Thursday, September 27, 2007

How to say NO

Cubicle Rat
Cubicle Rat

This may sound obvious to some of you, but saying no is not always that easy. Please do not gasp at the is OK to say NO unless you live in fear of your life.
Why is it so hard?
We are surrounded by a world that wants and needs us to say YES. Yes to higher taxation, yes to that new car, yes to the new credit card, yes to poor service, yes to waiting lists, yes to factory farmed food, yes to higher energy prices and yes to wanting this or that.

Anya Kamanetz explains in this article how this affects 20 somethings and offers some practical steps to combat consumption pressure.

The question to ponder is why are you saying yes and what makes it so difficult to say NO.

A few weeks ago the Northern Rock building society was rescued by the Bank of England in a bid not to let the population panic. They told us not to panic, they tried to offer reassurance to savers and investors that their money was safe. There were many people who did not buy into that and said NO. I wonder how they felt, faced with branch managers who said , please do not take your money out? Is this news important. I think so.

It means that more people are saying no, no we are not buying it, no we have a choice. A world where people can make the decision to say yes for the right reason would be good, and a world where people equally can say no for the right reason would be good too. I am fully aware that there are countries in the world where people's needs are not met and where you cannot say no for fear of being eliminated. My post is directed at those of us who live in countries where apparently we do have a choice.

So now you have figured out how you spend your time, and how you spend your money you can work towards a balance between the two that is based on your decision making. I guess its going to shake up confidence in the markets and create a little more uncertainty when people change their buying habits.

Reduce - making decisions about time and money can create a more balanced life that is in line with your values, beliefs and priorities.
Reuse - you cannot reuse time ( living in the moment and being present when you are in the moment will provide maximum benefit in both time and money).
Recycle- again you cannot recycle time, but you can recycle your ideas about time and money.

I want, I need, now .....are buying signals that require a quick yes.
I want - you can say NO to want by checking whether you need it, how long have you known that you needed it, and how much is waiting going to cost you or save you. By the way, who says you want or your need it?
I need - Yes you may need something right away.....check why you need it, are you addicted, can you wait....
I used to need a coffee in the morning to be able to be awake and ready for work. Realising that I did not really need the coffee if I went to bed earlier and had sufficient sleep seemed not to be in my awareness at that time. (If you like coffee then thats another matter.)

Check out what it gives you, how does it fulfill your need, that is what 'I need' means, it fulfills a need in you. People laugh when I say I need to spin and knit. The creative process is a need that gets satisfied that way as well as through writing.

I used to get invited to sit on committees and mostly said yes. I guess I was flattered that I had been asked and it fulfilled a need for me to contribute in society. I sometimes asked what would be expected of me, how many meetings and what I was receiving in return but never really looked at whether what I needed would be fulfilled by this action.. It did fulfill a need of being accepted and valued but it also cost me time, travelling to and from meetings, sitting in cold rooms drinking coffee to keep awake and warm and endless sleepless nights about decisions the committee were making ( as well as too much coffee) that I was uncomfortable with. I could have used the assertive NO technique: Thank you but NO thank you. No explanation necessary.

The next step, if you want to go the next step, is to think about what saying YES means in terms of time and money. This technique checks out whether you are really valued. Most pop stars have riders :Yes I can do this but I need.....I will perform only when I have a bunch of fresh flowers in my changing room and I have to stay overnight in a really nice hotel with jaccuzzi. Whatever you need...... If they really want you at your best, then they must look at how they can fulfill your needs too. We are not all of us so extravagant in our needs, they may be more basic, a warm room, a comfortable chair, 3 meals per day etc etc.

I remember sitting on an interview panel where the chair suggested we skip lunch so we could see an extra candidate. I voiced that in order to listen to another 4 interviewees in the afternoon I would need to eat lunch and have a break and was frowned upon. The rest of the panel seemed to agree with the chair. This gave me an insight into what the man was actually requesting from the candidates too. I cannot say that I was at my best having snacked on almonds in my handbag and I used some extra questions to alert the candidates : What do you need to enable you to fulfill the requirements of the post that is being offered. The responses were astounding, some people who were confident in their abilities asked for salaries that were at the top end of what was on offer and others did not say anything. The chair's choice would waver towards those that did not answer the question as I guess he felt that he needed power. What he missed was by valuing and testing the expertise and innovation of the candidates that did state what they needed in order to perform, he could have had better performance and more value for the salary. I was not asked again to sit on the panel and if asked would have refused anyway.
To summarise, question why you are saying yes and why you are saying no and more importantly why you are not saying what you want to say.

