The four questions- Reflections on 2014 and looking ahead to 2015

As we approach the turning of the year, I thought it would be the right time to reflect on how 2014 has been for me and set myself some intentions for 2015.

In January 2014, I spent some time planning my diploma journey and considering new years resolutions and things I wanted to achieve. I divided these into eight categories; home, family, friends, health, work, diploma, leisure and other. My planning is detailed in the  image below, the ticks indicate what was achieved. I did manage quite a lot of the things on the list, but various tasks were left unstarted or uncompleted due to lack of time, money or energy. These tasks will be carried forward into 2015 and are listed under ‘next achievable steps’ at the bottom of this post.

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What is going well?

2014 was a great year overall, we had lots of happiness, three close friends had new babies, as did my sister and her partner. My brother’s jobs went well, my mum enjoyed her retirement. Joe got on well at work and his company will be moving to a larger premises early in the new year. My eldest is getting on well at school and is enjoying her hobbies, especially cross county running. My middle daughter started full-time school, which caused us lots of anxiety but she settled quickly and loves it now. She has a ‘Frozen’ obsession which has been fun! Little S is becoming a real rough, tough boy now, obsessed with trains and tractors. He is very loving and fun to spend time with.

I have been surprised by my new-found love of running this year. I have just completed 100 miles since I began recording my runs back in August. I am proud of myself and have seen my fitness improve dramatically. I took part in a Muddy Run and enjoyed it immensely, so have signed up for another in March. It’s lovely to have this hobby in common with my marathon running husband. I have taken part in a 6 month on-line course in health and nutrition. I have learnt loads about whole-foods and have made some positive changes in our diets. My diploma continues to be a big part of my life. I work on it almost every thursday and enjoy writing up my thoughts and activities on my blog. I have helped out on the local PDC and intend to take an even more active role in 2015. I looked at one permaculture Principle each month, which was great and taught me a lot.

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What are you finding difficult?

As always, the difficulty come in allocating my time and finding the balance between managing family life and finding opportunities to pursue my own interests and diploma work. Walking out the door is difficult, the parent guilt is a killer. however, I do feel I have found a slightly better balance this year. I almost always have one day a week 10-2.30 free, without my children to work. I have also fitted in a regular exercise class one a week and frequent runs either early morning or afternoon when was OH is around. As my children grow up, I think this balance will settle more and more. As I am still breast-feeding little S, nights out or sleep-overs are not possible, but by this time next year I expect this will have changed again.

I find not having any money OK most of the time but occasionally stressful. I would quite like to take on a little more work in this coming year, either photography teaching, making Muddy Boots into a business or something else that has not yet presented itself to me as a opportuniy. I am open-minded and would quite like to try something new.

The constant clutter and housework gets me down. I don’t enjoy it and resent how much of my time is taken up with moving things from place to place. I did a lot of de-cluttering in 2014 and plan to do even more in 2015. I want the children to use and value what they have rather than being over-whelmed by stuff and not realising how lucky they are.

What are your long-term goals and visions?

This brainstorm shows my plans for 2015, lots of the themes from 2014 arise again!

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I decided to use the permaculture tool of Zones and try laying out my aims for 2015 in terms of Zones.

Zone 1  Daily activity – Self, home, health

Zone 2  Weekly activity – as above plus immediate family, close friends, diploma, blog

Zone 3  Monthly activity – as above plus wider family, wider circle of friends, training, work

Zone 4  Annual activity – Once only activities, yearly overview, outlines and aims

Zone 5 Long term plans and visions and steps taken towards these.

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What are your next achievable steps?

* Arrange more one-to-one time with each of my children and my husband.

*More sunday lunches and meet ups with old and new friends

* Find a yoga class and attend regularly

*Get down to my ‘happy weight’

* Drink more water

* Organise my photography teaching notes/ resources so workshops are easier to plan.

* Attend workshops to learn new skills in areas that interest me.

*Be an active member of the local PDC planning group

* Look into Forest schools training and TOT training.

* Spend less time using screens! Reduce Facebook/ internet/ I-player/ Netflix usage and encourage my OH and children to do likewise.

* Further de-cluttering of the house.

*Get better at planning meals and shopping according to my ethics and budget

*Work on my diploma and aim to complete three additional designs during 2015.

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Snow day!

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On Boxing day evening it started snowing, the children were beside themselves with excitement. Last winter we barely had any frosts let alone snow, so Little S has never seen the snow. The snow turned to sleet overnight and had pretty much gone by the morning, the children were sad but we carried on with our plans of meeting some of our favourite people for a Christmassy walk up at our cabin. The cabin is about 10 miles from our house, on some higher ground, and here the snow was still very much covering the ground and making a winter wonderland- woo hoo! cue thrilled kids again! We had a lovely day cosying up in the cabin eating Christmas cake and enjoying a long walk through the woods. We only wished we had taken the sledge! Here is a little photo-story of the day.

