Sunday, April 27, 2008

The elephant in the room

African elephant silhouetted at twilight by Beverly Joubert
African elephant silhouetted at twilight

There is an expression in English which has always fascinated me ; the elephant in the room.

The elephant in the room is an English idiom for an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. It is based on the idea that an elephant in a small room would be impossible to overlook.

Some of us do not really see the elephants in the room until we suddenly realise that we are sharing our space with one and then we can be overwhelmed.

Having done Latin at school, my teacher told me that to break down the large and long sentences that made no sense to me at all, I had to visualise eating an elephant. It might seem an impossible task but if you took it one bite at a time, you would manage it in the end.

Living in the moment enables us to rally our resources. Instead of projecting some disastrous future, ask yourself what you can do about it today. Break down difficulties into areas. Divided they seem less threatening, Observe the details of what is going wrong in each area, write it down over a period of a week to give you a picture of what is happening. Which tasks do you feel are slipping away? Which ones are most important? Highlight the areas that need action and then decide how to deal with it.

Tackling a problem can seem like a huge task but if you break it down in smaller parts, it becomes less daunting.
Calmly make a list of manageable steps and take it little steps at a time.

Friday, April 25, 2008


The snowpeas are finally showing through. I covered the seeds with holly leaves to stop any mice from eating the seeds and it also stopped cats walking on them. I am not sure how many snowpeas it will yield but the seeds were left over from last year. My vegetable production will be minimal this year as I am still doing the hard landscaping of the vegetable area. I do miss the polytunnel and the large scale growing of vegetables but the whole point of this experiment is to show you that it can be done with an average size garden.
The apple blossom is heavenly and I also wonder why there are not more weddings in apple orchards? The blossom will rain down like confetti in a few weeks but I find the colour stunning and full of promise. Sitting in the garden there is a buzz of insects as well as chirping from the birds, its quite a busy time for everyone. In the background, the church clock rings every hour. A nice place to sit still, be present and take in what is happening around us.

This is the view from our sitting room, above the garden there are many fields with rape seed. It gets full of pollen and a bit overpowering but at the same time, I am hopeful that insects will venture into the walled garden.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rhubarb - the first seasonal fruit

Preparing Rhubarb by George Smith
Preparing Rhubarb

Rhubarb is an understated native fruit. It is the first fruit of the season and can be eaten as early as March when forced. Its tender red stems, are not everyone's favourite but I continue to experiment with its flavours.

It can be bitter but when cooked with a little orange juice, the taste seems to become sweet and silky. It is a miraculous plant and I planted 2 crowns this year in the garden. They do not yield anything this year but I have been asking around and there is plenty to be had for free. I planted the rhubarb crowns under the apple tree and the morello cherry tree. When the tree is bare in winter, the sun brings on the rhubarb nicely and when the rhubarb season is over, its leaves provide a leaf compost to feed the apple and cherry tree.

Rhubarb gets creatively changed into

Poached rhubarb with stem ginger ice cream
  • Rhubarb Tart
  • Rhubarb Syllabub
  • Rhubarb and Grapefruit Marmalade.
  • Rhubarb cake

Rhubarb is said to be the ancient Sanskrit remedy Soma, for courage, wisdom and longevity. It has purifying properties and can lift our energies after hibernation.

This plant will give us fruit every year in abundance and will require minimum attention over the years. It forms part of

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

the road less travelled

Travellers at a Crossroads in a Wooded Landscape by Charles Towne
Travellers at a Crossroads in a Wooded Landscape

Today is a new day with no mistakes in it

Anne of Greengables

Dear reader,

Yesterday's post had an impact not least on our family. Having written down my thoughts and feelings about the reality as I perceive it, today is a new fresh day which enables us either to engage with the process of change or to switch off from it entirely.

The first step is to acknowledge that in this moment in time, this very moment, we are OK, we have all we need and want to a certain extent. That is unlikely to drastically change in the UK overnight. I believe that the UK is well placed as a green and pleasant land, to weather an increase in temperature by 2 degrees and at the same time, I realise that places on the globe that are already hot will find an increase in temperature challenging.

