Happy winter solstice everyone.
HARVESTING – Cooking apples, Holly for decorating the house, the occasional egg (only one per day on average at the winter solstice)
PLANTING – Not planting anything this month
THINKING– About Christmas celebrations. I have been doing lots of preparations for having a simple Christmas day, just myself, hubby and the kids. We are hosting all the extended family on Boxing day, that is going to be great fun but madly busy! The last few weeks have been crazy with school plays, trips, Christmas dinners, carol singing, tree decorations etc. The kids have finished school and pre-school now, so it’s full on family fun time. I am looking forward to seeing the kids open their gifts on Christmas day. Oh and of course I am looking forward to all the festive food, especially Christmas pudding, nut roast, cheese and mulled cider, yum.
FEELING– I always feel tired and run-down at this time of the year. I am glad to reach the winter solstice and start seeing the daylight return little by little each day. In the New year I tend to start feeling refreshed and have renewed energy for my projects. I have decided to take a little break from my Permaculture diploma work over the Christmas season. I was feeling frustrated that i couldn’t fit in my working time, so by mentally making this a ‘break’ time, i feel better about my absence!
The garden is looking a little neglected and very brown this month, but it is a good time to see the structure of the space and see with fresh eyes what works and what needs changing next year. In the new year I plan to draw up a design for the food production zones of my garden. I also want to consider moving the chickens.
Friday 20th December 2013
Frosty morning, some bright sunshine, windy
Max temp 8 Min temp 7
Sun rise 08.13 Sunset 15.51
Before we had children, J and I spent three months living in a converted bus traveling around Europe. We had a few sets of clothes each, a couple of books and the pots and pans we needed. That was about it. To tidy up took 30 minutes tops. Having left all our belongings behind in the UK, we didn’t feel we were missing anything. It was a wonderfully liberating way to live.
Fast forward 7 years, now there are five people in our household, each with their own interests that naturally generate lots of equipment, clothes, toys and books. As much as I love my busy, noisy, chaotic family life, sometimes I feel like I am drowning in a sea of ‘stuff’. The clutter and mess that comes with daily life can be over-whelming and I find managing it rather stressful and time-consuming.
With Christmas looming I feel the need to re-access the stuff in our household to make space for the new exciting things heading our way. I try to take a bag of outgrown clothes, books we won’t read again and no-longer wanted toys to the charity shop every month or so. The kids are getting better at co-operating with this now. They began by offering up only each other’s things for the bin bag of doom. “C doesn’t like this dolly anymore” says E chucking in C’s prized playmate. So a high level of parental assistance was required! But the last time we had a clear out I was pleased to see the girls being more considerate towards each other. It could well have been the thought of Santa watching that inspired the good behaviour.
Kids have too many toys, I think this is true of most families I know. I have noticed with my children that if you give them a roomful of toys they flit from thing to thing never really settling or playing for more than a few minutes and requiring a lot of input from adults. However, if they have just a few simple things, a teddy, a pen and paper, or a small box of blocks, then their play becomes much deeper and they enjoy themselves more. My favourite thing is to let them play in the garden, hours of fun are had in the tree house or making mud pies. This is what play should be about, imaginative creative fun. So why do we feel duty-bound to keep on filling our children’s rooms with prescriptive toys that they don’t particularly want or need? I am as guilty as anyone but I want to change.
It seems almost impossible to keep the toy level down, as each time the kids go to a party, take a trip to town or visit a relative they come back with something. My pet hate is the awful plastic tat on the front of magazines. These rubbishy cheap toys are played with for a few moments then lie around neglected until I either stash them in a box or more often, sneak them into the bin.
While i am ranting on this subject, I also have to mention party bags. If you have been running around with your friends tanked up on fizzy drinks, sweets and beige food for hours, then do you really need a present to take home too? My kids generally return from parties laden with sweets and tiny toys. They have come to expect it and they don’t feel particularly grateful and I think that is wrong.
The first time we threw a party for our eldest daughter’s first birthday, a little boy (who shall remain nameless) came up to me at the end of the party and said, “I am going now so I am ready for my party bag” At that time I had not yet succumbed to the peer pressure to provide plastic tat in a plastic bag, so I just shared an embarrassed laugh with his mum. Now I feel obliged not to show up my children yet again (by being a mum who does things slightly differently to most of their friend’s mothers ) So we do give out party bags but I try my hardest to make them in keeping with my ethics without being too shameful for the kids. Paper bags containing raisins, seeds and plant pots have cut it so far but my eldest is only seven so I am not sure how many years we have left of being able to resist the slide into party excess.
A few years ago I read a book called Simplicity parenting by Kim John Payne. Among other great parenting advise was a call to dramatically reduce the amount of toys your children have. This book struck a real chord with me and is backed up by the call in Permaculture for ‘voluntary simplicity’ I would love to reduce the toys/ books/ clothes in my house even further but there seems to be a lot of things stopping me.
1. I don’t want to be a mean mum. I understand and truly believe that kids are happier with less but asking them to part with stuff is not easy.
2. That will be useful one day. Having three children of varying ages i find it hard to get rid of something that may come in useful for another child in the future.
3. I like things too! I love books, wooden and vintage children’s toys and i think i actually buy these for myself as much as for the kids.
4. Getting a bargain. It is hard to walk past a bargain, so secondhand shops and car boot sales are my downfalls.
This year I have tried to approach Christmas with the idea of voluntary simplicity in my mind. This year we will be doing a book swap with our cousins rather than buying gifts. My siblings and I are not exchanging gifts. My husband and I are buying one thing we actually want and need for each other. And the kids, well I am sure they will be spoilt rotten as always but I can always blame that on Santa Clause!
We have never had much luck growing carrots. Our slightly clay-ish soil does not suit carrots well and the few poor examples that do grow, tend to be misshapen due to all the stones getting in their way. Carrots are pretty cheap in the shops, so why bother growing your own? Well, eldest daughter E was given a packet of ‘Rainbow variety carrots’ by her auntie, so she was keen to give them a try.
To try to overcome our previous carrot difficulties, we had the brain wave of growing carrots in pots! That way they can be raised up enough to avoid the dreaded carrot fly and we can control the soil that they are grown in. So we mixed sand with soil and compost and placed the pot slightly set into one of the garden raised beds.
We sowed the seeds in the spring, watered them and forgot about them. The pot hid in a neglected corner alll summer, all autumn, past Halloween, fireworks night and the first frosts. Until today when we finally spotted it and tipped it out.
Buried treasure! Real carrots, big, straight and multi-coloured! They were tasty, we plan to grow loads more in this way next year.
Welcome December! It is still feeling pretty mild here and it’s hard to believe we are into December already. The leaves were still clinging to the trees until last week when the first hard frost sent them floating to the ground.
We have been pottering around in the garden this weekend, shifting leaves to places where they can be useful, clearing paths and cleaning out the chickens. The sun is very low in the sky these days and only reaches certain corners of the garden. The chickens are now free to roam wherever they like and so they follow the sun and sit in sleepy groups soaking up the scarce sun’s rays when they can.
I have made an advent activity calendar for the kids. Each day they have an activity waiting for therm behind the door of the advent house. These vary from truly exciting events like ‘Go and choose your Christmas tree’ to easy fixes for busy days like ‘Sing Jingle Bells’ They love it all and it’s a nice way to mark the lead up to Christmas.