Thursday, March 27, 2008

Kindest haircut

Hairdo and Eyebrows
Hairdo and Eyebrows

What with having no time away from the business and home, the boys in the house started looking a little like neanderthal men, bushy hairdos and I was looking to go in a similar way. The actual organisation needed to get everyone a haircut in their usual way would have been as follows :

  • 2 car trips to the town at 15 miles each return with boys that do not want their hair cut
  • at least 3 hours for my hair to be done ( all part of the experience)
  • one teenager who wants a designer cut.

I must say that getting our hair done was beginning to be a matter of discussion. Either we would just have to grow it and be done with it, or to look a bit tidy look at a different solution.

And then, I discovered a Mum at school who told me; you must see Mrs Jones. Who is Mrs Jones and how did I get in touch with her?

Mrs Jones came to our house, managed 3 difficult boys with differing hairstyle requirements, put a large sheet of fabric on the floor, drank a couple of cups of tea, talked to us and got my men to look a bit more human. I had my hair cut and for the first time in married life my man noticed it had been done!( probably because it was done in front of his eyes, now that is a strange experience; you do not usually get comments from the mirror!)

At the end of the evening, she took the sheet of fabric and emptied the hairy contents into the compost bin.

I did miss the lovely salon experience but Mrs Jones has invited me to her home next time for a bit longer consultation where she assures me she can serve me a Latte and give me some magazines if that makes the transition smoother.

I do not want to put hairdressers out of business but I am pleased to say that it is possible to look OK with a local haircut which ended up being cheaper, local and a lot more environmentally friendly.

I can only say, go find a Mrs Jones in your locality...... unless you want the salon experience and all that goes with it as well as a silent mirror. Mrs Jones has promised me an Indian Head masage and I am sold. Her house is within walking distance even for me.

As with any hairdresser, an appointment has been set up for 6 weeks time. There will be no drama announcing the haircut, it will simply happen in our home. What a discovery and a relief.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Plan, do review

Country Store by Jack Schmitt
Country Store

I sometimes forget what a whirlwind experience the last few months have been and how as a family we have been threading water, going with the flow and fighting what came our way. It has been an incredible life enhancing experience over the last few months and looking back I do not think there are many things that are the same as 4 months ago.
A new home, a new business, new routine, new garden, new skills.
What has not changed is the determination to stay an independent shop focused on local food, for local people as well as tackling the environmental issues about waste, rubbish collections and legislation surrounding it all. The house feels a bit more comfortable but having bought a house and garden that have been neglected for a few years also stretches the imagination sometimes when I envisage a warm, cosy home without too many material things in it as well as improving it taking into account its age, character and sustainable building materials.

I am a firm believer in plan, do review ( project management background) so every 3 months I look back on what went well and what could be improved and where we go from here.

What went well:

happy with business choice and enjoying talking to the customers.
We have increased stock levels and maintained a regular supply of daily items.
Choice of fruit and vegetables is more local and seasonal.
Introduced regular meat and bread supply from local source.
Changed egg producer to within 15 miles.

What was difficult?

Getting to grips with a staggering 100 suppliers, creating relationships and setting up an accounts system that works.
Problems with the building: electricity cuts, water leaks, damp patches and cold temperatures.
Changing from a 5 day week to a 7 day relentless week working from home.

What could be improved ?
Choice and supply of products - introduce fair trade as well as locally sourced products.
Planning to deal with waste of food that goes out of date. Much of it gets eaten by the family but more creative use needs to me made of leftovers. ( wish I had a pig!)
Electricity supply is very very high - need to look at what is in the freezers and plan supply better. I guess that will come in time when we know our customer base better.
Precycling and cutting out the plastic bags in the shop. We reuse plastic bags supplied by customers and use only paper bags for produce.

Planning :

a competition for canvas shopping bags with a slogan for the shop and village
a website to increase awareness and supply online shopping of local items.
Changes to the preparation room and customer toilets.
Freezer audit: goods as well as electricity use.
Observation of what tourist trade means and how it differs from local customers.
Build in more free time to relax and work in the garden at fresh food supply.
Maintain health, exercise and personal relationships. A business can be all consuming.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Recycling chocolate

Do you need to? Have you plenty?
The boys this year got a selection of small eggs, no packaging apart from some foil and best of all, it could not be found in the shop. One of those new pleasures, did we stock it or did we actually make the effort to get something different.
The Easter treasure trail was indoors this year but nevertheless, they still raced about in search of chocolate. The dog had to be restrained until the boys thought they had found every single bit of chocolate and then, she sniffed them out. No chocolate for her just a different treat.