In the face of fear of the unknown, we can pack a small backpack which contains knowledge, skills and presence of mind to deal with whatever happens to come our way. It would be easy to get depressed about the whole situation or to simply ask yourself why you should bother if your alter ego at the other end of the globe cannot wait to buy the first car, travel the world and enjoy everything just as we have done. We all have choices and I guess what I am doing is making a voluntary choice here to simplify my needs and wants to what is an acceptable level. What is acceptable is also personal but to me it means living locally, shopping locally, creating a handmade life, more in tune with the natural rhytm of life.

Do I know a lot about it? No, its a journey of discovery but I know that many of the skills necessary to live such a life have been eroded from our generation. With it the joy of living has also disappeared to a certain extent and I am travelling on a parallel road.

I think the poem by Robert Frost (1874–1963) gives a good indication of the way I am heading.

Mountain Interval. 1920.

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Basic food

China, Yunnan Rice fields by Yann Layma
China, Yunnan Rice fields

As a business we see the prices rise every week from a variety of suppliers from eggs, bread, cakes and basic staples. Tea has gone up, milk will be going up this week. With the government slashing the 10% tax rate for low income families and the costs of basic food, shelter and warmth increasing, we are going to find ourselves out of the comfort zone. The credit crunch may mean for many that paying debts and mortgages will become more difficult.

If we have reached peak oil and there is a rush to grow biofuels in countries that otherwise would have contributed to the basic food production for their countries and export, there is going to be a shift.

The priority here does not seem to be for food and its people but for fuel to continue an addictive process to both oil and fuels.

The big picture is beginning to look ugly and what we do next will establish the direction humans take towards a healthy planet or the alternative, strangulation of the planet's resources and our wellbeing.

I am optimistic that change can happen; yet it has to start with the individual. As a family we try to walk our talk and having made many changes I continue to introduce a more economic and basic local diet to my family. We do live in the land of plenty where everything can indeed be flown in or grown far away and transported. I am about to investigate how we as a family have grown dependent on wheat and fuel, two crops that form part of our daily diet and see if we can create some diversity with other crops.

The process of giving up oil, wheat, sugar, chocolate is no different from giving up drugs or smoking cigarettes.

I have no idea what hunger really feels like. I have no idea what it feels like to have no food in your house, to have to make mud pies. Our generation does not. I know my mother had to eat her books to keep hunger pains away during the war and the effect of lack in that generation created a need to have plenty and have it available. This then became the norm. The norm is about to change again.

Some countries will no longer export rice to enable their population to be fed. If that is the case, rice a staple diet in Asian food, will become a luxury soon. Restaurants and other businesses will begin to feel their profit margins reduce and as people give up eating out, some of these businesses will fold.

One of the skills we can show our children is how to feed themselves with local ingredients. In a generation that has food prepared as the norm, we can enable them to be reconnected with the food chain and find a way to value the process and the magic of it too.

Step 1 is to waste nothing. That in itself would reduce the amount going to landfill.

How many of us create meals from leftovers? Some mealtimes I create a buffet of leftovers as the basis. It requires creativity and it gives rise to questions.

Inginuity may have been out of fashion, but it is going to make a come back.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Living with perfectionism

We're All Different
We're All Different

When we ask ourselves the question :
How did I decide that this is the way it is to be?

If the answer is,
it has to be, I have got to...
then ask yourself
according to whom'
This should give you an indication as to which values and beliefs drive you forward.

As children we are often told to do this, or that without explanation and we accept this without question. It does take your personal power away. As adults it can be refreshing to question whose voice you hear in your head when you are driven to do something in particular and reclaim the initiative to make decisions that are in line with the values and beliefs that are true for you.

If you ask yourself why you do things, and what is important to you, you might begin to see that your priorities are confused. Is it worth giving up time with your family to spend a whole day cramming in details of a report, or going back to the office to catch up on work? Is it really necessary to have a mortgage on a large house, which means that you have to go to work 60 hours per week. Could it be different? Ask yourself what the costs are of this and what the benefits are and weigh up one with the other. Then decide.

We often think we could have done better and yet we can also learn to take stock and say, that was great, I really enjoyed that. We then can also acknowledge when what we do is not making us feel so great and why.

