Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
The first book I read from the pile was "Guerrilla Gardening" by David Tracey. It's about how to garden on land that isn't yours. How to beautify those horrid patches of wasteland that attract litter and junkies and illegally-dumped household items. You might throw a seed grenade over a wall, you might tie containers filled with growing salad greens to a chain link fence, or drop a few runner bean seeds at the foot of every utility pole, or even break through the tarmac with a road drill and plant a tree.
I just watched a 20-minute online video called The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard. It's part-animated (by the same people who created The Meatrix) and presented by Annie Leonard (an expert in international sustainability and environmental health issues). The video describes the journey of the stuff we buy, from the extraction of materials to the incineration of garbage. But it puts the people in the picture all the way through, asking "How are people affected by this process?" Not only the people in the developing world whose natural resources the affluent West is pillaging, but also we Westerners. Does this process make us happier or are we enslaved by it as well?
And finally, it presents alternatives to the work/watch TV/shop treadmill, which allow us to have more fun as well be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. It's a great example of the new wave of environmental activism. It's positive, not gloomy. It's entertaining, but fact-based. It makes smart use of the Internet and viral marketing (no-one asked me to write this piece, I just liked the video so much I wanted to share it with you).
I tried to watch it last week but when I realised it was 20 minutes long I just didn't have the time right then. So I saved it to my favourites folder, and one leisurely Sunday morning I got myself a cup of coffee and settled down to watch it. I recommend you do the same. Save the link and watch it when you've got 20 minutes to kill. It's just as entertaining as "I'm Strictly a Celebrity's Big Brother, Joseph" but far more worthwhile.
Go to: The Story of Stuff
(Cartoon below by Climate Cartoons. Click on the panel to view the whole strip.)
Saturday, December 29, 2007
1. I've signed up for a 9-week beekeeping course run by my local beekeeping association. I'm hoping to supplement what I learned on the 2-day intensive course I attended last spring. Maybe I'll even get a honey harvest from my bees, unlike 2007.
2. We now have a full allotment plot. With any luck the weather in 2008 will be warmer and drier than in 2007, and we can raise a fabulous harvest. Ed wants to grow giant pumpkins on our new section of plot.
3. We've discussed going on holiday to Cornwall this summer. We went down there in 1999 to see the solar eclipse and had a wonderful time. We'd like to take Ed's telescope and view the stars without the light pollution we have here. I want to visit the Eden Centre. Can any Bean Sprouts readers recommend other places to visit and things to do in Cornwall?
4. I'd like to learn a new craft. I have books about hand-made paper and hand-made books. That sounds like a lot of fun.
5. I want to add a regular podcast to this blog. It would be a 20ish minute-long MP3 you could download and listen to at your computer or on your iPod. It would be about the same topics I write about - fruit and vegetable growing, beekeeping, poultry, sustainable living etc. And I'd include interviews with interesting and knowledgeable people. I hope to produce one a month, and see if it is popular.
That's it for plans. I have shedloads of vague ideas (I'd like to mill my own wheat and make a loaf of bread absolutely from scratch) and grand ambitions (I'd like to buy or rent a plot of land and keep some livestock. Goats perhaps, or pigs). And I'm sure lots of interesting things will happen in 2008 that aren't planned or foreseen. But for fixed plans, that's my lot.
What are your plans for 2008?
Friday, December 28, 2007
My husband has been making me yogurt, and smoothies from it, for years. During my year of cancer treatment, there were times it was all I could manage.I have a recent problem, though, and hoping someone can help. I recently had some Greek yogurt from a store, and he tried to make a batch of homemade using the Fage. Everything else was the same, but it didn't "yog," as we say. Any suggestions ?I also wonder if there's a strict definition of Greek yogurt. I've read that they strain out the whey, but I've done that with my yogurt, and it doesn't have the same mouth-feel. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of info on the labels, so I'm left wondering about things like "what animal did this milk come from - cow, sheep, goat ?"Any info welcome.