You could get bored with chocolate.....well maybe not in this household but what to do with all the broken chocolate that remains?

The above little cake is made with a chocolate sponge base ( 2 eggs, 4 oz butter, 4 oz caster sugar, 3 oz self raising flour and 1 oz of cocoa). Topped by a chocolate ganache made with chocolate and double cream decorated with some little chocolate eggs.

Healthy is debatable, but yummy nevertheless. The boys played cricket in the garden for a while losing all balls to the neighbours garden and then whizzed in for a delicate little plateful.

Not a single one left.....

Not a bad Easter Monday after all!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Daisies in March

Doronicum or Leopard's Bane gives a really good show at this time of the year. I love daisy shapes and on a cold Easter Monday the colour and splendour of the display cheers me up.

As with everything in the garden I wonder whether it has a use apart from looking great and Leopards bane is also known as Arnica Montana an ingredient used in Arnica cream we often use to help soothe bruising. You can make you own lotion but only for external use and not to be put on broken skin.

So if after digging the garden, a long walk, a sprained ankle you want to have some natural relief from the garden the following might suit

For a compress :pick up a handful of flower heads, soak in 1 litre of boiling water. Saturate handtowel in mixture and apply.

The second item you can make with this plant is an ointment to apply on parts of the body.
Take 2 oz flowers and 1 oz leaves ( shredded or powdered) in 16oz lard. Moisten with half its weight of distilled water. Heat together with the lard for 3 to 4 hours and strain. Good for wounds and varicose veins.

Its a prolific plant, to keep it looking great watch out for slugs and deadhead the flowers on a regular basis.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fair trade

Behind every cup of coffee or bar of chocolate, sesame seed and banana....lives a family.
We can take our foodsupply chain for granted if we do not know where our food comes from. The above video clip shows the principles behind fair trade relating to coffee, the second biggest crop after oil.

We have all heard of fair trade, but what does it mean?
The video clip is about 8 mins long.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

At the edge......

Part of living locally is to explore the events that are held within a 5 mile radius from home. Living in the shop we are ideally placed to find out about local entertainment. So it was that a few weeks ago I bought a ticket to go and see the Devils Violin, an evening of storytelling and roma gypsy music. I love both stories and music and it seemed like a different, ancient sort of entertainment. I envisaged people sitting around a fire in their cottages and listening to stories in the past. A life without TV, playstations and the like.

4 of us ventured out together along the country lanes, wind and rain beating down on us ( well the car that took us), and we were absolutely not prepared for what awaited us.

Daniel Morden's stories are captivating, told with such descriptive language and energy, we were literally transported to an audible, visual feast and the music that accompanied his stories were the best musical sound effects you could listen to. At times, the music was spine chilling as were some parts of the stories. Add to that some good company, a glass of wine and ......just the ticket for a local evening out in the dead of winter.

You can get a flavour of what we experienced yesterday by listening to an extract or better check whether Daniel Morden is coming to a village hall near you. Don't miss is.....

Storytelling evenings were part of daily life in the countryside and were told not only as forms of entertainment but to impart history and to engage the listener in many a human dilemma imparting both knowledge and advice. The fact that it is a story means that as listener you can either engage with it as a story or it may even trigger larger human responses in you. Thus is the magic of a story. Transport yourself to another place with storytelling, better than a computer in my mind anyway.

If you are interested in storytelling events, details can be found on the storytelling website.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Getting serious about water

Integrity: Wave
Integrity: Wave

Waterbills will be rolling into your home via the letterbox shortly. Some make heavy reading and others just create sheer panic when you see the amount that you are due to pay over the next year.

Watermeters have always seemed like a sensible idea to enable people to pay for the amount of water you actually use but with 3 boys and a business I did think twice about it. I phoned the watercompany to find out more.If you phone them at 8 am there is hardly a que of people waiting to talk to them or maybe there is never anyone wanting to speak to the water company?

The friendly man listened to my concerns and indicated that with a family of 5, all taking showers, my water bill could be reduced by40% being on a water meter and further more suggested that I apply for the watersure tariff which will cap my bill every year to about £ 390. Why have I never heard of this before?

