7 Tips for staying at home

7 Tips for staying at home

It is currently a strange time. Practically overnight we turned from people with busy lifestyles to sitting at home wondering how to declutter the home, start home-schooling, and wondering how to cut our own hair. I can of course only recount my own experience here. If you are a key worker or medical staff then your life will have been busier than ever. 

In London, it all started in mid-March 2020.  At first, my friends and I felt a bit uneasy and anxious about what this new situation will mean for all of us.  How could we avoid catching this dreaded virus?  A few days in, we secretly admitted that the quarantine was not too bad and we started to enjoy these ‘enforced, guiltless pyjama days’. 

But there is so long you can sit around in your pjs. After a bit of rest came a rush of decluttering the loft and some obscure bathroom cupboards that had remained untouched for a while. Life felt good and productive. 

Week 3 of lockdown. The enforced ‘holiday’ started to wear thin. One of my friends created a WhatsApp meditation group- very enjoyable experience.  I started writing ‘Gardening With The Moon’ (An Introduction to Biodynamic Gardening – which I hope to finish soon) and of course did a fair bit in the garden. We all confessed yo-yo-ing between good and bad days, some faring better than others. 

Your experience may, of course, be entirely different. You may not be affected at all or you have lost someone close, in which case accept my sincere condolences. 

May was going to be a month full of life, parties and get-toghers. Well, it does not look this way now. But let’s stay positive and use this time constructively. Here are some tasks that we all can do – and they are easy and cheap. 

  Tip 1 – Planting herbs

Dig over a  small patch in your garden and plant some herbs. For all those without an outside space, find a window sill that gets some sunshine during the day. There you can grow chives, parsley, basil, mint, or oregano in small pots. 

For the garden or slightly bigger pots,  grow dill, rosemary, fennel, or sage.

 If you want to have immediate access to herbs I suggest you buy already established herbs in pots. These can be replanted into bigger pot by adding some good quality compost soil or replanted into your herb patch. Make sure you loosen the roots before planting and add some good quality compost (home-made is of course best). 

Herbs are very thirsty and will need watering on a daily basis (except of course when it rains).  Make sure you keep the compost moist but not wet – otherwise your plants will drown.  It is wonderful to have an endless supply of fresh herbs for salads,  cooking, and garnishing dishes. Fresh mint or sage make wonderful herbal teas. 

My top tip: cut some herbs and put them into an ice-cube tray and add a bit of water. These ‘herb-cubes’ will keep up to 6 months. 

Here are some related articles from the LWTM blog series ‘ Cooking with herbs’. 

Cooking with Oregano

Cooking With Tarragon

Cooking With Dill

  Tip 2 – Make your own bread   

It has recently become really popular to make your own artisan bread. I have had breadmakers for years and been doing my own sourdoughs. But here is a quick and easy recipe for all those who want to give it the first try. The recipe below is for a simple and tasty mixed loaf that can be done in any conventional oven. No breadmaker or sourdough needed.

 You will need kitchen scales, the ingredients below, a ceramic dish with a lid (ideally round), a bowl, and a mixing spoon.
Ingredients:  560g wheat flour, 190g rye flour, 550g hot water, 16g salt, some cumin seeds (1/2 a teaspoon should be enough), 3gram of active yeast. You could add some linseeds or other seeds if you like. 

1) weigh all the ingredients and put them together into a big kitchen bowl.  I use a big mixing spoon to blend them together. Then add some flour to your hands and knead the dough.  (please use enough plain flour on your hands, otherwise, the dough will stick to you). After a few minutes of kneading, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and leave it to rest. I suggest a minimum of 3 hours. You could also prepare the dough in the evening and let it rise overnight. Then it will be ready for baking the next day. 

Tip: To see if the dough is ready for baking. Pull some upwards.  If it rips easily it needs to rise a little longer.  A dough that is ready for baking should glide out and not rip straight away. 

2) Once the dough is ready,  preheat oven to 250degree C (480F) and put the empty ovenproof dish with lid into the oven. Yes, that is right – empty to heat it up!

