A Wardrobe Clear Out

A long overdue task had been scheduled in my diary and today was the day it arrived.

Today was the day I treated myself to a birthday wardrobe sort out.

Last year I gave myself the grown up gift of prettying myself up with make-up each day which has worked a treat as I no longer frighten myself when I spot myself in a mirror. I also always feel quite happy to open the front door if the doorbell rings without thinking ‘Oh No! I haven’t got any lipstick on!’

This year I decided that after nearly a  decade of wearing ill fitting, scruffy, crap clothes it is high time I looked more professional again but without having to dust off the suits of yesteryear as I am no longer working in a formal office environment.

Just recently I started marketing my two new home-based business ventures (a decluttering and organisational service www.MessyNoMore.co.uk and  www.CookClub.co.uk providing mobile cooking parties for children) and I am now taking real bookings from real clients who expect me to turn up looking like a smart professional.

I need to be able to visit would-be clients without having to scurry home to smarten up first so now is a really great time for me to ditch the ‘only-the-vegetable-patch-the-hens-and-the-kids-will-see-me look’ and start doing what my lovely husband has been gently encouraging me to do for ages – to treat myself to some clothes I love and look good in.

During the  wardrobe sort everything came off the rail and out of every drawer to be examined . Out went everything that I don’t love the colour of, the shape of, doesn’t fit, has holes in it, has been shrunk or didn’t even know I had (like the strange mysterious high waisted black velvet jeans). They formed an almighty pile to either sell on eBay (the nicer pieces) or give back to the charity shops from whence so many of them came from anyway.

Sadly I am now left with very little in the way of clothes to wear apart from a few little summer party dresses, my wedding dress and some clothes that are only fit for gardening and decorating in.

Luckily tomorrow I have the day off so will be able to spend some time seeing what the lovely charity shops of Shrewsbury have to offer in the way of good quality cast offs in makes, sizes, colours and shapes I think will suit me.

I’ve already started shopping on eBay for some better key pieces such as white cotton blouse, some brightly coloured knitwear and a few accessories so I am looking forward to a new year ahead feeling like I am looking my best for all occasions come rain or shine or snow.

[PS: I feel particularly proud of this clear out because not only have I done it as planned but also because I have saved up for the replacement garments using my recently acquired budgeting habits using the fabulous You Need A Budget software. It was pain-free virtual squirreling of funds which means I now have some cash to use to replace the things I am saying goodbye to]

Daily Habits

glass of waterI really like the idea that I came across on the very brilliant Zen Habits that if you want to introduce a good habit into your life the best way to do it is to start with just a tiny change (floss ONE tooth, drink ONE glass of water, exercise for ONE minute per day are the examples given at Zen Habits).

Make that one tiny change become a daily habit in your life. Once you have made it habit by repeating that small thing each day for a few weeks it is then time to increase the amount you do it.

Once that habit has become ingrained it will be life enhancing and you can move onto another habit.

My recent trial was to drink more water. I have managed to survive for years on just a cup of coffee in the morning and a herbal tea at night with the occasional weak gin and tonic consumed during early evening. Isn’t that shocking? Obviously this was not enough fluid to be healthy and I knew the recommended amounts of water drinking were many times what I was drinking but how to get from nil to loads?

By using the Zen Habits trick I started by just making sure I had at least one glass of water a day – just one. As soon as I thought of it I would drink it and then my task for the day was done. I noticed that I started feeling naturally thirsty as if my body was finally allowed to acknowledge the fact that it needed water. I then started making sure I had a drink of water with every meal and then added in having a glass of water beside me when I am working on the computer and then another at bedtime. Now I am happy to report that although I am still not drinking the quantities recommended by official sources I am providing myself with adequate hydration throughout the day. I have made it a habit and I imagine I will carry on in this way with my new drinking habits for the rest of my life. It took me a good forty years to develop the habits though – partly because I hadn’t made them achievable,

When we first left the rat race nearly seven years ago now (goodness! how did that time fly by so swiftly?) I had very few good habits in my life. It was all I could do to stagger through the week looking forward to the weekend and then I staggered through the weekends catching up with mountains of laundry, grocery shopping and looking after the little children, eating rich food, drinking and smoking. There was very definitely no time at all for regular maintenance of home, health, relationships or finances.