Anonymous - if your yogurt didn't "yog" there are several possible causes which I outline in the article. Maybe your milk was too hot when you added the starter, or maybe it wasn't warm enough, or perhaps you didn't leave it long enough. But if you are an experienced "yogger" it is more likely that your starter culture wasn't live, or active enough, to get your milk going. You said you used Fage - they manufacture Total Greek Yogurt, the most popular Greek yogurt in the UK. I found several answers to your questions from their website. It says:
TOTAL Greek Yoghurt is made from fresh cows’ milk, cream and live active yoghurt culture
So if you used Total yogurt then you can rule out sheeps' milk etc. Do you use full fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk for your home yogurt making? They can all be used, but it makes a lot of difference to the finished product. You might also try adding some cream to your milk to try to replicate the Total mouth-feel. And finally you could play around with the exact amount of straining to get the result you prefer. If you don't strain long enough your yogurt will be rather thinner than if you strained for longer. Strain too long and you're on your way you a sort of cream cheese, which might not be to your taste. I like to strain my yogurt through muslin for around 2 hours.
The website also says:
TOTAL Greek Yoghurt is made with live active cultures.
That means it can be used as a yogurt starter. But still, the starter could have been the cause of your yogging failure if it wasn't fresh enough. I always get the best results with spanking fresh yogurt (read the "best before label", don't just assume that if you bought it from the store yesterday it must be fresh), and I sometimes get failures from using my own yogurt as a starter if I leave it too long between making batches.
As far as I know there is nothing special about the microorganisms in Greek yogurt. It is the process that makes it different from regular yogurt. You can make Greek yogurt using any live yogurt. I can't find anything on the Total website about the particular culture they use.
Good luck, Anonymous, with your quest to make perfect Greek yogurt. I don't know about you, but I always enjoy this kind of journey immensely. The sense of satisfaction when you achieve your goal is indescribable. Please keep in touch and let us know if you learn anything new about yogurt making.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Juices and fat from the roast ham - became pease pudding with the addition of a bag of split peas.
Uneaten turkey, gravy - became two things. 1. two helpings of turkey in gravy (frozen) 2. turkey and caramelised onion flan (frozen)
Uneaten ham - was sliced and frozen in 8oz portions, trimmings were stirred into the pease pudding
Turkey carcase - became turkey soup
Leftover veggies, surplus cream, cheese - became vegetable quiche with cheesey pastry (eaten fresh with reheated leftover roast potatoes and sprouts)
Spare bits of cheesey pastry from the quiche and flan - became cheese straws for kids to nibble on
And there is still some sliced ham, turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing in the fridge for sandwiches (omelettes, stir fries etc.), along with loads of leftover pudding, mincemeat, Christmas cake etc.
Dad has gone up to Sunderland to spend New Year with Steph and our North Eastern relatives. He is under strict instructions to bring back some saveloys and stotty cake to go with the pease pudding. And two old uni friends came for a brief visit which made me very happy. Now they know where we are I hope they'll come again.
What are you making with your Christmas leftovers?
It came from the Centre for Alternative Technology. You tear up paper (I'm sure you could also use card) and soak it with water in a bucket for a few hours. Then you slop it into the brickmaker and press on the levers which squeeze most of the water out. It's sturdily made, and I stood on it for maximum squeeze. It felt very solid. I wasn't at all worried it would bend or break.
The "logs" that you make seem to hold together very well. It's amazing how a soggy mass of papiermache turns into something that's definitely a brick. They do come out somewhat wet though , and need to be dried before burning. I don't know yet how long that takes, but it probably depends on the conditions you store them in. And I don't know how you can be sure when they are dry all the way through.
The leaflet that comes with the machine says that one broadsheet newspaper makes a briquette that burns for about an hour. I haven't tried it yet - my briquettes are still drying. I also don't know how easy they are to set alight in the first place.
One thing I can say is that they're easy to make, although tearing up all that paper can be a bit tedious. I'll probably use my shredder next time I do it, but the family were watching Boxing Day TV and I didn't want to run a noisy device. Making the actual bricks is dead easy and quick. I've made three already, and I've only got through about half of all the Christmas wrapping paper, and I haven't even started on all the cardboard boxes.