TV and advertising have the ability to sell you a product by appealing to certain emotional states; my children used to tell me when shopping what soap powder I should get and in reality that was the voice of the advert talking. Why do we buy things? Who is that voice in your head saying we need to do this, or that? It can refreshing to question our automatic behaviours and consciously decide what we need in that given moment.

We could decide to live simply to enable others to simply live. In a world where famine is a reality and where we live with abundance ;it needs every individual who can make choices to be true to themselves.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

A cosy little home

As the weather is colder again, I am reminded of a cosy little home. The little home we dream of, a place you can call your own.

Cob is a way to use natural materials to sculpt a home that is curvy, sustainable and many cottages that are much loved in the West Country were made like this. Our shop is made of stone walls and cob and no wall is angular. A wooden structure with beams creates a supportive framework and the cob is then sculpted into shape.

A few examples

International Downshifting week - 19th April - 26th April 2008

International Downshifting week starts today.

"If you are looking for a little help to slow down your pace and enjoy life more, this is the place for you!

Tracey Smith's campaign was formerly known as 'National' Downshifting Week. This year, as a result of the strong support they have received from around the globe asking if other countries can officially 'join in', they have simply decided to rename it
'InterNational Downshifting Week'!

For more information and tips to start your downshifting week, check out the website.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Living with acceptance

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

Acceptance is the first step in the process of change; you need to accept what is happening now, embrace the moment and stay open to possibilities.

Many of us fight acceptance and are practised at avoiding reality or denying that anything is wrong. If you were brought up with a message that everything was never good enough then it seems to follow that you would be striving for an ideal that is in some way unattainable.

On the issue of climate change we can have a variety of reactions : there are those who claim that it is not happening, there are others who accept on some level that it is happening but it is nothing to do with them ( it has an effect in other parts of the globe but I am all right thanks), and there are others who say that there is nothing personally they can do about it, that it is too late, too hard, not necessary............

Personally Chronic Fatigue Syndrome leaves me with tense muscles, so tense that they feel taut and at breaking point. In the beginning I ignored it and continued anyway on the principle that there were no other options but to continue. ( denial). Then I could accept it on some level but still did not want to rest....there is so much to do, I must, I have to. After mindful breathing, living in the moment with gratitude, came acceptance. It did not just arrive but fighting a condition that I did not want to have, that was controversial and apparently all in the mind, not being able to function, flat out on the bed I had to finally accept that something was wrong, that I had no idea what it was and that others too did not necessarily know what it was either. At that point I became grateful for every moment; I voiced every moment that I was OK, and started managing change in very small steps.

The same can be said about climate change. If we can accept at some level that it is happening then we can open ourselves to the possibilities for change that it offers. By working from home and as the family start a sustainable business, I am acknowledging that it is happening, I am responding to the fact that working without a commute and a car is a possibility and not commuting eventually results in change ( for the planet and for my pocket too).

Enquiring within a given moment is a necessary step to look at what we are afraid of and what is true for us. Not accepting climate change and denying that it is happening shows us that we are afraid of the unknown, a different future we will have less control over and then again if we do not take action now, it will spiral out of control and fulfill the exact fear we have.

A different reaction could be that we accept that there are signs all around us that climate change is a reality and without criticism or pointing the finger at others, we can enquire within as to what our true contributions to the problem are and what solutions and possibilities we feel able to action.

I do believe that as a single human being a small action however minimal may not show up instant results but if you in any way doubt the power of one action, remind yourself the impact of spending time with a mosquito in the room.

Loving what is is a brilliant book by Katie Byron, if we love what is, if we accept what truly is the reality instead of denying it is happening and facing our fears head on, it does open up possibilities for action and following that action is change and a pathway to freedom.

Then another moment offers itself in your life which you can view with mindfulness, gratitude and acceptance and live with truth.

Living in the moment continues with letting go of expectations.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Living with gratitude

Grateful Heart by Katherine & Elizabeth Pope
Grateful Heart

It seems far easier to focus our minds on what has not gone well instead of focussing on what we already have. It is easy to slip into a mindset that we do not have enough. One important aspect of living in the moment is appreciating and enjoying what you have right now and to appreciate it and acknowledge it with gratitude.