Gradually gradually since leaving that world of split personality where my life was not my own for over 50 hours each week I have gained habits that really work for me in managing myself, our home, our children, our finances, our animals, our garden, my health and my work projects.

Until I started to write this post and consider what habits I now have I hadn’t appreciated how many I have acquired.

It has been by very small incremental steps that I have traveled so far from the scatty exhausted unfulfilled cluttered-home me of yesteryear.

Small steps, just like Leo of Zen Habits recommends or ‘Baby Steps’ as the all-American FlyLady advises us to take work very much on the principal that Rome apparently was not built in a day and neither will it be an instant cure-all to get ourselves as organised, healthy and well-managed as we’d like.

I used to wonder how so many people seemed to be so effortlessly organised and in control. Now I think I have worked out what was never explained to me. If you spend just a few moments each day on some essential habits then so much energy and time will be saved.

FlyLady’s classic examples are to spend each day of each month learning some fundamental habits. Some of the habits seem ludicrous at first but after they have become ingrained you can look back to a time before the habits helped your daily life flow smoothly.

You can choose your own of course but FlyLady’s include making your bed immediately after getting out of it, getting dressed as soon as you can after waking, making sure you go to bed knowing what’s on your family’s schedule for the following day, making sure you know what the family are eating for dinner, going to bed with a clean kitchen ready for action the following morning, knowing which clothes you will be wearing when you get up the next day and spending a small chunk of time each day dedicated to tidying or de-cluttering an area of your home.

Some people do this naturally I discovered when we shared a smallholding with our favourite next door neighbours. For the first couple of weeks the two families shared one house while the other house was being plastered. My lovely neighbour friend Jen had this amazing trick of always thinking about what could be for dinner the following day and getting any meat required out of the freezer to thaw overnight. Genius! It has stuck with me ever since as has her wonderful trick of starting the dinner preparations LONG before anyone was hungry or it was dinner time. Pizza dough got made first thing in the morning, sauce made at some point during the day too then all that was required before dinner time was to grate a bit of cheese. What a clever girl.

I on the other hand have had to scour the local libraries for books which share their wisdoms on little habits which save so much angst once they are a part of your life.

Some of my own personal favourites now include:

- Washing up, wiping down and sweeping the floor after every meal (it actually now seems quite unbelievable that I didn’t used to do this and then spent so much time wondering why my kitchen was always a hideous mess) with the saying ‘no-one likes a grubby kitchen’ whispering in my head

- Making the bed, getting dressed AND doing make-up as soon as I’m up instead of slopping around in a dressing gown then trying to find a moment to go upstairs to get ready for the day. When I turned forty I suddenly started being startled every time I caught sight of my own face in a mirror so vowed I would always at least have a bit of sparkly eyeshadow and lippy on ready for all eventualities. It seems to have worked – no longer startling and no longer answering the door thinking ‘oh bugger I’ve got no make up on’

- Daily management of home and business finances. This is a very new one for me but such a great one as it really transforms a dull tedious overdue and vital job into a quick. ‘Oh yes I’d forgotten that I spent £25 on hen food’ type of activity which needn’t take up any more than 10 minutes each day

- Gardening time slot. Not so much during the hard winter we have had but in warmer seasons I was always so easily tempted out into the garden if the sun was shining and my responsibilities inside would be shirked. These days I allow myself to head outdoors for gardening jobs on week days at 2pm and not a moment before. This allows me to crack on with my indoor work and computer work even if it is glorious outside as I now know the day will not slip away without me going out but I have to do my other things first. It also means that the garden gets tended as it must without the sense of ‘I MUST tackle some gardening jobs’ but actually end up doing other tasks instead. By having the habit of a regular daily allocated slot to head outside to see what needs doing at there I am less worried that I *should* be doing something else and the garden and house both get their required share of my energies and focus.

- Tidying and Decluttering – 15 minutes finding the nearest quickest thing that has been bugging you as being disorganised. For me today it was my son’s chest of drawers – several pairs of too small trousers were filtered out, odd socks were paired and jumpers folded. Tomorrow it might be to photograph some of the things waiting to be sold on eBay and write a quick listing or two. Next time it might be one of the files in our home filing cabinet, kids DVDs or books. I just think ‘What is the most annoying mess in this house right now?’ and then spend 15 minutes on sorting it. That way I do seem to have a reasonably tidy uncluttered house I would be happy to invite people in to but rarely have to find great chunks of time to get areas of the house sorted.