Sally Lever has written an excellent article on Ratrace Stress and how downshifting can improve your health.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Canning apples

Canning Season by Tony Macchiarulo
Canning Season

Last year was great and this year will be better I feel. Not because the harvest is bigger but because having done it at least once, I feel more confident in my canning abilities.

Canning is not something that is done in the UK although in France it is the norm. Supplies are difficult to get over here so I have had to be a little creative in getting things together. Some suppliers were not happy shipping to the UK, or would only do so via a Canadian relative ( which was stretching relations a bit) and in the end, I chose to make a large investment order with Lehmans. I did not but a water bath canner but found a very large stock pot instead, in which the holder would sit easily. I ordered a variety of pint jars, quart jars , 8 oz and 4 oz jars. The quart jars are great for soups, stock, plums and applesauce. Pint size is OK but we are a large family so will take about 2 to 3 portions and the smaller ones are used for jams, jellies, salsa and pizza sauce.

It was a bit of a bureaucracy to order via Lehmans. Their service note is excellent, but you can only pay via bank order ( which incurs a charge and you have to add their banking charge too(, then when you get the goodies delivered, expect an invoice from customs to pay duty when you are enjoying your products.

I bought a pressure canner which was expensive to ship and purchase and have not actually progressed to that as yet, its on the list specifically for stews, soups and stock.

Canning applesauce is great and very satisfying. I used the Complete Book of Home Preserving by Ball, providing an array of recipes and instructions on how long things should be in the water bath.

For 8 pints or 4 quarts jars of applesauce :

12 lbs apples
3 cups of sugar
4 tablespoons of lemon juice

  1. Prepare canner and lids
  2. In a large saucepan combine your apples with enough water to stop them sticking and stew gently until they are the consistency you like. ( 5 to 20 mins depending on variety).
  3. Add sugar and lemon juice; bring to the boil and keep on a gentle boil while filling jars.
  4. Ladle hot sauce into jars leaving 1/2 inch( 1 cm) of headspace. Remove air bubbles by using a spatula around the sides of the jar.Wipe rim, centre lid on jar and screw band down until you meet with resistance.
  5. Place jars in the canner ensuring that they are completely covered in water. process 1 pt and quart jars for 20 minutes. Remover canner lid, wait 5 mins, remove jars, cool and store.

With the first batch, some applesauce came out as cooked applesauce is larger in volume than chunks so you will need to guess a bit with the head space. I also started sterilising the jars in the water bath and let them boil in that, taking them out when required. In that way the volume of water was about right but you need tongs and gloves to do that job safely.

Then look at rows of applesauce. In this family we love it with roast pork and so I have 12 quart jars put by.

Spare lids and pectin used in some recipes are now on my wish list for Christmas from my sister in law. She buys them during the spring when canning season is over and gets a good deal on it. Easy and light to post and makes me very happy when it arrives during the holiday season.

Other ideas with apples, you can make a lovely apple and cinnamon pie filling. apple and blackberry jelly. For pie filling without pectin, I simply freeze the apple slices soaked in a bowl with lemon juice, blanch them for 2 mins and then pack them in 1 lb bags and freeze. Whatever portion size suits your family.

Some resources on canning :
Noll's home canning ( with pictures)
Canning recipes
Canning recipes 1159 of them

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


The Pantry by Consuelo Gamboa
The Pantry

Could you imagine what the products would look like in your life if it did not have the packaging around it, diverting your attention from the contents?

Here is my daughter's suggestion:

Idea for a downshifting challenge of the week: unbrand. Take labels off your branded goods (as long as you can still tell what they are!) and put things into containers (especially cereal) instead of using the boxes they come in. Does it change your perception? I tried this in my bathroom, with make-up and in the kitchen. It makes things much calmer not to have all the advertising all the time. Plus, some of the bottles and colours of the products in them are really pretty once the label's taken off.

Give your eyes a rest and discard the wrapping.....surprisingly it is what is in the box that matters.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Harvesting apples

The apple trees in our garden are still very young, 4 years old and are beginning to provide a decent harvest. Last year I invited a friend around in January to show me how to prune them for more fruit as they were a bit shapeless and neglected and the result has been fine. If we had removed some of the fruit at the young stage ( June) then we could have had bigger apples, but we are quite fond of small apples for lunch boxes and they fit neatly in a small boys hands.

