Category Archives: Action Learning Pathway

Crawling to the finish

I think I haven’t done much on my diploma, or this website, for pretty much a whole year. I’m not going to beat myself up about that. I was busy bringing a human being into the world. But now she’s here, and we’ve got our routines, I need to just finish this thing. Why is finishing something so hard? I have done more or less all the work, I just need to present it in a compelling way.

 I have never been much of a ‘finisher-completer.’ I am far better at having ideas and getting them going than I am at seeing them to completion. It’s probably one thing doing this diploma has driven home. It’s now a matter of pride to take bite-sized chunks and see them through to completion. I am doing well in other areas of my life, but finishing the diploma seems to elude me. I know why though. I haven’t given it full headlights-on focus. I need to think about it, and just it, for a period of time. And that’s the issue… I am doing plenty of other things (not least looking after a baby) and they seem (and frankly are) more important than what my brain now regards to be ‘admin.’ But, but… I have to finish this darn thing so I need to make time and space to do so. 

So, here’s what I am going to do… I am going to set myself two simple tasks… 

1. Read the diploma guidance manual in detail and check how I should be presenting my designs (and whether I have missed any steps). 

2. Contact a diploma tutor and ask them to look over my designs (I jettisoned mine a number of years ago). 

That shouldn’t be too hard! 

Now, where am I up to with my designs? I’m afraid not a lot has progressed but a few things have. 


Action Learning Pathway

Not redesigned. I need to be honest with this one. It’s less of a redesign and more of a historical document. I just need to write down what I did. I’m happy to be honest about this. Were I to do another diploma, I would be able to plan it in detail from the start, but when I started this one, I had not yet developed the skills to have that overview. So, it developed piecemeal, and designs chopped and changed though my focus was always on developing designs for livelihood. So, I think this design needs to be a sort of ‘how my diploma panned out’ précis to the whole thing. Suddenly it’s seeming more achievable 

Action: find my original ALP and work out how I got from there to here.  


Career Design

Written up! 


Scythe Teaching

Written up! 


Permaculture Teaching

Written up!

DVD

Yet to be written up. 

Action: write it up


The Seed Blog

In all honesty, I can’t remember where I am up to with this. Implementation of this has all but ground to a halt, because of the baby and because of the need to focus on other projects. I think it’s written up in draft form though. 


The Garden

As I am currently implementing this design, I have written up what I can. I need to revisit this and finish this write up. 

Action: finish this write up


The Larder Project

Yet to be written up

Action: write it up


Fat Hens

Designed and written up!


Baby

Designed and written up! 

Am I finished? How I know when a design is done.

At the beginning of my diploma, when I was looking at my big, sprawling, open-ended designs, I wondered how on earth I would know when they were finished.  It was a good question, and the lack of clarity was definitely a flaw in my design process.  Two years in, I find that the constant process of thinking about what I want to achieve has really developed my skills in defining project  boundaries and knowing when I am done.  I find that I can come up with an idea and not only know whether or not it is feasible (through experience of biting off more than I can chew), but also know how I will know when I have finished that particular design.  I have italicised the I, because I think that markers of success are very person-specific.  For example, in a design for a business, one person’s goal might be to earn a certain amount of money, but financial goals just don’t work for me, I am not motivated by them.  I would prefer to set goals along the lines of ‘run x amount of courses,’ or ‘raise prices to x amount’.  What I have realised is that being able to clearly define what you want out of a project means knowing yourself, your priorities and what is feasible for you really really well.  So, for me, the first step to knowing when a design is done is to know yourself well and set project boundaries that fit in with that.

The second way I have discovered of knowing when a design is done it to understand the lifecycle of how things are achieved.  I wrote about this idea in this post.  It’s the Hero’s Journey, the idea which suggests that all of the stories in the world are based on one story – the monomyth.  My friend Erica has just written a book on how you can use this idea in your own life.  The hero’s journey goes (a little) like this:

The call to adventure – “wouldn’t building a garden on this roof be cool?”

