Friday, December 19, 2008

Season of hope

Blessings Of Christmas by Thomas Kinkade
Blessings Of Christmas

The village prepares for the Christmas season and at the shop we are busy collating food hampers and other foodie gifts so that nobody will be disappointed. Deliveries are coming in fast and furious and many parties take place.

The spirit of Christmas fellowship is alive in this place and what is joyful is that people who would be on their own this year, are invited by others so that no one out of choice will be spending Christmas Day alone.

Its a week of thanksgiving too and we find ourselves receiving as well as giving. The decision to invest in our local shop was a real turning point for us last year and currently we really are encompassing the principles we started with. Worthwhile work, independent shop, local focus and building on community strength.

The shop has a heart traced in stone outside in its pavement and as long as this heart beats, the village will find it a hub of activity and networking. Last week we managed to put someone who is destroying boxes for recycling in touch with someone else who wants boxes for their business and who buys them currently. Together they can both gain, one loses boxes, they are given a new use and then sent on again.

The Christmas season will be spent together with our family and friends. I will return in the New Year to start the next step of our journey. In the current global economic climate it is vital that we prepare for a new way of living. The challenge will be great, the opportunities greater for each and every one of us to find our strengths and work together. I wish you well.

There is only one corner of the universe you can change, and that is yourself, but in changing that corner, you change the universe. Chinese proverb

Friday, December 12, 2008

A single action

Action: Drop of Water
Action: Drop of Water

It only takes a single thought to move the world.

Ever decreasing consumerism sounds a scary place to be if you look at it from an economic point of view and yes, it is likely that temporarily many people will lose their jobs and find themselves in a very different environment from what they were used to. First financial institutions, then service providers, retailers, wholesalers, transport companies, manufacturers etc.
Life from now on will not be as we have known it, it is about to change drastically and yet,as I have mentioned before I see it as an alignment from a virtual world to a more realistic real viewpoint. This is also a moment of opportunities.

In our lifetime, many of us get that moment where it seems as if the whole of the world as we know it has collapsed and from somewhere we have to find the courage and the energy to get up, look ahead and rebuild with what is available to us at that moment in time. I am certain that we will do the best we can with the resources we have. The pattern in nature that I compare this situation to is the one of a stone being thrown into a pond, the impact is great, the stone heavy and the circles go outwards. The stone falls way down but it does not drag the whole pond with it downwards.

The change of direction and the next step has to start from our center, and work outwards. This is the opposite way it has worked so far, everything came to us and we received, then took some more. I am wondering whether to change this energy pattern we need to change our way of thinking and start giving instead of receiving. Instead of sinking deeper we need to find the energy to raise ourselves.

While the economy is on an ever decreasing circle, I am working on a global economy that starts locally. It requires a series of personal actions. How?

In permaculture, the first zone is zone zero : This is usually the house, the home zone. This is where you would start reducing your energy needs, save water, harnessing natural resources and generally creating a harmonious, sustainable environment in which to rebuild. My zone minus 1 goes a step back and looks at me as the starting point. What can I do today to manage my energy, to create a harmonious, sustainable balanced body, mind and spirit from which I can go forward to work and relax.

As human beings we function on a variety of levels and to create a harmonious way of living we need to find ways of engaging with all these levels.

When was the last time you listened to your body? What is needed to enable you to be healthy? What addictions stop you from fulfilling your potential? What or who drives you?

This is a time to find out who you really are, what your talents and gifts are and start radiating them out. This is probably very difficult to visualise but not impossible.

Which gift do you possess that you can radiate outwards.......

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hope in a box

When I woke up today I received a couple of gifts as it is my annual day. These are no ordinary gifts as they are not available in any shop. That in itself is not the most significant thing about them. They are a sign of hope to me that our children are working actively at recycling, reducing consumption but more importantly that they know the secret of giving a gift. It matters very little what its material value is because it is priceless. Priceless because they gave it thought and time rather than money. It warms me and it gives me hope for a different future. A different way of life where less really is more. A basket bought at the school fair, a bottomless box so my wool does not roll all over the floor. When we had the roof insulated, there were some bits of wood left over from a new roof hatch and the youngest boy spent hours filing it to the right size and asking Dad to help him put the nails in. All the while he pretended that he was just messing about with wood. It is a very useful, thought out piece of kit. The added value was time spent with his Dad working on it together.

Today I am grateful for my family, my friends, my life and all the abundance that surrounds me. Despite difficult times, I have a sign of hope in a box.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tucking the roof in

A Whooper Swan Resting with Bill Tucked under Wings
A Whooper Swan Resting with Bill Tucked under Wings

The last few days have shown us the benefits of having your loft insulated. It simply feels like sleeping under a duvet instead of the stars and the change in temperature is considerable. The work was done by a local man who even decided he would paint the hatches for us. The property is unusual and the hatches initially built for much smaller people. Estimates from larger companies were more expensive and some even flatly refused to do the work on the grounds that it was too claustrophobic up in the loft space. It will take a few weeks for the air currents to adjust.

Approximately one third of the heat within your property escapes through the roof if not correctly insulated. Significant savings on heating bills can be enjoyed whilst also increasing home comfort.

Where we felt ourselves lapsing in having the heating on during the recent cold spell, the roof insulation has made it three degrees warmer and the immediate want has disappeared.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Downshifting Christmas

Bringing Christmas Gifts by Konstantin Rodko
Bringing Christmas Gifts

It has taken a few years but we are celebrating Christmas in ever decreasing circles. I have had my fair share of dealing with Christmas.

  • Panic buying 2 weeks before Christmas and putting everything on a credit card. Then spending the whole year resenting the fact that I am having to work overtime to make the grade.
  • My gift list at some stage had a requirement for 60 gifts. It was a lovely feeling giving things to family, friends and work colleagues and yet the break from work seemed to end up in exhaustion. The joy was missing in me anyhow.
  • The next year, I must have decided to start making gifts to save money and stress but then got caught out because stress levels increased as my gift production conveyor belt seemed to lack time.
  • The next step was to scale up the gift tag and buy less of them. That did very Little really.
  • Next came sensibly saving and setting each person a price limit. That was fun, to try and get presents that were value for money.
  • The next step was to give presents to close family only and tell friends not to buy any for our children but to spend time with them. That worked really well last year, and the children had days out, something we are not able to do. They got to reconnect with important people in their lives and have fun. We still bought presents for them and their families.
  • This year, family members have posted a wish list in a variety of places to give each the freedom to buy something that will make them happy. It is meant to be a token gift. All price ranges are included and at least it gives a hint,you see you might always have bought music where the person actually wants a book. It still will be a surprise but a wanted one.

This year, I sent out a note to friends :

I hope you are all well. I just wanted to write as it is this time of the year again and I am hoping to make life a lot easier for you with a drastic suggestion.

1. This year we will not be sending Christmas cards but will give an overall donation to charity. We know you know us and we wish you all the very best in these difficult times.

2. As adults we have decided that we are quite happy without presents so please do not feel obliged to buy us anything,. We love you and we know that you love us too. We will however make a commitment to spend time together in January..... We hope to be better at seeing you in the next year.

3. If you want to give anything to the children, please feel free but you are under no obligation. Our boys have everything they could possibly want in life but will be happy to see you next year and if you can help them with work towards their goals that would be great too. We value learning skills together and building community. Overall the last 5 years have taught us that we want to invest in our health and relationships. Link

Happy Christmas to you all.