I'll let you know when I've tested them out, and tell you how well they burned. It seems like a good thing - a human-powered gadget to turn waste paper and card into home-heating fuel. Maybe one day we'll own half an acre of coppiced woodland, and we'll chop our own wood for heating. But until then recycled briquettes may be a good option.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
I got a big pile of great books which I'll be reviewing as I get through them. The first one I started on after Christmas dinner was "Guerilla Gardening" by David Tracey. Dad gave me one of those devices for making fuel bricks out of waste paper and card, and we already ripped up most of the wrapping paper to make our first brick. There was a solar powered personal radio for listening on the allotment. I'm very excited about a USB microphone I got, because I'd like to add a regular podcast to this blog. Lindsey gave us board games for the family to play together. And Stephanie made hand-painted t-shirts for everyone, and for me a chopping board pyrographed with a green man, based on a photograph of dad. I think that's my favourite present of all, which puts Steph ahead of the game. She gave me my favourite present last year, too.
Monday, December 24, 2007
There's a full moon each month (sometimes there are two), and each month's full moon has its own character. A full moon in December is in the sky a long time, because December nights are the longest of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere). So one of the names of December's full moon is Long Night's Moon. Since tonight's full moon is just two days from the winter solstice, it's about as long as it can possibly be. Other names for this full moon include Winter Moon, Snow Moon, Frost Moon, Oak Moon (appropriate for me) and Moon Before Yule.
Thanks to KerrDeLune of Beyond the Fields We Know for permission to use the image. Like me, she blogs about the cycles of the moon and sun, and the turning of the seasons. She's also a far, far better photographer than I am.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The rules: Link to the person who tagged you and post the rules on your blog. Share 7 random or weird things about yourself. Tag 7 people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
1. I used to work in a residential hospital for people with learning disabilities. If you don't really know what that means I won't be surprised. You might understand better if I used its pre-PC name "lunatic asylum", which is horribly stigmatising for the people who live there, but at least people understand what it means. I was a research assistant in the R&D department there. It was a really good experience and I'm glad I did it, but it convinced me that care in the community is the only humane way forward (shame it's always so desperately underfunded).
2. This New Year's Eve will be the 20th anniversary of my first date with Ed, my husband.
3. I founded the Aberystwyth Student CND Society and was its first Secretary. During the 1990-1991 Gulf War we campaigned actively and organised many petitions, marches, vigils, press events etc. Sadly, the society does not seem to exist anymore.
4. Whilst at Aberystwyth university, the first words of Welsh I learned were "rhyfel" which means "war", "heddwch" which means "peace", and "treth y pen" which means "poll tax". I think that tells you something about how I spent my time at university.
5. I got my first computer in 1981. It was a ZX81 and had 1K of RAM.
6. I've had an email address and access to the internet since 1989, before the World Wide Web was invented.
7. There are huge areas of the Internet that most people don't even know exist. One of my favourites is Usenet, which is the ancestor of web forums. I'm a longstanding resident of the Usenet group uk.rec.sheds
As it's "7 random things" I'm going to choose at random 7 blogs to tag. So I'll tag the last 7 blogs which have referred readers to Bean Sprouts. They are:
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
It's important to check any animals regularly in weather like this. You need to make sure they can get the shelter they need, and that their water is not frozen. I've had to go out with a kettle and melt the chickens' water a couple of times.
They're still laying really well. Last year they went off the lay when the nights fell earlier, and didn't resume laying properly until the spring. But there's been no drop in egg production at all yet, and midwinter is upon us.
But they occasionally lay eggs in strange places - this morning I found one that had been laid outdoors in the run, and had frozen solid overnight.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
It looks great, Beth. And thanks for the list of uses for whey, as well.
But when I sat down last night to eat a pheasant and mallard casserole I made for my dad (who has come to stay with us over Christmas), I just couldn't eat it. It was delicious, but still I couldn't force even one forkful of it into my mouth.
I know exactly why this is. The Garcia effect is the name given to the urge to avoid any novel food which is followed by symptoms of sickness. Most mammals have this instinct, including humans.
It's most infuriating. Perhaps I'll never be able to eat game again, even though I know it's tasty and perfectly harmless. But millions of years of evolution are overriding my modern conscious brain, and telling me "No!"
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
You have to make sure your starter culture is healthy and active to start with. It's a waste of time to dry a weak and inactive starter. I dried my San Francisco starter because I used up all the dried starter I was sent from America, and wanted to keep a store of it.
1. All you have to do is spread out a teaspoonful of sourdough starter onto some kind of paper, such as greaseproof paper or baking paper. I used waxed paper, simply because I had some already. Spread it pretty thinly because it will dry quicker and more evenly that way
2. Once you have a thin even layer of sourdough on a piece of paper, place it in a safe place to dry out. I put mine close to a radiator, out of the way of prodding children.
