I’ve just got back from a weekend away, meeting up with a whole bunch of people involved in permaculture. In the whole of the event, the only pictures I took were these:

Before and after shots of a mend I managed on a poncho belonging to one of the other attendees. Perhaps the metaphor is enough… let’s all try to mend the world one little hole at a time.

Creative Dying

Today I’m delighted to introduce what I think is the first ever guest blog post here on The Snail of Happiness, written by my good friend Katie Shepherd about a project very close to my heart…

I am a palliative care nurse and permaculture designer with a spiritual self deeply rooted in Earth-based seasons and patterns.  Issues relating to death and dying are intrinsic to most aspects of my life.

My experience of being with and working alongside dying people and their families is that the majority of people are pleased and relieved both to have the chance to talk about their fears around death and dying and to be supported through the process of making positive plans for the kind of death they would like.

My own observations of dying people and bereaved relatives are that those who have talked openly and honestly about death and dying – and who have planned for what they would like to happen when the time comes – tend to have a more peaceful, meaningful time at the end of their life.

Obviously, we cannot predict how, when and where we will die. But the likelihood of having the death that we want – which takes into account our needs and wishes and provides the right support for those around us – increases greatly if we make plans for it.

Most people in the UK die in acute hospitals, often having undergone procedures which are unnecessary and are wasteful of resources and human energy. Research consistently tells us that most people would actually prefer to die in their own homes, away from a busy acute medical environment. Such an environment is unnecessary anyway for the vast majority of people as they approach the end of their lives.


all sorts of resources at the click of your mouse

Creative Dying is the name of one of my permaculture designs that has gradually been evolving over the past 4 years. It’s a project about supporting people – at any time of their life – to plan and design the death they would like. Creative Dying is a solutions-focused response to some of the problems relating to how we die in the UK.

The ‘home’ of Creative Dying is a website and I use the permacultuture ethics, Fair Shares, Earth Care and People Care  to set the scene and explain in more detail how the current way we die is often at odds with these ethics

The main topics in Creative Dying are

  • Creative Resources – a frequently updated page with freely available ideas and resources to help people look at creating a plan for their own death.
  • Permaculture Design and Creative Dying – A guided tour through The Design Web, a permaculture design process, and how it can help people create their own plan for the end of their life.
  • Creating Your Own Plan – Additional Support – I offer coaching (either via Skype or in person) and workshops on any aspect of Creative Dying, plus

Creative Dying also has its own FaceBook page and Twitter Account  (@creative_dying). Currently being launched is a blog and Facebook Creative Dying Group – both with the aim of encouraging online discussion about death and dying.

Creative Dying uses permaculture design  at its centre and will appeal to the many people throughout the world already using permaculture to increase resilience and healing in other aspects of their life and work. It is aimed at anyone who would like to explore the creative, positive and unique approaches that we can take to considering the end of our lives and how we die.

Katie Shepherd is a Permaculture Designer and Practitioner

You can find out more about Creative Dying at:

Three Things Thursday: 6 October 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, we are enjoying sunny weather here at the moment. Although the temperatures are distinctly autumnal (7°C when I got up this morning), it’s still lovely to sit in the limery and see blue skies.

Second, anticipation. Mr Snail has gone off to Ludlow today and should be returning home on Monday laden down with cooking apples. I know that in a couple of week’s time I will probably be bemoaning the fact that I’m still processing the things, right now I’m very excited about the prospect of them arriving. Here are a few pictures of past apple seasons…

Third, the return of my monthly lunch-date with some of my permaculture friends. Tomorrow we are planning a blind apple-tasting (I am taking some Ashmead’s Kernel) and a good catch-up since we haven’t got together for several months. This afternoon I have baked gluten-free Parisian gingerbread to take… let’s hope it tastes good – it’s the first time I’ve tried the recipe.


Parisian gingerbread

So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?


Hats off!

The International Permaculture Convergence provided me with the opportunity to have my first ‘real’ stall selling my knitting and crochet. Importantly, I felt that this was likely to be a receptive audience and, indeed, it provided an opportunity to chat to a regular stream of folks interested in my goods as well as the ethics of yarn, plus making some sales meant that I partially funded my attendance at the event.

Because we were under gazebos/tents and the weather wasn’t always kind, the stall had to be set up and taken down each day and ended up being in several different locations over the event and, indeed, not being set up at all on one day. I had most fun on the days I was next to my friend Matt*, who makes amazing things from junk: wood-splitting devices, rocket stoves, revolving fire pits. Here we are doing our stuff: me crocheting and chatting and him surrounded by his usual crowd:

Our corner of the market place (photo: James Taylor)

Our corner of the market place (photo: James Taylor)

It was the stall itself that attracted people, it was certainly the most brightly-coloured in the market place:

I sold lots of hats and fingerless mittens, plus almost all of my bird roosting pouches, but not a single bath puff, despite many discussions about them. The 1940s style turban hats all sold as did both the beanies made of recycled sari silk, so I really need to make some more of those. My old mirror was very popular and it was the only one around, so there was some traffic between my stall and another selling clothing. It was such a sociable thing to do that I spent much more time than I had anticipated on the stall and I had great fun. Plus, I was able to play ‘spot my hats’ throughout the event, as I looked out for people wearing them:

That's one of my hats right there!

