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.

Permaculture-Principles-cut600

 

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.

An ethical Advent

It is December 1st, Happy Advent everyone!

IMG_7118

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.

IMG_7311

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.

IMG_7312

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!

IMG_7313

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!

Diploma design for ‘Muddy Boots’ – Limits

Identify the things that might block your path or keep it slow and small… an opportunity to recognise energy leaks, concerns, emotional ties and individual and cultural beliefs… Acknowledge these influences to design around them… Voice concerns and highlight potential problems…Begin putting strategies in place… what do I need to say no to? Recognise that limits will change over time.”                                                                       L. Macnamara in People and Permaculture  2012

IMG_1618

I have considered ‘limits’ for Muddy Boots in terms of four specific areas; myself, others, space and resources. I asked lots of questions of myself without really feeling I had to strive to find the answers at this stage. It seems like a big long list of anxieties and questions, however it is useful to put them out here and get them out of my head!

MYSELF – Do I have sufficient time, energy, confidence and skills to steer this project on my own? Can I keep up the momentum for the group? Will my own children enjoy it or will they find it difficult with their mummy being so busy during the group sessions? Have I got enough support from other group members, other allotment users, my husband, my friends, the Permaculture community etc? Can I come up with fun ideas to keep everyone engaged? Are my ideas age appropriate? What about the safety aspect of using the allotment? Are we covered for insurance/ first aid/ theft etc? Is this too much pressure to place onto myself? What paperwork will I need to complete?

OTHERS – Will people want to come along at all? What would people consider a suitable donation to pay? Will people be willing to contribute in other ways, such as donating plants, seeds, compost, time? Will people want to participate in the running of the group? Should i set up a steering group? Will the people be nice and understand what we are trying to achieve with Muddy Boots? Will they expect too much? What if no one/ too many people come? How would I cope with that? Where and how should I advertise the group?

SPACE – Are the other users of the community allotment happy for us to be there, using the plot and making changes within the education space? Will there be an anti-youth feeling? Will Sue and the other major users feel that I am stepping on their toes? How will I manage these relationships? Will I be able to get the space ready on time for the first session? Will I be able to keep everything weeded and watered when I have very little time to actually spend down at the allotment? Can I ask the Tuesday group for help with this? Is the space safe and suitable for the group to use? Have we got the scope to develop as I would like? What about use of the sheds? Can I get keys’ cut? Am I happy to be the key holder? Do we need to contribute to the site insurance costs? Is there anything we can’t do on the site? Are there restrictions on the hours I can gain access?

RESOURCES – Do we have enough tools, plants, seeds, compost, toys, books, art materials etc? If not can I really expect them to be donated? Or should I try to fund raise? Can I get help with this? If other people are leading sessions can I ask them to be responsible for their own resources? Can I let go of the control and trust them to do this? Would it stress me out too much? Have I got space to store things at home? Or should I try to keep everything at the allotment in one of the sheds? Where can I find interesting resources and ideas for workshops?

How will I find the answers to these questions?……………………………………………..

This has felt like rather a negative exercise so I will end by looking at some of the positive outcomes of having, or conversely, getting rid of limits.

1. We only have a limited number of sessions, probably around 14 spaced every two weeks from May till October. So the project has a limited lifespan, although I’d hope to repeat it in years to come. This time limit should keep up energy levels and keep focus on achieving good results within a restricted time frame.

2. Each session is only 90 minutes long and the target audience is pre-schoolers. I need to keep both these facts in mind to ensure I am not overly ambitious in trying to achieve unrealistic results.

3. Muddy Boots is no longer managed by a company, it is managed by myself and the participants. So we are free to take the group in whatever direction feels appropriate. To be unrestricted and unlimited like this is great, unusual, liberating and should be enjoyed.

4. The garden space is limited with lots of uses required from it, so the parts we can actively ‘garden’ are limited. This should hopefully make it less of a daunting task if I do end up doing a lot of the maintenance work on my own.

5. Young kid’s imaginations and ambitions are unlimited by the constrains of society. I’d like some sessions to be very loose and take the lead from what the children express an interest in. This has already began to happen in one of the first sessions as explained below!

IMG_1811

We try not to limit how the children interact with the planned activities. The idea was for a barefoot walk. The children were to hear the story ‘We are going on a bear hunt’ then walk barefooted around a path with different materials underfoot. When it came to walking through the water trough and feeling the cold water on their feet, a few children much preferred to sit in the water, it was a hot day, so who could blame them!

The four questions

During the study of Permaculture, we are encouraged to reflect on our actions, aspirations, thoughts and considerations in a structured way. Working in a group of three people, we take it in turns to ask, answer and record responses to four questions. This is normally done within a time limit for addressing each question.