Timx had the same idea in Christmas thoughts so I am so glad I am not the only one taking a bold step. I have not received many replies from our friends, but one was glad for the stress reduction.

It is a freeing experience and brings us closer to what Christmas is really about. Sharing time, joy and cultivating relationships whilst visiting.
It has taken time to get this far and if we lose a couple of friends because of it, that would be a shame but on the other hand we will know which relationships to invest in.

How about you dear reader, where are you in downshifting Christmas.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The beauty of frost

The pleasure of waking up to a frosty morning, sun rising. Often we miss the beauty that surrounds us and looking at the frosting on the plants and the blanket on the flowers has given me a sense of peace. It is cold and yet at the same time uplifting.
Arctic enveloped in a frosty coating.
I am fascinated creatively by patterns in nature and the colours inspire me to reproduce them in my fibre creations.
The greens in winter are crisp, dark and full. I dyed some Blue Faced Leicester sock yarn yesterday to reflect the colours surrounding me.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

One man saying no

This film is a retrospective look at Neil Boorman's life twelve months on from the bonfire of the brands

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Simple steps with food

Blue Stove by Janet Kruskamp
Blue Stove

Eating with seasonal ingredients has brought some surprises. The menu is more diverse but has required an investment in time and effort. When time is at a premium, I crave an instant fix with a ready prepared meal and yet I know that this can be achieved with planning.

Seasonal food means being open to trying out new ingredients and to be willing to not have strawberries all year around. It brings with it an appreciation of the ingredient and a realisation that without preserving them you will not taste them again until next time around.

The most useful book I have on my shelf to help cooking from scratch is the More with less cookbook which includes recipes and suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world's limited food resources. The recipes are varied and you need to take an attitude about whether the ingredients are going to work but the test recipes have been really well received in this household. This would be a great book for students on a budget too.

In order to increase the intake of vegetables and decrease meat intake I have made the following adaptations to a cottage pie. Usually this is made with minced beef, gravy and onion under a topping of mashed potatoes. If you boil carrots with the potatoes and then mash them, you get more vegetables and a little less starch. Gradually adding a percentage of mushrooms from 0 to 50% adds texture and taste. Even leftover cauliflower can be mashed with potatoes as a different topping.

Food with attitude requires a willingness to experiment and be creative with whatever presents itself and using leftovers in the next dish.Most fruit that is looking past its best from the shop gets transformed into a fruit salad. Wrinkly vegetables make a rather satisfying soup.

Creating convenience meals include casseroles bubbling on the wood burner, soups, and making use of technology. The cooker in my kitchen has the ability to programme a start and finish to its cooking cycle and that enables me to go out for the afternoon and come back to a meal ready to eat.

Living simply and eating seasonally is not about going back 100 years in the way we do things but combining those skills with energy efficient technology available today.

In a nutshell:

  1. avoid additives and processed foods
  2. reduce consumption of animal products and consider food miles
  3. a vegan diet using locally produced organic produce is a a desirable sustainable model.
  4. Use wholefoods, farmer markets and local box schemes in preference to supermarket purchases.
  5. if you use imported goods, consider fair trade.
  6. eat more raw foods, sprout beans, smoothies.
  7. simmer on low heat instead of boiling, look at heat generated by woodburner as option.
  8. recycle all leftovers, compost and bokashi leftovers.
  9. eat seasonally
  10. update your cooking skills and try something new.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Heating your house

Two Children Bring Home a Barrow-Load of Firewood for the Christmas Fire by E. Blume
Two Children Bring Home a Barrow-Load of Firewood for the Christmas Fire

As far as the heating challenge is concerned, we are in month 2 without central heating. The children have their incentive payments to consider and have adapted well to the new setup.

What follows is a practical list of short and long term solutions to cutting the need and the cost for heating :

The emphasis is on conserving energy ( reducing consumption) and maximising savings on the cost of energy.

Ensure that the house is insulated and that windows and doors are draught proof.
Place a thermometer in your main room and try and keep the temperature at between 65 and 70f or 18 and 21 Celsius.

I am not sure on the science behind this but heating for short periods all winter through makes the boilers work very hard and you just about heat the air and take the chill off.If you put your central heating on, put it on constant for 12 hours ( not at night) and then switch to timed in short bursts throughout the day ,the temperature will remain at a constant level and the boiler does not have to work hard to maintain the temperature. It requires experimenting with in your home with your particular heating system.

Dress adequately. Our teenage son often complains that it is cold but turns up in his shirt and flip flops. It is of course not cool to wear anything else...... Heat yourself first and then the room.

Woodburners are an effective method of heating large open spaces. Make sure the wood is dry and stockpiled over the summer months. The woodburner also heats the kettle on top so we no longer need to boil a kettle for that very important cup of tea. The air dries out quite a bit with the woodburner but drying clothes in the same room overnight tends to counteract that quite effectively. To heat several rooms with the woodburner we apply the principle that when you create an air current, the hot air goes up and cold air rushes in to replace it. We can heat the downstairs of the house quite effectively with the woodburner and the upstairs lounge by keeping the door at the top of the stairs open.

Heat the rooms you use. Our bedrooms are not heated, nor are the corridors. The bathroom is currently unheated apart from a towel rail as I dislike damp towels and that is probably the only room we really feel the chill. It also cuts down on the time spent in the shower.

Purchase your heating oil or gas in the summer if you are on liquid gas and oil. Shop around for the best price of gas and electric. We purchase a load of logs at the end of August and at the beginning of January which carries us through the winter. Our lean to conservatory in winter doubles up as the log store. We also are not too proud to use any cuttings from shrubs saved over the summer( they need to dry out) branches found on walks, fallen down trees and old kitchen cabinets that are going free on free cycle. ( You need a jigsaw saw or other type of saw to cut these up into smaller pieces).

No need to use a shredder for personal information. All such items can be scrunched up into small balls and make effective firelighters. Shop paper towels and toilet rolls are used in the compost bin but we also have a paper bin next to the fire for anything that is paper related.

The savings we are making are being used to improve insulation of both the house and ourselves, give a proportion to the children and save the rest. This year we will effectively insulate the roof based on the savings made of not using central heating throughout the winter. The only exception we will make will be the 14 days around the holiday season when we have guests.

When you visit other people's homes you need to dress down again. We went for supper at a friend's house and literally got too red for comfort. From this we noticed that we had acclimatised to a lower temperature and were finding a centrally heated home with open fire just too much.

If you cannot afford to heat your home, spend time in the library and other free public places as they get heated. The library is a good place to sit and read in comfort. Be warned that spending time in heated places will make you feel the cold when you get back home.

Take a walk each day to boost your circulation. When you come back from a walk in the cold air, you immediately feel warm coming home.

The important thing is not about depravation of heat but about finding what level of heat is sensible and healthy for you. If you are active and young you are less likely to feel as cold as a housebound elderly person who moves slowly and whose metabolism is slower. In essence it is about balancing your needs with the resources available. Many older people worry about the cost of heating their homes. The smaller the home, the more your money will stretch.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The sky at night

The skies have been brilliant and inspiring over the last few days. The days are cold and the wind is whipping up from a different direction. The garden is being put to bed and my attention is drawn to the inside of the house.