3) Take it out when it is very hot (be careful handling it!) and add some sprinkles of plain flour to cover the bottom of the pan. This is important as otherwise the bread will stick to the pan and it will be hard for it to come out.
Then add the dough. With the mixing spoon create a line in the top of the dough – that is where the crust can rise and sprinkle some plain flour on the top.  Put the lid on and bake the bread (middle shelf) for about 35 minutes.
My Tip: Pour water into an oven dish and put it on the bottom shelf, so the bread bakes it in moist air.

For all my members, I will share with you my grandmother’s sourdough starter in the LWTM May newsletter.

  3. Do some exercise every day

It is amazing how just a few minutes a day can make a big difference. I have started running and do on average 5-6 miles (8k)most mornings. If you think about starting from zero exercises to running a regular 8k then my top tip is to get a Fitbit or device that can monitor your heart rate.  I honestly can say that this was my secret to success.  Start very gently and check your heart rate regularly.  Never go over 160, even if that means walking for a bit until your heart rate has down again to 120/130.  If you keep this under control, you will eventually get better and better. Soon you will run the first few miles and enjoy the experience. Once you made it to 5k (3 miles) and you can enjoy the experience – you are on your way.

You can find a few good apps to help you along. One of them is  5k runner. 

Most evenings I do some yoga exercises.  There are so many great videos on YouTube or find a good yoga/pilates app/book.  It does not have to be super advanced. Make sure you warm up with a gentle stretching program and always include some breathing exercises. Over just a few weeks, a stiff body can transform into a body that is more toned and flexible. Try to keep this up for (ideally) the rest of your life.

Other alternatives are brisk walks or a cycle trip. My teenage son does good oldfashioned plank and sit-ups every day. So find what works for you. But do at least 30min per day. There has never been a better time to start exercising. 

  4. Learn a new skill and develop a new hobby 

With more time on your hands, try to clear 20 minutes each day to learn something new. This could be a language, a skill like knitting, an online course in finance or computing, etc. It does not matter, but make a date with yourself and keep to it. Then set an alarm where you stay (ideally) 20minutes undisturbed. No phone checking, etc. If you look after children, give them something to do (depending of course on the age – otherwise do it when they are in bed). Every day you will advance just a tiny bit further and once you emerge from lock-down, you will feel you have achieved something new with the time you stayed indoors. 

     5. Have a DIY manicure and pedicure 

This month is all about exercise and well-being. A big part is pampering yourself. Show some extra kindness to your body with a home-made pedicure, manicure, face masks, body peeling, or body brushing regime. Look them up on  The Month Ahead 

Look after your feet 

Nail strengthening manicure 

   6. Plan your finances

Now times are uncertain and most of us will suffer a downturn in our finances. This true for everyone – whether your work has stopped or you are lucky enough to be still fully employed working from home. The chance that your disposable income will be squeezed is very likely. Here are a few things to keep you financially safe and sound. 

  • check your income over the last few months and work out your monthly disposable income. This is especially important if you work freelance or have more than one employer. Let’s call this figure 1.
  • add together all your monthly liabilities, rent, electricity, gym membership, etc. Ideally, this should be less than figure 1. If it is not, then you need to take action now.  What can you cut?  
  • check over all the financial products that you have. Life insurance, medical care, mortgage, credit cards, etc. Are you still on track, is this product still fit for purpose? It never harms to shop  around for a better deal. Remember, a lot has changed over the last month, so now is a good time for assessing your current situation. If you find yourself in financial troubles, don’t hide, but get in touch with your bank as soon as possible. They may be able to help you by arranging a payment holiday.
  • When money does come in (and try to keep to this formula from now onwards) divide all your income into 4 pots.
    50% expenses (living costs) – 20% to put aside for investments –  20% goes straight into a savings account that is easily accessible (for tax, unforeseen costs, extra necessary purchases)  and 10% for charity/good causes. This is a good formula. However, you can adjust it to your own needs, but make sure that there is always an element of saving and investing there, even if it is 5%. As over time these small sums will add up. 

  7. Meditate and rest for a few minutes each evening/morning

As I mentioned above, about 3 weeks ago I started to participate in a meditation group. Every evening before going to bed – I  took out 15minutes. This is the ultimate me-time.  Banishing all thoughts, just concentrating on my breath and ‘rest’. 

At first, I participated only as a goodwill gesture to my friend who took the time to create this group. But after a few days, I really started to enjoy the process and looked forward to these precious 15minutes of productive rest.