The winds have been blowing and I have spotted the resident squirrel coming to put its teethmarks in the apples so decided yesterday was the day to harvest the majority of them. Some windfalls were left on the ground for the woodlice, mice and voles and other windfalls were gathered in the cardboard box. These will be juiced over the next few days. I do not recall the apple variety but it is definitely an eating apple and reminded us of the poisoned apple in Snowhite. Its lovely though.

We will be keeping the apples in a basket in a well aired place. Our harvest is not large enough to warrant an apple store. Apples can be wrapped in tissue paper and put on trays, separated which will enable some to be kept over the winter months.

Some will be cut up and frozen to keep ready for apple pies and some will be canned for apple sauce. Mostly, they will be enjoyed as fresh as possible.

Succession in an orchard is the key. One of our trees gave fruit late August ( Owen Thomas), followed by the current one in September and October will hopefully give us a small harvest of Egremont Russet. I love the names of the varieties.

Evenings are getting cooler and sitting on the back porch we met with 2 toads enjoying the drizzly rain and spotted a small pippistrel bat wanting to come in for shelter. Years ago I would not have noticed the wildlife around here, and now, with awareness, a lot more is visible to the naked eye.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Time audit


Doing a time audit over the last few days, in my own time, enabled me to make some decisions about how I am spending my time and how I want to be spending my time in the future.
A good thing is that my sleep requirements have decreased as 3 years ago, I spent 18 hours horizontal, suspended just breathing so a lot of progress has been made there, not quite normal but acceptable and I spend more time awake than asleep ( although my family might argue with that one!)

Having read Janine Bolon's book Money its not just for rich people and being familiar with her 60/40 principle I wondered how applying it to time would work out. Well 60% devoted to work works out at about 37.8 hours which would be a fair amount. I decided the other categories would be 10% to community, 10 % self investment and education, 10% to family and friends and 10% to fun. If you have a family then that 37.8 hours includes the job of being a parent and should enable us to work out what balance we need between work outside the house and the work inside the house. When you do your audit you will find out where you spend your time and much TV do you watch, how much traveling do you do etc. The secret for me is not that I want to have rigidity in this equasion but that I can say NO when I am giving more than I need to my community, it helps me to pace my time and activities and keep a balance that works for me.

How would you like to spend your time?

Now I can sit down and make decisions about the amount of community contributions I make and whether that is necessary and whether I would rather spend more time with the kids, or less on fun items, where my personal time is etc etc. Wealth is not just about money but finding what makes you happy, fulfilled and gives you a feeling of being the richest person on earth; it is not always money ( although crying in silk sheets makes the drama more pleasurable), it is about being happy and having a feeling of wellbeing too.

If we accept that time is money I could negotiate with my time. Instead of sitting for hours on committees deciding how to fundraise, my time might be better spent by simply doing what I enjoy and donating the equivalent in cash to the charity. That may be more appealing to some people. So if you get paid £ 10 per hour ( this makes it easier to do maths with), and you decide that you want to spend 6 hours on community work but the thought does not appeal.....because you would rather be out fishing, well then give £ 30 to the youthclub for instance so they can pay someone who loves to do exactly that and you can go fish 3 hours with a free conscience. It will have cost you but you will have made the contribution. Go fishing but it will cost you! ( You can only go fish for 3 hours because you will need to work the extra 3 to pay the money)There have been days in the past where I have made cakes, bought them again, sat on the committee deciding how we would raise the money, set the tables for the event, made posters and raised £ 30.0o, and came home with 2 cakes after clearing up. Phew, I could have approached this in a different way!

A lightbulb moment in my downshifting monetary values was when I equated the cost of an item to the amount of hours I needed to work at a job I did not enjoy. That in itself makes you think before you shop. I have tried to teach that principle to my children and sometimes they get it, and other times I am just not cool!

Now that I have my priorities I can check whether I actually spend that amount of time doing what I want to do and plan accordingly. And if you doubt Janine's method, having put it into practice for the last few days, I have received a special delivery of flowers ( completely unexpected as a thank you for community involvement) so maybe it really does mean that you can flow with the universe. I had tea at school today in aid of a charity and donated half a goat or 1/6th of a carpentry set of tools, ate cake that the children made and found it very enjoyable and satisfying. Can it be that simple?

