The turning of the year

Today is the winter solstice. At 23:03 GMT the North Pole will be tilted the furthest away from the sun as it is during the whole year. This means that today is the shortest day – hurrah! After this, the days start to lengthen and my thoughts turn towards the coming spring. For me, this is the most notable day in the winter and one that Mr Snail and I choose to celebrate.

This year, however, we had to bring our celebration forward a little because today, the actual day of the solstice, he’s heading back to England to work. We celebrate with food… enjoying some of the past year’s harvest from the garden and from some of our fantastic local producers.

The garden produce was represented by a huge Boston squash. In fact we only extracted a single slice from it… the rest will be roasted in chunks tomorrow and then frozen for later consumption, apart from one piece which we will share with my mum on Christmas day.

Carving the squash

Carving the squash

Other than that we had locally grown parsnips, potatoes and cauliflower, a cheese sauce, made with Welsh organic milk and Hafod cheese, and a piece of smoked gammon produced by From The Hedge Rose (local and ethically reared).

Local food

Local food

For dessert I was going to make Pond Pudding, using a recipe that Anne Phillips kindly gave me (see the comments in this post), but I thought it might be a bit filling after such a substantial meal. Fortuitously, I got a phone call in the morning from my neighbours to say that they had some left over homemade chocolate mousse in the fridge and to come over and get it! We are keeping an eye on their house for a little while as they are visiting relatives and they were about to leave, so the mousse was going spare and was ours for the taking. It seemed completely in the spirit of the meal to have that for dessert.

We even illuminated our celebration with beeswax candles from the local honey farm:

Solstice light

Solstice light

Whilst we ate and chatted, Max and Sam made themselves comfortable under the table, in the hope that food would arrive from above (it didn’t).

Crashed out... not through lake of food - they ate first

Crashed out… not through lack of food – they ate first

So that was how our year turned… I do hope any celebrations you had were as enjoyable.

 

More Aussie generosity

And so this morning ANOTHER parcel arrived from the other side of the world… from a place where it’s currently summer, I received snowflakes:

Aussie snowflakes in my editing corner

Aussie snowflakes in my editing corner

The lovely Dani (Bavarian crochet guru from Teddy and Tottie) sent me this snowflake bunting. A little while ago she decided to pick two lucky winners out of all the people who had commented on a post she wrote about her work room and send them some snowflake bunting (she didn’t mention this in advance, so it was a complete surprise). And I won!

Actually, everybody won! She just couldn’t bring herself to choose just one of us and so she decided to make some bunting for all the people who had left a comment… all fourteen of us! How amazing is that.

So, thank you very, very much Dani… I love it!

The season of goodwill

Thanks must go, today, to Kate (Tall Tales from Chiconia) because she has spared you a post in which I ranted about those who impose unrealistic expectations and ridiculous amounts of pressure on themselves in the name of ‘Christmas’. All my grumpiness about being asked, yet again, if I was all prepared for a celebration that I (like many other members of the human race) don’t really participate in melted away when the post arrived.

I love presents that arrive at random times and that was what happened this morning. A while ago I had bemoaned the regular hunt for crochet hooks, knitting needles, scissors and sewing needles down the sofa and Kate promised to make me a holder so that I could keep all these things under control. She asked me to photograph and measure the tools that I wanted to keep handy and said that she would provide me with a solution. And, good as her word, exactly that arrived this morning. Knowing my fondness for purple, she obliged with this lovely case.

One thing that particularly made me smile was that she had printed out the pictures of my tools to scale to get the sizes right, and had then put the paper versions in the case to send. Of course, one of the real hooks (the tiny one with the dog charm) had to be retrieved from down the sofa even before I could fill the case, but the result is perfect.

I can use if at home or away when closed, or open draped over the arm of the sofa so that all my tools are to hand and safe from consumption by furniture. Thank you so much Kate… what a kind and generous person you are.

Out of the kiln

Yesterday I had a lovely surprise… I was doing some voluntary work in the office over at Denmark Farm when Joanna turned up with the little sculptures we had made in her paper porcelain workshops back in October.

I’m really delighted with the results. One of them never even got home to be photographed: I immediately gave it to Mara (who, amongst other things, organises the courses at Denmark Farm) because she admired it when we opened the box. She is going to hang it on her Christmas tree. I have recipients in mind for several of the others, but I am going to keep a few for myself, as I am delighted by the way they have come out.

Just as a reminder, this is what they looked like as they were made:

And here are my creations after glazing:

Not bad for a first attempt, I think!

Long-term investments

When you plant seeds, you know that you are making a deposit that will not show a yield immediately. Plant radishes and you will see a return in a few weeks, plant purple sprouting broccoli and it will be months before you get anything back (although it is always most welcome to see those tasty shoots start to appear in the depths of winter). Plant winter squashes and you are making a real long-term investment over the year.