Now is a time to tidy the tools away, clean and oil them. It is satisfying to see that the garden will still be producing some salads; purslane, parsley and celery still abound and there have been plenty of bulbs planted to bring spring colour.

The canning equipment is being put away, the damson gin is about to be put into bottles as gifts for loved ones and a tipple for me when it gets really cold. From the corner comes the spinning wheel and the many bags of fleece that still need to be spun,the knitting needles can click away, the pile of books is ready to be read. I have started a sweater that is lighter and warm for next year's cold spells. I also check the supplies of essential oils, essences and other supplies.

It’s time to begin making gifts for the December holiday season! First though, a day of Thanksgiving. This year, my thanks are not only for continued health, friends, the shop, the home that feels more like ours and the countryside around me; but more - they are for quiet, serenity, inner peace, and a recognition that the things with which I am blessed become too numerous to list as soon as I begin. May it be so for all of you who share this blog and downshifting journey.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Money saving tip -1 - 10 breakfast ideas

Breakfast under the Big Birch by Carl Larsson
Breakfast under the Big Birch

Breakfast appears to be the most important meal of the day as literally we wake up and break our fast. Our bodies need nourishment that will carry us through the day. Serve in a pretty place, in a special bowl.

Wheat free, sugar free and dairy free offer a challenge so what follows are our top breakfast choices. These have more variety than 12 months ago. We have branched out into uncommon resources, uncommon because we were not familiar with them. Quantities are per person.

1 - Oaty fruit

2 tablespoons oats, soaked in water, add 1 tablespoon of sultanas and a handful of raspberries or choice of berries. In the morning add pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and a few almonds. Mix.

2 - Apple millet cereal

1 cup of millet add 2 cups of water. Cook on the stove for about 30 mins ( check water content).
When cooked stir in 1 chopped apple, a little butter and some maple syrup.

3- Quinoa with bananas

1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water. cook for 20 mins ( check water). Add berries of your choice and a banana. If you want to indulge, some cocoa powder and the banana.

Cereal choices of grain - millet, quinoa, oats,barley

Topping for cereals
apricots, bananas, apples, cherries, raisins, currants, flaked coconut, walnuts, cashews ( unsalted), almonds, , sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, hazelnuts.

Sweet things to add to cooked cereal:
honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, cinnamon, molasses, manuka honey.

4 -Eggs

Boiled, scrambled with tomatoes. On toast or with rice cakes.

If you are not dairy intolerant :
5- Pancakes, waffles etc

6 - Rice pudding

7 - One of a kind granola ( good for travelling )

Preheat the oven to 150 C. Combine in a heavy roasting pan
1 cup wholemeal flour or soya flour
1 1/2 cups dry milk powder ( optional if dairy intolerant)
1 1/2 cup bran
1/2 cup buckwheat ( optional)
1 cup sesame seeds
6 cup oats
1 cup shelled sunflower seeds
1 cup hazelnuts

Combine in a saucepan
1 cup oil, 1/2 cup honey, 2 tablespoons molasses, 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Warm over gentle heat to blend. Pour into dry mixture stirring well. Roast for 45 to 60 mins stirring every 15 mins until everything is golden brown.
After it has cooled add - 2 cups of raisins, 1 cup each of chopped prunes, dates, apricots and cocunut, 1 cup of other nuts. Store in a pretty jar or several and serve either with milk or juice poured over it.

Voila, not a single cereal packet to deal with. No cartons to recycle, no shopping to carry in vast quantities. Since 2 out of the 5 of us do not drink milk, we have less plastic bottles to recycle.

Most ingredients can be bought in the wholefood shop for a song. The beauty is that with all the neat jars full of wholefoods each person can add what they like.

8- Smoothie
1 banana, 1 handful of raspberries ( or other fruits), add fruitjuice of your choice ( cranberry, orange, apple, tropical), whizz in the blender and enjoy.

9 - Popcorn

10- Fresh fruit
2 pieces of fresh fruit of your choice with a handful of almonds, cashews or hazelnuts.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Local food - Wild rabbit with field mushrooms and shallots

Mogimont Village Ardennes Belgium by Ledent
Mogimont Village Ardennes Belgium

In the Ardennes where I grew up, Rabbit, Venison, Wild Boar were often on the menu. This week I am going to try and eat locally with what is available in the garden and in the area.
My personal diet is mostly vegetarian for many reasons but also because most meat products are fed on wheat to which I am intolerant.
Rabbit is in season currently and I have taken my grandmother's cookery book out and am making a rabbit stew marinated in a local Peregrine Dark Beer from Cotleigh Brewery. It requires marinating overnight. My family are not accustomed to rabbit so it may end up a complete disaster in the taste stakes.
The cost for 2 rabbits from the local butcher came to £ 4.40 which is less than a free range chicken. Rabbit meat should taste like chicken and contains a lot less fat. I know, it is a cute animal but very prolific here in the countryside and it is my intention to eat as locally as possible and not discount any resources.

This is a very lengthy process so you need more than time on your hands.

1 carrot ( peeled and cut into 4)
1 celery ( cut into chunks)
1 large onion sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
a couple of black peppercorns
2 bottles of Cotleigh Brewery Dark Beer
2 table spoons of cider vinegar

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade into a large dish, add rabbit pieces and leave overnight in a very cool place.

Day 2

4 tablespoons of flour
4 oz of butter
1 tablespoon of oil
1 pound of fresh mushrooms ( field mushrooms are best)
10 peeled shallots
6 fluid oz of stock ( vegetable or chicken)
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of redcurrant jelly
2 tablespoons of fresh minced parsley


  1. Remove rabbit pieces from the marinade and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Save marinade.
  2. Heat butter in pan until it froths and brown rabbit pieces on both sides. Work in small pieces so that it does not crowd the pan.
  3. Return all pieces back to a large pot , pour in all the marinade with vegetables, herbs and spices. Bring to the boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer covered for 45 mins.
  4. Place the cover slightly ajar and continue cooking for 45 to 60 mins until the meat is very tender and falls from the bones.
  5. prepare the mushrooms and onions. Melt some more butter over medium heat and add mushrooms. Cook for 8 to 10 mins then set aside.
  6. Melt some additional butter and add onions, with stock, sugar, salt and pepper in small saucepan. Add the onions and cook partially covered over medium heat until the onions are tender and the liquid has reduced to a syrup, about 30 mins. Remove from heat and set aside.
  7. Remove rabbit pieces from set, then puree the remaining ingredients in a blender; the pureed vegetables will thicken the sauce and give extra flavour. Return pureed sauce to saucepan, heat to the boil and add redcurrant jelly.
  8. Return the rabbit pieces along with the mushrooms and onions.
  9. Heat through and serve with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.

I agree that this is not a quick recipe but if mastered on a cooker could continue to bubble on a woodstove for braising and gentle heat.

The family were appreciative of the fact that the meal had taken such a long time to cook. The smells pervaded the house and tantalised their noses. They were unsure of what it would be like but said they would not object to having it another time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

10 ways to cut spending

  1. Eat home made cereals instead of shop bought ones. Saves on sugar too.
  2. Turn the heating down.
  3. Take a packed lunch to work. Cook from scratch with seasonal ingredients.
  4. Plan a menu and shop with a list.
  5. Find someone local to cut your hair.
  6. Car share, walk or cycle.
  7. Compare transport costs car -v- public transport.
  8. Increase vegetable intake, reduce meat consumption.
  9. Invite friends home to eat potluck supper instead of meeting at a restaurant or pub.
  10. Do a financial reality check.