I could apply that method to the harvest from my garden to : 60% to eat and share with others, 10% to preserve, 10% to share with the wildlife about me, 10% seeds for the future. Makes sense although I am still squishing the caterpillars because they are having more than their fair share.

Go give it a go and see what the rewards are. Let me know what the universe is giving you when you start giving your time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Separated waste statistics

Waste Disposal Depot, England, United Kingdom by Charles Bowman
Waste Disposal Depot, England, United Kingdom

The county I live in has produced a leaflet detailing the percentages of household waste that are recycled and what it actually does with it.

On the surface it looks encouraging and when you look closer at it, there are things that could be improved.
17% of the average bin contents are paper which are sent to the other side of the country to be made into newspapers and magazines. You can reduce paper waste by using the mail preference service as described in earlier posts, reading your newspaper online etc etc. Most of my post gets separated and recycled in one way or another.

5% of the average bin is card
This gets sent to a local paper mill and turned into envelopes and cardboard. If you start buying your goods secondhand or freecycling for them, you will not receive a giant packaging box to dispose of. Better still, stop buying.

8% of the average bin is glass

The glass gets collected and travels to the other side of Britain to make new glass bottles and jars, aggregate road construction, glass fibre and water filtration. Guess glass is preferable to plastic.

2% of the average bin is plastic
That surprised me, such a low figure. They are turned into pellets and then reformed into fleece jackets, park benches, compost bins and recycling boxes. Still this could be reduced by having milk delivered in glass bottles and by drinking more water instead of lemonade. If you buy goods in plastic bottles, look for the glass alternative.

28% of waste is kitchen waste

A whopper of a figure. That gets composted about 50 miles away in a giant composter and then resold to people as garden compost. This could be avoided by reducing kitchen waste ( portion control), buying what you need, using wormeries and bokashi to process the rest. That seems to be making a giant contribution to reducing waste in the county.

8% of bin contents is garden waste

garden waste is shredded and composted and then sold as a soil conditioner. OK, again, I could hire a shredder via the LETs scheme and do this myself, creating a giant compost heap and letting worms do the work without it having to leave the premises.

3% of waste is metal cans and tins

That gets transported to Wales where it is crushed and made into bricks that are turned into car parts and new cans. Comparing this with glass the amount of glass is definitely higher than the cans which again surprises me with the amount of cats and dogs around! However, I guess it means that people buy more items in jars than cans.

4% of household waste is textiles

Clothes and shoes are sent to Wiltshire and separated into usable and non usable items. Wearable items are then sent to developing countries ( fabric miles) to be reused. Cotton and silk make wiping cloths and woollen fabrics are shredded and used as filling material of furniture and car seats.
Now what would happen if we bought less clothes and bought them in charity shops......begging the question that your shirt travels all around the world and back again.

The three recommendations on the leaflet are :
  • reduce junk mail
  • do home composting
  • try cloth nappies instead of disposable ones.

Now that I have read and digested the leaflet, it will go in the box, taken to the local depot, driven across the country and end up making another leaflet or magazine.

Its a startling statistic, that by changing my consumer habits I have reduced my waste bucket by 47%. ( 28% kitchen waste, 8% garden waste, 2% plastics, 5% cardboard and 4% in textiles).

The next step is to think before we buy anything and look at the packaging that is required and the miles it travels. If everyone in the county reduced their garden and kitchen waste then we would be reducing the overall waste in our county by 36%, which is just over one third, that is a mega impact).

So what are you waiting for ?
  1. Reduce the amount of food that goes to waste.
  2. Put the worms and bokashi ems to work
  3. add compost to your garden and increase fertility, next years harvest etc.

Not only do you save 36% of waste produced but you will save buying compost in bags and soil enhancer which you could have produced yourself.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


A Cold & Snow-Covered Thermometer Shows the Impact of a Winter Storm by Stephen St. John
A Cold & Snow-Covered Thermometer Shows the Impact of a Winter Storm

Many of us are governed by the years starting in January and others by the academic year which starts in September.
I use both months as a measuring stick. Both months finds me sitting down with a calculator and my trusty notebook, checking the prices paid for regular items and like a gardener a bit of pruning here and there, and stopping leaks here and there prepare me for the winter months.