Watersure means that every year your metered water is capped as long as you meet their criteria. You need to reapply every year. After that, you will pay for whatever you use. Fitting a water meter is free of charge and you can change your mind within 12 months and go back to the charge based on your rateable value of the house if you so wish.

The sewage charges are based on 95% of the water you use going back down the drain and if you can prove that all water is collected from the roof into an underground tank you can save yourself another £ 18.00.

Guess it pays to make that call if you fit into the criteria. This phonecall at 8 am may well have saved me money I can put towards other projects in the house.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Some welcome wiggly news....

What a fantastic moral boost after the budget post to receive the new Wiggly Wigglers catalogue today in the post entitled ' a fork full of country', the first social media catalogue of the century.

OK, hands up, I am talking about it not only because I love what Wiggly Wigglers stand for, the people behind it and the products it holds, and the authentic way they do business but because ( pss I am in it as a Wiggly Person'). I got soo excited when it came through the door , carried in by our local postman. I was busy delving into the stockroom but yelled. Roger came out to see what was the matter fearing I had fallen over ( that happens regularly when my brain has a funny moment), but no, he was not reassured seeing my smile, my genuine excitement at what was in the catalogue. ( I do not get excited about catalogues in the post on a regular basis but this one has been the longest time awaiting a historic event since I was pregnant and waiting for the delivery of a small bundle of joy.)

So, we opened it, I got a rush of the blushes and went suddenly shy. Roger read it and then could not stop telling people ' ask her about Wiggly Wigglers! with a smirk on his face! So now, there is a rush in the shop of people asking to see the catalogue, read it, and hopefully by word of mouth we will spread some good news, some news that will tickle the farmer in you and allow us to throw some wellies in celebration.

What could be so different about the catalogue :

The new mail order catalogue ' A forkful of country' due on doorsteps in March, was built with contributions from customers and friends around the world using social media. Building on their base of composting and wildlife gardening products, Heather Gorringe ( a Nuffield Scholar) and her team wanted to broaden their reach in terms of products and customers. Not content with traditional market research, Heather turned to Social Media to engage customers and others she met on her study and speaking tours around the world. Many of the ideas for new products and much of the content was built using a wiki ( i.e. server software used to freely create and edit web content using any web browser). Anyone with a password would have their say from Australia to the States to deepest South Wales. The resulting array of products includes everything from the traditional, sturdy garden spades, instant vegetable gardens, eco cleaning products, herb based lotions to chicken houses and peg bags. The new catalogue is presented in a scrap-book style, packed full of clippings, quotes, family snaps as well as the more traditional professional photography and product descriptions. You finish reading and you want a piece of this thing called Wiggly Wigglers. Businesses struggling with the concept of an authentic voice need to take a leaf out of this groundbreaking catalogue.

Here is the difficult bit though, I guess the server will be inundated with requests so if you cannot wiggle one online, you may have to give them a call by phoning 01981 500391. I promise you, you will not be disappointed. Its fully recyclable when you have read it, but I would say, reuse it again and again, share it with others and keep it on the bookshelf. It will be a collectors item.

With a new spring in my step, a smile on my face and inspired by Wiggly Wigglers, I am putting the wellies on. I am off to the garden to make my dream become a reality. With a little help from my wiggly friends......Be inspired, be very inspired......

Oh and pass it on please......

The budget

The Tax Collector  by Marinus van Roejmerswaelen
The Tax Collector

The chancellor states with punitive measures that if we do not reduce our carbon emissions on a voluntary basis we will be made to do it.

The axe falls again on usual items such as alcohol, cigarettes and fuel.Cars that use a larger proportion of fuel will have a larger road tax to pay too. Higher fuel prices will mean higher costs to commute to work, higher costs for public transport and higher costs for food deliveries.

There will be a higher Climate Change Levy ( CCL) on utility bills, which you can avoid only if you opt for renewable energy. Currently the charge is 0.441p per KWH. Residential customers do not pay this as yet, but I am certain that it will come before long.

If you consider flying, you will be charged a green tax in the future to dissuade you from doing so.

All this at the same time as continuing with Nuclear power stations that are coal based??? as well as expansion plans for Heathrow Airport? The two messages seem in direct contrast to each other.

There are some people who say that social media, paying and shopping for everything online will do away with the need to travel at all. This century though families have been split apart across the country and continents and as a result visiting family will become more and more expensive too.