If you consciously notice and express gratitude for kindnesses and moments in your life, you instantly create connection with others. It encourages us to look outward and to focus on our connections with another human beings, another aspect in nature. You notice the contributions made by others in your life and how you value them, you can therefore accept them and feel a joy within your being. By consciously noticing the beauty around you, you receive its energy, you connect with it and your mood will improve.

What you are grateful for will be personal, entirely different and may even to others seem completely bizarre.

My experience of gratitude became apparent while I was motionless in my bed; while my muscles ached and refused to move; while I could just about practice mindful breathing. I did receive smiles from my children who read to me ( because you enjoy that and you cannot do it Mum), who bought me an ipod ( because you like music and you cannot listen to it now while you are lying down), who showed me the birds and the seasons ( because it is still beautiful out there Mum and we will take you out and put you on the grass so you can sense it with your body, you can smell the freshness and you can see the fresh green).

That for me is a moment of extreme gratitude that is imprinted in my soul. How at a desperately miserable moment, I did gratefully receive and realised that life was good.

You can be grateful for a cup of chai tea, a homegrown lettuce, a rainy day, a song, a flower, a slice of bread, a lovely piece of chocolate.

Practicing gratitude before going to sleep each day enables me personally to acknowledge the good things in my life that day and create value for each day without assuming or presuming anything.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Living in the moment

Hands, Za-Zen Meditation, Elheiji (Eiheiji) Zen Monastery, Japan, Asia by Ursula Gahwiler
Hands, Za-Zen Meditation, Elheiji (Eiheiji) Zen Monastery, Japan, Asia

The news of interest changes, credit crunch, crashing housing markets, looming recessions could spin us in a negative spiral, affecting our spirits, feelings and moods.

Living in the moment is a desirable and often confusing concept and does not mean that we simply forget the past or ignore the future. What it means is that we let go of the attachments and a loathing of past experiences and stop projecting those attachments and loathing into the future. It allows us every moment and every time to look at things with a fresh viewpoint and a renewed attitude instead of thinking that everything has gone wrong and nothing will ever be right again.

Living in the moment became crucial at a point in my life when illness eroded any hope for the future and the world seemed to crash in on me. Many people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome spiral negatively into depression which is one reaction yet with a positive attitude against the trend I realised that I could not change what was happening at that moment and would need to take each moment at face value.

Practising mindfulness is characterised by feelings of stillness and oneness and experienced at times during yoga and meditation but when you manage this technique it can be recalled when hoovering, doing the dishes or walking.

I personally switch to mindful breathing using my breath to guide me in the present. Each time a breath comes in and goes out I release thoughts about the past and the future. Breathing mindfully allows the experience to come into my awareness,whatever it might be and to allow it to rise without attachment. Children will savour each moment of discovery in the present, looking at the colours of the rainbow, the raindrops without attaching a thought to it about its wonder or whether the weather is going to stay rainy all day. We as adults can practice this skill again too to enable us to be present and see the gifts that surround us with pure wonder and enjoyment.

The world around us is spinning faster and faster and our experiences can inform us that what has happened in the past is likely to happen again in the future; at the same time, we can presume that the moment presented is identical to the one we experienced and thereby automatically move in the action we moved into the previous time ignoring the fact that the moment presented is different.

We can notice similarities in our experience but they can never be exactly identical. Past performance is no indicator to future performance.

I could assume that all my efforts to downshift, recycle and live sustainably do not produce an effect so why should I even bother. Writing a diary and chronicling my efforts is however showing me personally progress is being made. I can still be easily overwhelmed by panic when my legs do not want to move, or when I wake up without refreshing sleep, or when my brain does not seem to be wanting to make connections however I can switch in those moments to mindful breathing, realise that I am OK and take appropriate mindful actions.

This time of the year sees a deluge of brown envelopes heralding the beginning of a new tax year. A past experience of dread may come into being, switching to mindful breathing I can release those, notice that I am holding an envelope and can file it in the accountants file to deal with. What follows is a realisation that I have a very capable accountant, that I pay her to take this task away from me and that no action is required immediately.

When we feel rushed we often forget we are human and react like robots or machines in the way we react to any moment in time.

Step 2 for living in the moment is about gratitude and will be explored in the next post.

