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.

 

 

Twelve principles for twelve months – or not!

So its another big fail for me on this task. I hold my hands up and admit that keeping up with my monthly principles blog post has been rubbish this year. My life has filled up with vital tasks and some days I feel like I am just barely holding onto the roller coaster!

In November I was due to look at ‘Use biological resources’ and December was ‘Small scale intensive systems’. My brain is too full of Christmas tasks left undone to tackle these now. So I am going to give myself a free-pass and quit this.

So here is a beautiful photo that I took last easter in Wales instead!

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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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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!

My garden in November

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Harvesting The harvest is now over in my garden. This week I have gathered in the last few bits, a few cooking apples, some Oka, Jerusalem artichokes and chilis from the green house. The oka were an experiment, it is the first year I have grown them. From 4 tiny tubers, I harvested about 20 small and a handful of larger tubers. I am yet to try eating them and may save them and replant next year to get a bigger harvest, I am assuming this would work? Can anyone enlighten me?

Planting I have still not got around to planting out my spring bulbs, so need to crack on this very soon before the ground gets too hard. We had our first frost last week. But generally the weather has been rather mild so far.

Thinking I am loving looking out of the window onto the tree with star-shaped bright red autumnal leaves (Is it called an Acer?)  The sun catches this throughout a lot of the day and makes the leaves glow brightly. It is currently holding onto its leaves well and cheering up a dark, muddy garden! I am planning on shifting a new load of woodchip into the chickens run and putting their old stuff onto the raised beds. The chucks always look rather fed up at this time of year. Cold and damp weather doesn’t really suit them. I need to spend a few days in the garden doing a general tidy up. Shifting leaves off paths to where they can be useful as soil improver, moving summer sandpits, pushchairs and kids bikes into the shed and having a good old clear out. The wood is now chopped and stacked, so that feels good with a promise of many cosy nights in front of the log burner to come.

Feeling  I am finding the dark evenings hard. I am making a real effort to spend an hour on the park, in the garden or trudging through the woods after school with the kids. Without that bit of outdoor time we all go rather stir-crazy. By the time we arrive home at 4pm, it’s very nearly time to close the curtains and out the lights on. To help make these dull, drawn-out evenings more enjoyable and productive, I have enforced a cebeebies/ DVD ban. My kids were previously allowed an hour of screen time each evening, but this makes them restless, argumentative and difficult. There were a few objections to this ban, but generally my household is calmer and happier for it. We have discovered more time in which to chat, do homework, cook a meal together and play games. The lego, jigsaws and colouring book have been rediscovered!

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I struggled to find things to take photographs of in the garden this month. Everywhere is looking spent, muddy and dull. The richness of autumn has passed and the stark, frozen beauty of winter has not yet arrived. We are waiting in limbo for the hard frosts and real winter to begin. I am looking forward to a quiet, simple christmas period. I am planning ahead for advent, more on this in another post. My thoughts and activities are heading back indoors and leaving the garden to its own devised for a few months.

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Weather stats

Thursday 20th November 2014

After a foggy morning the sky is now a bright clear blue. It feels cold but still and dry

High 9, Low 6

Sunrise 07:35 Sunset 16:05

Twelve Principles for twelve months – November- Creatively use and respond to change

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How do you interpret this image? Is it the sun? Or a flower? Or something else?

Our individual perceptions can change how we view the world and shape our choices.

The Principle I am looking at during November is ‘Creatively use and respond to change’ So I will be looking at changes that have occurred or that need to occur in my life and considering how to interpret and respond to them.

1. I will be reflecting on my garden design for 2014 and planning in changes to make the design more effective for 2015.

2. I will be looking at my daily routine and rhythms and considering changes to make as we enter the darker part of the year.

3. I will be looking at positive changes to my health, diet and exercise and working on my health and nutrition design.

4. All three of my children seem to be entering new phases of development currently, so I will be researching, reading up and considering ways of helping them to cope better with their changes. I hope to limit the frustration that the kids are all feeling currently for their own unique reasons.

