Teatime again

I have finally said goodbye to teabags for my daily cuppa. My tea is now in the form of leaves and made using an infuser – either in a pot or a mug. This means that there are no more teabags containing plastic going on my compost heap.

Left: Nilgiri; Right: Yunnan

Left: Nilgiri; Right: Yunnan

I have sampled a number of types of tea… dismissing the ones made from ‘fannings’. One of the reasons I have avoided  leaf tea for so long is that I detest having debris in the bottom of my cup – those little fragments that escape through the strainer or infuser. Fannings are the smallest grade of loose tea (the stuff called ‘dust’ goes into teabags) and they often get into the brew. A conversation with the very knowledgeable owner of our local tea and coffee shop, The Mecca, helped me to identify some suitable candidate teas of a better grade and I have now settled on buying China Yunnan FOP a lovely medium strength tea and Nilgiri SFTGFOP , which doesn’t seem to get stewed if you leave it brewing for a long time…  a boon for someone as easily distracted as me!

I now know that FOP stands for Flowery Orange Pekoe and is a “high quality whole leaf tea made from the first two leaves and bud of the shoot”, whilst SFTGFOP is Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – “an even higher quality with more tips than FOP”.  Both grades make tea with little debris in the cup.

New tea tins

New tea tins

This morning I bought supplies of both these teas along with suitable receptacles for them. I chose tins with tight-fitting lids, which I can take into the shop to be refilled. In this way, I will be able to avoid any plastic packaging as well as the plastic in the tea. I know that lots of people enjoy the ‘ceremony’ associated with making tea, but I’m afraid that this is not something that I relish, so I have also ordered an infuser designed to sit in a mug (the diameter of the current one is too small to sit over the rim of the mug – it is specifically designed for its teapot) so that I can quickly make tea without all that mucking about with a pot (sorry tea aficionados).

And, thus, hopefully, ends the saga of the plastic tea (which started here). Who would ever have though that something as simple as a cup of tea would lead me on such a journey of discovery?

Bag ladies… but not me

Yesterday, I spent another lovely day felt-making under the guidance of Lorraine of Greenweeds. We learned how to incorporate a variety of objects into our felt – sequins, shells, beads and other three-dimensional objects – as well as how to make a pocket  inside a bag. We spent the morning exploring techniques:

And then in the afternoon, most participants made a bag using one or more of the techniques. I didn’t… I just wanted to continue playing, so I worked on a flat piece. I really enjoyed the act of creating something without a particular end in mind – it was rather liberating and meant that when I’d had enough I was just able to stop and know that I have achieved all I wanted to.

When I got home I decided that I didn’t want to do much more work on my creation, so I put it in the washing machine and it felted to a nice thick piece, which I am going to cut into a square and use as a table mat. Here are some details:

The next piece of felting I embark on will be a long-planned bag that I now feel ready to tackle thanks to techniques learned yesterday.

Bragging rights

I am constantly exasperated by the fact that we are bombarded with the message that success and happiness can be equated to owning the latest ‘stuff’. Large corporations, of course, have a vested interest in perpetuating this idea – after all their raison d’être is to sell us more things and thus make a profit. This is the reason for fashion – you really don’t look better in this year’s colours  than you did in last year’s… however much  clothes shops tell you that you do. Similarly, the latest i-phone is completely unnecessary to you because all you ACTUALLY want to do is send e-mails, look at a couple of web sites and make a phone call or two… why on earth you would want to queue up overnight to be the first to obtain the latest model is beyond comprehension.

Are you successful because you have a huge TV, a fast car or the latest video game? Are you happy because you own a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or a BMW? Even if the act of buying these things gave you instant gratification, do you not find yourself hankering after the next purchase as soon as you have got the first one home? If the answer is yes, then you are being suckered by retailers and manufacturers.

So… what really does make you happy? And what should you be bragging about to your friends? Well, my experience is that I can find happiness in all sorts of places…. on the beach, cuddled up with my sweetie, collecting fresh eggs from my hens, picking herbs in the garden, watching an eclipse or writing my blog. And what do I have to brag about in the way of possessions? Well there are a few…

Solar, wind-up radio mended again!

Our much-repaired solar, wind-up radio… still going strong

Me and my props (including the snails)

The masterpiece (a rare picture of me posing with it)

The new wand seems to be a rather brighter grey than the old cleaner

Our old Dyson vacuum cleaner… with several new components helping to extend its life

A work bag made from yarn left over from another project

A work bag made from yarn left over from another project

Ready for action

My handmade string shopping bags

The complete set up

My repaired antique swift and secondhand wool winder

The Snail of Scrappiness

The Snail of Scrappiness – a gift from a friend (the lovely Kate)

All mended!

Our twice-repaired Kelly kettle

And I could go on and on… you may be identifying a theme here. All these things have a history and memories associated with them. Every single one of them makes me smile when I look at it. Every one I want to preserve and continue to own for years to come. Every one I want to share with you.

