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.