The refusal of the call – “nah, it would be too difficult and I couldn’t do it.”

The acceptance of the call (this is when you get cool stuff and people want to help you) – “ok, sod it, let’s have a go!  Wow, thanks for all of the plants, mum.  Yep, it’d be really great if you helped me out.”

The belly of the whale – “Aggh, it’s really hard to get stuff to grow up here because of the wind.  This isn’t as exciting as when I started out.”

The Supreme Ordeal  – “All my plants have died.  Ok, I’ll plant the whole lot again.”

Triumphant return – “I’ve done it!  I’ve grown all these plants through a whole season on this less than easy roof. Want me to teach you?”

When I think about all of my designs, I can plot them along a point on this journey.  I have come to realise though, that a greater ‘journey’ (e.g. making a living from scything) might be made up of several smaller journeys.  You might not get your big success all at once.  In fact you probably wont.  I think that every success (for example, I feel like I have done really well with scything courses this year), heralds a rethink and a new journey.  I have discovered that it is impossible to create a design that is too big, because each big design with naturally break itself down into several smaller ones.  A garden design will do this – e.g. a smaller design for a pizza oven, for planting for beneficial insects, for year-round produce.  This ‘breaking down’ is a pretty good example of designing from patterns to details – a principle that baffled me when I first started, but which I really really value now.

 

 

 

 

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End of winter round up: Part 1

Welcome to my six-monthly round up of how my projects are going.  Please overlook the fact that it’s nearly the end of May and cannot really be described as the end of winter any more.  On the surface of things I have hardly done anything for my diploma this winter – no blog posts for four months etc – but actually I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my designs, about my motivations for doing them, about how to make them work individually and all together as a group.  What follows is fairly dense, apologies for that now.

ACTION LEARNING PATHWAY

I am using my diploma to effect major change in my life.  I have chosen to do it over four years to give myself the time to make these changes happen.  This long period of time has also meant that I can observe and redesign the more complex designs.  I’ve also used it as an opportunity to do ‘practice‘ designs in some cases.  I’m working on a redesign of my Action Learning Pathway as I have refined my ideas a lot since I used Hedvig’s as a jump off point.

One of the ways in which I have refined my ideas is working out just how big or small a project should be.  In my head, the optimum size for a single design is the size of Hedvig’s clean air plant design (which I can’t seem to find a link to right now, but I am sure Hedvig will supply in the comments).  I’ll admit that when I first saw it I thought that it was quite unambitious in its scope, but that’s before I learnt how much observation and analysis it takes to actually make a design work properly.  Now I think it’s just about the right size to be interesting without being so big that it needs to be broken down into smaller designs.  This realisation has actually made a big difference to my designs as it as given me a scale at which I feel comfortable doing observation and analysis.  I feel like I have ‘got real.’

I have also realised that there is a different between a project which is large in ‘area’ (i.e. happens over a large piece of land) and a project which is large in complexity (i.e. has lots of different facets and therefore requires lots of different mini-designs).  A design could be large in size but not complex (i.e. the coppicing design I am working on – more soon), or be complex but not obviously large and important (such as the marketing designs I have been doing).  What I realised is that it’s really hard to work out the size and scope of a project without either quite deep analysis or without doing it.

As I know that I naturally tend towards massive overblown projects that will change the whole world (and which I haven’t got a hope in hell’s chance of pulling off), this has been the biggest win of the diploma so far.  Using the design cycle has made me slow down, observe, analyse and really think about how a design will fit into my life because for me (and I suspect for most people), it’s self observation rather than external observation that makes the difference between the success and failure of a project.

So, in redesigning my ALP I have decided to include a ‘non land based design starter kit’ which can function as my jumping off place for all non-land-based designs, as well as the basic roadmap towards my goals.  I’ll include the checklist in this starter kit obviously as I am already finding it immensely useful.  I’m so glad that I managed to write those ideas down because where the hell you start a non-land based design has always baffled me completely.  There’s so much help with land based design and almost none at all with non-land-based design.