A note arrived from the gas company yesterday requesting a 50% increase in my monthly contribution. I would be happy with some increase based on higher fuel prices, but a 50% up trend is telling me something. ( First I panic!) Secondly I checked whether we had used more gas over the last year. The answer is positive as we had central heating installed and although I had increased my payment by 20% and frugally used the heating system, low temperature, timed etc, I cannot justify the by now 80% increase requested. Partly to blame is the way they work out their payment scheme as it happens on a given date and if you have just had a bulk tank delivery the week before that ( as we did) it is likely that the payment scheme will be out of kilter.
The options here are simple: reduce comsumption , discuss payments or cut down in other areas to pay for the increase. I talked to customer services requesting a figure based on actual consumption which she informed me would require a 25% increase on top of the 25% increase I had already put in place. I will go along with that. Secondly, I have looked at how we can reduce gas consumption and can now adjust my expectations of central heating in winter ( reducing the temperature by another 1 degree and delaying putting the system on) and cutting out the Aga in some summer months to counteract the increases.) None are going to be popular but are nevertheless practical measures to do.
It does however leave a hole in my budget and presents an opportunity to check against the other items on the list.
We often do not realise how costs gradually creep up in all areas of expenses and from comparing the costs between January and September, my living costs have increased by 15% average ( which is a lot and bears no resemblance to inflation figures presented by the government).
As a result of not being likely to get a pay rise of 15%, there is only one option which is to cut down on what is already a frugal budget.

The harvest in the garden has been sufficient to eat daily fresh produce. I have not preserved anything like the vegetables last year apart from jams and soft fruits so there is going to be a shortage over the winter months.

Floods, farming crises and poor harvests are going to push prices up. Interest rates are volatile, banks not quite as secure as we thought and the results of all of us cutting back signal a recession in the governments statistics. That would mean that our growth is slowing down and guess what.....I believe it is and is necessary to reach a sustainable future.
Whatever decision you make about your spending power does have wider impacts and the more people ' stop buying into this', the more we reach towards a tipping point in the economy. Its likely to create uncertainty all around but reading the signs is essential to have some idea where you are positioned on the roller coaster.

Its about reducing our expectations to a sustainable level.

Being warm is one of our basic needs so an adjustment for comfort is necessary For us this means going back to sweaters and logfires as well as cutting back expenses in other areas to get our basic need for warmth met.

The weather is autumnal and signals the beginning of a cold downturn and by checking how much fuel companies are going to require of me to stay toasty, I can make adjustments.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In your own time

One Step at a Time
One Step at a Time

You know that nothing is at it seems. A witch who is kind saves time, where do you keep it, in my pocket ofcourse, want a nice piece of time girl...I have no time, I am out of time.

from Grandmother Turtle - by Carolyn Hillyer

As my energy has plummeted over the years, I have noticed that it takes me longer to accomplish certain tasks and by not being able to complete all the things on my list that I feel I have to do, I have noticed that when I feel out of time, my stress levels increase just like a car engine that is being revved up to the max. I have reasons why it is taking me longer to walk, longer to deal with washing and longer to cook a meal.

What would it feel like to run at the speed of life? Is it possible that each and every one of us has an optimum capacity to do things in a certain time, at the speed of our life. If we exceed that speed we will use up more energy. What, if any, is your personal optimum speed and has it changed?

This lead my maths brain to start thinking about my personal time requirements at the speed of life :

24 hours per day
I sleep 10 hours at night and 1 in the afternoon which leaves me with 13 hours.( I know that is a lot but that is my requirement to function for the other 13)
Getting up and getting ready for bed takes about 1 hour.
Eating and preparing 3 meals per day - say 3 hours.
That leaves 9 hours.
So when I schedule anything else in, I have 9 hours of time to work with.
Then there are household chores, washing, cleaning, gardening, childcare, sick boys, chickens to feed and clean, watering, weeding, spinning, writing, travel etc etc.

What is your optimum speed of life and how much time are you actually doing what you want to do?

When you have an idea of how long things take and how much time you spend on each item, you can look at what time is left. I suggest leaving a margin of 10 mins between your activities as a buffer so that you are not rushing or can head back to pick up that letter you left on the sideboard.

That should help with planning your day at the speed of your life.

When you know what you spend your time can learn to let go of some of those activities that do not serve you.