Over the next 10 posts I will be expanding on each one and giving you an insight in how we work these principles here.
You Can Save Money, But Money Can't Save You
You Can Save Money, But Money Can't Save You

Monday, November 17, 2008

In the blank space

It is known in nature that some seeds need to be burnt by forest fires before they can germinate to grow into new lush growth replacing a devastated forest. The landscape may look very bleak and yet the very devastating conditions provide just the right medium for new growth to take place.

May now be the time for seeds to provide new growth. Let us find the courage to start afresh. I will be looking at the resources around me in the next few days and reflect how they can be used in a positive way to move forward.

It is said that love changes everything......

The clip is of an Irish blessing sung by the wonderfully soothing voice of Snatam Kaur.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


The news has been dismal this week in the newspapers and if it is to be believed we should be hurtling into a recession at great speed. Hopefully you are still strapped in the rollercoaster and hanging on. I sense that the only way now is to ride it out however horrible the landscape is we are passing. Life from now on is going to be different. We have not been in this situation before and an alignment and adjustment is taking place.

Logically the news should mean that everyone wants to stop purchasing anything that is not a luxury and batten down the hatches. Some however will be panic buying. If you are a saver, the returns on your money are very low and if that is your source of income then things will get tight. If you worked in financial services, call centres and any other service orientated line of work, you may face redundancy and with that difficulty living and honouring any commitments you have. Many people live one paycheck away from disaster. It can be a situation where we all feel powerless, helpless and in shock. How did it get to this?

The response of our government is to drop interest rates, rescue the banking system and borrow more. We might otherwise be heading for a deadlock.

There is no doubt that we are heading into difficult waters and the situation will be unique to every one of us, depending on how old you are, what your commitments are, your skills etc.

5 years ago I was enjoying a job I liked very much and became ill. As the main breadwinner my panic button was pushed. My husband had been the one staying at home and on the 21st December I was sitting in the unemployment office having to prove that I had been let go from my job due to ill health. ( A project cannot be managed by a sick manager, not when it involved people in crisis)I was told that I would not be getting anything for a while. I felt lousy, could hardly walk and wondered how it had come to this. I felt I had failed and was being failed. I felt I had done my best and all I wanted to do was go hide, sleep or worse.

What has struck me about humanity is that we have the ability to unite and perform miracles together whereas individually the task may seem too great. As this is a crisis which faces the whole of humanity on a global scale and we are beginning to realise that what we do here has an effect somewhere it is conceivable that whatever effort we make to reduce our consumption, voluntarily or not will have an impact somewhere in the universe.

We can look at what we cannot do, at what has gone, grieve for a time that has passed and then we need to keep our heads high and pick up where we are now.

My job was dealing with people in a crisis and when I found myself in one I looked on from the outside and wondered how I could use the skills I had used professionally to make a way through.

Here are some olive branches :

Remind yourself that you are alive, very much alive and that at this moment you have all you need. Get up each day, face the sun and look around.

Gather your family and friends around you if you can and check that everyone is OK. Reassure the people around you that you can work together to find a solution. Listen to all options and make decisions. It is inaction that increases our fear; be flexible and reassess the situation each day.
Promise yourself to get up each day and face what happens in the moment.
Do not panic as fear can make things look like a nightmare.
Every day you will need water, food, shelter and warmth - plan with what you have.
Find out the resources you have available and make the most of what you have.
Let go of some possessions.
There will be people with money and no time that now find themselves at the other end of the spectrum, time and no money. Invest in your health and your relationships.
Gather your strength, work out what is possible and believe that you can achieve the impossible with the help of your friends, family, community, country and the rest of the world. Believe that you have the skills to bring you through. Let go of the expected and expect the unexpected.
Stand tall and smile. There is everything to live for and there is time to reconnect.
Really look around you, take it all in and then breathe, breathe, breathe and look ahead and reach out.
Let go and forgive.

Music is empowering to me and Mariah Carey's song has some great words to go by.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Warm hearts

The heating challenge continues and we are doing fine.

In the past we expected to guess at the temperature that would be comfortable and just put the heating on on automatic. Now the temperature gauge says it is 65 and with a sweater, baselayer and woolly socks we are doing fine. The children have less difficulty staying warm as their metabolisms are working at a higher rate. We have found that a daily walk with the dog or bike ride for the children, rugby games etc makes a huge difference to how cold one feels. The only time I personally feel the cold is on days when I feel unwell, rest and immobile.

We are adapting to less heat and with the savings we made we have given the children some money to do with as they wish. It is their share of savings made over the last month. The looks on their faces was great to see and warmed our hearts.

It is possible to stay warm with less. It is possible because we have some control over our environment here, we live and work in the same place. The shop is not heated and we have now repaired the shop doors so that they can be closed with ease and are more draughtproof. The benefit is that the heat generated by the appliances heats the shop instead of evaporating into the village street. There are working environments where the temperature has to be higher such as oncology units and coming home to a colder place would be more noticeable.

Living in one room is getting easier too. As usual the dog and cats find their way in the seats nearest to the fire. They provide an accurate temperature gauge too ; the cats are quite happy outside in the porch. When it is due to rain they stay in the porch, when the weather is set for very cold they insist on a mesmerising place in the chair near the fireplace.

Nevertheless the savings are worth considering not just personally but also environmentally.
It still stuns me that the little changes we make can make such a big difference. Life without central heating is possible and living with less is such a freeing concept.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cost of living

Autumn Grazing by Bill Saunders
Autumn Grazing

How did you get to live in the house you are now?

Housing costs depend on what choices have been important to you and are currently important to you.

Some questions to explore :

How much space do we need?
How can we maximise the space versus costs of property?
What are our housing needs?
How much are we prepared to pay for our housing costs?
Do we need to own a property?

If you did not reassess your housing costs before here are some ways of saving money or making your house help make ends meet.

Check that your house meets your needs ( i.e. could you manage with a smaller house, smaller garden different location etc). If it feels too small ask yourself how you can make it appear to be bigger? What is the core issue that makes you feel you need a larger house?
If you have a mortgage on your property check that you have the best possible rates and that you can manage the payments. How much are you prepared to pay for the way you live?
If you have a spare room, would you consider taking in a lodger. There is an issue with lack of privacy but if extra income is necessary could it be an option. Aim for maximum occupancy for your home which will also reduce your ecological footprint. Ensure that you have lodgers on a contract basis to protect yourself and your home.
Have you insulated your home as much as is possible both in terms of investment and possibilities in your home?
How much stuff do you need? Can you continue to declutter?
Is working from home a possibility cutting out commuting?
How much vegetables and fruit can your garden provide?
What temperature are you comfortable with?

With hindsight anything is possible; as I see people move into their new home I recall the many many boxes of stuff I packed, paid to be moved and then never needed. It is not a quick process but part of the downshifting journey.