ACTION: Write up redesigned ALP and ‘design starter kit.’  

 

TIME AND MONEY

The design is a basic overview of the ways in which I make/hope to make my livelihood, how much each strand will contribute to my finances and how much time it will take.  With this design as with a few of the others, I hit the issue that it was impossible to do real observation and analysis without actually implementing it.  I found that without actually launching my scythe teaching business I could not estimate how much time it would take up nor how much money I would make from it.  My first design was based on a series of guesses.  This is because almost no one (with a few exceptions) are teaching scything at the scale that I want to do it.  Even if I could have done, I think I would have struggled to estimate how much time it would take me to get up to speed with running a micro-business (a long time).  I really feel like I had to learn by doing in this case.

Despite ostensibly being about ‘time and money,’ this design is really about me – what motivates me, what I want to spend my precious time doing.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this recently and when I have finally come to some conclusions (I’m 90% of the way there), I’ll need to do a redesign of this.  One of the biggest changes I’ll need to make is to take account of how many different income streams one person can really deal with.  I am still in favour of the poly-income (a portfolio career) – spreading out your income over a number of different streams so that it is resilient to crisis – but I have come to realise that the number of different subject areas that one person can keep in their head at the same time is limited.  Changing gears, e.g. from thinking about marketing scythe courses to writing, is an activity that takes time in itself.  Working out which strands to keep and which to drop is hard though and I have not quite come to the end of that process so I don’t feel like I am in the right place quite yet to do a redesign of this project quite yet.

Action: Time and Money redesign when ready

Two projects down… more coming up in the next posts!

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Designing information: Organising my RSS reader

bloggery pokery crop

 

I spent a few hours today reorganising my RSS reader.  RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and an RSS reader, like Google Reader (which I use) means that you are informed when blogs are updated and don’t have to visit them individually to find out.

I follow a lot of blogs  (yes, including interior design blogs, I am entering into ‘that’ stage of my life…)  I’m unapologetic about the number of blogs that I follow.  I do spend a reasonable amount of time looking at them which used to set up a frisson of guilt in me (Am I wasting time?  Should I be doing something ‘more useful?’).  In the end I just concluded that I was interested in certain subjects which other people wrote about so why feel guilty about garnering inspiration, information, advice and ideas.  Actually, why feel guilty about being interested in someone’s life?

I am a ruthless culler of blogs too.  I only keep the blogs that I look forward to reading, otherwise looking at my RSS reader turns into work.  I also cull blogs that I enjoy, but which give me the feeling that my life is rubbish.  These tend to be American blogs written by women whose children are perfect, husbands are perfect, houses are perfect, Christmases and birthdays were perfect…  Likewise blogs that rejig the same tired ideas.

I signed up for a few more gardening blogs today because I am looking for places to write guest posts about scything for and by the time I had added them, the list of blogs that I follow was enough to give you a migraine.  No more!  I decided to put them into really simple folders according to their subject.  Previously my folder titles had been things like ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Green Thinkers.’  They date from a time when I had many few blogs to follow, but even then they were a bit vague.  Inspiration for what?  Thinking about what?

Putting these blogs into categories was really interesting because when I was done I looked at it and thought, yep, those are my life interests.  I thought through my diploma projects and considered whether I followed blogs about all of those subjects.  The answer was, almost all of them – coppicing, preserving and scything didn’t get a folder of their own but they fit in under rural skills and food.  One area that I did notice was missing was general life design, livelihood design and blogs about money.  These are all things that I am working on very hard in my diploma and yet they weren’t represented in my blog-roll.  I think this is because I still find the idea of talking about, thinking about or designing for financial rewards a bit gross – the way I felt about marketing before I discover Marketing for Hippies.  I’ve signed up for finance/entrepreneurial blogs in the past and always unsubscribed because I didn’t read them because it made me feel icky.  I need to find someone who is talking about these things in a way that I am willing to listen to.  Any ideas?  They need to be funny and directed towards money-phobes.  I’m also looking for some life-coaching/life-organisation blogs that don’t make me want to be sick.  Help gratefully received…

After I had taken the picture above, I went and looked at these folders and put the ones with some connection to each other next to each other.  Really, they all have connections to each other in my head, but I wanted to draw out the most important ones.   Gardening, foraging and permaculture went next t each other and also next to food.  Photography and graphic design went next to each other and were also linked to lifestyle.