1. What is going well?

2. What is challenging?

3. What are your long-term goals?

4 What are your next achievable steps?

I thought I would use a variation of this technique to look back over 2013 and forward to 2014. I am thinking of this as a Permaculture version of the new years resolution! I know it is rather boring to hear about other people’s resolutions, so below is the very much shortened version. I can now use this info to start making plans for 2014. I love the way Permaculture can so tightly intertwined with your life. It doesn’t feel like an extra bit of ‘work’. Many things that I do for my Permaculture diploma improves my clarity of thought and quality of life.

1. What is going well? New baby in February, great birth, lovely child. Garden productive and enjoyable. Started Permaculture diploma. Had a fab camping holiday. Fun times with friends. Family and friends happy and good things happening in their lives. I am enjoying being a SAHM but also few hours photography teaching in Dec was great.

2. What is challenging? Getting the balance right. Finding time for myself, importance of this to make myself happy! The parent guilt. Money. Quality time with J. Lack of sleep. Too much housework. Lack of energy, feeling unhealthy, need to find time for exercise.

3. What are your long-term goals? Moving to the country side, small holding. Unachievable? P dip helps make this seem more achievable. Work hard on diploma aim to complete in 2017. Get a part-time job after that, Permaculture related or environmental education? Make garden even more productive. Improve health. Live more lightly, scale down possessions.

4 What are your next achievable steps? Health- lose weights, exercise more, dance/zumba/yoga/swim/cycle/walk as much as poss. Try to incorporate this into my everyday life. Keep growing lots of fruit and veg. Eat more vegan, maybe do 2 or 3 completely vegan days per week? Work, regular photography teaching? Maybe I can do a photography course online for digital or do a darkroom evening class to get in some practice or brush up my skills? Diploma -Try to do 6 hours per week minimum on my P diploma. Keep working on my blog. Plan the 2014 garden. Make contact with local permies and set up a guild date. Family life -Get more organised, ask for more help, keep de-cluttering.

It will be interesting to review this post in a year’s time and see how much has changed and what I have achieved during 2014. Happy new year everyone. xx

 

Advent

IMG_7118

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.

Fireworks!

I love Bonfire Night. The smell of wood fires, hot soup and jacket potatoes, excited kids with sparklers and the oohh’s and aarrr’s as the rockets are set off. This year we decided to for-go the big organised event and instead met up yesterday in a friends garden with The Woodcraft Folk. We had a blazing fire, hot chocolate, a cheesy sing-song and sparklers.

Last weekend we invited the neighbours over for dinner and a little homespun celebration. We laid out the food in the greenhouse and lit a bonfire at the bottom of our garden. We use an old washing machine drum as a fire pit. It is ideal for this and a great way of re-purposing something which otherwise would be thrown away.

We all sat around on tree stumps eating our tasty autumnal food then had sparklers and a few fireworks. The kids had a great time and enjoyed staying up late and dashing around in the dark. There is something quite primal and powerful about bonfires and fireworks. I find it important to celebrate the heat and light that we get from a fire as we are heading into the dark times of winter. 2013-10-26 19.00.492013-10-26 19.14.06 2013-10-26 19.10.292013-10-26 19.50.41 2013-10-26 19.50.53

Muddy Boots

Eighteen months ago my sister and I had the opportunity to set up a playgroup on a local allotment site. Part of her job involves managing a community allotment and encouraging local community participation. We thought it would be fun to organise something that encouraged parents and pre-school children to play together in an outdoor setting, using natural materials and observing the seasons. So ‘Muddy Boots’ was created. We have met now for two years, twice a month from Easter to fireworks nights. We had our last session for this year on Friday. Our theme was pumpkins. IMG_6748

We had a story on the theme then the children went on a hunt around the allotment site for a pumpkin each which we picked and did activities with. We carved them, played with the seeds, drew on them, made pumpkin masks and did pumpkin ten-pin bowling! Each session ends with songs and a feast of fruit and veg to share. This is brought in by the participants and collected from the allotment. Our group is well attended, normally we have between 10 and 25 families (dependant on weather) with a ‘hard-core’ of six families who always brave it. We ask for a small donation to cover materials and resources and a hot drink, squash or water.

IMG_6751

It has been a great thing to be involved with. I have met some like-minded parents who, like me want an occasional alternative to yet another playgroup in a church hall filled with plastic toys! We are hoping to continue running the group next spring, but my sister’s contract comes to an end in March, so we are currently unsure if we will have permission to use the community allotment site. Finger’s crossed!

When I did my PDC last year, my design was based on developing an education space in the community allotment for Muddy boots and other groups to use. I will post the design and photos here soon. I feel that the ethos of ‘Muddy Boots’ fits well with the ethics of Permaculture; Earth care, People care and Fair shares.

IMG_6746IMG_6735IMG_6742