My definition of success is total self acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily, however, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Remembrance Day – also known as Poppy Day, Armistice Day (the event it commemorates) or Veterans Day – is a day to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. It is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918. The day was specifically dedicated by King George V, on 7 November 1919, to the observance of members of the armed forces who were killed during war; this was possibly done upon the suggestion of Edward George Honey to Wellesley Tudor Pole, who established two ceremonial periods of remembrance based on events in 1917.[1] ( wikipedia)

Now my life is only weeping by Karl Jenkins is part of his new work Stabat Mater and I offer you the clip by Miss Wed combining the song with clips from the Robin Hood series 2. Its a powerful emotional combination.

Remembrance and grief are universal themes and part of our human experience whether in wartime or other times. As leaves fall to earth, as trees are felled and lives end, let us contemplate remembrance and in particular family, friends, fellowship and the fragility of life. (© Anne - downshiftingpath 2008)

Let us not forget.......

Monday, November 10, 2008

changing seasons

The autumn and winter weather here in the UK are comparatively mild in temperature compared with the USA for instance. It gets wet,windy and damp and to go out requires some effort. The dog is an excellent creature of routine and expects at least 2 walks per day. The difference living here is that it gets light after 8 am and quite dark in the afternoon, just after 4 pm when the children get home from school.
Pumpkin carvings by Nathalie Halloween 2008

Light and candles are therefore important during these months and I feel drawn to scented candles and a daily walk in the fresh air. It feels like a time of hibernation, rest and contemplation and this year, I intend to give in to that rhytm a little more than previous years.
Dampness in the air, colder nights and daylight have a mellow feel to it. There is a poignancy about this time of year. Nature is still blooming, ripe with berries, hips and haws and there are still many flowering plants in the garden. Yes we know that it is impermanent and that change is imminent.

At the same time, our bodies change too in anticipation of a different season. The ancient chinese associated this season with the earth element. When you look around at harvesting of crops, gathering fruits of your labour in the garden it can be linked naturally with digestion and nourishment. Autumn and winter bring us back inside, out of the cold, expecting warm nourishment and a time of rest.

I find it fascinating that eating with the seasons brings me into a different way of preparing meals that are suited to a woodstove. Comfort foods; warm stews, soups and hot drinks centre us at this time of the year. Cold food and drinks are thought to deplete the spleen and stomach energy. When cold food enters the stomach it has to be warmed diverting valuable energy from the digestive process.

Some seasonal preparations:
  • millet is a gluten free grain which in Chinese medecine is thought to be supportive to the spleen and is cooked in much the same way as porridge : 1 cup of millet flakes to 2 cups of water, simmer for 30 mins.
  • Root vegetables can be roasted in the oven ; sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, squashes and yams are high in natural sugars and are a healthy way to indulge a sweet tooth.
  • Slow cooked foods; casseroles, stews and soups.
  • Add cumin seeds, and coriander to vegetable, bean and lentil dishes- this helps digestion.
  • Drink peppermint tea after meals.

Despite the wet weather, I love the colours, the composting scents in the countryside and I look forward to coming home and taking up my knitting, my reading and spinning in the warm room.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The scents of winter

Mandarin Oranges, Dates, Pomegranate and Cinnamon Sticks by Ulrika Pousette
Mandarin Oranges, Dates, Pomegranate and Cinnamon Sticks

As my daughter tells me that all little insects crawl away at the beginning of November and the onset of winter is nigh, I feel the need to create some winter concoctions to keep the air moist with orange and spice and all things nice.

The woodburner is great at producing heat but simultaneously has a habit of drying out the air around us. A simple thing to do is to have a pot with some water on the woodburner where water evaporates and makes the air moist again.

Much more fun is adding some things to the water- it could be a soup bubbling away but today I feel the need to add some ginger, orange, cloves and cinnamon to the water. Tomorrow it might be pine and eucalyptus.

It sure makes cabin fever more pleasurable. As an aside we did spend some money on base layers to wear under woolly jumpers and I am certainly feeling the benefit of that.

More spicy tea now and then a brisk walk with the dog. There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing - a saying I remember from Denmark. It may just be correct....

Friday, October 31, 2008

Warming around the stove

Captian Malcolm Campbell Motor Racing Driver at Home with His Wife, c.1930
Captian Malcolm Campbell Motor Racing Driver at Home with His Wife, c.1930

As soon as we set the heating challenge, the temperature dropped and we felt a slight chill walking around. No snow here but in other parts of the country there have been snowdrifts and flooding.

The wood burner works fine and keeps the room very cosy. When we leave the room, we feel the cold and do not hang around in the rooms that do not have any heating.

A small observation has been that we are not accustomed to being all in one room. There are small disagreements between people as to who controls what in the space and we are not yet pulling together as a team. Being together in a room for more than 30 mins at a time with 3 children is alien to them as well as us. We have become accustomed to each having our own space and each doing in that space what we want.

I am aware that the chair I use often in the room is now occupied by someone else and that the noise levels have increased. I am realising how much we each love our own individual space around us and yet being warm creates a need to be together. Escapes are planned : we could go to the pub and have a drink while we enjoy other's company and catch up on local news. Older children seem to wish to either stay cold in their room or visit friends who ' have heating' as they find the room stifling.

The chairs are not meant to be sat on for very long and I long to bring in a wing armchair, very much like a scene out of the 1930's, where someone will read a book, someone will knit, listen to the radio and others will quietly do an activity or go to bed.

We are not at that stage. We are currently trying to adjust to uneven temperatures around the house and uneven tempers within individuals.

I am investigating warm clothing.

Off to make a nice cup of hot chocolate for everyone and warm up the hot water bottles.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The heating challenge

Bundle Up by Jo Moulton
Bundle Up

This year we are taking a bold leap into the unknown with regards to keeping warm.

We have central heating in the house which uses bottled gas. Keeping the heating on every day morning and late evening uses three bottles every 10 days at a cost now of £ 150 every 10 days which is a bit extravagant.

This year, instead of heating the rooms and the air around us, we are changing back to warming ourselves first in an effort to make us a little more resilient, as well as cutting down on our dependency on fossil fuels. Every 10 days the heating does not go on, we have £ 150 in the kitty for other things. That means : thermal vests, woolly socks and woollen jumpers, hot drinks, super duvets, blankets, hot water bottles etc. I will be telling you how long we hold out. The house is of a construction that the living room downstairs and kitchen can be kept warm with the log burner and as heat travels up ,the lounge upstairs will also benefit from some heat. The bedrooms will be cold.

I am interested in what will happen to relationships when we are forced together around the fire instead of staying apart in individually heated rooms. If we do not manage this we can always put the heating on and we are not going to freeze but we just wonder whether it is possible to take that step. Last year we found it hard to come from a centrally heated home into a cold one but we hope that over the next weeks our bodies adjust to a gentle lowering of the temperatures around us. The shop remains unheated and we will soon be turning off the fridge that holds cold drinks. There seems little point in a cold drink when the shop will be cold. This also means that the fridges and freezers will need to work less to keep the food inside colder.