That’s one of my hats right there talking to Matt!

And since I got home I’ve already had someone ask to buy an item they saw on the stall but didn’t purchase at the time, plus they’ve ordered four more roosting pouches. So, I’d better get my hook out again… What a success!


*He should have a web site soon

Continental Breakfast

Over the past week I have shared food with people from all over the world. All of us were attending the International Permaculture Convergence in England. Breakfast company, for example, went as follows:

Day 1: Hong Kong
Day 2: India
Day 3: Australia and Germany
Day 4: South Africa
Day 5: England, Australia, Germany
Day 6; South Africa, Hong Kong

At other meals I ate with folks from Malawi, Zimbabwe, New England, California, Pennsylvania, Ireland, Holland, New Zealand, The United Arab Emirates… and I’m sure many other places that I just can’t bring to mind. Away from the dining table I’ve talked to people from so many other places. I’ve heard ordinary people’s voices, not filtered through the media. I’ve talked to someone who described their experience as a soldier in the East German army in Berlin when the wall came down; I’ve heard what residents of Hong Kong think about China; I’ve discussed apartheid with someone who lived through it in South Africa; I heard the news that Tony Abbott had been ousted from a real-live Australian rather than via the BBC… it has been an interesting week.

Almost everything we know about the wider world is filtered through the media and it is, therefore, an eye-opener to hear about events, lives, politics and anything else from a real person with direct experience. It is simultaneously much gentler (no garish media imagery, just a real voice) and much more shocking….

“What happened to you when the wall came down?”

“They just sent us home… but they took our guns off us first.”

I have never before had the opportunity to interact, face-to-face, with so many people from so many countries. If you ever get the chance to attend such an event, I recommend that you seize it with both hands. I think it’s going to take quite some time to mull over everything I have heard and seen.

There was no shortage of people to talk to

There was no shortage of people to talk to

Oh, and I also met up with many old friends and sold lots of hats…. all round an amazing week. Now please excuse me while I go and lie down for a bit…

So long for now

You may have noticed the absence of posts for most of the past week. Apologies, but I have been reading… the first full draft of Mr Snail’s second novel plus three permaculture diploma portfolios. Mr Snail is working through my comments (the benefit/pain of having an editor for a partner) and whilst that happens I am off to the 2015 International Permaculture Convergence. At this event, I will be attending presentations about the three portfolios I have read and celebrating their successful completion (candidates only give their presentations once their portfolios have been passed). So, in advance, congratulations to Katie, Katy and Kerry. In addition, there will be loads of interesting workshops and talks, as well as a ‘marketplace’ where I will be selling my crochet creations.

So, after all the reading, I was packing. Putting my clothes in a suitcase was relatively quick, but packing my craft stall took somewhat longer. First I had to make sure everything was labelled and priced and that I had plenty of business cards printed out

Printing, cutting and punching

Printing, cutting and punching

then I had to finalise display options, and finally I had to work out how to transport everything as efficiently as possible. I did a quick mock-up on the kitchen table

I wanted to make sure I had enough to fill a stall... this is only part of my stock

I wanted to make sure I had enough to fill a stall… this is only part of my stock on the kitchen table

and then packed as much as possible into a suitcase with wheels

A treasure trove of crochet goodies

A treasure trove of crochet goodies

The newly sanded (by Mr Snail) and painted (by me using paint left over from the limery) shelves I’m using are decades old and have been sitting in our loft, unloved, ever since we moved house in 1999, so it’s good to be able to give them a new lease of life. They are a bit of a pain to transport, but cost nothing and look good.

So, wish me luck with sales. I’m not sure whether I will have much time to write over the coming week, but you never know…


The hats for my stall at the International Permaculture Convergence are coming along nicely… they are made of all sorts of ethical yarn: some organic, some frogged from old garments, some from Freecycle, some recycled, some new British wool… you get the picture:

A whole heap of hats in a whole heap of yarns

A whole heap of hats in a whole heap of yarns

However, it struck me that I should make a hat representing the permaculture principles. And so I did:

It’s made entirely from scraps of yarn left over from other projects, apart from the brim which is yarn from a frogged cardigan; and it’s reversible.

In case you are wondering, the twelve principles, as outlined by David Holmgren, are used to help design resilient human systems or objects that are sustainable and kind to the earth. They are as follows, with my hat as an example;

