Finding happiness

What makes you  happy? Buying a new pair of shoes? Going to a restaurant? Walking the dog? Spending the day with friends?

And then how long does that happiness last? Will the shoes bring you happiness for longer than the transient experience of time spent with friends? Well apparently not. According to recent research (Gilovich & Kumar, 2015), the problem with physical objects is that you get used to them. After a while, your shoes become commonplace (however expensive they were) so you don’t continue to derive happiness from them and you have to go out and buy more stuff to top up your happiness. Of course if you didn’t own a pair of shoes in the first place, being able to buy some will increase your happiness, but once your needs are fulfilled the situation changes.

Experiences make you happy

It’s what you do not what you own

A day spent with friends is rather different – although you don’t end up with a physical object at the end of it, you do end up being a different person – a person with memories, shared experiences and stories to tell. Because we are the sum of all our experiences, happy days add to us, to our whole being. And, interestingly, the actual experience does not necessarily have to have been good for it to add to our happiness in the log run. Shared adversity, in retrospect, can be seen in a very positive light and can bring you so much closer to the people with whom you experienced it. One of my most stressful holidays is now regarded with great affection by those of us who were there – it makes us laugh to talk about some of the situations we found ourselves in, we enjoy reminiscing, looking at the photographs and laughing again at some of the jokes we shared. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but overall, it has turned out to be an experience that makes me happy.

So, next time you receive a bonus from work or have a little bit of money that you want to use for a treat, go and do something that will create memories… they will be with you and a part of you and make you smile long after your Jimmy Choos have been relegated to the back of the cupboard.

How does this sextant work?

Shared experiences make us who we are

Gilovich, T., & Kumar, A. (2015). We’ll always have Paris: The Hedonic Payoff from Experiential and Material Investments. In M.P. Zanna and J.M. Olson (Eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 51, (pps. 147-187), AESP, UK: Academic Press.

Happy Birthday – Three Today!

fizz

Fizz and kitchen chaos!

I’ve just discovered that this is my third blogiversary… if I’d realised I would have made a cake. Sadly I’ve got no one to share a cake with as Mr Snail has just driven off into the drizzle for his latest week working away in England. Actually, we did open a bottle of fizz last night, for no other reason than because we felt like a celebration, so perhaps we had a premonition. Mr Snail even photographed it on his tablet (hence the poor quality or the picture). We enjoyed it with local smoked trout, potato wedges tossed in paprika and a green salad partially out of the garden, accompanied by homemade mayonnaise – a delicious and very simple meal mostly made with very local ingredients.

Over the past three years I have made some lovely friends here in blogland. I’ve been sad to see bloggers disappear, and delighted when they sometimes return. I’ve written over 500 posts (probably a couple of novels-worth) and chalked up more than 6000 comments! My word, we really do have a dialogue.

Some of the highlights of my time writing this blog have been through different sorts of contact – Skyping with Kate, letters from Karen, seeds from Patrick, swapping a picture for a dragon (he’s on his way) with Pauline, being gifted snowflake bunting from Dani, antique crochet from Kerry and a sketchbook from Anne… to name but a few. I’ve also enjoyed sending gifts of fabric and handmade items, although I seem to have rather lost track of exactly what has gone where!

Of course, the big project that many of you contributed to was my masterpiece… I’m snuggled into it as I write (yes, that’s British spring weather for you). In fact, I’m hoping to have some little gifts to share with those of you who sent a square (or two) very soon… I won’t tell you what yet, but if I don’t have your address, I may be in touch in the next week or so…

Anyway, I really just wanted to say thank you for reading and making this blog such a lovely place to spend my time. And here’s to many more years

CHEERS!

People time

I love sharing food… and yesterday we had a marvellous get-together that resulted in this lovely ‘pot luck’ spread:

A fine spread

A fine spread

We had an abundance of cheese (including my homemade ricotta and curds), lots of fresh bread and wonderful cooked dishes… quiche, vegetable bake, tortilla…. all delicious and shared with lovely people. Three years ago I co-taught a full permaculture design course here in west Wales, and yesterday about 2/3 of the original participants met up for lunch. Some people I haven’t seen for three years and some I bump into occasionally, but what a great time we had, all lubricated with masses or tea and coffee and accompanied by two dogs.

And despite having not been together as a group since 2012, everyone found lots to chat about. The Masterpiece also made an appearance (by special request) and was much admired (it wasn’t even an idea three years ago, and I was only just registering to do my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, which inspired it).