I think this is especially useful if you have anxious thoughts and find it hard to get a good night’s sleep. If that is you, I really recommend drinking a cup of chamomile tea before going to bed and then listen to very calming music or a meditation app.

If you are a morning person, you may prefer to follow a meditation program just before getting up.  This will prepare you mentally for the day ahead. 

If you have never tried meditation before, check out some good apps like Headspace – they usually have trial periods, so you don’t have to pay to give it a go.

You will see that anxiety levels will drop and some problems all of a sudden seem to solve themselves. Your unconscious mind is very powerful. 

Back in January, I wrote this article The importance of resting. Of course, I did not have the faintest idea that ‘resting’ would take on such a new meaning. Especially for people employed in the travel and hospitality industry. However, there is a difference between ‘slouching on the sofa’ and ‘conscious resting’. If you have not read it before, please have a look.

 

So I hope one or the other tips will enrich your ‘lock-down life’.  If you have any other good lock-down tips – please get in touch and I am happy to mention them (with or without your mention – up to you).  Please stay all safe and well – and look after yourself!

Biodynamic Bee-keeping

Biodynamic beekeeping

Here is some vital information I found on the Biodynamic Association website that explains a lot about biodynamic bee-keeping

Like humans, bees are creatures of warmth and maintain a constant temperature in their hive. This warmth helps bees to create wax for their comb, maintain their colony, and keep it healthy. It is also through this warmth that the colony finds its identity, each bee and bee activity integral to the whole. No single part, not even the queen, can be seen as isolated from the whole.

Modern beekeeping – what’s wrong?

As the Natural Beekeeping Trust explains, bees were held sacred in all ancient cultures. Their survival was assured over thousands of years. In the last 150 years this has changed dramatically.

Much of modern beekeeping, like intensive farming, is geared to maximum production, and, like modern agriculture, its husbandry relies on chemical solutions to man-made problems. This invariably results in exploitation, as the essential needs of bees are disregarded.

As the Natural Beekeeping Trust also explains, the systematic exploitation of bees has seen a huge increase in disease. Bees in captivity can suffer from parasitic infections and more than 20 viruses; many of these can infect honeybees and hoverflies. International trading in queen bees has resulted in the importation of exotic diseases. Added to this, the routine suppression of bees’ natural reproduction (by swarming) in favour of artificial breeding, practised for more than a hundred years, has resulted in impoverished bee genetics.

Here is how you can help ! The best way is to start planting relevant plants that attract and keep bees. These are explained in this excellent booklet called  Bees in crisis . 

It is time for us all to do our bit to save these wonderful animals and pollinators for generations to come.

Ileen Macpherson – a pinoneer of the biodynamic movement

Ileen Macpherson – a pinoneer of the biodynamic movement

Ileen Macpherson (1898-1984) was born in August 1898 in Australia. She attended Clyde School in St. Kilda (Melbourne) and as a young adult became increasingly interested in natural ways of producing food.
This interest brought her to regular Anthroposophy meetings, based on the early biodynamic philosophy by Rudolf Steiner .  Anthroposophy is a philosophy that combines natural science (such as biology) and the intellectually comprehensible spiritual world. It is rooted in German idealism and mysticism, but its essential message is respect for nature, development of the human being in an individual manner rather than a mass-educational approach und the connection of our
 micro universe to the universe as a whole. So according to Rudolf Steiner it makes sense to watch what the universe is doing (for example Full Moon and other celestial aspects in the sky) and connect them to tasks such as planting, weeding, turning the soil and else. Seeds of this philosophy are now found in ethnical banking, the Waldorf education and alternative medicine.
One of the speakers at these early Anthroposophy meetings in Melbourne was Ernesto Genoni, an Italian citizan who arrived in Australia in May 1926. A few years later Ernesto and Mrs Anne Macky started the Anthoroposophical Society and it is through these meetings at the Anthroposophical Society that Ileen meets Ernesto.
A year later the pair have plans to start the first biodynamic farm in Australia and they call this farm Demeter Farm (named after the the Demeter society, a brand that is still around today and that upholds the quality of biodynamic farming. Its name was taken from Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain and fertility). There Ileen and Ernesto perfected crop rotation, soil enrichment and the study of healthy plants and all organisms that are connected to the farm. The Biodynamic agriculture is a cycle where every part reinforces the entity as a whole. For example grass clipping and rotten food are turned into compost and this compost again fertilises the land where cows feed on its grass. In turn the cow’s horns and manure are then used to enrich the soil which then produces healthy plants and fruit trees.
In March 1935 the Demeter Farm in Dandenong, Victoria, finally opens and produced good quality biodynamic food on 40acres of land for over two decades.  The main crop was fruit, vegetables and milk. Soon after the opening Ileen and Ernesto found a group called the Experimental Circle of Anthroposophical Farmers and Gardeners’. 
 