By the way, the image I asked you to consider at the start of this post is of the bottom of a pumpkin, it really looks like the sun to me, isn’t nature amazing and beautiful!

My garden in February 2014

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Harvesting The chickens have upped their game. We are getting 3 – 4 eggs each day from our 10 chickens now. The longer days have been making a noticeable difference from shortly after the winter solstice. The herbs on the deck are being put to good use, as are window-ledge herbs, greek basil, mint and flat leaf parsley.

Planting I have ordered and received my seeds and am chomping at the bit waiting to get planting. I hope to plant out the seeds that need a long growing season as soon as possible. Chilis and various types of tomatoes will be sowed into seed trays and put up high in the conservatory out-of-the-way of a certain rampaging toddler. My broad bean plants are getting a bit leggy indoors, so they are in the greenhouse tonight, I just hope they are ok, it’s a chilly night out there now.

Thinking I have been thinking hard about my plans for the edible beds in my garden. I am taking this as my first design for my Permaculture Diploma. This is great as it making my diploma really relevant to my life. The additional time and thought given to layouts, plants and sustainable systems will make the garden far better than if I took my usual haphazard approach to garden planning.

Feeling I have been feeling sorry for the chickens. The storms had ripped a section of the felt off their shed roof. So the break in the weather today saw J and I clambering up the shed and nailing a new roll of felt into place. I am planning on fixing the guttering too this month and making the water run off into a tank for watering, with the overflow going into the pond to keep it topped up. I hope to rig up a soaker hose to this too and direct this around the vegetable bed in front of the chickens run. I am feeling full of ideas and enthusiasm for the garden and my Permaculture Diploma. I am also feeling frustrated not to have more time to devote to both activities. IMG_0626

Midday in my garden, on Thursday 13th Feb 2014. Bright sunshine and blue skies

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The same view at 2pm, a freak hailstorm turned the garden white in seconds!

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I have just chopped down the old growth to make way for the fresh new shoots of Fennel. This plant has beautiful skeletons I like to leave to stand all winter.

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This tree I think is an ornamental cherry. My husband and I have a row every year about whether to chop it down or not. It has dark leaves and casts a big shadow over the upper part of our garden all summer long. But I love it simply for its early spring flowers. You can see the buds appearing here. I like to cut armfuls of branches each February and bring them inside. The warmth of the house fools the plant into flower within days. I currently have a vase full of pink blossoms on the mantlepiece. The tree holds its place in the garden for this alone. It reminds us that spring is not far away now!

IMG_0619Tiny leaves unfurling on the Clematis.

Weather stats

Sunday 16th February 2014

A bright and sunny day with blue skies. The wind dropped leaving a still calm day

Max temp 8 degrees  Min temp 3 degrees

Sunrise 07:20  Sunset 17:18

A garden visit. The botanical gardens

Earlier this week on a rare sunny morning, I paid a quick visit to the local botanical gardens. I love this place, it is just off a busy main road, but feels like a real hideaway. Being winter, there was not that much plant life to see. The herbaceous perennials were just beginning to poke through in the long boarders. The highlights of my visit were the crocuses and the Hamamelis Mollis featured in my previous post. The bleak beauty of winter with an extreme lack of flowers and foliage, automatically focussed my eye on structures in the garden. It was good to look at how the garden was laid out and the clever creation of garden rooms, all with a different feeling about them. The formal box hedges are not usually my cup of tea, but they did look smart against the old brick paths. I enjoyed taking some time just to ‘Observe and Interact’

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I like the rough textures and patterning in the weathered brick paths throughout the garden

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The carpet of crocus was stunning. The flowers were just starting to open. They looked like a ground covering of snow when seen from a distance, then the lilac colouring caught the eye as you approached. So beautiful. I wonder how many years a show like that took to establish?

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On a sunny February morning, you can feel the approach of Spring.

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