I have decided to read them in a different way too.  Instead of clicking on the feed for the individual blog and seeing a stream of posts just from that blog, I have decided to click on the category – e.g.  Food.  This will show me posts from all of the blogs in that category in the order that they were updated.  Doing it this way means that it’s much harder to discern immediately which blog you are reading.  This is useful because it means that I can see which blogs broadcast their individuality immediately.   For example, I predict that in the ‘food’ category I will be able to recognise Smitten Kitchen immediately because while the pictures are good but not amazing, the writing is hilarious (which is, I have to say, unusual for a lot of the blogs that I read).  I also predict that I will be able to recognise What Katie Ate immediately because of her distinctive photographic style.  This sort of observation is really useful for developing my writing and photographic style.

 

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An end of the summer round up: part one

May to September is always a crazy time for me.  There is so much scything, traveling, and general ‘doing’ to be done that I almost always lose track of my ongoing projects.  So the next few posts are going to be a catch-up of where I am with my various diploma projects – mostly for my own benefit.  I’ve also been doing my diploma for approximately a year, so it’s probably time for a general look at how I am getting on.  I’ve decided to do this by using the four questions.  These are (lest we forget):

–  What’s going well?

–  What’s challenging?

–  What’s the vision?

–  Next steps?

Project one:  Action Learning Pathway

I wrote my action learning pathway last year, right at the beginning of my diploma.  I am still extremely pleased with the projects that I chose.  I think they’re exactly the ones that I should be doing, the ones that I would be doing anyway.  So, the content of my ALP is great, but what I am finding challenging is presenting my ALP in a way that I find useful.  When I first started I copied Hedvig’s ALP from her first diploma, but now I know a bit more about what I am doing, I want something that’s designed with my own projects and aims in mind.  I want to present it as a pathway – i.e. ‘here’s the next step you have to take, and the next, and the next’ and I have been experimenting with ways of doing that but haven’t quite got it right yet.

Next step:  Keep experimenting until I find an ALP form that I am happy with, then write it up and submit it for interim assessment.

 

Project two:  Time and Money

This project is all about managing the development of my income streams.  When I first wrote up this design, I said that these income streams would be: teaching scything, teaching permaculture, writing articles, writing books and coppicing.  A year on, I am still happy with that plan, although some are further on than others, some of the plans have changed and I have had quite a few other ideas too…

I realised quickly that pursuing all of these projects at the same time would not allow me to give enough time to any of them, so I decided to focus on two – writing articles (journalism) and teaching scything.  I chose journalism because I recognised that it holds the greatest opportunities for actually making some money – a big focus for me at the moment, and I chose scythe teaching because I realised that I needed to learn a whole lot of business skills and if I could make scything work, I could make anything work.  I am treating it a little like a task in The Apprentice, but without the rudeness and recriminations if I get something wrong.

A year on, I’ve got a much better idea of the viability of these income streams and have adjusted my focus accordingly (for example focusing on journalism – with its greater earning capacity).  I’ve also decided that I do not see myself coppicing for money, but that I would like to make the firewood and building materials a big part of my household economy – working for resources, rather than the money to buy the resources.

Time-wise, everything is going to plan.  I’m spending enough time on each of my projects because I really enjoy them and I take them seriously.  Money-wise is a bit of a different issue.  Frankly, money has always been my issue…  I don’t mean that when I get it I piss it up the wall, I’m actually very frugal, I’ve just never seen the point in earning more than I really really need to survive.  Hence why I am continuously on the breadline…  However, the need for money is starting to make itself known (I’d like to buy a house, I’d like to pay for a pension, I’d like to have a reserve), so this is my focus right now.  I don’t want to earn oodles of cash, just the average wage.  But I want to do it entirely on my own terms.