  • Observe and interact: I observed that I had been collecting yarn scraps for the past few years and decided to make creative use of those long enough to tie together. In addition, observation of the hat as I made it allowed me to create the shape without following a pattern.
  • Catch and store energy: Wearing a hat is a good way to stop heat (energy) loss and with its tufts, this hat provides good insulation by trapping a nice layer of insulating air. In addition, the energy embodied in this scrap yarn is being captured because it’s being used rather than discarded.
  • Obtain a yield: A hat where none existed before, plus the satisfaction of creating something from (almost) nothing.
  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: As with anything made without a pattern, this hat ‘evolved’ as I made it – I increased the number of stitches until it seemed to be the right size and decreased to get a nice snug brim. Whatever yarn you are working with, you have to respond to its characteristics.
  • Use and value renewable resources and services: As long as there are people using yarn, there will be left-over scraps; this provides a way to convert them into a useful and unique object.
  • Produce no waste: It’s all too easy to throw away left-over yarn, but this demonstrates that it can be put to good use. There were lots of scraps that were too small to tie together for this project, but those will be used in the future for stuffing. No Yarn was wasted in this hat, because the ends that in other projects get trimmed off have been retained as a feature of the hat.
  • Design from patterns to details: The overall plan (pattern) was to create a hat with yarn scraps. The details came as I tied the pieces together – varying the colours and lengths to create a unique pattern. The plan also involved making the hat reversible, so different details appear according to the side that is exposed to the world.
  • Integrate rather than segregate: It’s a whole mish-mash… integrating colours, textures, fibres.
  • Use small and slow solutions: I’ve been collecting the scraps for several years, so I won’t be able to make another with this gauge of yarn for some time yet, although I’m planning a chunky version because I probably have enough thick scraps to do that. Despite using ‘waste’ yarn, it took a longer time to make than a ‘normal’ hat because so many pieces of yarn had to be tied together.
  • Use and value diversity: I have rarely seen a more diverse hat!
  • Use edges and value the marginal: The end of each piece of yarn is an important feature of the hat – providing decoration and insulation. I think it may also be pretty ‘edgy’ as far as fashion goes!!
  • Creatively use and respond to change: The changes in colour and texture were used to create the ‘look’ of this hat… there will never be another one like it.

So, there you have it, a quick lesson in permaculture and a rather mad hat… It will be for sale at the IPC in September unless I get a better offer before then!


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!


A house of straw

Over the weekend I was back at the amazing Karuna project in Shropshire. I was there to teach an introduction to permaculture course, but there was also a straw bale building workshop going on at the same time, so I had the opportunity to marvel at the construction of a load-bearing straw bale roundhouse. The straw bale course was being run by Bee Rowan of Strawbuild, and during the week participants learned all the techniques by taking part in the build.

I have never encountered a more calm and peaceful building site. So much so, that I think my teaching nearby disturbed them more than their building disturbed us! When I arrived on Friday, the build was in full swing (the course started on the Monday of the same week) and many of the skills had already been taught, so progress was very clear  over the weekend. By the time I left on Sunday evening all the bales were in place and they were getting ready to compress the walls. By now they are working on the roof.

Straw bales have an amazing capacity for insulation and are fire resistant. Once rendered it will be hard to believe that the construction is made of straw and, certainly, no big bad wolf is going to be able to huff and puff and blow it down!

It was also good to see that, after the long planning battle, the local newspaper, The Shropshire Star, featured the project on their front page on Monday and only wrote good things about it.

Next time I visit, I’m looking forward to being invited in for a cup of tea!


Moving on creatively

My diploma portfolio and the masterpiece

My diploma portfolio and the masterpiece

Yesterday I finally packaged up my permaculture diploma portfolio and sent it off to be assessed. It’s taken me 2¼ years (much less time than most people take) and I cannot express how pleased I am to have got it out of my hair for the time being. It had started to feel like it was always lurking in the corner of the room – glaring at me and accusing me of neglect. Not true, of course – I put a great deal of work into producing the 10 designs therein but, as with everything, I always feel I could have done more. Anyway, It’s gone now and I can stop fretting. All being well, I will make my presentation about it at the biennial permaculture convergence in London in September – I have a slot booked and a couple of volunteers to sit on my peer review panel (I need a few more, but I’m not going to tempt fate by making too many arrangements too far in advance).

So, what’s next? Well, I have the masterpiece to finish. This is going to provide the focus of my presentation in September and I still have a fair bit of work to do on it. I have three more squares to arrive (one each from Lizze, Katy and Lorraine… oh and there’s still room for two more if anyone has an urge to contribute a quick one) and then I can finally stitch them all together and do the edging. And after that…? Well, no more studying for a while. I want to focus on creative activities and I have a whole list planned:

I've already started work on my first pattern

I’ve already started work on my first pattern

  • Making bling bags to sell/barter
  • Stocking and opening my etsy shop (finally)
  • Making my Bavarian crochet afghan
  • Crocheting covers for the big cushions on our sofa (Sam has been eating the zips off the existing ones)
  • Making my felt/leather bag that I bartered the materials for
  • Writing up some of my crochet patterns (yes, Narf, I’ve started the one for that square you like so much)
  • Finishing the hoodie I started when the weather was so much colder
  • Working on a tapestry that Has been sitting around untouched for a couple of years
  • Contributing to the community craft projects at Denmark Farm (more on this soon, including details of how you can join in)

Along with the gardening, blogging and cooking, that should keep me busy at home! Oh, and of course I’d better do some paid work too… lots of editing as always and some teaching (next course is an introduction to permaculture at Karuna). Finally, I am hoping to have a bit more time for visiting friends near and far. You never know, I might turn up on your doorstep one of these days!


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