Even the dogs admired the Masterpiece

Even the dogs admired the Masterpiece

You don’t need to meet up with true friends often, but it is really important to take the opportunity to see them when you get the chance. Here’s to many more shared meals and social gatherings… and outings for the Masterpiece!

 

Rays of sunshine

This week has been very grey. Despite temperatures around 17ºC, we’ve hardly seen the sun. That combined with the hour changing and thus it being dark so early in the evenings has made me rather gloomy. It’s great, therefore, that I have such lovely friends to bring some metaphorical sunshine into my life.

Beauty from New Zealand

Beauty from New Zealand

First, I received the first contribution to the ‘lap blanket of late-comers‘. All the way from New Zealand (my most distant square ever) from Mrs P, the Contented Crafter, came this lovely square. And not just a square, but some of her beautiful cards… which I think I’m going to put in a frame… possibly with a crochet border. If you like her cards (and really my photo does not do them justice), do check out her etsy shop.

An abundance of friendship!

An abundance of friendship!

Now that was something to make me smile straight away, but on the same morning I also received a parcel of knitted squares from a dear friend in Yorkshire. These are squares that she had intended to make into a blanket for herself, but she’s got distracted by quilting and decided to contribute them to the friendship blankets that we are making to support Denmark Farm, the conservation charity I am a trustee for. I may be naughty and divert one of these squares (and perhaps one of the ones below) to my lap blanket, even though this will mean that Nia has contributed to both that and the Masterpiece.

And another lot

And another lot

But that was not the end. Yesterday I went to my regular learning guild meeting and was presented with yet more squares for the Denmark Farm friendship blankets. Again, another friend who was planning to make use of these squares for herself, but decided that she had enough projects and that we could give them a better home. In fact Ann has made the most wonderful bedspread out of squares in some of those rich colours that you can see… I must get a photograph of it sometime, I’m sure you’d be impressed. The squares were not her only gift, though. She also presented me with something for the chickens. Originally grown for popping, this colourful corn just didn’t want to cooperate, so it has been consigned to being chicken feed. I tried it out on the girls this morning and they weren’t sure whilst it was in the tin, but soon tucked in once I’d scattered some on the ground:

So, even though the sun hardly showed its face this week, there were many bright moments. Many thanks to everyone who acted as a sunbeam!

PS You may notice that Esme is looking rather the worse for wear… on Monday about half her feathers fell out, but the reason is now clear… she had a whole batch of new ones just ready to burst forth! I have never understood why chickens moult in the autumn, but this year she’s certainly not getting chilled!

Circle of friends

Received this morning!

Received this morning!

My masterpiece is reminding me of the variety of good friends I have. Two squares arrived today – one from Mrs Robinson, who has been my friend since 1985 and one from Snuffkin, who I first met face-to-face less than a year ago. Both squares had lovely pieces of writing to go with them too. So far, all the squares are from the UK, but I’m very excited that some will be coming from overseas… it just goes to show how the internet really does turn us into one big community.

My most recent creations... and one WIP

My most recent creations… and one WIP

One of the nicest things about this project  is that, unlike interaction via the internet, I have something tangible. I am able to touch something that my friend touched – that they worked to create. When I hold one of the squares in my hand, I feel a physical connection to the person who made it. I particularly like the fact that, the yarn is linked to the maker too – left over form another project or, like Snuffkin’s cream-coloured square, created from the wool of sheep nurtured by the person who sent it… that’s just magic! I also like the personal touches – a little patch of darning, or the use of my favourite colour (purple).

So, a big thank-you to all of you who have decided to contribute… no rush, I’m planning to construct the blanket in April. And if you want to make your own blogging blanket, I’d be happy to reciprocate. This is craftivism in action – bringing us together as a community through creativity. And if you don’t knit or crochet, what about sharing seeds, or fabric, or books as well as words?

A time and a place

Brooklyn Blackout Cake - too fiddly to make every day!

Cake – an important element of lunch on the last Thursday of each month

On the last Thursday every month I go out for lunch… it’s nothing fancy, just meeting up at a friend’s house with a few other folks, sharing  food that each of us has brought. These days I usually take cake – it was generally agreed that these sessions are best with cake – otherwise, we never plan what we are taking along; I think it’s what’s known as a ‘pot-luck’ in the US. We could end up with four pans of soup or three loaves of bread and a jelly, you just never know. In fact, even though there are usually only four of us at most, we generally manage a very acceptable meal.