This group soon becomes known for all ways of alternative farming in Australia and even Alfred Meebold comes to stay over for a fortnight. But just as things are going so well, tragedy strikes. Ileen, a very active person  in her early years and busy with long days farming and milking cows, became weaker and weaker. She still carried on as usual, but her conditions deteriorates and soon her legs gave way. In 1943 she was admitted to Epworth hospital where she spent on and off the next three years.
This was a bitter blow for Ernesto. Not only did he now have to carry out all the hard work on the farm, but he also had planned to go with Illen to Europe to join the Biodynamic movement, but all these plans were now nil and void.
In the end Ernesto stayed at the farm at at Ileen’s bedside.  When she was finally released in 1946  she would be confided to a wheel chair for the rest of her life. The cause was later revealed as pernicious anaemia (a lack of vitamin B12). Nowadays this condition is easy to cure, but in the 1940ies it often led to the patient’s death or life in a wheelchair.
Although Ileen tried her best with Ernesto to keep the farm alive, in the end her failing health was getting too much for Ernesto and the farm was sold in 1955. Ernesto started painting (the picture of Ileen above was painted by him) and Ileen, although now unable to practise it, never let go of the  biodynamic ideology. After her death in 1984 the Ileen Macpherson Trust still supports Anthroposophic causes in Australia.

A new concept of farming and living 

happy-pigsBiodynamic farming and living is catching on. What was once described as a ‘dubious niche interest’ has recently developed into an almost mainstream way of living,  hobby gardening and farming? More and more people are getting concerned about the health of the food chain and try their hand on growing their own food, so there is a real trend emerging on allotments, gardens and hobby farms.

As  intensive modern farming has left the soil so depleted that there is hardly any minerals left in the soil. So when your mother once said’ Eat spinach, it is good for you as full of iron’ there is very little iron now left.

Organic food has been around for a very long time now and it is just growing food with less or no pesticides,  but the concept of biodynamic is another level up. It is concerned about the state of the soil, crop rotation, animal welfare and keeping the land in good condition so future generations are equally able to  produce good quality food.

The original pioneers of biodynamic living started off with nothing but faith and learning from trial and error. But now it is a well-established practise that really works and can and is being adapted for big business, especially in the wine industry.

 

 

Biodynamics is more than just farming, it is a philosophy, a way of life

The concept of biodynamics was devised 80 years ago by an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner. He mixed old farming practises with the moon phases and soil tonics. By nourishing the life-giving soil, the plants that grow in this healthy soil are by default  stronger and less prone to disease, they also contain more nutrients. Compost and fertilisers are made from home-made composts and animal dung. The animals are seen as part of the land and food growing procedure and not as separate income stream. So just like the moon cycle, the biodynamic growing cycle binds in the earth, the cosmos, the people and animals who live on the land all together into one living organism.

Biodynamics also dictates that animals should be reared slowly, and slaughtered humanely with minimal stress. It further advocates a rather stress-free living and going back to basics.

I believe that after an increasingly globalised world with 24/7 internet and constant pinging emails more and more people crave a bit of solitude, simplicity and real things like face to face friendship and good food. And biodynamic food is good. The proof is in the pudding as it wins food prizes every year.

But if you think this way of life is just for the airy-fairy types, think again. It is true that good quality food that is full of life and grown slowly is of course more expensive to produce, but in that way it also employs more people and customers are often happy to pay a premium. So the business model works.

At the end of the day — you are what you eat –  so eating food that is brimming with life and vitality and that helps you to keep  a healthy body surely is well worth the price!