- Going to bed with a clean kitchen, knowing what I will make for meals the next day including the children’s packed lunches, a load of washing in the machine ready to take out to hang out the following day.

I’m always such an urgent person that I always want to be doing it ALL and doing it NOW and if I can’t do it all I make the assumption that it isn’t worth doing. The classic example is weight loss and exercise.

Like so many others I seemed to have spent my entire adult life wishing I was lighter and fitter and waiting for the time in my life when I would be able to dedicate lots of time to cycling, walking, running and swimming. Instead of waiting any more and letting even more decades slip past I have now employed the Zen Habits trick of making exercise a daily habit but starting with a very tiny achievable amount. I am trying to do just a few minutes exercise each day and it seems to be working.

At some point, once it has become a non-missable daily habit I will start to increase the amount of time I spend on that slot but for now I am just enjoying the sense of achievement it is giving me rather than the constant nagging voice in my ear saying ‘Oh I see you didn’t do any exercise again today hmmmm’.

I’m always curious about the tricks people employ to keep their own lives running smoothly and I’d love to hear any of them from you especially if you are one of those people who have always been organised and have never had to be shown any tips to be more organised.

I shall leave with one of my favourite so simple but so stress-free:

We have three kids and at least two of them find it hard to be organised. Somehow the amount of socks that got lost between taking them off and putting into the laundry basket was incredible and sooner or later I would hear the cry ‘Mummy I’ve only got loads of odd socks in my drawer’ so I would buy more socks. NOW my lovely trick is to siphon off any sock found without its partner and put it immediately into the Odd Sock Basket. If I found an odd sock on the floor in it would go, if, when I came to fold the laundry, a sock appeared to be on its own instead of in a pair it would be added to the odd sock basket. When I put clothes away I take a quick look in the sock drawer to fish out any loners and add them to the basket also. The dah-dahhhh moment comes when someone claims they have no socks to wear so I instigate a sock basket pairing session and Hallelulah the basket is actually full of happy socky twosomes.

 

BecomingDomestic.co.uk invited for regular slot with MotherEarthNews.com

Oooooh it’s so lovely when a blog writer gets feedback to validate the fact that anyone reads material you’ve written.

It’s extra special when anyone takes the time to comment on a post. Last week I received an extraordinarily pleasant surprise when, out of the blue, an editor from MotherEarthNews.com sent me an email saying he really liked my blog and hoped I would write regularly for their website under the area of ‘Modern Homesteader’.MotherEarthNews.com

I’ve said yes (of course) despite already feeling stretched so thinly across so many other projects but never mind. I’m really hoping this year I will get some much more serious writing done so having an extra place to publish suits this aim well.

I’ve now had the first two posts published and received a few nice comments from readers too which is really really great:

A New Blogger’s Homesteading Journey Begins

U.S. Homesteading Versus U.K. Smallholding

It’s a predominantly US site but with a global audience so I think I will focus my writing on things as they are here in the UK perhaps with British traditional recipes, quaint things we take for granted here etc. I lived for a short time in the States when I was a child so can recall some of the comparisons from then.

 

 

How to do more for the environment

organic porkI’ve worked out that the less we hang out with people who are trying to do all they can do reverse climate change and show others that modern life in the UK can be sustainable the more we revert to being ‘normal’ in our shopping habits.

I hadn’t even realised it until I wrote the post about bulk shopping mentioning how I’d been delighted to get so many bargains from an online discount store when comments from a friend reminded me that by shopping there I was continuing the support the massive industrial globalised food production machine I believe to be unsustainable and damaging.

For the first time in nearly half a decade I have found myself buying occasional ‘prison meat’ products of reduced price ham knowing that no-one who cares about such things will spot me doing so and therefore no-one will raise an eyebrow.

My kids raised an eyebrow but I notice they didn’t debate the purchase too strongly after years of ‘Why aren’t we allowed ham in our sandwiches?’ questioning and wishing they didn’t have such a strongly opinionated parent. But by explaining to them where my principles came from they grew up knowing that unethical unsustainable production is a bad thing.