Anyway, the point is not the food – although that is good – the point is that we take a few hours out of our lives to inspire and encourage each other. We are, in fact, meeting as a ‘learning guild’ – the result of all of us being registered for the diploma in applied permaculture design. However, since we started getting together in 2012, we have got to know each other and become friends. We share our ideas about living more sustainably – through our gardens, families, work and hobbies – and encourage each other to take projects forward. It’s lovely to have like-minded friends to bounce ideas off and who will talk sense to you when you are going a little off the rails.

Similarly, Mr Snail-of-happiness has just gone off to meet with some other people in the area who are doing NaNoWriMo. They are going to meet up every Sunday through November to share their highs and lows of writing nearly 1700 words a day and hopefully give each other encouragement if anyone is finding it hard. Unlike my group, though, they are meeting in a pub! Who knows, perhaps they will continue to support each other once the month is over.

It may seem like an extravagance to take time out of your life to share a meal and chat, but it almost certainly isn’t. I come away from my gatherings feeling enthused and energised… not to mention happy, and that certainly shouldn’t be dismissed as a successful outcome!

More glut busting

Last night we were visited my friends – both old and new – for dinner. My aim was to feed them on produce from the garden, with any additional ingredients sourced locally. It’s such an abundant time of year that this turned out to be relatively easy (until I got to wanting ice cream).

Our main course consisted of:

  • Yum!

    Yum!

    Frittata, which is a sort of vegetable quiche without the pastry. Ours contained eggs, potatoes, courgette and peppers from the garden, plus onion and tomatoes from a local organic farm.

  • Glamorgan sausages, which are a vegetarian dish made from wholemeal breadcrumbs (flour from the local water mill), cheese (Snowdonia Black Bomber – a Welsh Cheddar) and sage (out of the garden) bound together with beaten egg (home-produced) and shallow fried.
  • Cherry tomatoes (from the garden)
  • Lettuce (from the garden)
  • Boiled potatoes (from the garden)
  • Monkey bread (flour from the local water mill, herbs straight out of the garden)
  • Couscous (haven’t found a local source of this yet!) with home grown pepper, coriander, courgette and tomato

For dessert we had:

  • Strawberries (from a local organic farm) and blackberries (picked in the afternoon from a local hedgerow)
  • Meringues (home-produced egg whites, but bought sugar)
  • Whipped cream (bought)
  • Homemade chocolate ice cream (home-produced egg yolks, but all the other ingredients bought)

You may be wondering why I bother to make ice cream at home when we live near The Hive on the Quay – a great source of locally produced honey ice cream. Well, the issue is that being lactose intolerant, I can’t eat it… so I make my own lactose-free ice cream and it helps to use up the egg glut when there is one (like now).

So, there you have it… a diversity of food, with very few miles on the clock… and now I have a few less courgettes to think what to do with too!

Laughing my socks off

I have just returned from a few days in Devon with a small group of people who are all working towards gaining their diplomas in applied permaculture design. It was billed as a ‘support event’, which sounds like a potentially rather dull way to spend a weekend. However, nothing could have been further from the truth… I have not laughed so much for ages.

We laughed until we cried, we laughed until we were incoherent, sometimes we laughed because we were incoherent, we laughed over breakfast, lunch and dinner and late into the night. They say that laughter is the best medicine, and I think it might be addictive.

It sounds like an enjoyable way to spend some time but not very productive. The funny* thing is, though, that I have come back home inspired and with a significant amount of work done on my diploma portfolio. I did some work on my waste of space design, including a base map and an overlay for my year 1 planting along with some notes about this design. However, the most useful part of the weekend in terms of taking my portfolio forward was a discussion about my business plan.

A sock too far - no more knitting for nothing, it's my business

A sock too far – no more knitting for nothing, it’s my business

I want to generate a small income from making things. My original plan was to make and sell my knitted snails and other permaculture teaching tools, but that has rather stalled over the months and my interest has grown in items like the bath puffs and other items with a wider potential market. As a result of all the discussions, I have started to see first, that I don’t at the moment want to concentrate on teaching tools and, second, that I’ve had the wrong attitude to my creations. For example, until now, I have had a tendency to say ‘yes’ when people ask me to make something for them, even when they don’t offer to pay. I am currently knitting two pairs of socks for a friend (total knitting time about 40 hours)… and in exchange they will be very grateful and cook me dinner. It’s not exactly a fair exchange if crafting is to be my business and so it has to stop… it is a sock too far! So, the current project will be finished and handed over, and then the business will commence. I will begin by building up a stock and I will plan to sell that stock at an event… perhaps a Christmas fair.