3. It dried out overnight, crinkling up the paper as it did. You can see it in the photograph on the left.
4. Once it was dry I crumbled it into flakes. You only need a small pinch of these to make a new starter, because the beasts will multiply very quickly once you start feeding them. To reconstitute it, mix a pinch of dried flakes with a couple of tablespoons of cooled boiled water. Leave it for a few hours, then feed it a dessertspoon of strong white bread flour and half a dessertspoon of wholemeal or rye flour. Add a bit more cooled boiled water and stir well, then cover. Feed it this way two or three times a day and you should soon have a healthy active sourdough starter which will make delicious bread.
5. I stored the dried flakes in a plastic bag, clearly labelled. There's no way I'd be able to guess what these beige flakes are in a few months' time - they look like a lab sample of someone's horrible skin condition. I'll try to reconstitute them in a few weeks, just to test that it works. But I have great faith that it will. That's how the starter was sent to me in the first place.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Sourdough Apple Fritters
Peel 2 or 3 or more apples, core them and slice them into rings. Beat together 1 1/2 cups of sourdough starter, 1 egg, some sugar (maybe 2 or 3 tablespoons? - I didn't measure, I just shook it in), a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda. Dip apple rings one at a time into flour then into the batter. Drop a battered apple ring into a saucepan half full of very hot oil. Fry for a minute or two on both sides and serve with vanilla ice cream. You could sprinkle cinnamon sugar on the fritters if you liked. I don't have a very sweet tooth and thought they were sufficiently sweet just as they were.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I marked out the star on the tin disc with a felt tip pen. Then I placed a piece of scrap wood underneath the disc, and punched the holes with a hammer and nail. It only took a few minutes. If you saved a bunch of the discs it wouldn't take long to make a whole heap of them. I think it looks quite effective - not as dorky as some home-made decorations can be. What do you think?
Cartoon by Climate Cartoons. Click on the image to see the whole strip.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
It's basically the same recipe as the potato latkes I blogged about in July:
Grate two pounds of peeled potatoes and soak in cold water for at least a couple of hours. Strain the potatoes and dry them well, for example by wrapping in a tea towel and swinging them round your head. Do this outdoors. And don't blame me if you accidentally let go of a corner and decorate your garden with grated spuds. If you're chicken you could just pat them dry between sheets of kitchen paper. Put the potatoes in a large bowl and add a grated onion and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.
But then instead of making batter from scratch, I took a cup and a half of sourdough starter. I added a beaten egg, a splash of milk and half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. I mixed the spuds with the sourdough batter, then fried dessertspoonsful of the mixture in butter, in a frying pan.
You can serve them as a side dish with roasted stuffed butternut squash, as I planned to do. But apparently they taste better red hot from the pan, stolen from the cook, and eaten with your hands burning your fingers in the process.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Earlier this month I challenged you to calculate your hourly take-home pay. If you know this number, you can convert any purchase into "work-hours". So you can see that the beautiful wool coat you really want costs 30 work-hours, or the lunch at Starbucks that takes twenty minutes to eat will cost you a whole hour at work.
But what if your money is spent before you even earn it? Do your mortgage repayments, loans and credit card repayments eat up your entire paycheck? Maybe this isn't a year-round situation, but you over-extend yourself every Christmas, planning to pay it back in January. Then like the seamen, you spend the first month of every year flogging a dead horse.
It's none of my business. Maybe you like it that way. If you have thought about it and decided that a few days of mid-winter revelry are worth a January of belt-tightening, then that's your informed decision, and that's fine. But perhaps a few people reading this are thinking "No, I don't really enjoy it that much. It's just stressful and expensive. But I feel obliged."
I've sat staring at this post for a long time. I've deleted big parts of it, and then retyped some of it over again. I'm worried it sounds preachy. But honestly, I don't want to tell people how to spend their money. My main point is that no-one should tell you how to spend your money. But that's exactly what adverts do - and lots of people fall into the trap. It's not because they're stupid, it's because the ads are clever. They use sophisticated psychological techniques to make you feel that you won't be happy unless you buy their products. You won't be popular. You won't be attractive. You won't be a good parent. That's strong stuff. And they've bombarded you since your earliest years. They bombard you from all directions. And they bombard your family and friends so that if you try to break free, the people you love will accuse you of those same things they've seen in the ads. It's no joke. It's social engineering on a scale Chairman Mao could only dream of. And it works.