Our society are generally not made aware of the misery that creating mass produced meat from barely legal low standards in animal husbandry, harsh chemical toiletries and cleaning products which will naturally end up in our water systems nor the impact of  growing and flying perfect vegetables around the planet so we can have whatever we want to eat whenever we fancy.

On the contrary we are fed a very biased view towards these harmful shopping items via multi-million pound advertising campaigns and very rarely towards their alternative competitors.

Since we moved away from the lovely town in Mid Wales which seemed to have so many free thinking simple lifestyle folks as its residents and started living as unknown new people in a more standard town I have felt myself pulled towards the ‘norm’ which means away from sustainable choices. This does not sit well with me and I am interested to observe it in myself.

We do not watch television and so are a little more removed from media pressures than others but my kids do note that they are the people who do not have plastic bags, cling film or processed foods in their lunch boxes each day. Thankfully they gave up a long time ago asking if I would buy them cheese strings (yuck!) so some such other horrible product after countless ‘No, I don’t buy those nasty things’ but the pressure is there at school and around us in other places too.

Thanks to Andy’s comments on the piece I wrote the other day I’ve been reminded of how every pound we spend is essentially a vote we use to ensure the thing we buy stays in production. If I buy ‘prison pig ham’ it is a way of saying to the people in charge of those poor poor animals that I am fully supportive of their operations and wish it to continue. Similarly if I were to buy brand new clothing of unknown provenance I would be casting my vote in favour of polluting factories, possibly underage factory workers in an unregulated  and global transportation systems.

In order to bring myself back into a place where I am mindful of where my money is spent I have drafted a short list to help me remember to shop in line with my own ethics and to continue to raise our children with full explanations of the choices we are offered and why we choose what we do in this household.

More Of:

- Staying put – less holidays. We don’t go away very often anyway due to animals and also loving it at home where there is so much gardening to do.

- Planning ahead – cooking and freezing meals (to create our own ‘ready meals’ in the freezer when a hungry cold family of five walks in after a long day out of the house)

- Shopping in bulk from organic local suppliers to create our own stores from which to make weekly snacks

 

Less of:

- Eating mass produced foodstuffs /packaged

- Meat eating

- Buying new

- Buying prison meat

- Buying new mass manufactured goods

 

Already

- Use my own fabric/string bags but occasionally I forget them so I need to have them stashed in my handbag at all times

 

It Worked! You Need A Budget (YNAB) personal home budget software has REALLY worked

YNABWe transferred from one huge energy provider to the smaller, highly customer service driven Good Energy to supply both electricity and gas soon after we moved to this house in the summer months.

We had had so many good experiences with Good Energy in the previous three houses and their ethics are spot on (‘Help us build a green energy future’) that switching to them is always one of the first things I do on moving house.

The change over takes a bit of time but apart from sending off a couple of meter readings on a particular date the switch over has been invisible to us as the original supplier continues to provide the service until the transfer is complete and then a bill is sent out.

Yesterday I received the bill from the energy providers we left behind and for a unusually I opened it immediately.

It is a HUGE bill which covers both gas and electricity used in this house since September and although I anticipated it being large I still did not relish receiving it HOWEVER for the first time ever I had already allocated the right amount of money for this bill and will be able to pay it without worry that we might go overdrawn or having to dip into our savings which we are trying to build up since the big spend of a house purchase six months ago.

How did I do such a clever and grown up thing? I cannot take much credit at all as it is all down to the usage of a very nifty piece of household budgeting software called You Need A Budget

A massive shift in household budgeting practices has happened in this household since the beginning of November when I searched on Mumsnet for recommended home financial management packages.

So many people waxed lyrical about You Need A Budget (or ‘Y-NAB’ as it affectionately called) and how it had revolutionized not only their money management but also their relationships with their partners and their health (!) that I looked it up straight away, started a trial and immediately knew it was exactly the thing that would help us sort out our spending.

The You Need A Budget (YNAB) software works on four very simple principles:

1. ‘Give Each Dollar A Job’
Your money shouldn’t tell you what to do. You’re the boss. The drill
sergeant. The maestro. When you earn money, you plan how
you’ll use it, then you follow your plan.

