are drying near the Aga more reminiscing of autumn days.

We are very near the coastline and one of my favourite walks takes you through fields to a rugged coast line. Metal steps go down on a hidden beach where, when the tide is out, great rocks beckon the children to step from one to the other. The sea yesterday was akin to stormy waves bashing against the rocks. So why not get really wet? Why not, with wellies, go out there and stand at the edge of the sea in a group and stretch our arms out and get thoroughly bashed by the magic of the waves. A lot of laughter, a lot of silly boys and a dog that did not know where to be. I can picture the scene in my minds eye but had no camera on me as I had not expected this sort of scene in May. Jeans stood thick with salty water, boys made squelching sounds with their wellies and walking back to the car I saw a row of wellies near the boot. Inside, boys had stripped to their underwear and sat huddled on the back seat, covered in a blanket. Peals of laughter sounded through the air and screams for an ice cream to finish the day.

I remember days like this, days where you can get wet, where you huddle under a blanket, days when storms rage outside and together we can capture a warmth in our hearts. Days when with wet clothes, wet boots and happy hearts, home beckons with a woodburner, cookies and milk and a good ghost story.

Is it a dream? Have a guess!