My design included a set of financial targets which were frankly (mostly) wildly optimistic.  Not only did I misjudge how much money I would make from various projects, I misjudged how much time they would take me.  I got one approximately right – journalism – for which I set myself the target of earning £3000 this year which I probably won’t make but is at least achieveable should I pull my finger out.  For scything though, I set myself the target of earning £5000, and teaching 20 courses – in the first real year of running it as a business.  I failed pretty drastically at that.  I think that target might be achieveable in a couple of years time, but not in the first year when I am trying to sort everything – pricing, marketing, etc etc out.

I don’t feel like I have failed with this project this year though, actually I feel like I have calibrated the system.  I have a much better idea of how much time things will take me and how much money I can expect to earn from them.  I’m progressing, and that feels really good.

Next steps:  My next step is probably to set some more realistic goals for 2013.  Just a word on goal-setting and motivation though…  Having set myself these targets to meet, I then found myself completely uninterested in working hard in order to hit a number.  I had to admit that even though I wanted to earn more money, I still wasn’t all that motivated by it.  I thought about what did motivate me and it was learning things, meeting new and exciting people and passing on skills.  I just decided to allow this to be my motivation and to have ‘making money’ as a background driver that would kick in if I felt that I was selling myself short.  I also had another minor breakthrough recently (though it felt huge to me) which was that when I thought of money as numbers, my brain zoned out completely, but when I thought about it as a winter coat, or a set of life coaching sessions, it made a lot more sense, and motivated me to do something a lot more.  Identifying something that I want and then finding a way to make enough money to get it is immensely powerful.

 

 

 

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My first diploma tutorial

I had my first diploma tutorial last week with Jan Mulreany, my tutor.  Talking to her, it was interesting to realise how far I had got with my diploma and how much I had learned.  We decided that I probably had at least four designs that could be submitted right now – ALP, Time and Money, Cutting Edge and Teaching Permaculture.

One of the things that the tutorial brought home to me was the difference between design and implementation.  When submitting your design, you need to prove that you have followed a process (SADIM, OBREDIMET) which led you to make the decisions that you did.  You don’t need to prove that it ‘worked.’  I feel that I want to submit only designs that worked – as a showcase for my obviously enormous intelligence 😉  However, I need to remember that this is not the point.  A design which doesn’t quite work out the first time and is then redesigned and does work out is perhaps a better demonstration of the process of learning.

This is something that I am struggling a bit with with my Cutting Edge project – a permaculture business plan for my scythe courses.  I have completed the design, based on the observation and analysis and knowledge I had at the time, but that design has proved rather disastrous this year.  By rather disastrous I mean completely disastrous – but that’s a whole other post.  Still, I will submit it and hopefully by the time I get to accreditation (far far in the future) then I will have redesigned with success and this year will be a humorous blip in my journey to being reigning queen of scythe courses…

I also told her of my issues with the various syndromes that seem to affect many of the diploma apprentices I know.  These are ‘big project syndrome,’ ‘how the hell do you do a non-land-based design syndrome’ and ‘how will I know when it’s finished syndrome…’

‘Big project syndrome’ and ‘how will I know when it’s finished syndrome’ are about two sides of the same coin.  They are about where you position the boundaries of your project.  Almost all designs will spawn further mini (or not so mini designs) so you need to work out where you’re going to draw the line.  If you’re designing a garden, is the garden the whole design, or could the garden constitute a whole diploma’s worth of smaller projects?  I guess it’s up to you, how much time you have, where you want to be at the end of the diploma.  Design the appropriate scale for yourself!

My diploma will go on for a long time, so I’m hoping to get some big  stuff done.  But that does mean that rather than have ten projects, what I really have is around 50 not inconsiderably small projects.  What I need to do with this, I think, is apply some project management tools for example critical path analysis.  Using a tool like this would help me identify pathways towards my goals and also where roadblocks lie.  It would also really pinpoint the projects that don’t have a SMART goal.  How can you get there if you don’t know where you’re going?