The point I'm trying to make is that you should decide for yourself what Christmas means to you, and you should decide for yourself how you spend your money. You can have a happy and stressless Christmas without spending lots of money. I swear it's true. Wake up. Think on. Opt out.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
We got two colonies of bees from Ally of Ducking for Apples, but they went berserk and attacked all my neighbours, so I had to move them to an apiary a few miles away. We haven't taken any honey from them this year. Due to the weather the bees weren't able to forage as much nectar so their honey stores by the end of the season were low. But our own foraging efforts were pretty good as the weather dried up somewhat in the autumn. We made beer, which exploded, several batches of wine which aren't ready yet, and lots of different types of liqueur.
I became interested in ginger beer, and made a yeast-culture ginger beer plant from scratch. I later learned that real ginger beer is made using an authentic symbiotic culture called ginger beer plant. So I got one of those and now have my own continuous ginger beer production line. I picked wild mushrooms for the first time in my life. I cooked and ate them and didn't die. Which was nice. I haven't had any success identifying other types of mushrooms in my area, though, so I've left them alone. The ginger beer got me interested in other useful microbial cultures, and so I started making sourdough bread using wild yeast rather than packets of dried yeast from the shop. There are other types of useful culture, such as kefir and tibicos, and I'd like to try those in future.
I'll be glad when 2007 is over, just because of the ghastly weather we've had all year. The rain has been heavy again in November and December, and often when I've been out driving I've had to slow right down to go around puddles that cross both lanes of a dual carriageway. There are what look like ponds in the middle of many fields which should be dry, but they have had a standing puddle so long the grass underneath must be dead by now. I know there's no logical reason to imagine that on 1st January 2008, the sun will come out and everything will be different. But psychologically it feels like it might.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
They're giving away 50 Lavera natural skincare kits as competition prizes. If you win, you could keep the kit for yourself or give it away as a present. And if you don't win, there are lots of ideas for gifts at the Friends of the Earth shop.
I know some greenies get hot under the collar about the hundreds of thousands of trees which are pulped every year to create the greetings cards we send. But I can't get agitated about that. Compared to other things we do, sending a letter is a pretty environmentally-benign way to stay in touch with the people we love and spread some goodwill at Christmas time. But if you'd prefer, you can save a tree and send a Friends of the Earth ecard.
A roundup of some blogs I like, or have recently discovered.
I'm always linking to my sister's blog, A Roker Artist, but I never explain what it is. Steph was a prolific and gifted artist when she was younger, but marriage, children, work and housekeeping pushed painting and drawing to the sidelines for many years (why do we women allow that to happen? You can bet Michelangelo never felt he mustn't paint until he had caught up with the vacuuming and laundry). She wants to bring them to the fore again because they are a vital and precious part of who she is, but it's hard to create art in a vacuum so she blogs about her sketches, her works-in-progress and her completed works, as well as her life in general as it impacts on her creativity.
I'm hoping to convince our other sister, Lindsey, to start a blog too. Perhaps she could blog about her music and promote her wonderful new album.
Steph's best friend, Hazel, has recently started her own blog, Living and Mothering in the Chilly Northeast. Hazel blogs about natural parenting and childbirth. She's a qualified NCT breastfeeding counsellor and all round earth mother. I've never met her but I feel I know her because Steph tells me so much about her. Apparently we're kindred spirits, she and I, and it's nice to be able to get to know her through her blog.
Another new blogger about natural living is Mandi at Lettuce Live Naturally. Mandi is still finding her blogging voice, but so far she has published a mixture of long factual articles about irradiated food, dodgy historical medical treatments, and vaccinations, along with some lighter videos such as the one at the top of this post. I'll be keeping my eye on Mandi's blog.
There are a lot of gardening blogs in my blogroll. Petunia's Garden is one of my favourites, and I have recently been enjoying her beautiful photographs of her winter garden. I also enjoy reading Happy Hobby Habit. Not so much photography, this one, but her rant about Christmas shopping made me smile.