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Spreading the Permaculture love!

 

I am pleased to have been asked to be a guest blogger today on a site called New England Permaculture. The author, Sarah, is running a series called ‘Changing the world’ looking at other bloggers who are working for positive change.

You can read my post here. I hope you enjoy it.

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I wish you all a peaceful and magical few days, see you on the other side. Happy holidays!

The ethical dilemma of Christmas cards

I have an ethical dilemma about Christmas cards.

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Earth Care – Christmas cards use paper, so many trees are cut down and they use inks which are polluting. They get looked at for a few weeks then thrown away or recycled. So generally not great for the resources of the Earth.

People care – People love to receive Christmas cards, it shows that the sender cares about them and is thinking of them. Christmas can be a lonely time for some people and a card may just brighten up their day.

Fair Shares – To receive cards and not reciprocate by sending one back feels unfair and mean-spirited. Charity organisations make a lot of money from selling Christmas cards, so maybe we can see buying charity cards as a type of charitable donation?

So what to do? An e-card is one option that seems to satisfy the three ethics, but somehow it doesn’t quite sit right with me. It doesn’t show a whole lot of effort and thought.  So how do we balance our ethics with our traditions and duties? I don’t have any hard and fast answers but sometimes asking the question is a good first step.

This year I found a compromise in four parts.

1. I helped my children make their own Christmas cards.

2. I brought some cards from my children’s school raising money for the PSA.

3.I opted out of sending cards other than to family members.

4. I used Facebook to send Christmas greetings to my friends.

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Twelve Principles for twelve months – December – Use and value renewable resources and services

 

Throughout 2014, I have been looking at one of David Holmgren’s Permaculture principles each month. I have tried to apply a principle to my life and the activity that I am involved in. My aim was to try to memorize them and try to understand a few applications for each principle. It has been a really interesting process for me. Here is a reminder of all twelve.

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I have left this month’s Principle ‘Use and value renewable resources and services’ until last. I think that is because I find it a tricky one. I can see how this applies to the big picture, for example using solar, wind and wave power. Or planting more tree than we cut down. But I find it harder to see how to apply it to my life in smaller domestic ways.

I actually think it is a Principle that encompasses a large area. ‘Use’ and ‘Value’ are two separate things, as are ‘resources’ and ‘services’. I think people are included in this mention of ‘services’. and it is vitally important to value the services people provide for us. You could design the most perfect Permaculture garden in the world, but without the people to plant, tend and harvest it, it would never come to fruition. I think I have realised this year the importance of people and carefully designing around the people and their needs in all the designs that I undertake. People care is vitally important in designing a successful system.

This month, reflecting on this Principle I have been heating my house with wood and using solar-powered fairy lights. I have been grateful to my husband for sourcing, stacking and chopping the wood. I have been grateful to have the technology to light up my garden and deck using just the power of the sun. I have also tried to give something back to other people. I know that consumer goods are not truly ‘renewable’ but they certainly can be better used than many of us manage. I have donated goods to the local women and children’s refuge and passed on bags and bags of baby clothes to my sister and to a friend. These are goods that have served me well and I have valued. I like to think that they will now be used again rather than sitting in my attic or ending up in landfill.

In 2015 I am planning on continuing this project by looking at one of Bill Mollison’s Permaculture Principles each month. More on this coming up in January.

My garden in December

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Harvesting My garden is currently brown, muddy, messy and rather abandoned. But that is OK, as my attention is focussed on the inside at this time of year. I have been gathering pretty branches, holly, ivy and dried seed heads from the garden to decorate the house for the festivities to come. We are still getting 3 eggs per day from the chucks, not bad for this time of year. The cockeral has still yet to crow so he is still around ruling the roost, the girls like him a lot!

Planting I finally got around to planting the spring bulbs yesterday. In the end it was an easy task as I decided to use large plant-pots rather than dig holes in the cold wet ground. The pots are lining the steps to the deck where they can sit quietly all winter, waiting for their chance to shine come the spring. I like having bulbs in pots because you can easily move them to where they will best be seen when they are in full bloom, then stash them out-of-the-way to die back.

Thinking An old Willow tree has crashed to the ground this week, it amazingly fell directly into the only clear space available, narrowly avoiding our greenhouse, next doors shed, the trampoline and the compost bays. I am grateful for that at least and I am pretty sure the tree will spring into life again from the trunk. The kids are enjoying the fallen tree, it brings a new aspect to the garden and provides exciting places to play and hide. We will get around to cutting up the tree soon and storing it for next years firewood, but currently there is just too much to do.