For example, I know that not having ample or accessible storage space is a problem for many of my projects, but particularly the preserving and scythe projects.  This is really holding up a lot of projects and I need to either design and build a storage space (i.e.  a shed) or I need to work out how I can work with the space that is currently available.  Perhaps a storage design is in order…  (oh god, not another design…)  My issue here is that building a shed is a fairly big project and one that needs to be done with (ok, by) my housemate who owns the house.  Negotiations, design and building will take most of the winter, I suspect, so I need to come up with a way of progressing projects until we reach that point.  Other roadblocks are less tangible.  My reluctance to invest in a shed is largely to do with not knowing how long I will be living here, so any kind of storage space design like this needs to include key elements of succession.  Can Ben use it after I have gone?  Hmm, one storage design coming up, I suspect.

 

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The cycle of my year

I am reading Michael Frayn’s novel ‘Headlong‘ at the moment (after five years of not reading novels, I decided it was time).  It’s about an art historian who discovers a Breugel painting in a neighbour’s house and then embarks on a dastardly plan to get it off him.  The painting Frayn’s characters discovers is one of a series depicting ‘scenes in the year.’  In winter, there is snow and hunting, in summer there is hay-making.  The months of the year tick by – each one with it’s own activity.  It made me wonder what my own year was like – whether I followed any sort of rhythm, so I decided to do a bit of observation and analysis.  Here’s what I came up with…

Month

What I am busy with now

What will be busy with in the future

January The Doldrums Coppicing
February The Doldrums Coppicing
March Planting and gardening
April Planting and gardening
May Planting and gardening
June Scythe fests, courses, mowing Gardening
July Courses, mowing, events Gardening
August Courses, mowing, events, holidays Gardening
September Gardening and preserving
October Gardening and preserving
November Coppicing
December Christmas Coppicing

Once I had put this chart together, I realised that there were lots and lots of uses for it.  My initial reason was to work out when would be the best time to start learning something new.  This year I want to build on my sewing and photography skills.  After analysing my chart, I realised that there were a couple of pauses in the year when new things like this could be started – in November when the ‘being outside weather’ is well and truly over, and again in January to combat what I have come to call the doldrums.

Both of these months have their selling points.  January  – the new year – is a great time to start new projects which is why we have a tradition of making resolutions at that point.  I thought at first that November was a rubbish time to start something new, having Christmas and all that family-based business hot on its heels.  I imagined that I would start something and then have to put it down for two weeks.  But then I realised that Christmas, although it’s heavy on travelling and family-matters, is not usually heavy on work.  There is plenty of time, while I am with my family, to do other things.  I usually get through my body weight in crap novels (thus disproving my earlier claim that I haven’t read a novel in five years, oh well).  Starting to relearn sewing in November would be a good Christmas project and would be something that me, my mother and my grandmother could all do together.

Another thing that leapt out at me when I put this down on paper was that the three months of the year  when I am away a lot and which are crazy busy for me – June, July and August – are exactly the time when I will probably need to be in the garden in the future.  At the moment, my garden is tiny and not really producing very much in the way on annuals that need ongoing care, but I hope to have a bigger and better garden at some point in the next few years.  I have no intention of foregoing festivals, events or courses to stay at home and look after my garden, so I will need to find ways to mitigate the problems that being away might cause.  This might be through a combination of focusing on perennials, choosing varieties of annuals that fruit/produce earlier or later, following strict planting plans, mulching well, developing automatic irrigation systems and last but not least, getting someone to help me…

I think this little observation exercise will help me a lot in the future.  How about you?  What is your year like?

Note:  The painting above shows medieval Netherlandish proverbs.  

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Get moving.

I woke up this morning feeling pretty bad.  The problem, I decided, was that I wasn’t at all fit and that I didn’t get outside and in nature enough.  I felt frustrated and trapped – and this despite the fact that I rode 70 miles around the Isle of Wight at the weekend and that I’ll be spending two days frolicking in woods this week.