If you have a car and it becomes too expensive to run, there may feasibly be a moment where a car will have no value because no one apart from affluent people will be able to buy one. The idea behind higher fuel prices is that you will choose a greener car; what impact does changing your car have?
In my hypothetical world then, rising prices will mean a downturn on the economy as people will have less money to spend on luxuries. This may induce a recession. This may well have a worldwide effect , as countries who produce our luxury goods such as China lose orders. At the same time manufacturing industries in the UK are far and few between.

If your mechanism is to get away from it all and fly to warmer climates, you will be penalised. The credit crunch might well mean that your credit card stops you buying anything at all. You might want to drown your sorrows with a glass of wine which will cost you more too.You may feel trapped.

The message the budget brings along for me is that the government will persuade you to make different choices by introducing taxes on everything that in any way endangers their pathway towards a 60% reduction in 2050. By the way that figure has just been increased to 80%.

Is this achievable in another way? I know how I react when I am told to go on a diet and how my sons react when you tell them they cannot do something. The reaction you very often get is exactly the opposite. What is missing here is a positive engagement with climate change instead of punitive measures. At the same time, I understand why the Government is taking these measures it is just the way they are delivered that could be improved.

Being aware of climate change and taking control yourself in how to manage your carbon emissions is likely to feel more empowering than being told what to do. Guess the message given by our country is, if you don’t make different choices, we will force you too. This is not likely to work unless they model the same thing: by investing long term in renewable energy sources and stopping expansion of airports. The same situation as if a parent smoker would say to his child; stop smoking its bad for you whilst smoking when delivering the message. It still sounds like ‘ don’t do as I do, do as I say’ I am not sure that has ever brought out the best in people.

Engaging with climate change demands that we take stock and reduce our emissions. Indications are that these continue to rise despite best efforts. Punitive measures are one response; the other would be to encourage good measures. Those who actively reduce their emissions could be offered incentives. Why not reward good behaviour instead of punishing bad behaviour Maybe we have passed that line....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

weather attitude

Home Sweet Home Sweet Home II by Niro Vasali
Home Sweet Home Sweet Home II

There has been a shift in attitude about damage caused by the weather. It seems normal now that tiles fall off, that roofs leak and that water gushes down the walls. It is a minor disruption compared to floods that take everything with it.

About 3 years ago, such weather and its damage would have raised eyebrows, panic. As a result of the storm the next hamlet were without electricity for 24 hours which apparently has not happened before in the last 25 years. Trees falling down over electrical cables also seem the norm, diverting traffic, making deliveries late and unpredictable.

Not many visitors in the shop today which to us is the effect of the weather. I am still grateful that I do not need to go out in the weather when it rains. I could see the rain and wind battle it out from within a safe haven. I also noticed that neighbours joined together to drink tea, to offer warmth, comfort and help where needed. There is regret from some that home maintenance was put on hold and resolutions to plan and prepare better. The difficulty is knowing what in fact we are planning for.

With powerlines above ground , there will always be danger of trees falling and disrupting the network. If your whole existence centres around electricity, and it is cut for a long period of time, how do you prepare for that?

I personally cannot bear to be cold and a woodburner that can heat some soup or boil sufficient water is a lifesaver.

Some safety tips for when blackout happens :

  • Only use a torches for emergency lighting. Never leave candles unattended
  • Turn off electrical equipment you were using when the power went out.
  • Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer.
  • Do not run a generator inside a home or garage.
  • If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home's electrical system.
  • Listen to local radio for updated information.

How Can I Prepare Before a Blackout Happens?
Assemble supplies, including:

  • Torches
  • Batteries
  • Portable radio
  • at least one gallon of water
  • a small supply of food.

The house seems to have withstood the wind and rain damage others did not escape. Someone felt their house shake, other wrestled with tarpaulin to cover and make good. All in a days work today.

The shift in attitude is one from horror and surprise that hurricanes, winds and rain can slash the countryside to a strange acceptance that this is the new weather we can expect in winter. Warm, wet, windy and unpredictable. It is not just staying warm that is the key but to keep water out and roofs on.

We may have taken our homes for granted in the past and in the future there is an opportunity to ensure that the house is tight and safe for the winter to come.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Warm and toasty

Winter Awakening by Anthony E. Cook
Winter Awakening

With gale force winds battering the windows and rain falling down in heavy proportions, I find myself sitting next to the wood burner. Its warm and toasty down here but upstairs in the flat above the shop is a different story. To heat the upstairs is demanding astronomical amounts of gas, blankets and hot water bottles.