2. ‘Save For A Rainy Day
Take those large, less-frequent expenses that usually send you into a financial
tailspin, and break them into monthly chunks. Result? Financial peace. Climb
out of that Financial Crisis Roller Coaster. It’s smooth sailing ahead.

3. ‘Roll With The Punches’ 
In boxing, a fighter moves his body in the same direction as his opponent’s punch, so as to lessen the blow. In budgeting, you do the same. Be flexible and address overspending before moving on to the next month. This helps you stay in the fight.

4. ‘Live On Last Month’s Income’
To be perfectly frank, we want you spending this month, what you earned last month.
This Rule is something to strive for, and likely isn’t something you can implement
right away. However, with the help of the other three rules, you’ll get there.

With Rule #1 ‘Give Each Dollar A Job‘ the YNAB team  explain that ‘Instead of deciding to buy something based on the big (or small) pile of money in your checking account balance, you’ll decide based on a category balance’.

Our gas and electricity usage was set up as one of the many ‘budgets categories’ that we spend our income on.

The clever thing that YNAB does is that is encourages you to allocate ‘spending’ to each of the categories you have each month EVEN IF IT IS NOT ACTUALLY SPENT FROM THE BANK ACCOUNT THAT MONTH. Genius.

So by using YNAB I had simply allocated an imaginary monthly spend in both the Electricity and Gas budget categories of £75 when I set up the software in late October so by the time yesterday’s whopping big bill arrived I had October’s £75 for Electricity plus October’s £75 for gas as well as November’s£75 for Electricity plus November’s £75 for gas, December’s £150 for both and January’s £150 for both. I not only had enough money allocated to pay the nasty energy bill I had more than enough as had purposefully over-estimated the amount we would use each month and the bill was far less than £600. The monies allocated hadn’t been moved anywhere but they had been spoken for and were ready to be spent from our current account.

Today I delighted in logging into our bank immediately and settling the account instead of putting it off, losing the bill, receiving a red bill and eventually paying it but worrying if the money was depleting our savings or meant we wouldn’t have enough for food by the end of the month.

We have set up budget categories for all the usual regular spending categories – food, insurance, council tax etc but also all the unusual and less regular spending categories such as ‘Car Repairs’, ‘Piano Tuning’, ‘Christmas Party Drinks and Food’, ‘Trips to Cinema and Swimming’ we also have categories for saving areas such as ‘Solar Panels, Wood Stove, Holiday, and building up our Emergency Fund.

With a bit of luck using YNAB will mean that each month a few pounds will be put aside or allocated into each budget category regardless of  whether any actual spending for that category takes place so all those allegedly unforeseen areas of spending or forgotten about spending (parking fees, window cleaner, teacher’s gifts at the end of year, school trips) are magically saved for with very little effort.

The other marvelous thing about YNAB for us as a couple is that it has finally resolved the related mysteries of what happens to cash taken out of the cash machine – what does it get spent on? and also how much does my lovely husband spend on beer each month (according to our bank statements it was annual spend of £14 – hmmmmmm I don’t think so!). This is partly because it is just one licence for multiple computer installations, partly because it so easy to use and partly because it has a handy phone app so you can easily log transactions on the go.

I love YNAB it is the piece of software I have been wishing for for decades. I especially love it’s well put together video tutorials and support forum too.

 

Where I Do My Bulk Food Buying

When we lived at 2000 feet above sea level and a good 6 miles of hilly isolated rural roads lay between us the nearest town my dear mate and neighbour Jen and I would always put together a bulk food order and halve it when it came.

We loved seeing our shonky wonky pantry shelves packed with dried foodstuffs, tins and jars knowing that if the car broke down, illness struck or snowed heavily we would have enough to see us through. When we were snowed in for six weeks it was no matter as we were fully stocked up and ready for it.

Jen put me on to the Approved Food online clearance discount food shop which I have used ever since every few months.

It is admittedly a similar shopping experience to buying mainly from charity shops and eBay as you never know what is going to be for sale and even if you see something you want to buy it may well be gone by the time you get to the online checkout. They are as far as I can make out a retailer who specialise in end of shelf life food and household products.

This week my quarterly bulk food shopping from them cost me £101 but the RRP of the entire order had I paid full price would have been well over £300. I use Approved Foods for discount chocolate, tins of fruit and vegetables, massive catering packs of spices, pasta, bread flour and occasionally recycled toilet paper. My kids LOVE it when I tell them an Approved Food order is on its way as it is usually full of a load of stuff I would not normally buy (this time we got 20 packs of mini cream eggs, tinned Heinz tomato soup and several breakfast cereals that were not porridge).

An added bonus of doing an a quarterly shop with Approved Foods is that the food comes packed into cardboard boxes which are ideal for using as a weed-killing mulch on the areas of lawned garden I am trying to create food growing areas.

I also use a couple of other suppliers for environmentally friendly cleaning products and organic toiletries and cosmetics namely Big Green Smile for natural ingredients based and environmentally friendly shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, washing up liquid and so on. Most can be bought in huge 2-25 litre bottles which last us a very long time.

Another tried and tested supplier is the wholefoods distributor Naturally Good Food. They stock a great range and I regularly put in an order for 25kg sacks of organic and fair trade sugar, bread flour, and cereals such as oats, barley flakes, seeds and dried fruit such as raisins, apricots and so on which offer a huge cost saving over the prices for smaller packets in the baking sections of large supermarkets. I buy a massive load of raisins and then use them in tiny lidded tubs for our kids packed lunches and for baking.

I set myself a budget of £500 per year for the things I buy from these suppliers but place orders from Approved Food once every three months. Many of the things I buy last a year so when the next quarter rolls round I simply stock up on other things from that supplier instead.

This year I aim to grow and preserve some of my own home grown fruit and vegetables which has not been possible in previous years due to our transient constantly moving house lifestyle. Now we have a place we plan to stay in we can let the plants we have gathered in pots and moved with us finally spread their roots and grow!

The bulk foods I buy are mainly kept in large jars, lidded storage crates or metal bins. I need to get better at keeping an inventory of what we have got and what we need to use up as is coming to the end of its shelf life.

What bulk food suppliers do you use? How often do you order from them and how do you organise your spending and storing of the bulk products?

Becoming Organised and Creating Security at Home

I got Sharon Astyk’s new book “Making Home: Adapting Our Homes and Our Lives to Settle in Place” this week for Christmas and I’m only a small way into it but already it has reinvigorated my thinking about the future and how we have a chance now to prepare and practice living a lower carbon existence before the realities are forced upon us.

Here is a portion of a reviewer of the book:
Making Home covers a wide range of skills that we’ll all want to have if and when things get a little rougher around the edges. Unlike most TEOTWAWKI books (The End Of The World As We Know It – a common survivalist/prepper phrase), Sharon takes a much more nuanced approach to decline, and talks as much about a four day power outage from an ice storm or a hurricane than total economic and government collapse. She covers urban, suburban and rural living, though her own experience is rural so that gets the most play. And instead of talking entirely about “beans, bullets and band-aids” she covers topics that no one else has thought much about: keeping your family together; preparing yourself for the brother-in-law who was recently made homeless; connecting with your neighbors, no matter what their political beliefs; and caring for the elderly or infirm. Astyk has a 12 year old son with severe autism, and also cared for her grandparents in their final years, inviting them into their home. Her advice on humbly making do where you are, with what you have, makes this book a valued resource. 

I love Sharon’s upbeat style of writing and how, like me, she’s just part of an ordinary family trying to do her bit to slow down man made climate change and get her young family ready for the coming decades of global overpopulation, resource depletion, pollution, economic recession, interrupted supply chains and chaos. I also follow her blog so consider myself a fan and am influenced by her wisdom and experiences.

Although our family have been thinking ahead for some time now, the fact that we have made so many house moves in such a short space of time means that we are far from being as organised as we would like to be for various unforeseen or predictable outages in supply. Our tools are in a terrible state having been placed in a garage with a very leaky roof, we live in a modern house with no vegetable growing areas and we do not yet know any of our neighbours. Continue reading Becoming Organised and Creating Security at Home

Earning Income from Home

For ages it has been a hope of mine to resume earning income to contribute to the household. For many years I was the main breadwinner but when we decided to leave London I left my career without so much as a backward glance.