Many thanks for all your comments so far, it is lovely to hear your views.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

10 ways to prepare for winter

A polar bear snuggles up with her cubs by Paul Nicklen
A polar bear snuggles up with her cubs

For the last few weeks I have been preparing the house for winter so what follows is a general list :

  1. Sweep the Chimneys and clean out the grates fully, repairing any cracks with fire cement.
  2. Sort out the snuggly duvets - send to cleaner is necessary
  3. Check the winter wardrobes, who needs what in the way of coats, jumpers, boots, slippers, wooly socks etc. Make a list of woolly socks to knit over the next few months to keep the sock chest full.
  4. Make sure we have some nice heavy thick curtains for the windows and doors.
  5. Make sure we have enough wood stocked up for fireplace. Order any extra now before the prices go up and the rains make the logs wet.
  6. Make a checklist of seeds to prepare for spring planting
  7. Ensure we have enough cold and flu, cough mixes, Calpol, prescription meds in the house.
  8. Make sure we have some 5lt water containers in case of burst pipes or other emergencies
  9. Ensure we have a stock of candles, batteries etc (in case of power cuts)
  10. Replace the normal energy saver lightbulbs with daylight energy saver bulbs

If you have a car make sure it is full of fuel in case of emergency and get the sewing machine out to make draught excluders.

Yesterday we went for our monthly trip to the town and got a few supplies, in particular clothes for the youngest person in the household who was in need of some trousers without holes, some new wellington boots. He wears most of his clothes and shoes out as they are third hand and sometimes feels that he has a raw deal so a little trip to town makes his day as well as a visit to the library.

The weekend will be spent tidying up and getting the wood supply closer to the fire. A big freeze is expected next week and that will test our resolve regarding the heating challenge. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Reality check

Do All The Good You Can
Do All The Good You Can

One of the great leaps we made in our downshifting journey was to examine our values and beliefs, our drivers and how they have shaped our lives.

As a child I cannot remember feeling poor or lacking in anything. My parents encouraged me to get well educated and with that grew expectations; that I would get a degree, that I would marry well. I envisaged a lovely house, a few children and a rosy future without lack. As the stories go, to live happily ever after.

There was no understanding of peak oil; peer pressure and media encouraged us to have new things, to throw the old ones away in sharp contrast with my grandmother who made do and mended. I have to thank her for the skills she passed onto me. She taught me how to knit and most of all how to undo my knitting, my projects, wash the wool and make something else out of it. Jumpers I outgrew, were unravelled, then became another item with stripes combining colours. As I got older I did not really appreciate the stripey socks that came my way but the essential skill of recycling and making something unique and new out of available resources stayed with me.

As the world seemed to speed up and demand consumption of convenience goods and foods through lack of time, the skills seemed no longer necessary. To repair an item became more expensive than buying it new and little repair shops went out of business. Mending clothes was unnecessary as new ones saved time and made us feel better. 'Better and convenient foods' made our waistlines expand and with it a demand for a new set of clothes.

Owning a house was a must, renting seemed somehow second best. With every possession we acquired, came the need to finance it, maintain it and then replace it, fuelling consumption. The lifespan of a washing machine in our household seemed to be about 3 years as washing was a constant daily grind. Every corporate job I held demanded a ' look' a haircut, a car, a manicure, and I was definitely keeping up with whoever. With that increasing debts meant an increasing desire to earn more, to have less time, to spend more etc etc etc until one day.......I picked up a book by John Seymour and found out that it may not have to be that way.

It is probably unbelievable to you that after all this time downshifting I am still decluttering freecycling or simply giving it away. A few things have changed though. We now plan our purchases in line with our downshifting goals.

Our reality has changed and instead of being surrounded by debt, mortgages and a deep unhappiness that is satisfied by a shopping trip, we earn less, we spend less and we save. That in itself is a miracle.

Most of all I make do and mend in many ways. I know my needs and wants change regularly but as I get older and the longer I walk on the downshifting journey, the more likely I am to invest in seeds, bulbs and plants than to buy fresh flowers.

National growth may be down, recession may be looming but only if we view it through glasses of unrealistic growth and ever expanding consumption. If on the other hand, we look at what we need, how we can best use our resources, a natural contraction of consumption happens until it finds a balance, and aligns itself to a realistic level. What we lose in growth in convenience foods we are likely to see counterbalanced by an increased demand for allotments, seeds and plants.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A splash of pink

At the end of the summer season and heralding autumn, a strange and wonderful plant grows in the very small space next to the white painted wall.Nerines do things backwards. In spring they create leaves that die down in summer and in the autumn they send up one long tender stem which when opening reveals a fantastic blossom. Whereas the garden seems to want to go to sleep, the nerines's colour contrasts well with the red leaves and the autumn colours around. They love being sunbaked and appear in a few corners of the garden. A lovely single stem flower.

Plant nerines in spring in free-draining soil at the foot of a south-facing wall, where they can bake in the sun. If you have heavy garden soil or are growing the tender kinds, grow them in pots of John Innes No3, the soil-based compost, with some grit to improve drainage.

Plant three or four in an 18cm pot, with the shoulders of the bulbs just under the compost and the necks protruding. Finish with a 1cm layer of grit to prevent water sitting next to the bulb and causing it to rot.

Leave the pots in a sunny spot on the patio and bring them indoors when the first frost is forecast.

After the leaves die down in early summer, keep them dry. When the first signs of emerging flowers appear in autumn, give them a thorough watering. Don't overdo it or the bulbs will produce a huge crop of leaves and very few flowers.

The bulbs soon begin to multiply. Don't be too quick to divide and re-pot the clump as they like to be overcrowded.

Nerines look great against dark or evergreen backdrops, mixed with the primary blue Salvia patens, set against the smoky purple leaves of Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea' or among other patio containers.

Use them to replace bedding plants that are past their best.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Plastic bags made into durable bags

If you find a variety of bags in the countryside, you could make them into durable college bags or collage bags.
The above video shows a neat way of making fabric out of plastic bags which could in essence be used for anything; tarpauling, liners, bags, hats, raincoats etc.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Traditional skills

Many of the houses in our area have roofs that are thatched and over the last weeks we have been able to observe at a distance the creation and repair of a thatched roof against a backdrop of a field being ploughed by a tractor, while birds circled around to catch a little grain.

The thatcher worked through rain, sunshine at a steady pace, arriving early in the morning, when the mists were clearing. There was a sense of clarity as well as peace in the way he worked with his apprentice and the result is very pleasing to the eye.

Some traditional skills have been lost over the years and yet, there is still time to learn and relearn some of them.

Popular mechanics made a list of 100 skills every man should know, or woman for that fact. Its a starting point.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Its a bag

Three months ago we ran a competition in the village by asking everyone to design a logo for the shop as we wanted to have our own shopping bags. Although we accept plastic bags for recycling, we felt that we wanted to reduce the uptake of plastic bags and thus the idea was born to have a bag for Central Stores.

There were quite a few entries and in the end we opted for 1 logo and 1 caption which is printed on the back of the bag.

We chose ecobags as a company to print the bags because they are a family business and have an ethical trading policy. Their website is transparent about their business and their service has been great, especially when things go wrong, like delays in shipment and delivery. I guess when we knew the bags were coming we got a tad impatient simply because having announced their arrival in the village magazine for early October, many people came in and asked daily whether the bags were here.

But they are here now, and we are pleased as punch. Its a great feeling to see people walking about with a bag we have been instrumental in providing. The window display is about autumn, with pumpkins, wellington boots, firelighters, logs, tea, porridge, socks and scarves and......bags.