Perhaps it was because of the big bike ride and the days in the woods.  I felt that zing of health in my skin and realised that it hadn’t been there for a while.  I got a bit teary-eyed for the time that I was really fit – when I was training for a marathon and working as hired muscle at Staplefield Organics and I went wwoofing in Devon and threw hay around like it was candy floss.  Yes, I mentally edited out the time that I was so tired from all of that that I tipped my dinner onto a gas hob (I just turned the frying an upside down) and was so out of it that my housemates had to turn the gas off, remove my dinner and then sit me down.

One of the ‘problems’ is that, while training for the marathon has given me the belief that I can get fit, I think I lack the faith that I can stay fit without giving over my whole life to it.  I am reluctant to start any kind of running regime, for example, because I know that I am only motivated for training for an event, and that training for an event can easily take over my life – and right now, I don’t want it to.

Wait a second, I thought (through the tears).  This is a design issue, really.  If I can maximise the opportunities for getting fit, being outside, and maintaining mental equilibrium through the things I am already doing, then I’ll only have ‘the surplus’ to deal with.  I won’t have to tack exercise on as an extra in my life, which I am really starting to resent doing.  Plus, if fitness, getting into nature and good mental health are designed into my projects from the start, then this will make maintaining those elements much easier.

I decided to do a PMI (plus, minus, interesting) analysis of what opportunities for getting fit, being outside and working with nature and maintaining mental health my current projects had.  Here’s what I came up with…

Scythe teaching:  Whilst scything itself is really good for mind and body, and teaching scything is great for mental health because you feel like you’re passing on an interesting skill, there is a lot of admin associated with running courses.  Marketing, answering questions etc locks you to a computer and keeps you inside and it can impact badly on your mental health if its not going too well.

I am already working on the administration question, but it struck me that what I really needed to do was get outside and scythe more.  Sometimes its as basic as that…  I have resolved to track down some spots where I can get a bit of practice in.  This is especially important if I want to do well in the competition this year (by ‘do well’, I mean win), which I do…

Pen to paper/Localise:  When it comes to getting fit, being outside and maintaining your mental health, writing is not the first activity you would turn to.  I’ve always known that in order for me to be able to write, I would need to offset it with other activities that got me outside and moving around.  It was one of the key premises behind designing my diploma (which is essentially a ‘life redesign’) in the way that I have.

But writing is still really important to me.  Theory, as well as practice, is important.  While I still think that the combination of writing and outside activities is a winning one, I have some work to do on zoning.  Sitting down and thinking for a few hours makes it really difficult to get up and do anything else like go to the woods, or go foraging. You just don’t want to, even if you know you’ll feel great once you’ve moved your fat arse off the chair.  Having half a mile between you and anything resembling nature, as I do, makes it even harder.  It needs to be outside of the window, winking at you coquettishly as if to say ‘put your pen computer down and come out and see me.’  The answer is that I need to be in the countryside, but there are reasons why I am not there right now, so I’ll have to pencil that one in as a ‘work towards.’  What was interesting when I was doing this exercise was that I had never really thought about motivation as a zoning issue before – or at least I had never really applied it beyond ‘put the plants that need the most attention close to the house’.

Wild Food:  Get fit.  Check.  Be outside and in nature.  Check.  Positive for mental health.  Check.  It seems like this is the perfect project from the mental and physical health point of view.  I was struck, when I was looking at this project how it connects and interacts with almost all of the others.  I think this is because it’s evolving into a botany and observation project rather than one that is specifically about food.  It connects to scything and coppicing because whilst I’m out in a field or a wood I am mentally (or physically) taking pictures of the grasses, flowers and trees that I see, it connects with writing because it gives me plenty of things to write about, it connects to preserving because there are plenty of things out there in the wild to preserve, it connects to teaching permaculture because if you’re going to teach a design system based on observation of nature then you bloody well should have observed nature, and it connects with gardening for obvious reasons.

