Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Spring-time frogs

Its pretty grey here at the moment with lots and lots of rain but the frogs must know that its spring. Last week we could hear them croaking outside the window and now I have noticed that we have frogspawn in our little pond.

This is our very tiny pond. Its a plastic bucket about two feet in diameter sunk into the ground. I don't know how the frogs found it as there are no streams or anything near us but every spring for the last six or seven years we have got frogspawn.

The boys are understandably less excited about frogspawn than they used to be but I will always love watching the changing seasons.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Time to Reflect

The path to living a more simple life can seem sometimes to be very slow and winding. The steps along the way are often very small changes to the way we live and each one may not seem to be very significant on its own. I find this can leave me feeling overwhelmed by the things I think need to be done and I forget how far I've come.
This happened to me on Saturday. We travelled to a "designer outlet" for eldest teenager to find some new clothes. It took us 45 mins to get there along the motorway, we parked in a huge car park and walked into the mall. It was a very sterile environment, very clean and bright and probably very nice if you like shopping, which I don't. After a very brief look round, I found a cafe and decided to sit and people watch while waiting for the rest of the family.
I thought about the shopping experience and how long places like this will be able to exist. I imagine that nearly everyone who visits comes by car often travelling (like us) considerable distances so a lot of energy is used just getting there. The amount of consuming going on was amazing, although we were there just after opening time nearly everyone I saw carried at least one carrier bag. I started to feel guilty that we were there at all - I mean if nobody went to these places they wouldn't exist would they? so me being there was contributing to their existence. The whole trip didn't fit into my idea of leading a simpler life at all.
Today we spent the day at home. I walked to the shop in the village for the Sunday paper. We didn't go anywhere and so didn't use the car. I baked bread for lunch and picked salad from the garden. I read the paper and spent time in the garden. Our evening meal contained vegetables I had grown at my allotment and for pudding we had blackcurrant fool made from our own blackcurrants which I had bottled last summer.
Having a relaxing day I realised that there are lots of things I do now that have become habits and that I don't think of being particularly green or eco-friendly, they are just the way I live my life. When I first made changes, low energy light bulbs, doing washing at 40C, taking bags with me when I go shopping, making bread, growing some fruit and vegetables, not replacing the dishwasher, buying a small car, etc etc I was very aware of the changes as I made them. Now I no longer think about them they have become second nature. Now and again though I think it is worth reflecting on how far we have come rather than beating ourselves up about what we are not doing.
I had to visit the dentist last week for two fillings in my wisdom teeth (not nice) and afterwards my dentist said that my face would feel numb for two or three hours and to " be gentle on yourself for a while". I think that it is a good piece of advice in many situations. Although we may be understanding towards others we often don't treat ourselves as kindly. So, having looked back and thought about how far I have come I intend to remember that living simply is a journey and that from time to time I might take a bit of a detour but if I do I hope I will have patience with myself as I get back on track.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

A Perfect Spring Day

We have had a perfect spring day with blue skies and warm sunshine all day. The sort of day that makes even me think about spring cleaning!

This morning I did the usual housework and then cleared out some of the boys outgrown clothes etc. I ended up with one bag for the charity shop, I am finding that decluttering is going very slowly but I am making progress.

This afternoon I decluttered the garden, cutting back the autumn raspberries and pruning the winter jasmine. I love pruning, I think its something about establishing order, so I had a very enjoyable afternoon. I even had time to sit in the sun with a cup of tea before picking up from school.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

A mini-holiday

We decided to round off the half-term holiday with a couple of days away. On Friday morning we drove down to the south-west and stayed in the Youth Hostel in Exeter, Devon.

I came to Youth Hostelling late, never venturing into one until well past youth but over the last few years we have found them a very good way to get away relatively inexpensively. I've never used them outside the UK but here you can all stay in a family room as long as the youngest member of the family group is under 18. Its also a relatively green way of staying away as you take your own towels and toiletries and the only bedlinen that needs to be washed after your visit is the sheet sleeping bag. Also the occupancy rate seems to be high, this weekend it was full, so thats a lot of people sharing facilities - lounge, self-catering kitchen etc.

As you might expect in February, the weather wasn't perfect but we managed to dodge the showers.

On Friday we enjoyed an out of season walk along the beach at Exmouth.

On Saturday we drove up to Dartmoor and scrambled over a couple of Tors (granite outcrops on the moor).

Then today we explored the town of Topsham which is on the Exe estuary on the outskirts of Exeter. In the past it had dutch trading links and these houses were built at around that time and are still known as the Dutch Houses.

We'll all be back to the normal school/work routine tomorrow but I'm sure the weekend did us good.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

A Valentines Day........Hellibore

So its not a traditional red rose, but

-it hasn't been flown in thousands of miles from Kenya
-it hasn't been grown in fossil fuel heated greenhouses in the Netherlands
-it hasn't been drenched in pesticides

It self -seeded about three yards from my front door.

You don't always have to buy something beautiful, nature might just have provided it for you.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Plot to plate - Leek and Potato Soup

Its definitely the time of year for soup here at the moment. I have leeks growing on my allotment and leek and potato soup is one of my favourites.

First grow leeks!
Then dig up leeks.

For four mugs of soup I use 3 or 4 leeks, 2 medium potatoes and vegetable stock.