Making a difference can be scary but I am glad we took the step into the unknown.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

the eye of the storm

Eye of a Hurricane by Randy Berg
Eye of a Hurricane

If you are still strapped in in the roller coaster, my opinion is that we are about to strike the eye of the storm and need to stay calmer than ever. The pictures that loom currently are likely to take hold of our financial anxieties and could lead us to make decisions in a panic to save whatever is worth saving. If we can stay calm, we may notice that we have all we need.

As we celebrated harvest festival in our village, there was a toning down of the usual feast. Instead of a full village feast we had nibbles and drinks after the service. The main theme was using the words in Harvest and highlighting that we are a country that HAVE and that some others STARVE and that in order to have enough we need to learn to SHARE. It reminds me of what we learnt in kindergarten ; play nice, share and we all will have enough.

At the same time, Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food highlighted that for many families, the basics of cooking and providing fresh, seasonal food is a skill that is sorely lacking and his efforts to cascade cooking lessons amongst the people in Rotherham is meeting with some resistance to say the least.

So far, the banks have been found lacking in the way they have dealt with ‘ virtual money’, our County Councils have invested surplus funds in Icelandic Banks and anyone with shares is selling them as fast as they can to save what can be saved. Next will be reverberations on pension and insurance funds, then small businesses will likely see their overdrafts being recalled adding to the chaos. It looks like a downward spiral but that too has its tipping point.

Historically a response would be to cut everything by 10% as 10% is an achievable measure. At the same time as the country will have more people unemployed in a variety of sectors, there is likely to be a cut too in benefits and welfare payments and an increase in taxation to redress the balance.

Instead of wasting the produce that is available to harvest, lets harvest what we can in the natural world and look to preserve the three basic needs we need to cover : food, shelter and warmth.

Shelter is the one most in danger if you have high borrowing on it and may need some tough rethinking.
Food : we can try and eat foods that are local , that produce a steady source of energy and essential elements for health.
Warmth : instead of warming the air around us, we could concentrate on warming ourselves to conserve energy around the house.

Life is a circle, when you harvest you also find time to sow. An alignment can take place when we look at different things to sow and reap in the future.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Here for a season....

Very little seems to have changed to the village square since this picture was taken in 1906. The front of the shop is still the same and it is a comfort to know that the same building has hosted shops in the past.
Part of the fun has been to recreate a picture today in the style of yesterday and a few photographers in the village have risen to the occasion. The results are pleasing and will continue to be displayed in the shop gallery. We are slowly building a picture of the heritage and importance of the shop in our community.

In an era where small shops keep closing, the credit crunch and reversal of mass consumption we concentrate not only on the service we provide but wonder what the social costs have been of closure of shops. There are days when Roger changes batteries in hearing aids, accepts any sort of parcel when people are out, makes deliveries to housebound residents, gives water to thirsty dogs and taps in the code on mobile phone top ups when customers cannot fathom the technology. We sell kindling wood, logs and firelighters now the weather is changing and if a resident is not there at their usual time, we phone them to make sure they are OK.
I wonder whether supermarkets taking over from village shops will be willing to do the same?
People matter to us as much as back in 1906 and we certainly get a lot of job satisfaction from knowing that our role is valued. The little boy in the picture is now an octogenarian and told us he hopes we are not about to leave....well no, we are here for the duration, good and bad times. We just love it when people empty their pockets of pennies, rustle up a small note out of a trouser pocket, leave their wellies covered in sheep dung at the entrance and walk in gingerly with socks, call in at seven in the morning on their way to work, or at six on their way home, even on horseback just to say hello and comment on the day. Being opposite the church gives us a perspective on life while we share in celebrations of births, marriages and deaths. Walking in the churchyard we are surrounded by people we have come to know albeit for a short time. Its a way of life then and now. It also shows us that we are and will be part of history in the future. Here for a season.........

Monday, October 06, 2008

Converting rubbish to pay for honeymoon

Todays' article brought a smile to my face when I read that John and Ann Till, from Petersfield, in Hampshire, took thousands of cans and bottles to a recycling centre at a nearby Tesco supermarket.
For every four recycled items, they earned a reward point which was then converted into BA air miles.
They amassed 36,000 miles, which they used to fly back in business class from their US honeymoon.
A splendid effort.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Limericks and plastic bags

This month in our local village magazine a little Limerick appeared :

Central Stores in now trying to go ' green'
To help the whole world get clean
So Roger and Anne
Both do what they can
to improve the Stogumber scene.

It is great how the village seems to embrace the changes we are introducing. Our canvas bags should he arriving next week and then we will see whether they really take on board the notion of turning shopping and the village into a plastic bag free environment.

This is an exciting time.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The white stuff

Chocolate Chip Cookie And Milk
Chocolate Chip Cookie And Milk

The picture about milk is changing. Its a product that is used by many of us and is a main ingredient in our kitchens. Most families in the UK start their day with cereals covered in milk, drink milk and have endless cups of tea with milk. Is the daily cuppa threatened? I grew up with milk being an essential part of my diet as it was an easy way to obtain calcium and nutrition for growth.

Milk's primary use is food for young mammals and yet as humans we are an exception in that we continue to consume milk beyond infancy. Genetically we are probably not designed to deal with that and in fact many of us become lactose intolerant at some stage in our life.
Humans are an exception in the natural world for consuming milk past infancy. The sugar lactose is found only in milk, forsythia flowers, and a few tropical shrubs. The enzyme needed to digest lactose, lactase, reaches its highest levels in the small intestines after birth and then begins a slow decline. In normal circumstances, babies would be breastfed and then continue with some form of milk until weaned. Milk is used to make butter, cheese, yoghurt, kefir, condensed milk, powdered milk, milk chocolate etc.

The wholesaler is faced with a dilemma that requires some action. The amount of dairy farmers walking off the farms and selling up is increasing ( which in term will mean less production locally in the UK) and at the same time, transport costs and labour costs are increasing regularly. This means that their profit margins are being squeezed and as such they will be putting the prices up soon. The increase here is going to be 5 p per litre which is the equivalent of a 5% price rise. One of their reasons for putting the price up is that they want to continue to pay a fair price to the remaining farmers to ensure that productivity continues and stops the tide of farms being sold off. That is a positive as the alternative to keep up supply is to import milk from other countries which only adds food miles to stand still.

The law of economics states that if a demand is greater than supply, the price goes up and if demand is lower than supply, then the price comes down.

Since 2 out of 5 in this household are lactose intolerant and actually allergic to milk products, we have made changes and the results have been noticeable. We also have far fewer plastic milk bottles to take to the recycling plant. It is a personal choice.

If you want to avoid a 5% increase in the price of milk out of your budget you could simply cut out 5% of your milk consumption per week. That could easily be achieved with cutting out 1 cereal breakfast per week or drinking black tea or black coffee. As an alternative to cereal, try porridge made with oats and water, eggs,toast or a fruit smoothie. If you want cereal, muesli is quite tasty with fruit juice or water.

A price increase in the raw ingredient of milk will also push up price ultimately of butter, cheese and all products that have milk in it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Downshifting revisited - the tipping point

Words to Live By: Believe by Debbie DeWitt
Words to Live By: Believe

January and September generally are months in which I reflect on the directions we take and look back on what has happened.

The economic climate at the moment is a difficult one, almost like a house of cards tumbling down. As an individual there is very little I can do about that apart from watching in the sidelines and staying strapped in on the roller coaster of events. If you have recently been made redundant remember it is not personal, do not feel a victim but use it as an opportunity to change track.