Chile Chews is a regular commenter here on Bean Sprouts, and blogs about sustainable living in the desert. One of the things I like about her blog is that her environment is so different from mine here in Cheshire, where it has rained more-or-less continuously throughout 2007. I enjoy reading The Frugal World of Doc, by an Australian handyman, for the same reason.
On the subject of frugal blogs, one of my favourites is Lazy Man and Money (subtitled Making My Money Work So I Don't Have To). It's more about personal finance than tips to save money by making orange nets into pot scrubbers, and as it's American some of the saving and tax advice is not relevant to UK readers. But I enjoy his philosophical articles, such as his cynicism about advertising.
Azura Skye has also been writing about advertising recently. She's following a raw food diet lately and blogging about that. I can't say it appeals to me in the slightest, but it's interesting to follow other people's experiments.
I hope you find time to check out some of these interesting blogs, and maybe leave them a comment to encourage them to keep on blogging. The whole blogging phenomenon is an interesting one - anyone can set up their soap-box and tell the world what's on their mind. Some of these people will attract a large readership. Some will attract a small but dedicated readership. And some will hardly be heard at all. And as blogs link to one another, and quote from one another, ideas spread out like ripples on a pond. I find it exciting, and I'm glad to be a part of it. Please tell me about other great blogs you think I should know about.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Fill the compartments of a paper egg box with tumble-drier fluff. Melt waste wax1 in a double boiler (fill a saucepan with water and bring it to the boil, then place a glass or metal bowl over the top and melt the wax in that, so the wax doesn't get the direct heat from the stove, but only the indirect heat from the boiling water). Pour some wax into each egg compartment and allow to set.
I've tried it and they work just as well as shop-bought firelighters. You only need one to start a fire. Oh, and if you can start a fire without any artificial aids - keep it to yourself. I'm pyro-deficient myself, and usually leave the firelighting to Ed, anyway. There's no call to make me feel more inadequate than I already feel.
1. I used the wax from burnt-out candles, or you could use the wax from cheese if you buy wax-coated cheese.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Saturday, December 08, 2007
I'm really looking forward to it. It always gets me in the Christmas mood.
Friday, December 07, 2007
They're weird-looking things, and it's no surprise that very similar plants have been found in fossils from the Carboniferous period, before flowering plants or grasses evolved. They don't have leaves as such, but spiny segments. They don't have flowers or seeds but reproduce by spores. They're coated with silica, and I've heard that in the past they were used for scouring pots. Don't bother spraying them with weedkiller. It doesn't even penetrate this coating.
I have mixed feeling about horsetails. They're a nuisance, but they have this strange prehistoric beauty to them. There are some gorgeous photomicrographs of horsetails at the Microscopy UK website which illustrate what I mean. Sometimes on gardening shows the presenter will enthuse about "architectural plants". Horsetails could fit that description. They almost look as if they're built rather than something that grows. They remind me of the early computer-generated landscapes in the 1980s, when we were all enthralled by fractals and chaos theory.
Horsetails - weird prehistoric alien silicon-based computer-generated weeds growing in my garden. I think the "cool" factor beats the "nuisance" factor. What do you think?
Thursday, December 06, 2007
1. What did your partner give you?
2. What did you give your partner?
3. What did your parents give you?
4. What did you give them?
5. What did you give your kids?
6. How much did you spend?
I'm not really interested in the answers, I'm interested in whether you found the questions easy or hard. In a recent BBC news story:
...more than half of men have forgotten what their partner got them last year. And women were also forgetful of their gifts, with 43.2% unable to recall what they received from their partners.
Here are a few more questions:
7. What's the best Christmas gift you ever received as a child?
8. What's the best Christmas gift you ever received as an adult?
9. What's the most memorable Christmas gift you've ever given?
I bet those questions were easier to answer. Think about your answers. Can they help you choose better gifts for your loved ones this year?