It has been such a mild autumn, that we only got round to harvesting the final four of our shark’s fin melons today now that we’ve had a couple of frosts and the leaves have died back. We braved the rain to collect these fruits. The tough stems have been put onto one of the raised beds to rot down and return nutrients to the soil, whilst the fruits with their hard skins can be stored in a cool place indoors to be used as required.

One of them had a little rotten patch on the base, so that has been cut up and stewed in a little sunflower oil and its own juice. Once cool, I will freeze it in portions to be added to soups, stews and curries as required. It turns out to be a good addition to a winter vegetable soup, with onion, carrot, parsnip, leek, potato and kale. The less mature fruits do not need to have the seeds removed, which saves a lot of messing around, but I’m not sure about the biggest specimens. The largest one from today’s haul weighed over 4.5kg, which amounts to a lot of eating and well worth the effort to grow this unusual crop.

The seeds came from Garden Organic’s heritage seed library and I’m planning to save some seeds to plant again next year. This species does not hybridise with courgettes or other winter squash, so should breed true, but only time will tell.

It wasn’t really a high-risk investment even though I wasn’t sure what the return would be, and certainly it’s worth another shot next year… especially if it means you can be harvesting such good things in the middle of December.

Buy Less, Live More

Buy Less, Live More

One way that we can all be more sustainable in our lives is to be happy with what we have got. Constant pressure to experience or own new things just means that we are in a constant quest… often associated with consuming more and more  resources. It’s important to remember that when we see adverts encouraging us to buy the latest gadget, pair of shoes or shampoo that will magically give us beautiful hair, the manufacturers may not be focused solely on our happiness. It is just possible that they are also interested in their own profits. The more we get hooked on the idea that the latest ‘thing’ is all we need to fill our lives with meaning, the more we perpetuate the process. It’s like a drug – all you can focus on is getting your next fix. And when you do, the effect is limited (maybe not even lasting as long as the time it takes you to get home from the shops) and you move on to seeking the next thrill. If you haven’t already watched it, I highly recommend the animation ‘The Story of Stuff‘ which will give you plenty of food for thought about this subject.

I'm happy, anyway

My Buy Less, Live More picture

However, if we look closer to home, we may be able to find happiness and stimulation within our existing sphere. The Story of Stuff project is currently asking supporters to submit pictures to their ‘Buy Less, Live More’ campaign. I have sent a picture of progress on the crochet sofa – if you want to send them a photo, you can do so here. It’s lovely to browse through all the pictures and see how people are enjoying their time not shopping. Other than crochet, the thing this week that has been making me smile most in my little world is Max.

Max – as recommended by our vet – goes and has his hair done every three months. This seems to rejuvenate him – I’m not sure whether it’s because he can see better or simply because he feels nice afterwards, but he is always much more perky after than before. He is a rather naughty boy with Tina, our very patient groomer, so I have to accompany him and he has to be muzzled for part of the process. Yesterday, however, he made us both smile by being a Good Boy and not having a temper tantrum or trying to bite anyone.

This is what he looked like before:

And this is him looking delightful afterwards:

Sam also makes me smile at no cost as she never needs grooming:

So, what have you been enjoying this week that doesn’t involve shopping?

The winter blues

It's not just me that's blue!

It’s not just me that’s blue!

I always feel rather glum at this time of year as the days get shorter and shorter and my general ‘bah-humbug’ attitude towards the festival of greed commonly referred to as Christmas grows. This year feels particularly miserable with Mr Snail being away during the week… in  fact he’s just driven off down the road and left me here at home until Friday. So, I’m trying to fill my evenings with creativity.

Gloom, however, is not conducive to starting new projects, so it’s lovely to have the sofa covers to work on, because the colours are already chosen (the sort of winter blues I can welcome) and I already know which designs I’m going to use. The latest cushion is 50% done and makes use of a shell pattern that’s like a half  Bavarian crochet; I’ve just started on the second side of it and am enjoying the look very much (it’s from the book I wrote about in this post). I can’t wait until the handmade buttons are ready so I can complete at least a few of the pieces.

The other project that is keeping me busy is a final blanket for the charity raffle we are running to keep our lovely nature reserve at Denmark Farm properly managed and maintained. Many thanks to those of you who have already bought or offered to buy raffle tickets… you never know, if you win the first prize of a stay in the sustainable lodge on the site, we may get to meet up! And if not, when it’s finished, you might be snuggling up under this (Nia and Ann, you might see something familiar here):

The third creative project to make me smile is also one for charity, but you’ll have to wait a while before I can reveal it… ooh – suspense!

One other thing that helps to brighten my days is knowing that all of you bloggers on the other side of the world are enjoying your growing season… so do keep posting pictures of your gardens and I will be able to dream of what’s round the corner. Which reminds me… time to order some seeds – one of my favorite winter jobs. Perhaps I’m not quite as blue as I thought!

Take a chance

Would you like to own a masterpiece? Not mine, but one inspired by it. Well, here is your chance… at least if you live in the UK.