So, what about you? What objects that you own REALLY make you happy? What would you like to brag about?

OK… here are a few more of mine…

Beach-combing with a deaf dog

It doesn’t take much to keep me amused – a sunny afternoon and a trip to the beach with the pups and I’m happy. I’m even happier if I know that the outing serves several functions, as was the case today…

On Saturday I am attending a felting workshop entitled ‘Hiding Places: Felt Bags’. In this class, aimed at more experienced felt-makers, we are going to be learning about embedding objects in our felting and using resists to make hidden pouches. I thought that I wasn’t going to be able to attend because it was originally scheduled for last Saturday when I was teaching statistics, but fortunately it was moved by a week and so I can go. The pre-course information came the other day and included the following:

Could all participants bring with them a few bits and pieces they might want to embed in their felt. This could be (but not exclusively limited to):
•    Small beads
•    Shells (including snail shells for Jan)
•    Open weave fabrics: old chiffon scarves, bits of cotton muslin, that kind of thing
•    Small stones or sticks e.g. Driftwood and pebbles
•    Sequins, shisha mirrors
•    Even small metal washers
•    Glass beads/pebbles
Nothing should be much larger than around 2.5 cms (OK driftwood sticks might be larger), smaller is great. What we will be doing is using resist techniques to ‘hide’ things in the felt, then reveal them (or not). Ideally bring things that go together as a ‘collection’ of things.


My existing collection

See? I even get a special mention!! Thus inspired, I thought that Max and Sam would enjoy accompanying me on a trip to the beach to seek out some suitable shells to add to a little collection that I was given by some friends last year. The beach was almost deserted, but you’ll have to take my word for that because I forgot to take the camera… probably a good job as I was kept rather busy throwing Sam’s ball for her and rooting about for shells. Max does not generally move very fast, he usually just potters around sniffing things. But not today. Today he decided to demonstrate how useful he finds his deafness.

Collected today - despite the Max-shaped distraction

Collected today – despite the Max-shaped distraction

Max likes chasing sea birds. Actually, he likes running vaguely towards them and has never succeeded in getting closer than 20m away before they take off. Today there were oyster-catchers, which Max eyed for quite a while before deciding to make his move. I noticed him setting off in their direction and diverted him away three times before he suddenly discovered his accelerator  and departed like a bulled across the sand. There is no point in calling him back – he cannot hear and even when he could, he would not have paid any attention (it’s the Lhasa apso in him – they are very willful dogs). Fortunately he was slowed when he encountered a stony area and I managed to retrieve him with the inconvenience of only slightly wet trainers. From then on he had to stay on his flexi-lead and I had to collect my treasures one-handed. Despite this, I managed to make a nice little collection – choosing some shells that were worn away to expose the spirals inside. I’m not sure how these will work with the felting, but it will be interesting to experiment and I will report back next week.

All-in-all, a successful excursion, resulting in a happy me and tired dogs as well as my treasures.

Sam needs a lie-down to recover

Sam – recovering

No more eyelash curlers

Eyelash curlers- they look like an instrument of torture to me  (Source: Macador at the German language Wikipedia)

I do quite a lot of my shopping on-line – partly because there aren’t many big stores near us and partly because  I can do it with a cup of tea and a biscuit whilst sitting down. This does mean, however, that I get marketing e-mails from various companies. I can’t help feeling, though, that they are not really targeted at people like me. For example, the latest one from House of Fraser was entitled: Say goodbye to eyelash curlers, we’ve just found your new fave mascara. I’m so relieved! All those hours I have wasted, struggling to achieve curly eyelashes and now I can simply use some mascara… no, hang on… do I have eyelashes? Oh yes, I’ve checked and I do. When did I last actively interact with them? Erm… perhaps last time one of them got into my eye?

It is becoming apparent that House of Fraser don’t know me very well. The media tells me that large stores are tracking my purchases and building up a profile of me based on the things that I buy so that they can target their marketing. Which is where it all goes wrong with me. I’m racking my brains and I think that the only thing I have ever ordered from this particular store was some bedding about 10 years ago! And so, a profile is difficult to construct – I’m not even sure that they know I’m female since my title (Dr) is gender neutral and so is my first name (most of my Scandinavian editing clients think I’m male unless I tell them I’m not). So based on a duvet cover, some pillowcases and a guess that I am a woman because most Jans in the UK are, they have concluded that I need to tend my eyelashes AND can be tempted to spend money on doing so! I’m not sure what this says about stereotyping by marketing executives and perhaps I don’t want to go there. I think my lack of purchases over many years should tell them all they need to know about me!

The other day I ordered a waffle iron from John Lewis (I had worn out my last one) – I can only guess what marketing e-mails this single purchase may result in during the coming months… A pair of ice skates? A glass-fronted cocktail cabinet? A fascinator? