Dark skies providing a bit of light relief – who knew?

You know your other half knows you well when he gives you an unexpected Christmas present that you intially open trying to hide your “What the …” frown, but then a week later you realise you have been thinking of it more than most other things. That’s how it was this Christmas – Olly got me a book on stargazing, specifying the stars we would see through 2017.

One of the pleasures of winter up here are the long, very dark nights. That’s rubbish, in all honesty they can be pretty depressing until the stars are revealed in all their excellence. You do have to be prepared to see them, wrapped up from the biting wind or at least tightly hidden in a window with the black out curtain behind you stopping all the light. If you look straight out of our bedroom window you can’t see another house or road light. You can see the pink glow of Perth 10 miles away, a bit to the left and quite far to the right are two other houses. But that’s it out the front of the house. So I climb onto the deep window sill (praying my heavily pregnant weight will be held by the shelf) and tightly pull the curtain behind me. And wow the stars are great, but then I can’t read the book to identify what the stars are. So I open the curtain and upset the dog whose usual bed is just at the bottom of the window. Juggling the book, the curtain, the large belly and everything else is becoming a bit of a farce. He (the dog) looks at me as if I am mad. And to be honest perhaps I am? Because why should I be fascinated by these pricks of light in the sky? They are so far away, so ineffectual on my daily life (unless I believed in astrology). Yes if I was a great deal brighter (excuse the pun) I might understand how black holes, stars, galaxies, space travel etc impacts the way the universe works but to be honest it’s just one thing I have decided to gloss over.

What I am interested in is the fact that the stars have been there for so long and will be there for at least as long as I will be. So in a way they are my constant. If I learn some of their names and where to see them, it’s knowledge that will still be relevant in 5, 10 even 100 years time. How many other things can you say that about now? We all live in such constant change on a macro and micro level. Here in our house it’s all change with my stomach having a life of its own, my 8 year old adding inches to his legs on a weekly basis and I’m not even going to mention the project outside. A moment of consistency is peaceful and welcomed.

Those small lights also give a positive spin to the long dark nights which so many of us struggle with. Beauty in darkness. And finally seeing those three stars (or clusters) of Orion’s belt ties me back with where I first saw them in warm SA as a little thing (because it sits on the astrological equator it is seen from both hemispheres). A connection running through from my childhood, to now, to when I am old.

So if you are encouraged to look up – there’s a great line at the moment from Venus to Mars to the Moon. Such a straight line where you can say with absolute certainty what each of those planetary figures are. And then you can start looking closer at Orion and realise he is actually dancing – just look at those arms! And then beyond him to the constellation of Taurus – this reminds me of Shaka Zulu’s impondo zankomo or “bullhorn” attack formation. I might even get brave enough to bear the cold and find the dragon called Draco, Lyra and Hercules on the Northern horizon. Maybe.


Telling it how it is – the realities of starting (well trying to) a small business

When I first started out blogging, long before starting this business, I had imagined it would be all bells and whistles, and I would easily get into a habit of writing regularly. Well that certainly didn’t happen. It’s really quite difficult to write something just once, never mind often that I am happy to send out into the ether. I know I am not on my own on this – lots of bloggers I follow fell away for one reason or another. Others who did stick with it as proper employment have since found other income streams that will allow them to write but without the pressure of maintaining an online presence.

One online persona that I follow is Yogagirl. She posts a lot to Facebook – long, very honest and intimate messages about her life. In her photo’s she looks the most perfect example of someone who has it all – she teaches yoga on Aruba amongst flamingoes, while balancing on surfboards with her long blonde hair and agile body staring into perfect sunsets. And yet her text is that of a normal person who deals with crap every day. It’s such a refreshing antidote to the perfection of so many online.

This pursuit of perfection is one reason I have written so rarely for this blog. Our business ideas are all full of ambition and positive change and great long term goals but the reality of reaching these goals is in all honesty one hard slog. We have been met by difficulty from the start – “but who would want to read about that?” I asked myself. “No-one” I convinced myself. And then I had a visit from GrowBiz Perthshire last week. Did you know that half a million people want to set up their own business but only 2-3% actually do it? And of them 66% fail? It’s taken me decades to move from an idea to an actual business so I understand the first one but the second one makes me wonder why did so many not make it?

Yes of course there will be the obvious assumptions of wider economic issues, local contexts, stupid ideas etc but that will only be a small number of those ideas. And then there are the others you expect to fail because of a lack of business acumen or commitment. Yet I am amazed by how many people I (try to) work with on a daily basis who don’t show up when they say they will, charge more than is fair, don’t finish a job etc and still manage to stay in business.

Could the reasons for closing (I’m not going to use the word failing) be more touchy feely then? Such as the pressure of feeling you have to be positive about how things are going even when they are really tough? Feeling so emotionally and physically drained that going back to a monthly paycheck even in a job you hate is better than the constant question over cashflow? Being consistently let down by people who claim to be professionals? And then having to deal with your own guilt for having to cancel your own customer’s bookings? It’s hard. And everytime it goes wrong it gets that bit harder to try again, to depend on someone else, to hope for the best.