The difficulty with the shop and house is that it is actually a conglomeration of 3 houses, different time periods, different constructions and roof structures.

I have made enquiries about grants for loft insulation via the Energy Savings Trust and although I do anticipate that they will pay for all the cost of insulating the loft space I know from the previous house that insulating the roof space will enable any heat created to stay within. the result should be warm in winter and cool in summer with reduced heating bills.

There is a link provided to enable you to find out who possibly would be willing to give you a grant towards the costs of insulation options in your home
The phone call has resulted in a letter telling me that the local contractor will be in touch within 3 working days and we shall find out what he has to say.

Grab yourself a grant to keep the warmth in and your money in your pocket.

Monday, March 03, 2008

KIva sponsorship

Kiva - loans that change lives

Three months into our business venture has seen many changes and the least mentioned of all is the impact of the decisions with regards to money taken after reading Janine Bolon' s book upon which I commented in my post on time management.

Janine' s book enabled us to really look at how we are earning money and how we are using it in line with our values and beliefs. The first three months have seen us increasing the stock in the shop without taking much for a living but from this month we are sharing some capital in a different way.

I chose to give a loan via Kiva to sponsor a business in Nicaragua and you can see the impact of that by clicking on the item in the sidebar.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Garden news 3

There seems little time to actually spend in the garden but as the daffodils are in bloom very early we need to get going with the structural work and the garden beds. The existing pergola has been cleared of ivy and the windows of the lean to are free of ivy too. On a sunny day the woodwork will be primed and then repainted to give it a fresh feel. The pergola will serve as support for climbing plants in pots at the base of the supports. There are roses and a grapevine that needs training.
In the bed at the right side of the garden, the gravel is being cleared and put in bags. It will be used later but we need to clear the ground to make way for the hard landscaping of the raised beds. Its going to be a tight schedule but we think we will manage to create the beds over the next few weeks so that we can get some planting in. We will be importing some compost, obtained from a LETs scheme member who is also helping me with some of the work in the garden.

The vision is to have a garden that will be pleasant to the eye but will provide us with as many edible plants you can cram in. There are plans for more water conservation, a greenhouse and a small pond for wildlife.

The business, house and garden are a large project to be tackled all at once but I love being in the garden and cannot wait to see whether the hidden strawberry plants take off.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Earthlab carbon footprint calculator

MY SCORE 235 6.3
WORLD 338 14

Thanks for the comment and link to earthlab. I tried their carbon calculator and the above shows my personal carbon footprint. I know that cutting carbon emissions is reasonable and possible with a personal commitment to it and although the government seems to want the same, its actions are still the direct opposite.

The whole world is dominated and geared towards mobility from one place to another. Although the message about local shopping is beginning to hit home, we still need to consider the wider community and its impact. Local shopping not just for goods but using local people and tradesmen for their services.

In my area 6 post offices are closing; two of them will be replaced by a mobile service ( a van in a car park).This means that people who currently use a local post office withing 3 miles from their home are going to need to make extra effort to access one. Post offices do not just send parcels; you can bank with them, save with them, pay your bills there and meet a person. Customers often ask me; does the ATM work here and my answer is to offer them a choice: they can use the machine or they can speak with a person. Mostly they choose the person. If the government in an effort to cut costs continue to close post offices and small local schools, people will continue to choose their cars or other modes of transport to access these services. In any event, they will be using fuel or electricity to access basic services, With the price of fuel, electricity and gas going up this seems more like punishing people than encouraging them to make different choices.

For example, if you car needs its annual inspection and you usually use a garage 15 miles away, you might well take you car in, do some shopping and then collect it at the end of the day. Alternative would be to look at a small garage nearby ( who is also authorised to do this annual check), take the car, walk home or ask them to drive you home. You will not only have saved fuel, time and opportunity to consume but you have provided work and remuneration for a local person. The outcome should be the same and may even be lighter on your pocket. I just never thought about it before because out of habit I continued to use the garage I had always used even though my transport requirements had changed.

That is of course if you have a car. As mentioned previously, I may not drive my car but there it is, still needing maintenance checks, regular controls etc until I take the next step. Disposing of a car also has implications.