Preserve-a-thon:  Not a lot of direct opportunities for fitness here, but there is a definite connection to nature.  You’re preserving what you have grown or foraged (or bought locally) often using natural processes like fermenting.  Given that I don’t have a big space to grow anymore, I thought some more about teaming up with other plots from a preserving point of view.  I don’t want the responsibility for them, but they might appreciate some help in preserving their produce in return for me getting a share of the produce.  That would get me outside picking things and working with other people.  I shall have to explore this idea further.

Wild wood:  Coppicing has plenty of opportunity to get fit, especially if the coppice hasn’t been worked for a while and you’re dragging fairly big logs around.  It can go so far as to be really really really tiring!

Teaching Permaculture:  This is a kind of inside and outside job.  Teach inside then take everyone outside to look at examples in nature, then back inside again.  It won’t get me fit, but it’s a great way to consolidate what I am learning whilst being outside in other capacities.

The edible flower garden:  The small amount of space here doesn’t really give much opportunity for working on fitness but it is being outside and working on the amount of ‘nature’ close to where I live.  In that sense, it’s really good for mental health because it’s lovely to come home everyday and see a profusion of green.

This was a really interesting exercise to do, and it reminded me that I am on the right track but I just need a little tweaking now and then.  Instead of whining about fitness and being inside all the time I need to look at my projects and look at what I could do outside to progress them and then go and do that.  So, the answer is, get up and move around which I could have told myself before I started – but sometimes it takes a little analysis to work out how and when to get up and move around.

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First diploma guild meet up

A few weeks ago we had our first diploma peer support guild meeting.  That’s an complicated way of describing what actually happened which was that Hedvig, Bex, Fran and I met up at my house to eat a random assembly of food and discuss how our diplomas are going.  We’re hopefully going to be doing this every month for the foreseeable future.

There’s not much to say about the actual meeting.  It was our first one, so we spent our time telling each other about our various projects and working our what we wanted to do in future guild meetings.  It seems we all want to be free to concentrate on whatever is on our minds at the time, so we agreed that we would each have an alloted amount of time to discuss whatever we wanted, whether that was advice on a design or just general support on the diploma.

What I like about our particular guild is that we all have a similar focus to our diplomas – all of us are designing livelihoods to some extent.  We are also established collaborators – me and Hedvig especially – but the other ladies too.  It’ll be fun to increase diversity and edge by forming other guilds for various projects and designs, but for long term support and stability I’m glad that our group is like-minded.

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Permaculture in Technicolour!

I’ve been reading a lot of blogs recently and I have noticed that I am always drawn back to the ones with the nicest pictures.  Two in particular have been inspiring me recently – The English Can Cook and A Beautiful Mess (I stole this one from Hedvig).

I got some money for Christmas and a digital camera seemed like the right investment at this moment in time because I thought it would be extremely useful for taking pictures for articles that I write.  In fact, it already has been really useful in this way.  I’ve been snapping away for my upcoming piece on edible flowers in Home Farmer Magazine.

It also means that I can add some nice pictures to my blog posts.  When I have learned to take nice pictures that is.  Until then you’ll have to make do with this one of me squinting.  Still, I live with a photographer, how’s that for zoning!  I have come up with a cunning plan to learn photography from Ben by osmosis.  I leave my camera in the kitchen and take photos of my dinner.  Ben feels compelled to step in and  tell me how I am doing it wrong ways in which I could improve, and I learn something!

Fact fans will be dying to know what camera I got…  I bought a second-hand Canon 30D and I’m borrowing Ben’s lens until I come into enough money to buy my own (hopefully sometime around my birthday in March).  I’m also borrowing his memory card and his card reader.  So, I suppose you could say that most of the camera isn’t yet mine…  I chose second hand because as well as being a little bit more earth-friendly, it meant that I could make my meagre resources go a little bit further.  I could get a much better camera and lens for my £400 than I could if I bought new.  It’s always a bit of a gamble buying second hand, but it seems to have paid off.

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