When you are next offered a job move, look at the time you will spend commuting to and from against the value of your time you could have saved when not sitting on public transport or wading your way through the urban jungle. It may make sense to take a paycut and work closer to home as well as being good for the planet.

Want a piece of time? Now you can go and search for it in your own time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wild foods

September and October are wonderful months to go out for walks in your neighbourhood and spot some wild edible foods. In September in the UK you can find the following :

Beech nut
black mustard
cauliflower fungus
dandelion roots
fairy ring champignon
field mushroom
giant puffball
hawthorn berries
heather flowers
hedgehog fungus
honey fungus
hop fruits
horse mushroom
jack by the hedge
parasol mushrooms
saffron milk cap
sea beet
shaggy cap
velvet shank
wild service tree
wild strawberry

Many of these will be mysteries for any of you, me including but I also spot some familiar items, blackberry, elderberry, rosehip, raspberry and wild strawberry. Our cottage garden is abundant with berries and since living here I have made use of all of them.
Blackberries are great for apple and blackberry pie, apple and blackberry jelly and freeze well. Elderberries have been used for cordial, raspberries and wild strawberries as a welcome addition in my morning bowl of cereal.

Rosehip is less well known, but you will spot it on your wild rose bushes in the garden. What to do with them? Rosehip syrup used to be made because it is rich in vitamin C. It has a tang bouquet of mango with tropical notes.

The hips are on the bushes between late August and November.
Rosehip syrup can be used as a flavouring for milk puddings, ice cream or almost any sweet or diluted as a drink ( 1 part oto 5 part water) and making it is the simplest way of filtering out the prickly seed, which can be a dangerous internal irritant. Its also excellent as an alternative to maple syrup on pancakes.

This recipe was used during WWII using 2lbs of rosehips and comes from Hedgerow Harvest, MOF 1943.

Have ready 3 pints of boiling water, mince the hip in a coarse grinder, drop immediately into the boiling water or if possible mince the hips directly into the boiling water and again bring to the boil. Stop heating and set aside for 15 minutes. Pour into a flannel or linen crash jelly bag and allow to drip until the bulk of the liquid comes through. Return the residue to the saucepan, add 1 1/2 pints of water, stir and allow to stand for 10 mins. Pour back into the jelly bag and allow to drip. To make sure that all the sharp hairs are removed, put back the first half cupful of liquid and allow to drip through again. Put the mixed juice into a clean saucepan and boil down until the juice measures 1 1/2 pints, then add 900 g ( 1 3/4lbs) of sugar and boil for 5 minutes. Pour into hot sterile bottles and seal at once. If corks are used these should be boiled for 15 mins before and after use coated with paraffin wax. It is advisable to make small bottles as it will only keep for 1 to 2 weeks once opened.

Rosehip syrup was used as a source for vitamin C in helping with the common cold and locally applied to aid inflamed gums.

Disclaimer - If you are not familiar with which types of mushroom and fungi are edible, please do not pick and eat them.

If you fancy a walk on the wildside you can do a course on wild mushroom gathering at River Cottage.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Old beans

Every Seed Grows by Flavia Weedn
Every Seed Grows

The onions have been drying in the polytunnel and have been tidied and brought into the house. I have noticed that when the season changes, plants too show signs of season change. Some start growing in a desperate attempt to put out their seeds. The sunflowers are taking advantage of the sunny rays to open up and let their seeds ripen. Other plants simply start to die off as they know they will not even make it to that stage. No matter how much you water them, they start to dry off and leaves become brittle and break off.

According to James Hillman in The Force of Character, this is a natural process that happens to people too. He says that when the stem of the rice plant has bloomed it bends over and that when we get older, we also return our gaze from the sun to the ground. We shrink, we wither and then we leave. What we may lose in physical appearance, we gain in strength of character. I like that thought.

The thoughts of growing older may seem difficult to grasp and in our society we do not revere older people as much as in others, but when I look at the desperate attempt by the borlotti beans to flower on the one hand and the french beans withering and going dry, I see that both have come to the end of their life cycle. They both have the same process happening and their reaction to it is opposite. The french bean has given up its harvest and by drying out and withering leaves me with seed pods that I can plant next year which will give me hope of a good crop of beans as the plant has given up its life for a new bean life next year. The borlotti beans are trying to give their all and yes, will give me a harvest this year but will not have enough strength to produce seed for next year. In the long run, which option gives a longer lasting harvest?