Garden flowers

What a difference a few months makes in the garden. The grass is thicker, the paths more defined and the view pleasant, awaiting the surprise of spring.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

de brill lawnmower - part 2

We read the instructions again and tried to figure out where the handles clicked in on the inside of the mower ( which is the only hard part of this). Try and try again until you succeed.

This took a little while so Ben asked me to hold onto the mower with handles while we looked up what part came next.

The handlebar slotted in really easily and without the use of any equipment other than brain and hands we went on to construct the masterpiece.

Fully assembled we put the height of the blades at its highest as the grass was quite long and ever keen to put the mower to the test Ben set off at great whirring speed.
Here is a summary of our comments :


Assembly - indeed childsplay when attempted by small boy whilst adult reads instructions.
Time - it took us a good 30 mins including teabreak to complete the tasks.
First cut - perfectly executed by the mower with minimum ease and lovely whirring sound.
Weight - extremely lightweight and easy to drive and park in small space.


The plastic orange covers are glued on and we needed to put some more glue on as they fell off whilst driving but eventually we found out that they clicked into place.
The collector box needs a little adjustment - it hangs on the mower by the strap and hook and if not carefully finetuned, falls off too easily.

Warning !
This mower may not appeal to grown men. It has no mechanical parts that need looking at, it needs very little preparation, no trips to the petrol station, no fumes, no vroom, vrrooooooom revving it up in the garden and therefore has the potential to provide nil points for operators who enjoy the task of going up and down at speed, pulling a starter motor.
It is however safe enough for others to push, no leads to fall over and makes a reassuring whirring purring sound that appeals to onlookers whilst watching operators push and mow. Perfect accompaniment to reading on the terrace, listening to bird song and raising a glass to life.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

de brill lawnmower- part1

I have been waiting to let you know how we have got on with the lawnmower, bought via Wigglywigglers. I still have a large wish list to fulfill there but thought it best to get the useful thing I have had my eye on for some time. A lawnmower that uses people pushing power, no fuel other than that and that can manage a smallish lawn in a village garden.

The item was delivered at super speed and as it happened Ben had a day off school as there was no heating. This prompted us to go out and investigate whether in fact the putting together of the lawnmower was childsplay. Ben is fond of puzzles and has built a vast array of items with Lego, so we thought we might be able to manage while Dad was in the shop.Step 1 - what is in the box

One of our criteria for shopping ethically is whether or not the packaging can be recycled. The box was full of shredded paperwork ( well done there) which made a useful brown addition to the new compost heap). The cardboard box has been recycled via the usual route.

Step 2 - inspect the goodies and gasp!

At this stage I wondered whether we would manage but......all the parts were there and a useful instruction booklet with clear instruction in a variety of languages.

Step 3- the grass collecting box

In an effort to have a sense of achievement we started with this part. Well Ben did while I watched as he worked out which part went where. I continued to offer encouragement.
A lot of discussion on angles went on at this stage but the parts were light and easy to manage. The only difficult part was putting the thingy in that clips the box onto the mower so here is a clue should you wonder too.....

That completed the first part of the assignment. This was followed by a cup of tea like most workmen.....with a lot of looking at the finished object.

To be continued......

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A gardeners wish

Pair of English Riders
Pair of English Riders

Yesterday, the pub next door had a visit from a party on horseback. I am not sure how many horses and ponies I counted but everyone was having a great time drinking sherry and eating a buffet of goodies on horseback. The shop was very busy and everyone on foot seemed to want to stock up on biscuits, chocolate and drinks which was good for business.

When eventually the party left, clattering hooves down the hill, I went round to the garden, picked up my pink bucket and a shovel and......went out to pick up some horse muck. Coveted and generally hard to find if you are in a village or town situation. I have been known to ask for horse muck for the garden but had not got around to it lately.

Only a few days ago, I asked for some chicken manure ( as I no longer have chickens),as an activator for my bulging compost heap. That meant, walking around with the pink bucket, wellies on, nose peg in and helping myself to a small quantity of this potent stuff. ( Never put it direct on the garden as it burns everything until matured).

This week therefore has seen the addition of posh muck and local muck onto the heap in order to get it to warm up a bit.

The universe provides everything I need, even posh muck gets delivered free of charge at the front door.

A gardeners wish!