So what’s the fix? If I knew I’d make a fortune selling business self-help books. What I am going to try is the following:

  • Remind myself that everyone and that means every business is struggling at some level – it’s part of being human. Even the lucky ones with their great sales and instagram posts will be struggling with their suppliers or their bank. Just look at Twitter – they had to lay people off because they weren’t growing enough. Makes me wonder if the concept of a successful business needs to be re-evaluted but that’s for another day.
  • Be honest with myself and others and less apologetic when things go wrong- it’s not all a reflection of us! And then talk and write about it – even on social media. There is the definite possiblity that readers/potential customers are interested in the nitty gritty not just the gloss. I just need to find the balance so I don’t sound like a complaining ninny all the time.
  • Stay true to our values and principles, even when it is the more challenging option – particularly when it doesn’t ‘suit’ a subcontractor. This is what our business success (in all meanings of the word) is based on.
  • Remember that everything is transitory. Time doesn’t stop.
  • Adapting plans and goals doesn’t equal failure. We will open with a product very different to our goal but it’s just part of the journey.
  • Don’t forget the detail. When I get stressed I start dismissing all the little things that just seem too much bother. Yet it’s those little things that come back to bite – like scorpions hiding in your shoes that you didn’t bang out before you got on the plane home. A more realistic (boring) example is making sure the decorator sands down the excess filler and pencil markings before applying three layers of translucent fire retardent paint thus embalmbing the mess forever.
  • People do read text – it doesn’t always have to have an amazing photo – Facebook isn’t always right.

Another Goose recipe

The newspapers’ Christmas recipes have started and this, from the Telegraph is the first I have spotted for goose. Sounds lovely using quinoa in the stuffing. I think I might make the apple sauce too.


LEADER and Leaders 1

The Perth and Kinross LEADER programme is awaiting its first applications for the funding period 2014-2020. The deadline for a decision at the April LAG meeting is at the end of March and I want to get our application in then. Theoretically we could wait until the next meeting (3 months later) but that will push our opening back by three months too as we can’t start anything we want finding until we have been given the go-ahead. The cash will be really handy – it will mean we can buyer better fixtures and fittings and Scottish slates rather than Spanish or Chinese slates. We will always steer to maintain our environmental principles but less cash means more compromise so some help allows us to make better choices. It will also mean the project completes quicker as we won’t have to do it in stages. That means we will be open for business and open for idea harvesting for us and for our local community sooner.

As part of the application process we sent out a questionnaire to get an idea of people’s interest in what we are doing and what kind of things get them excited. I have to admit we initiated it as a tick-box exercise but the level of engagement and enthusiasm has blow us away, so thank you so much to all who did the survey. We really appreciate it! 

The application forms are pretty lengthy but I understand that hoops are necessary when you’re wanting public money so I’m ploughing through it. So fingers crossed – I’ll let you know how we get on.


Nourishing hope

It’s very wet out there, and has been basically since November. My thoughts are with those who live near water. Our burn* is luckily away from and below us. It’s ever changing gushing impacts the sounds around us and may stop us crossing the ford to get to Bankfoot the back way, but luckily that is so far the only distraction. The ever spouting spring in what was going to be our car park and the sitting water in every field has more of an immediate impact. Wellies are certainly the only possible footwear!

So what to do? Well time really for a good book or two. I couldn’t decide whether to write this on my other blog Ecobabbles or here as the issues are common to both but we’ll stick here I think.

Living in Scotland has meant that in all three places we have lived I have had access to great libraries. So much so that it is rare for me to buy a book anymore – fiction and non-fiction, even including cookbooks! However two I have recently borrowed may well have to become permanent additions to the house as the ideas are reference material.

Have you ever thought about the word ‘energy’? What it really means? The thing energy is something I struggle with – finding that happy medium. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as

Force, vigour; active operation, individual powers in use; latent ability.

Rebecca Laughton uses this as the basis of her book ‘Surviving and thriving on the land’. It’s an inspiring and realistic look at why people succeed and fail on small holdings. Many of the tenets hold true though to any work you do where all sorts of different types of energy are needed over a long period of time i.e. life!

The front cover hides rather than embellishes the content, but otherwise it is far handier and enlightening than many of the other ‘bibles’ I have bought and borrowed over the years on sustainability, small holdings, self-sufficiency etc. Perhaps as an indicator of Perthshire library members there are two copies of this book available!

I also found “The Power Of Sustainable Thinking”. The author Bob Doppelt is someone I would quite like to meet, perhaps even have as a guest at my ‘ideal dinner party’**.  His style has that entertaining combination of self effacing humour and interest in beahvioural science. Just telling ourselves to change isn’t going to work – the annual Resolution glut proves that. To produce the large societal changes that so many in Paris agreed we need, we can’t just assume it will happen, at least not in a democratic society. I talked about this a bit in my post on changing shower habits and again on Christmas gifts and Mr Doppelt’s rhetoric is much sharper and importantly full of hope. Change theory is complex and interesting stuff!

A brief history of thyme

Yesterday I discovered Miranda Seymour’s “A Brief History of Thyme” – a funny and insighful look in to the history and uses of 49 herbs (some of which are more weed than herb). She has found that Angelica can be used to “promote an aversion to alchohol” (apt considering the changing behaviours stuff above) and Burdock has so many uses I’m going to have to change my attitude to it.

Our herb patch is very small at the moment but this is giving me a good start to planning the supersized version.


Our summer herb harvest


*burn – Scottish and Northern English  term for little river. According to Wikipedia (which is always right ha ha) it can refer to any size watercourse from a large stream to a small river. The English linguistic equivalent is ‘bourne’. The Scots Gaelic ‘bùrn’ means fresh water.

**Billy has just told me his guests would be Tim Peake, the man who invented Lego, two school friends, his cousins and his grandparents. I wonder what herbs we might add?

And that’s a wrap!

JPEG image-E90B022BFC74-1.jpegThe kitchen is clean, my apron (yes I wear a great frilly colourful apron) is in the wash, the dishwasher is on. There’s a large jar of spiced cranberry sauce, 1 jar of goose fat and 2 two jars of goose liver pate all set to give away. Darina Allen’s recipe uses brandy but I only had whisky to hand so used that instead – Islay Barley form the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay. The bottle reads “We believe terroir matters”. Well so do I.