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!

Influences March – Oct 2014

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I intend to do a 6 monthly ‘Influences’ post, in October and April. Since my last post in April, I have been mainly focussing on two Diploma design, Muddy Boots Allotment Playgroup and my health and nutrition diploma design probably to be called The Wolf Run Challenge. So a lot of my influences have been to do with working with community groups  or health and nutrition.

COURSES, WORKSHOPS AND EVENTS

I continue to attend the Leicester PDC every month. I have been participating in the reflection and planning meetings for these sessions too. I have led aspects of the morning circle most months. I have tried to make my contributions fun, informative and enjoyable. I have certainly enjoyed being involved in this way and I feel quite confident talking in-front of the group.

I had a phone tutorial with my tutor Hannah Thorogood in May and attended a one day course with her in April about developing a poly-income. I am due to see Hannah again before Christmas for a design support tutorial.

I attended a ‘Forest Gardens for Forest Schools practitioners’ one day course in September as detailed in my previous blog post. sarah house

I attended numerous workshops over two days at the Permaculture Convergence in September. I especially enjoyed ‘Vegan permaculture?’ led by Graham Burnett, ‘Mindfulness in permaculture’ and I watched Jan Martin’s diploma accreditation event which was very useful as it was the first accreditation I had seen. IMG_4223

GUILDS 

I still have not settled into a permanent guild which is an ongoing challenge. I have however been guilding at the PDC sessions with Ann, Dani and Sam. This has been great. We have tried to set other dates independent of the PDC along with Reevsie and Ellen too, but so far we are failing miserably to find suitable times and dates to get together.

I have been using the 4 questions with my husband and in my own reflections.

PLACES VISITED 

I visited The Eden Project while on holiday in Cornwall in August, actually we enjoyed it so much, we went twice in a week! I took lots of photographs so will do a post about this visit soon. It was very heartwarming to see so many people there, all learning about gardening and sustainability while enjoying a family day out!

I visited The Lost gardens of Heligan. I have read a few books about the re-discovering and restoration of Heligan, so it was lovely to see this special place for myself. I was very impressed with the outdoor education facilities. There was a den making activity laid on. Poles, ropes, groundsheets and tarpaulins were provided and families were encouraged to build their own shelter. My children loved this. It was made especially magical due to a freak rainstorm that lashed down just as we completed our den. We took shelter and ate our packed lunch in the den. The kids were in heaven!

I have paid numerous visits to my local botanical gardens. They were the venue for a few of the PDC sessions and I have returned throughout the summer to stroll around, play with the kids and make use of the tea rooms. It is interesting to visit with my brother, he has recently done a RHS Horticulture course and has learnt lots of latin names of plants and trees, so he loves to educate me as we wander around!

ONLINE LEARNING

I continue to use the Permaculture Diploma Facebook group. I have posted various questions and problems there and been astounded by the time and love shown by people in their thoughtful responses.

I have created a Facebook page for Muddy Boots which I update with text and images after each session. I also use this to communicate with group members and promote each session.

Probably my biggest influence from June onwards has been through my participation in the Eat Smile Live community coaching health and nutrition six month plan. I receive frequent emails and you-tube videos teaching me about different aspects of healthy lifestyles focussing on eating a balanced whole foods diet. There is a lively online community attached to the course too via Facebook which is a fantastic resource. I have been signposts to lots of other blogs and websites for inspiration too.

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BOOKS AND MAGAZINES

IMG_4688 People and permaculture has been my bible while working on my Muddy Boots design.

IMG_4689I brought Looby’s new book at the Convergence and read it all quickly the following week!

IMG_2654I am always looking for ways to simplify my life and the clutter that rules my household. This book is one I return to time and again for guidance and inspiration.

IMG_2653I try to protect my children from the negative influences of the modern world as much as possible while they are so young. It is not an easy task.

IMG_2652I really want to train as a forest schools teacher. Please universe, show me how this would be possible!

IMG_2651Fantastic cookbook used as the main reference book for my Eat Smile Live course.

IMG_2650IMG_2649IMG_2647More inspiration from the local library

IMG_2655This book was interesting as it talked about the importance of HOW you eat rather than WHAT you eat. Lots in here about slowing down and mindfulness, which currently interests me a lot.

IMG_4687IMG_4686My backcopies of Permaculture magazine, along with Country living and the Green Parent continue to be a source of inspiration. My husband would love me to get rid of them, but I say no! They are a useful resource and I genuinely do refer back to the quite often for ideas for planting, cooking, natural parenting and seasonal celebrations.

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!