Sociable and creative

Sociable and creative

Early on in 2014 I had the idea to start some sort of ‘knit and natter’ or ‘stitch and bitch’ group up at my beloved Denmark Farm. However, I didn’t like either of these titles… partly because I wanted to open the group up to all sorts of crafters, partly because I didn’t like the gossipy negativity, and partly because I wanted to build in the idea of afternoon tea! I really wish at the time I’d come across the word ‘crafternoons’, but that didn’t appear in my lexicon until about July this year and so I came up with Cake and Craft (or possibly Craft and Cake, depending on your emphasis!). Originally my idea was just to have a social group with lots of creativity, but my dear friend Linda suggested the idea of fundraising as part of it and so, we created a project entitled Everything is Connected … and started making connections through eating cake and crafting.

An evening spread

An evening spread

Over the months we’ve spent some lovely afternoons, and a few evenings (we call those Cawl* and Craft) with hooks and needles, creating beautiful blankets inspired by my masterpiece.

We’ve made four lovely blankets so far, plus a number of smaller items and I’m working on a fifth blanket, and now we are raffling them off. So… buy a ticket or two (they are £1 each) and you might have a masterpiece of your very own! I’ll do you a deal… if you live in the UK**, buy some tickets and I’ll cover the postage to send them to you and I’ll also pay to have the blanket delivered if you win one (make sure you tell me if you have a preference – first drawn gets the choice). How can you resist?

In fact, the blankets aren’t the first prize – that’s a long weekend for two in our beautiful ecolodge… just 12 miles from where I live – you could come round for a cuppa!

So, if you fancy your chances, send me an e-mail to my snailofhappiness address that you can find on my ‘about’ page and we’ll make arrangements.

-oOo-

* Welsh soup

** If you’re overseas I’m afraid I can’t afford to cover the cost of sending a blanket… but if you really want one, I’ll make the arrangements if you cover the cost should you win!

I’m pleased too

Last week Kerry over at Love those “Hands a Home” wrote a post entitled It pleases me that really resonated with me. In particular, she wrote:

Along the way, there have been many other creative outlets that moved me not at all. I’ve tried some and moved on. Others . . . just never spoke to me.

The red one was finally completed on Sunday, the green one has been done for a while

The red one was finally completed on Sunday, the green one has been done for a while

It has been as I have forcing myself to complete some projects over the last few days that I have come to accept that at least one creative activity that I used to love has, in fact, stopped ‘speaking to me’. And that is machine sewing – in particular making clothes. I realise that my sewing machine has been occupying space on my work table for months without being used. It was so unused that I had to unearth it from beneath a pile of letters before I could use it the other day. Not only that, but looking back through this blog, I see that it’s a year since I embarked on making the items I have just finished – pyjamas and a nightdress (to be fair on myself, the first nightdress was finished very speedily when I was feeling enthusiastic).

No more of this

No more of this…

But now it is time to put aside my sewing machine and concentrate on all the creative things that I really do enjoy. Life is too short to spend it on chores… especially when they are self-imposed. So, no more sewing unless I have to… instead, on with the sofa cover, skeleton hat, armadillo, hoodie… and all those other knitted and crochet creations that I am really enjoying working on. Plus I want to do some more felting, and tapestry and finish writing up some patterns and… and… and…

IMGP4328

… but lots more of this: my latest sofa cushion in progress

 

Mum knows best

Sometimes you can work on a problem for ages and just not be able to see the solution.

And so it was with my pyjamas. I had bought a paper pattern, cut out all the pieces, completed the bottoms (except the elastic, which I didn’t happen to have any of) and them came to the top. Ah, the top, which was supposed to have a rather nice contrasting binding round the neck, cuffs and bottom. The pattern describes itself as ‘easy’… well, pah to that! There is nothing easy (for me) about creating a bound edge on a V-necked garment… with a seam at the V that means… as far as this pattern goes… that you end up with five layers of fabric in a tiny point. I tried several times to get it right before setting it aside and wondering if there was any way to make a crochet ending for it (I’m a much better hooker than seamstress*).

An easy solution

An easy solution

And then I went to visit my mum. She really is a great needlewoman and, as soon as I described my problem, she was able to offer a solution (and confirm that the binding was ridiculously fiddly). An easy solution… something that I could do without any trouble. ‘Forget binding,’ she said ‘and just make a facing, with no seam at the V’. And so I returned home and completed the neck without any further issues. It means that it doesn’t have a contrasting edging, but I really don’t care. In fact, I then bought some ready made binding for the sleeve and bottom edges and made the whole process even simpler.

Just goes to show that sometimes you need a fresh perspective to help you onto a different track. Thank you mum.

The bottom and sleeves are fancy and were easy to do.

The bottom and sleeves are fancy and were easy to do.

-oOo-

* Honestly, this is a really funny joke if you are a Terry Pratchett fan.

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