What follows are some of the principles that guide my decisions:

1. Stop buying - it sounds almost too easy but one of the major changes in this household has been to establish what our buying patterns are, why we buy, what we buy and how we can simplify that scenario. Example, I had a fetish about black trousers. 15 pairs were in the cupboard and at the same time I would still go and buy more. I had no idea I was doing that but I now own 3 pairs and rotate them. When one wears out I can buy another one. No impulse buying. Buying also does not mean new, it could be freecycled, second hand, eBay and new as a last resort if all other options fail. This action means you don’t need to earn as much, to buy as much, instead you can focus on living. Before you buy anything check whether it is in line with your downshifting goals and values.

2. Figure out what you can do now - can you develop your garden, declutter and sell stuff on eBay, get an allotment, can you afford to work less than 5 days a week, can you explore the library, start cycling, or learn a new skill? Look at what you have, what you need and address the balance.

3. Change what & how you eat - start supporting local markets and farmers. Better nutrition leads to less dependency on sugar and quick fixes to keep energy levels stable. If you visit the library you can read up on the subject and make changes. A food diary helps to establish why and what you eat. Our motto in the village shop is to encourage local producers and sell as much as we can that is locally produced in the county.

4. Change how you travel - can you reduce the amount of time you spend in the car? Check out alternatives : walk, cycle, share transport, get a bus, or more drastically check why you are travelling in the first place.Live locally and explore what is happening within 5 miles from your home, or whatever distance you can cover on foot or bike.

5. Imagine what people did 20 years ago and try to bring in some of those same activities and ways of living into your home. Write letters, visit people in person, join the library, go for walks in the park, grow your own vegetables and fruit or help someone who has a large garden and share the produce, play cards, play board games, read books, knit, sew and learn skills from others, have a social drink at your local pub and get acquainted with the your neighbours.

6. Look at what you need and redefine what you want. Create a plan of where you want to be to enable you to reach your downshifting goal. Some people are lucky, they bought when the market was lower and have enough value in their home to downshift significantly within a short period of time. If that is not the case for you or not possible in the economic climate, redefine what space you need, how much it will cost and whether you need to change location to make it happen. There are huge price differences within the UK with regards of property prices, rentals, jobs etc. If that applies to you ;do your sums, what do you need, how long will it take?Maybe share your space with others and create an income that way. Share resources.

7. Think about what you want to do when you downshift and learn how to do it now. Do you want to be a self sufficient smallholder, then volunteer at a farm, even a city one. Start gardening, using any spare time you have to invest in yourself and the skills you may need in the future. Do you want to make all your presents and gifts? Then start with what you can do and sign up for a class if you need to; you will meet other people and share enthusiasm and skills. Many classes are subsidised.

8. Don’t try to change too much too soon. Take one step at a time, the small impact leads to other more natural steps. There are people who moved jobs, countries etc in a very short period and found it very hard. Try to downshift at home, where you are now and explore possibilities. It took 2 years for us to realise that there was no need to burden ourselves financially, that we could live in a different way and then made plans to make that happen.

9. Do what you need to do while in the city or while in your country while you can. It may not all be immediately possible but you can take charge or your home, your health, your well being. your nutrition and live differently.

10. Downshifting can be more that just moving. It is about personal growth, changes within you, a change of direction, a change in what you thought you were doing and what ultimately what you want to do in line with your values and expectations. It is about changing yourself so that the changes you make can be reflected in the world we live in. If you stop buying factory produced chickens then ultimately, they will produce less and look at alternatives. The reason currently banks are collapsing is because they shared the belief that property prices would rise eternally and that the risks of lending to people who could not afford it would give them a win win situation. The people would be paying over the odds and then when the house was repossessed, the banks would cash in. It was about profit.

This is the real tipping point, we have been downshifting voluntarily and now need to share what we have learnt with those who face it head on as they are forced to deal with the crisis heading their way.

Believe that it is possible and you will find crumbs on your path to show you the way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rudyard Kipling - IF

Cover of Kipling's Histoires Comme Ca by Rudyard Kipling by Joseph Rudyard Kipling
Cover of Kipling's Histoires Comme Ca by Rudyard Kipling


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling

Tainted sweets

Miao Baby Wearing Traditional Hat, China by Keren Su
Miao Baby Wearing Traditional Hat, China

Tampering with natural foods is again making headline news with melamine being found in sweets and baby milk in China. This has resulted so far this week in 13,000 babies being ill and some deaths.

Is it possible that food production and the manipulation of food is making us ill, not only polluting the earth but polluting our bodies and creating diseases?

Melamine is used in making plastics and is high in nitrogen, which makes products appear to have a higher protein content.

Health experts say that ingesting small amounts does no harm but sustained use can cause kidney stones and renal failure, especially among the young. ( BBC)

Over the past few months we have changed food intake to local, organic and sourced resources. This has made a great difference to the way we feel. It is clear to me that the foods that are very popular and where demand outstrips supply leaves an opening of exploitation. Profit then comes first putting people and the planet at risk.

Can we change anything about consumers the choices we make influence the buying power of shops.

The rollercoaster ride continues. How many more babies need to die before we see the bigger picture?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Planning for spring


The beginning of autumn always signals a dying of of plants yet at the same time, there is great scope to plant seedlings for spring colour as well as winter foodstuffs.

Today I planted :

violas and pansies
spring cabbages and broccoli plants ( 5 of each)
lambs lettuce
arctic lettuce ( the name may live up to expectations? maybe not)
winters purslane ( green salad)
corn salad
land cress
wild rocket
globe artichokes

Wallflowers will be interplanted with tulips.
In line with permaculture principles I have underplanted the pear tree with a redcurrant and blackcurrant bush, daffodil bulbs on its canopy line and interspersed 3 artichoke plants grown from seed. That will leave room at the front of the border for primroses to provide some colour.
The principles are fruit tree against the wall with tall artichoke plants underneath. The daffodils come out and provide a barrier for pests and the leaves die down when the tree comes in leaf providing a mulch. The bushes and flowers in front bring blossoms at three levels and different times so that insects can pollinate one or the other.
That is the theory and I shall have to see whether in practice this really provides a self sufficient pollinating and mulching haven. Guess we will find that out next year.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Strawberry plants

Strawberries are grown in tubs with a four year rotation. That means that 4 years ago I started with 3 plants in 1 tub. In September I layer the baby plants ( see new one where the cat is) and when it shows some roots I plant it in a pot still attached by its cord to the mother plant. When it has taken in about 3 weeks I sever the connection and then have small strawberry plants to plant in a tub later on or early in spring.

The little strawberry plants are not encouraged to make fruit in the first year, but to grow into healthy plants.
The second year they fruit and produce babies.
The third year they fruit and produce babies.
The fourth year the fruit is lower in yield and the plants are put on the compost heap or planted randomly at the edge of the garden in case they produce some more.
The tub is cleaned, new soil put in and new baby plants put in.

This system allows for 3 tubs with active strawberry plants in a sunny spot in the garden.
Make sure you net it in the spring when the fruit is set ( I use horticultural fleece) so the birds do no eat the crop. Sufficient for topping on cereals and ice cream ( if you spot them before the children).