Slice the leeks finely. Peel the potatoes and cut into small cubes (half-inch). Place in saucepan, add enough stock to cover, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 30 mins. I then process the soup to give a creamy consistently adding more stock (or milk) if necessary.

Top with black pepper and serve.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Homemade Talc

This isn't strictly talc since talc is finely ground soft rock with added perfume. A while ago I looked at the ingredient list on a carton of organic body powder. The main ingredient was rice starch and then there were a number of plant extracts. I decided to make my own based on rice flour together with sage and lavender, both of which are said to have antiseptic properties. The experiment wasn't a resounding success as the rice flour was wholemeal and resulted in a rather granular 'talc'.

This week I tried again using organic tapioca flour which is much finer and I am very pleased with the result.
So, the ingredients were tapioca flour, dried sage leaves and dried lavender flours. I dried the sage and lavender last summer by hanging them up in the garden shed and then stored them in the airing cupboard to make sure they stayed dry.

Using my coffee grinder I ground approximately equal amounts of sage and lavender until it reached a fine powder. It looks a very dark grey colour at this stage. To mix it with the tapioca flour I put it in a jam jar and added about half a jar of flour (you can get an idea of the proportions from the photo) and turned the jar until it was thoroughly mixed.

The resulting powder which has a great lavender smell can be used to refill an old talc container and you have organic talc for just a few pence.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Winter Blues?

I'm feeling a bit bogged down at the moment.

At home, I seem to be racing around chasing my tail just keeping up with the routine tasks around the house. It seems to be all I can do to bake and cook faster than the food gets eaten, do laundry faster than the clothes get worn and as for keeping the house tidy - well you don't want to know!

I also feel overwhelmed by the bigger picture -environmentally, ecologically, state of the planet etc etc. There seem to have been so many reports lately stating how serious global warming is and how important it is to start making changes now yet governments are still planning airport expansion programmes, people are still flying, buying things that aren't neccesary and eating food that comes from the other side of the world! I don't get it. Why isn't anybody listening? What is so difficult to understand? If I work hard to cut my electricity usuage, does it make any difference, really, when if I look up I can see the planes from Heathrow flying overhead, one after another, the whole day long.

Its half-term next week so that will be a change of routine and after that it will be nearly spring and I hope to feel more cheerful!

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Energy use.

Just over a year ago I watched a television program about reducing energy usage at home. The program challenged a family with a house full of electrical appliances to live within the UK average for electricity and gas consumption and also to drive the average mileage for a week. I can't now remember the figure for the gas or the mileage but the electricity figure stuck in my brain - we should aim for less than 10kWh/day.

As I sat watching the program I remember thinking that we must be under the average, all our light bulbs were low energy ones and all our clothes were line dried, I was sure we were doing OK. We use gas for heating and hot water so our electricity is just for lighting ,cooking and electrical appliances.

I noted our readings for the month of January 2006 ....I was very wrong we used way more than average at 444kWh instead of 310kWh. Of course I made excuses for myself, we cook by electricity while a lot of people would be using gas, it was one of the darkest months of the year, there were four of us so we used several rooms at once etc etc. but I was determined to bring the figure down. Each month last year I noted the gas and electricity readings at the end of the month.

I have just compared the figures for the month of January with last years

January 2006 Electricity 444kWh
January 2007 Electricity 291 kWh

I am very pleased with the improvement. Changes we made in 2006 included
- we had to replace our fridge freezer during the year and although it we replaced with a very similar model I expect that it might be more efficient.
- we now turn everything off at the wall, previously the oven and video were left on so that the clock was still showing, not using much power but not necessary.
- we turned off our printer which we kept on as it was also our fax machine, we get faxes so rarely now that it hasn't been a problem.
- as much as possible I try to use the oven for a couple of things at the same time - timing bread baking or biscuit making to coincide with cooking the meal
- doing the majority of our washing at 40C and using the short wash option even when washing a full load. I was a bit dubious about this at first but the washing still seems to be clean. I have noticed that the combination of low temperature washing and no bleach soap powder does tend to lead to a stale smell in the machine but washing a load at 60C every one to two weeks seems to keep this at bay.

I was surprised that these changes made such a large difference but I suppose all the little things add up.

At the end of 2006 I had brought our daily electricity use for the complete year down to an average of 9.72kWh per day so I did just beat the UK average but I hope the figure will be even lower this coming year - I like a challenge.

Our gas usage ( heating and hot water) is also down this year from 230 units in January 2006 to 160 units in January 2007. I don't think I can take full credit for this though, we have increased our loft insulation and now tke showers more than baths but I think it must be mainly down to the very mild weather.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Five Minutes of Electrical Rest for the Planet

My husband heard about this at work today.
An organisation called The Alliance for the Planet called for everybody to create 5 minutes of electrical rest for the planet at the same time throughout the world. The purpose was to show political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate. February 1st was chosen as the day when a new UN report on global climate change was brought out in Paris. The times were 1.55-2.00pm in New York, 6.55-7.00pm in UK etc.
6.55pm happens to be just about the time we finish eating so we made sure that everything in the house was switched off (actually we realised afterwards that we forgot the fridge/freezer) and sat at the table by candlelight for five minutes. I have no idea how many people took part or whether anyone will take any notice but it was a peaceful five minutes.