My very wise friend Snuffkin (who was there over the weekend) has suggested what I say next time someone asks me to make something for them. She wrote to me just this morning:

I’ve just thought of the answer that isn’t ‘no’! It’s ‘yes of course I will, and they’ll be available for you to buy at **** Christmas Fayre so start saving your pennies’ !!!!!!!

Thank you Snuffkin… I can now relax about making things and I can complete my business design, start making my stock and head towards both an event and an etsy shop.

So, next time you’re stuck for a way forward, get together with some people you have something in common with and have a good laugh!

-oOo-

* Yes, the pun was intended… there were lots of those over the weekend too thanks to Corky who has a sort of punning Tourette’s syndrome!

Flower power

There is a scene in the US sitcom Friends where Monica gives the following advice to Phoebe’s boyfriend

do not get her flowers. Okay? Because y’know, she cries when they die, and there’s the whole funeral…

The line gets a big laugh and it’s supposed to show just how cookie Phoebe is but, you know, I’m really on her side in this case. Whilst it may seem strange to most people, the truth is I really dislike cut flowers… the idea of having something gradually decomposing on my mantlepiece isn’t something that appeals to me.

A breadseed poppy flower in my garden

I have told many people over the years about my feelings towards cut flowers and most of them think I’m bonkers… although a few have acknowledged that I do have a point. I prefer to see my flowers growing… perhaps in a pot, but preferably outside in the garden or in a natural place where the bees, butterflies and hoverflies can enjoy them too.

I was brought up not to have flowers in the house because my mother has such severe hayfever. Even the flowers at my sister’s wedding had to be artificial. So, I didn’t grow up expecting to see flowers indoors… just green growing plants. Perhaps this is why I have always been thoughtful about their presence and never really accepted them as a natural feature.

Of course as I got older I began to think about the origin of cut flowers and question their environmental credentials. The point of a cut flower is beauty… for most people they should be perfect – no blemishes or signs of deterioration when they are received. Like any other plant part, once picked decomposition is going to set in quite quickly, so treatment with fungicides and rapid refrigeration are in order… particularly since many flowers travel thousands of miles before they reach the supermarket or florists where they are sold. As John McQuaid says in an article in the magazine of the Smithsonian institute

Selling flowers is, at bottom, an attempt to outwit death

But even prior to their picking and transportation, the flowers need to be perfect – so have to be grown in conditions that prevent attacks by insects and pathogens.

Flowers in the garden – where I like them

A large proportion of cut flowers are grown in Colombia or Kenya – countries with a climate that allows year-round flower production without artificial heat. In terms of carbon  emissions this seems like a good option – the other common source of cut flowers is Holland, where the plants must be grown in heated polytunnels to ensure they are available throughout the year. However, even in tropical countries, cultivation is often in polytunnels in order to control pests and water applications. And, of course, pesticide use is common… having a significant impact on the health of the workers (often women and children) in the facilities (you can’t call them gardens or even farms) where these flowers are produced. Most (but not all) cut flowers are produced by large companies whose primary motivation is profit, not the welfare of either their workers or their customers. War on Want have highlighted the issues associated with the industry and, whilst the situation seems to be improving, in part as a result of customers looking for fairly traded of environmentally responsible bouquets, there are still problems. For example the ‘Fair Trade’ mark tells you nothing about the levels of pesticides, although it does give more assurance that workers are not being ‘exploited’. In my opinion, however, ‘exploitation’ should be considered to include exposure to dangerous chemicals as well as long working hours, limited breaks, child labour and so on.

Even as a purchaser or receiver of cut flowers you may be exposed to unpleasant substances. John McQuaid writing in 2011 noted that

the U.S. Department of Agriculture checks imported flowers for insects, but not for chemical residues

Which makes me wonder what the message really is when you give someone a bunch of flowers – here darling, have some dangerous chemicals and watch these plants slowly dying!

There’s plenty advice on buying flowers, be it from The Ecologist Magazine or the UK Government. You may want to think about worker’s rights, carbon emissions, water resources, pesticide and fertilizer use, supporting developing countries or your local economy, but for me it’s easy – I don’t like cut flowers so I never buy them!

Oh, and I don’t like cut Christmas trees either!

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