Here's the last question in the quiz:
10. What do you really want this Christmas? What gift would make this the best Christmas ever?
Does anyone in your family know you want this? Maybe it's something quite inexpensive and simple but if no-one knows about it you're unlikely to find it in your stocking. Maybe it's inexpensive but would be time-consuming to organise. You need to let the person who loves you most know about it well in advance. Maybe it's expensive - but if everyone who usually gives you a gift clubbed together perhaps they could afford it between them, instead of giving you lots of CDs and chocolate that you don't really want. One year everyone gave Ed money instead of gifts on his birthday (which is at the end of November) and at Christmas. It wasn't enough for the 6" astronomical telescope he wanted, but with some money he had saved himself he was able to buy what he really wanted. Now he wouldn't swap his telescope for all the novelty socks and tins of shortbread in the world.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
...I went into the boys' rooms and made lists of last year's gifts (those that were still around), writing down the cost of each and estimating the time each had been played with. Some (jigsaw puzzles and board games) proved to have been good buys. Unfortunately, in other cases, my estimates showed that my husband had worked more hours to pay for a toy than my children had played with it!
I love my kids to little bits. I love to give them gifts and make them happy. And I hate it when I have to tell them "No, I can't play with you/read to you/talk to you right now. I have to work" (I work from home). So it makes no sense to spend all those hours working to buy them gifts which give less pleasure than if I worked less and spent more time just being with them. I'm sure Ed feels the same.
There's another quote I'd like to share with you from an article I found via this week's Festival of Frugality. The author of the quote is describing his feelings about finally buying his dream car, a Mercedes convertible:
The good feeling doesn’t last. We get used to having the Mercedes.
It’s spectacular. It’s better than sex the first week.
It’s better than a meal at a great restaurant the second week.
It’s pretty damn good the third week.
And after that it’s just your car.
(from A Penny Closer)
If you haven't a clue what I'm talking about, if you find that your purchases give you enormous and lasting satisfaction, then I'm happy for you. But if what I've written strikes a chord then remember your hourly pay, and ask yourself before buying something - just how much pleasure is this going to give me? Is it really worth ten hours at work (or whatever)? Or could I spend this money better?
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
It's fun to swap cultures with people and make friends all over the world. Of course, home-made bread and ginger beer is also a nice by-product.
Imagine walking through a warehouse full of TV's, cars, barbecues, software,books, clothes and more, and instead of having a dollar value it was instead magically converted into the hours you would need to work to pay for it. Imagine you make $15 an hour, after tax; some of that must go towards mortgage, insurances, medical expenses and other non-negotiable living expenses, so the hourly rate might be closer to $7.50. If you choose an item valued at $30, then you are going to need to work four hours to pay for it. It is no longer worth $30 - it's worth four hours of your life. Do you really want that item, or would you prefer half a day off to do with as you'd like?
How about you? Have you got shivers down your spine? That's the effect it had on me when I first read it.
I've got more to say about this, but I'll leave it at that for today. December's challenge is to calculate your hourly expendable income. It doesn't have to be to the exact penny. But most of you probably haven't got a clue what the figure will be, so all you need to do is improve on that state of cluelessness. Get a payslip and divide your net pay (take-home pay, after tax) by the number of hours you worked that month. If you know what you paid that month for your mortgage, loans, insurance, bills etc., so much the better. But if the thought of finding all that out makes your head hurt, just half the number you started with, as a quick-and-dirty figure.
Don't forget to vote in the poll in the right-hand sidebar when you've done it.
Monday, December 03, 2007
It was a good visit. I won't see Stephanie again until 2008, which is a shame.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
I'm the spirit of Christmas present! I've made a Christmas gift! 50 votes
I'm the spirit of Christmas past! My home-made gifts were finished ages ago! 7 votes
I'm the spirit of Christmas yet-to-come! I'll buy all my gifts! 10 votes
I'm Ebenezer Scrooge! I don't give Christmas gifts! 11 votes
Thanks to everyone who participated. Doesn't it feel great to have made several Christmas gifts and it's still only the beginning of December? A new challenge for December will be posted soon.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Shareholders meeting in Glastonbury Assembly Rooms on Saturday November 24th voted to keep the Big Green Gathering company in business after the dramatic appearance of a ‘White Knight’ businessman who promised to put new capital into the company.
I said that if they saved it, then I'd attend this year. So that's a date then. See you there.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I have written before about the financial crisis at the Big Green Gathering, Europe's biggest green festival. Green Radio, "a community radio station which broadcasts green politics and lifestyle to summer festivals and to the world at large", has created a short radio article about it. In it, the presenter interviews Brig Oubridge and Roger Smith of The Big Green Gathering, Margaret Robinson of Mendip District Council, and representatives of other festivals affected by the same legislation . You can listen to it using the little doodad - just press play (that's the button with a triangle, dad).
