Winter Solstice

One of my aims for this year is to learn more about the special days of the year following the Pagan calendar. I have always been interested in the changing of the seasons and the solstice, but I want to learn more. I plan to post on each special day this year with a reflection on what is happening in my garden and what I am up to.

December 22nd 2015- The Winter Solstice

IMG_0407The Winter solstice falls on Tuesday 22nd December this year. This is the day with the least amount of day light and the midday sun reaching the lowest point on the horizon all year. We like to string up fairy lights, cosy up in front of log fires, have a hot chocolate from a Kelly kettle in the woods and light and candles. These are our family traditions of lighting these darkest days of the year and marking the winter solstice and celebrating the exciting run up to Christmas day. (Just 3 more sleeps kids!)

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Noticing how mild it is, 10 degrees C today! It doesn’t feel like Christmas!

Feeling relaxed, happy and grateful to be having lots of lazy mornings this week

Wishing for Santa to hurry up and come!

Eating a lovely breakfast of scrambled tofu with rocket and tomato on sourdough toast

Wondering if my homemade raw chocolates are set yet so I can do a taste test!

Wearing hybrid clothes today, jean-leggings and a jumper-dress hahaha

Watching Luther – I love him

Listening to the howling wind

Drinking, yep, drinking again after having a booze-free December

Planning what I need to cook today to take to various meets up we are invited to

IMG_0410 IMG_0411   IMG_0415  IMG_0418 The chickens are definitely the most interesting thing in my garden today!

IMG_0419 IMG_0420 IMG_0416There is not a whole lot growing at the moment, but the herbs and greens are still doing well. We’ve only had one very mild frost here so far this winter, so the garden is still full of green things but it is very muddy and wet.

 

 

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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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!

Photos from this week

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An amazing den in the woods

Reflections in puddles

The tallest trees she had ever seen

Nativity

Blooming

A robin in the Christmas tree

The last leaves

Carol singing

My garden in December

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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.

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WEATHER STATS

Friday 20th December 2013

Frosty morning, some bright sunshine, windy

Max temp 8  Min temp 7

Sun rise 08.13   Sunset 15.51

Voluntary simplicity

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.

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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.

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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!

Advent

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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.