Feeling I am finally feeling well again after two weeks of suffering with the dreaded, full-family pre-Christmas cold. We have all been laid low and suffering for weeks. I have been dosing myself up with vitamins, manuka honey, whisky toddys and lots of fresh greens and garlic. I am almost ready for Christmas, the kids break up from school tomorrow and we have a few surprises up our sleeves for them. They have really enjoyed putting a bauble everyday on the ‘tree’ (pretty branches in a vase) We have also had fun making Christmas cards together and lighting candles and the logburner to cosy up in front of to light up the long dark evenings of December. We are almost at the Winter Solstice now, so it always feels good once the light levels begin tipping back the other way.

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Note the fallen Willow tree filling the left-hand side of the back portion of the garden. This was where I had proposed to build a poly-tunnel, I am so glad I didn’t!

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The chickens love coming right up to the house and sitting on the deck, seeking out the last rays of evening sun.

Weather stats

Thursday 18th December 2014

Cloudy and mild with a little drizzle

High 13 Low 5

Sunrise 08:12 Sunset 15:50

 

An ethical Advent

It is December 1st, Happy Advent everyone!

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Black Friday, Cyber Monday, queues to get into the shopping centre, panic buying and extending your overdraft. This year I am determined to avoid it all.

I enjoy Christmas as much as the next person, it is a delicious, boozy, sparkling glitterball in the darkness of mid-winter. But over the years I have come to hate the commercialisation of Christmas. The pressure to buy the ‘in’ gift for your loved ones and the assumption that you will run up debts and expand your line of credit along with your waist-line.

This year, for three reasons, I have decided to do things differently.

1. I am broke and I don’t plan on getting into debt.

2. The house is already filled to the rafters with ‘stuff’ and I don’t want any more.

3. I want my Christmas to be more in line with the three ethics of Permaculture.

So here is a list (who doesn’t love a list) Showing how I am planning to make my Christmas ever-so slightly more Permaculture-ish

EARTH CARE

1. After much discussion and protesting from the kids, we have decided to forget about buying a Christmas tree. I don’t want a toxic plastic Christmas ‘tree’ in my house, neither do I want to dig up a real living tree, love it for 3 weeks then dump it. For the last few years we have really enjoyed the experience of visiting a local tree grower, choosing a tree, spending ages digging it out of the frozen soil and squeezing it into the car. We had good intentions to nurture these expensive, overgrown pot-plants, but in reality, who wants to look at a Christmas tree in July? So they tended to get stashed in a forgotten corner of the garden, where, surprise surprise, they got forgotten about untill they were shrivelled up, brown, dry shadows of their former selves, suitable only for the bonfire. So this year we have gathered pretty branches from the woods and we plan to display them in a vase and the kids will put one bauble on each day for the duration of Advent.

2. I am not one of those women who varies their Christmas colour scheme each year. I let the kids choose one new decoration each December, so our collection is growing slowly and that is the way I like it. The kids remember when they chose each piece and why, it is lovely unpacking them and feeling nostalgic. I also have baubles I brought from the charity shop the first year that J and I moved in together, I have painted clay Christmas trees that little E made at playschool, I have mashed up badly drawn angels made by Coco. I also like using natural materials to decorate our house, holly, ivy, rosehips, dried oranges and pine-cones. One year we even strung bright red chilis on the tree. That was pre-children when I had time free to fiddle about stringing chilis onto bits of string.  I do find it super-satisfying to rip ivy in great long strips from where it should not be growing, like from the roof of the greenhouse or the trunk of the apple tree. Combined with a few red berries and some wire, it makes a lovely door wreath or decoration over a fireplace.

3. If you drive around for long enough during December, you will always find a house or two covered with fake snow, inflatable Santas and erratically flashing fairylights. We know exactly where the best displays/ worst offenders are near to where we live and we always make a point to take a look and wonder at the spectacle and enjoy our horror at the waste of energy and the resulting electricity bill!  Conserving energy can be festive too!  We love to light candles, spark up the log-fire and use solar fairy lights. A single candle is far more beautiful to my eyes that a head-ache inducing flashing light display. Much cheaper than the alternative, on your pocket and on the resources of the earth.