You may question why I raise this comparison in a world, where the image of the young person, the perfect figure, HRT and prolonging life is now the norm, a respect of the natural process of growing older has been erased. With it, also the possibility of the seeds of wisdom that wither with it.

What we have in seed catalogues are seeds that are hybrids and that need to be planted and bought each year. In a sense they have been improved to provide a maximum harvest but they lack the wisdom and strength of species inside them to produce the seeds that will give us more of the same another year. Companies like Monsanto count on that so that farmers will grow that seed with fertilisers and then require to buy seeds once again from those companies.

Against that are heirloom varieties, whose names we no longer can remember, who may not have been cultivated for appearance, but for taste, colour of flowers or their benefit to nature. Profit does not figure in that because the way you cultivate them and learn to go with their growth process will either give you seeds for next year or not, that is your choice.

Next year, the old girl plans to grow some heirloom varieties in her new garden as well as garden on a much smaller scale. I want to do this to show you what is possible in a minute space with older varieties.

The Heritage seed library does exactly that.

In the polytunnel the cat stood next to me on the shelf while I was sorting the onions. The cat has shown me this summer how to enjoy the few sunny days basking in the sun and how to curl up on the sofa when rain is forecast, he goes and catches his own dinner. We had a moment of togethernessand mutual understanding in the garden where I somehow felt he was telling me.....well done you are getting it old girl, why struggle when less is more. I know for certain that if I contravene the cats or my DH does, there is always their way of telling us we are wrong. The mouse by the way was found on the bathroom mat, it had died.....and they had left it there.As I have said before, never underestimate cats.

Old bean carries a harvest in the future in its seed pod and old girl here has only just noticed that today.

I need watering now in case I to the kitchen for a glass of blackcurrant cordial.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Printing cartridges

Rainforest, Mt. Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia by Panoramic Images
Rainforest, Mt. Field National Park, Tasmania, Australia


You can reduce ink cartridge consumption by thinking before your print as well as reading many items online. I save a lot of documents as pdf format files that I would have printed off in the past. If I need it, I can still print it at a later date. I also scan documents instead of copying them and keeping photocopies. It creates a virtual filing system. It may not work for you but it reduces the need to print everything and store it in boxes.

Taking into account that you are no longer printing for the sake of it, using your own printer or photocopier because you do not want to travel miles to get your printing done is still going to leave with you with some ink cartridges that will empty from time to time.

More than 2 million inkcartridges get sent to landfill each year.


refill your ink cartridge by using local companies preferably but you could investigate


Or check out how to do it yourself

Some charities accept laser printer cartridges to help them raise funds such as action aid and the rain forest concern.

Monday, September 10, 2007



"Last spring and summer I taught poetry
writing at the American Nursing Home
in New York City.
The America Nursing Home is on the Lower East Side,
at Avenue B and Fifth Street.

... The students were all incapacitated
in some way, by illness or old age. Most
were in their seventies, eighties, and nineties.
Most were from the working class
and had a limited education.

... Some had recent memory loss, were forgetful,
tended to ramble a little when they spoke.
Everyone was ill,
some people sometimes in pain.
Depression was frequent.
A few were blind, and some had problems
in hearing.

... To be added to all this
was their confinement within the walls
and within the institutional regime
of the nursing home; they had little chance to find,
as poets usually do, fresh inspiration in new experiences,
sights, and sounds. Poetry, if they did write it,
would have to come from memory
and from what happened
and from what we could help make happen
right there
in the nursing home."

~ Kenneth Koch,
From "I Never Told Anyone:

Teaching Poetry Writing in a Nursing Home"
[p. 3, 5]

Inside each of us, memories are locked to inspire us in the last years of life, to release a magical presence of ancestors into the world. While we yearn for a solution to the global crisis, let us not forget to remain open to the wisdom of those amongst us that remain, although invisible to most, alive and full of wisdom.

Society as a whole tends to lock our older people away, although in many cultures the wisdom of older people is revered. As they become more fragile on the outside, like dried up leaves and seed pods, they hold nevertheless a link to the past and the possibilities to help us in the future. you know yours?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Autumn glow

The plums have been hanging and waiting a long time before being picked. The fact is that they were a bit passed their prime. Tzar is a cooking variety of plums and as where my DH was hoping he could measure their ripeness by their sweetness, it was no indication at all. We picked them together yesterday, separating good from bad and even ugly and what remained has been turned into jam, all 16 jars of it. It set incredibly well and has the most gorgeous dark red, plum colour. I only wish I could have used some of that colour to dye yarn with but that will be another year.