Our youngest started at the village school with her older siblings in September so I began to explore ideas for generating a small amount of income from home. I have for years admired people who manage a portfolio of income generating activities which mean that life is not hum-drum and they also spread the risk if any of the income streams should disappear.

My first business idea had already been put in place as earlier in the year I had completed my registration with OFSTED as a childminder (Chickadees Childminding) and initially had a sweet couple of tiny sisters as my part-time charges. I loved being with them here in my house and I also noted how I became a more attentive parent to my own children when I had the paying guests in our house as would ensure there were fun craft activities or would come out into the garden to play with them instead of the usual letting them fend for themselves for entertainment.

Sadly, having spent a huge sum on getting the garden pond fenced off, the driveway securely gated and replaced a car with an 8-seater camper van so I could take on more children, the original family I was childminding for suddenly moved away with no warning and I have had no further enquiries from potential families. I have advertised a fair amount and networked in the local vicinity with other childminders so I remain hopeful but in the meantime the time off has given me space to explore a couple of other ventures.

 

 

 

 

Cook Club - Cooking Courses and Parties for Children:

I have made inroads into starting a Children’s Cooking School called The Cook Club. I have amassed the basic kitchen equipment necessary for up to 12 children to use (mixing bowls, spatulas, graters etc) and have found that the local town hall has a catering grade kitchen which can be hired so I can run tots cooking classes during school term time for local parents and childminders to come to. I have never met a child who doesn’t like cooking but have met plenty of parents who don’t have the time or patience to let their little ones loose in the kitchen. I’m working on a series of menus which will enable the kids to gain basic skills and take home some tasty treats.

When I am able to I shall begin to offer kids cooking parties in their own homes when I bring all the ingredients so the party goers enjoy cooking their party feast and then sit down to eat together. I also hope to run ‘kitchen survival’ courses for teens who may be leaving home. At the moment I’m constrained by Bealers’ work schedule as he is away from home frequently but sporadically so cannot plan to host parties/courses outside of school time as need to look after my own children.


Messy No More: A Decluttering and Organisational Service

Messy No More has come about after meeting a woman at this year’s Permaculture Convergence who runs her own decluttering and organisation service. As soon as she said what she did I exclaimed that I had wanted to do something similar myself as love getting things organised and sorted for people.

Before we left London my home was in a dreadful muddle and I was always very disorganised. Now, having set myself the challenge of ‘Becoming Domestic’ and ready a great many books on basic organisational skills, I take huge pride in the fact that I have mastered so many organisational skills and run a house where most often things that the people need are found in the place they belong. People very often say to me ‘You are so organised’ which makes me feel brilliant because it is something I work really hard at.

My ability to pack up a large house and unpack it really quickly as many times as we have is testament to my organisational skills but we do not live in a gleaming pristine show home style house. Our home is a working home filled with useful things, thousands of books, cooking equipment, fabric to make things from, large pantry stores, a workshop full of tools and so on. Since we moved here I have been working through the contents systematically day-by-day in order to get it from being the place we have just moved to to being a place where there is nothing we do not need taking up unnecessary storage. My Messy No More decluttering and organisational skills can be hired in by busy people who have realised that paperwork and belongings have not been managed for a while and it is getting harder to find things, by bereaved families who need a hand sorting out the belongings of a deceased estate, people who are downshifting and want to reduce the number of things they have or people who have accumulated much through hoarding tendencies and want a simpler existence.

I will visit the home or office with my basic tools (rubber gloves, boxes, bags) and work as a partner to the client on an area which doesn’t feel too overwhelming. We will form a plan and work to the plan. The entire job may take just one session or many sessions over many months.

I’ve yet to start earning an income from any of these projects so in the meantime I am going to continue to get our house and garden in order, to sell off surplus items on eBay, to manage our household budgets better, to save money where possible and to keep an open mind about further future income streams (selling a surplus of produce and being to be able to run permaculture courses).

 

Permaculture PrinciplesShropshire Permaculture:
Not a business venture at all but an opportunity to get involved locally with people with a permaculture background. A message came round to members that the person co-ordinating the group’s website was struggling to find the time to manage it and hoped to find someone else who could take on a caretaker role.

Thankfully with Bealers’ tremendous IT skills we have been able to set up a new website for people in Shropshire using permaculture projects to link up together, advertise events and share knowledge.