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PEOPLE CARE

1. The last thing I want is for my children to suffer due to their parent’s frugal ways. Honestly some of the conversations that I overhear at the school gate make my hair stand on end, for example, the mother whose kids already have three computer games consoles but is looking for a fourth or the family who have spent in excess of a grand on their credit card so far! Bloody hell, I don’t want to go bankrupt but I still do want to make it magical for the kids. With a focus on experiences rather than ‘stuff’, I thought it would be nice to take the whole family on an outing to the snow-dome or on the stream-train this Christmas, but it would cost us over £100! For one day’s entertainment! That sounds extortionate to me and I really do resent how prices are hiked up during the Xmas weekends and holidays. Its exploitation. I have managed to find a garden centre that does a ‘meet Santa’ experience that is within our price range, so we are opting for this. Our eldest is 8 now, and getting rather cynical and sarcastic about lots of things. She still believes in Santa for now but I wonder if this will be the last year? So I want to experience the magic with her while we can. We are lucky that our kids school is fantastic and goes above and beyond the call of duty to make school special. Our girls will have a school trip to the theatre, a nativity play, a disco, a church carol concert, a christmas dinner and an outdoor carol singing evening. Wow. I like to make the most of these events by creating an Advent calendar with an activity for each day. All of the activities above feature on the relevant day along with ‘drink a hot choc’ or ‘watch a christmas movie’ for the few days they have free of exciting events during December.

2. I am a member of a group on Facebook for mothers who consider themselves to be attempting to raise their children in a ‘natural way’ This group is great, occasionally divisive and bitchy but usually absolutely great. One of the members is organising a call to donate Christmas boxes to the local women and children’s refuge. I am one of many women who are searching out books, clothes, toiletries and gifts and packing up Christmas boxes for women and children currently staying at the refuge. I hope these will bring a little bit of enjoyment into what could be a very difficult time of year for these people. I am involving my children in choosing items for the boxes and hoping that it teaches them that we should think of others at Christmas and enjoy giving as well as receiving.

3. As a mother of three children, my role is to be 24 hour on-call slave to their every demand. Or so they think. The task of looking after myself often slides right to the bottom of the pile, to be hidden under a dirty sock and unwashed pan. But I have observed that the children are only as happy as their least happy parent. If I am in a bad mood, snappy, bad-humoured and short-tempered, then the household can easily descent into chaos, grumping, door slamming and raised voices. So, as I am learning more and more, it is vital to look after myself, otherwise I am not good at looking after anyone else. I need sleep, peace and quiet, good wholesome food, a long bath by myself, time to talk quietly to J, time to feel on-top of my tasks and the occasional run along the canal. Then I can be a good mother. I plan to gift myself more of these simple but vital things in the hectic run up to Christmas.

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FAIR SHARES

1. My family is relatively small but growing by the year. New babies keep on popping up everywhere, which I adore! Our latest addition is my Nephew Stanley. He is adorable and I love him so much. I plan to treat Stan this year but buying for all the cousins, aunties and uncles would cost a fortune. So we have come up with a few ideas to lighten the load. Firstly, we limit how many people we buy for by only buying for children and grandparents. We club together to buy one big thing that the recipient actually wants and needs rather than buying lots of smaller things. We do a family book swap with the cousins and secret santa with a group of friends. That cuts out a lot of expenditure and instead we make an effort to spend quality time together and share meals. That brings me onto the next point….

2. One of the best things about the Christmas season is the food. It is a time for over-indulgence and fattening yourself up for winter! One thing we love to do is share meals with friends and host get togethers at home rather than splashing out on restaurants. We like to do ‘bring a dish’ parties and enjoy a wide range of foods that everyone has chipped in for. Also, that way everyone’s needs can be catered for. Once you have guests who are dairy-free, vegan, intolerant of spices and allergic to nuts it can become next to impossible to cook a dish that pleases everyone. So a table heaving with many different dishes contributed by all the guests is a great way around this. It brings with it a nice feeling of community and helps with the finances too.

3. I have blogged previously about my dislike of clutter and my horror at how many toys, books and clothes three children can accumulate in a short space of time. To try to keep the dreaded avalanche of stuff at a minimum, I am a regular charity-shop donator. I like to involve the kids in a Pre-Christmas charity shop clear out. I find it goes down quite well at this time of year if you market it as ‘making space for all the new toys you will be getting for Christmas’ Give them a bag and a ten minute time-limit in which to fill it up. Then hide the toy stash from their sight immediately before things get sneaked out and make their way back into the toy box again!

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I want to finish this post by confessing my sins. As well as all the great activities and ‘voluntary simplicity’ (Love that phrase) detailed above, I have also done a few terrible things that are in no way in-line with my ethics. I have visited the Disney store and actually brought some of their over-priced tat for a ‘Frozen’ obsessed little girl close to my heart. I have shopped on-line with the evil empire that is Amazon. And finally, sin of all sins, I will not be making my own Christmas cake this year (Waitrose will) Gulp…. The twin challenges that affect every Permaculture design, TIME and MONEY, forced me into making these decisions. They may not be ideal ethical decisions, but hey, I am on the right track and I need to leave myself some challenges for next year!