The autumn announces itself through changes in colour, texture and light. The evenings are cooler and the mornings ask for a little more covering than just a shirt and sandals. This is the time when summer leaves us ( the week we had) and we sense that autumn is around the corner. The sun shines a bit lower and the light is different, not darker but has a glow about it. Red, yellow and orange colours mingle with brown, dark greens and a spot of brightness so well captured in the Owen Thomas apples above.

Nature inspires me in different ways, I use the colour I see to create items that capture this and having taken the above picture, I painted a scarf with handdyed yarn. I dabble not in paints as such but by creating a palette in flowers in a marriage with nature. What results I think captures the autumn glow perfectly.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Fair weather gnome....

After decluttering the house for months, no, years....I left the boys to go to the village fete and when I returned from my day out to Fibrefest, stuff had crept in. I have been wondering how the stuff arrived in the house and now I know, very slowly, very easily.
They bought a typist chair for £ 1.00, a bar stool for me to sit on (?), a clock ( we have about 10) and the whistling gnome.

The whistling gnome, as the name implies, whistles when you pass the doorstep. Useful in some ways but not really the thing, as it cannot stay out in wet weather. I can see how it has been discarded after the summer we have had. The idea is that it will warn us when someone approaches. The dog is now apparently jobless, replaced by a whistling gnome. Granted, the gnome is cheaper, runs on batteries and does not go out in wet weather but the dog is far cuter and reliable.

Other stuff has been arriving in the cottage......A few nights ago, my DH put his foot down and stopped pandering to the cats. They have a habit of demanding to be let out in the middle of the night and so far he has been obliging, getting up and then crawling back up the stairs. A few nights ago, now that my DS 1 gets up at 6.30 am to go to school he gave up on pandering to the cats. This is in principle a good idea, but they have ways of making you comply.

Last night, turning out the light, I heard a rustling sound behind my bed, behind the bedside cabinet. I put the light on, and the noise stopped, followed by a scuffling. Something was moving fast. I am not fond of large spiders, so I thought I would put the light out, listen.......and yes, there again was the noise. Put the light on and looked in between the gap between the bed and the cupboard. Something flashed by, it had a tail. Back light off, waiting, noise appears again and when the light went on, a very small mouse ran back along the track. I ended up telling it it could stay there for the night as long as it was quiet and then promptly must have fallen asleep.

As I have said before, cats have ways of getting you to behave in your own home. Well, they are in for a shock when we move.

Guess today, I will be clearing out the bedroom in search of the lodger.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Free compost

Potting Shed by Tammy Repp
Potting Shed

Well nothing is entirely free but here is an idea for the serious gardener....and recycler.

You will need :

1 wheelbarrow for collection
2. a few new composting bins or a large pile in your garden
3. extra worms from wigglywigglers
4. a bit of time

As the tomatoe growing season gets to an end, many people in the UK will be wondering what to do with their used growbags. If you want to get some extra compost for free ( which you can revive by next year), you could print a small leaflet to put through doors within walking distance to offer to collect same ( charge if you want but thats up to you). Do leave your phone number or place where people can drop them off for you to process. You could put a wanted on freecycle too.

You will be getting bags of them so say NO when you have sufficient.

What to do with them :
Some of it can be used as a mulch on your beds, yes its depleted but by the time nature has worked on them with the worms in the ground, it will raise your soil levels. You could plant a green manure crop on the top of it over winter and that will increase fertility.

You can mix it with your current contents of the compost bins or bokashi waste and leave it to work over the next months until spring when you will be able to dig it into your beds.

Alternatively use the above to make your own soil mixture for next spring by adding some possible extras such as the organic fertiliser from wiggly wigglers:

Coir has similar properties to leaf mould and can be used as a substitute.

Sand Adding sand to your mix will increase drainage. For most purposes it's best to choose a gritty grade of sand, with a diameter greater than 5mm.

Perlite is a volcanic mineral that's excellent at providing air spaces within a potting compost. However, it won't hold on to water, and nutrients are quickly washed out. It's ideal for composts that require very free drainage and low fertility.