I'm still trying to find out what happened at the AGM on November 24th. There is nothing about it on the BGG website, the Save the BGG Facebook group, or anywhere else I can discover. If anyone knows what happened, please email me.
They're known by dozens of common names, including clivers, goosegrass, stickywilly, Stickyweed, catchweed, and bedstraw (lots of plants are called bedstraw). What did you call them when you were kids? We called them "stickybuds", but we made that up ourselves and I don't know anyone else who calls them that. Maybe that's how they acquired so many names - from children.
You can get some thick patches of cleavers in new or neglected ground, but they're very easy to dig out. You don't even need a spade, you can just pull them out with your bare hands. The roots are very shallow and not extensive. Their big propagational trick is the sticky seeds, which stick to birds' feathers and animals' fur just as easily as dad's jumper, and get everywhere. They'll also be in any consignment of fresh manure you bring to your plot (I'm told horses are very fond of eating cleavers, and I know my chickens love them), and probably in any compost you use as well. Just hoik the seedlings out when you see them. Cleavers are no big deal. Not like couch grass, bindweed or ground elder. Those are the weeds you lose sleep over.
According to http://www.herbalremedies.com/:
The dried or fresh herb is said to have anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, astringent, diaphoretic, stimulant, laxative and diuretic properties.
I've read in several different places that the seeds can be roasted and ground, and used like coffee, but I've never tried it. And The Really Wild Food Guide has two recipes for the leaves (not the stems, though, which are very tough): Spicy Chicken and Goosegrass, and Birch Sap and Cleavers Risotto.
Cleavers get my vote. They're not much trouble in the garden, and they gave me so much mischievous fun as a child. I'd have to say that cleavers have probably enriched my life as much as any vegetable. They're my favourite weed.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
2. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. As a child I watched the TV show that was loosely based upon it, and even then I wanted to be Laura and have her life.
3. Linda Cockburn's Living The Good Life is the true account of an Australian family's year without spending - they gained their electricity from solar panels, their water from rainfall catchment (during a year of severe drought), and their food from the garden and a rather cranky goat. It's an easy and engaging read, and inspiring, too.
4. The Reader's Digest's Food From Your Garden. Now out of print, I've had this book for years. I used to make the recipes from it, but mostly I looked at the drawings of vegetable plots, chicken houses, beehives, and wish I could have all those things. And now I do.
5. Chas Griffin's Scenes From A Smallholding. This is Chas's account of his family's adventures buying a smallholding in Wales and trying to live off the land. Most chapters are laugh-out loud funny, and a few are laugh-till-you-cry funny. Buy it even if you have no interest in self-sufficiency at all. Just buy it because it's so good.
6. Louisa May Alcott's Little Women isn't about growing veg or milking cows, but it has always inspired me. Although she describes clearly the hardship her family experienced, she also tells of the closeness between her sisters and mother, their creative and enthusiastic solutions to their deprivation, and the great love that suffuses the book.
7. Jan McHarry's Reuse, Repair, Recycle always fills me with ideas about how to get the most of out my possessions. "Thrift" is often associated with deprivation, but in fact the opposite is true. If you are thrifty you can get twice as much stuff for half as much money. This book shows you how.
8. Johanna Spyri's Heidi is another childhood favourite that sowed a seed in me. I found the descriptions of Heidi's life in the mountains with Alm-Grandfather and Peter the goat-herd much more apealling than her time in a fine house in the city of Frankfurt. Did I love these children's books I've mentioned because even at that age I already yearned for a simple life? Or do I yearn for a simple life because I loved these books when I was young? Who knows.
9. Craft books. Any and all craft books. My mum had a few of these when I was young, and I used to love looking at them and wishing for the toys and clothes and other things in the photos. I never got the same feeling from mum's home shopping catalogues.
10. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. No, just kidding.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Cartoon from Climate Cartoons. Click to enlarge.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
"It's my new book. It's called The Complete Tightwad Gazette and it's full of tips and advice about how to spend less" I said.
"And you spent money on it? Ha! How silly is that!" she replied, and walked away, shaking her head and cackling.
I have to admit, she's got a point.