 

How to Simplify Christmas

Rag Wreath
My friend Vanessa hosted a wonderful Midwinter gathering last night and I’m writing this on a high after the heady mix of lots of laughter, meeting new lovely people, plenty of interesting impassioned chats with friends, gorgeous homemade foodie nibbles and the right amount of gin and tonic.

My poor beloved husband was too sick with a terrible fever to come with me and our good friend was unable to get to us due to the devastation horrendous flooding has caused to transport so as I drove over to the party I had a bit of quiet time to contemplate the season and what it means to me, to my family, to others, to our ancestors and to our descendants who will undoubtedly live in a fossil fuel depleted world with climate chaos due to the rise in temperatures burning so much of the world’s reserves.

When I got to the do, my friend and permaculture tutor Steve Jones (from Sector 39) and I thrashed out many a weighty subject over the mulled wine  and we touched upon the fact that Christmas has transmuted into a religion based upon consumer spending where Santa Claus is now the god so many worship with plenty of iconic representations of Him displayed around this time of year. The simple ancient pleasures of celebration during the deepest days of winter have definitely morphed into a frenzied and slightly sinister splashing of cash spurred on by corporations’ advertisements for months before the winter holidays.

This is traditionally a hard time of year in the Northern hemisphere. Even in 2012 with our modern fossil fueled conveniences of fast warm cars, central heating, modern medical systems, well stocked supermarkets and endless entertainment choices. The weather is still cold, wet and dark, there is a lot of illness around and our natural tendencies are toward hunkering, semi-hibernation, grouping by the fireside and getting through the dark weeks and simply surviving to see the coming spring.

Our ancestors would have surely come together during the shortest days of the year to share resources such as freshly slaughtered animals and vegetables partly because they would not have not had storage facilities to preserve such large amounts of fresh meat but also would not have been able to keep animals through the winter due to lack of food for them. Families living near to each other would have shared fuel resources by gathering together by the fireside of one home fire to cook and warm and would have sung ancient traditional songs with one another (many of which we still sing today but with changed lyrics to reflect Christianity). Beautiful greenery would have brought in to pretty up the dark houses  and the ancient tradition of adorning trees with small sacrificial offerings to deities continued through the centuries until we have our modern blend of all of these and several more Christmas traditions.

Like many families, in our house the lion’s share of any preparations for the winter holidays falls to me the matriarch, me in this case. Continue reading How to Simplify Christmas

Gas Fracking in the UK Why Is It So Bad?

I heard on the BBC news yesterday that hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ for shale gas was to resume in the UK.

It was frightening to hear because having watched the excellent and incredible documentary ‘Gasland’ by Josh Fox I know that pumping millions of gallons of water mixed with highly toxic chemicals deep underground to break up rocks to release gas is a sure way to pollute water systems and render them unfit for human consumption.

It angered me hugely that the BBC reporting was so very obviously biased towards making us the radio listening population believe gas fracking is a Good Thing. It was stated ‘Gas prices are set to rise by hundreds of pounds each year unless the government gives the go ahead for fracking to resume’.

The report glossed over the fact that the processes are so damaging to the environment that it actually causes earthquakes. The BBC report failed to mention where the many millions of gallons of water would come from, what chemicals are used and how in the United States so many people living near to hideously ugly fracking sites are suffering from incurable brain tumours and other agonising conditions due to water so very contaminated that it actually has a meltable plastic film on it when in a bath tub or can be set alight as it comes out of normal people’s taps in their kitchen.

I do not feel like I have given my consent for this to be done in my country. I feel violated and powerless. I posted on Facebook my horror at the situation and some friends sent me links to petitions which are gaining momentum to try to stop this from happening. I feel a need to spread the word and to actively shout that this is a desperate, peak fossil fuel decision which needs to be reversed.

Here are some useful links:

The Gasland film trailer – a must see

Frack Off: UK Anti Fracking Action Groups website

Fracking Hell: The Untold Story
At only 18 minutes in length, Fracking Hell is a great, short introduction to fracking. Watch it then share it with your friends: there’s still a huge amount of work to be done to raise awareness of the issue – there are still too many people in this country who don’t know what fracking is and what will happen if we don’t stop it.

 

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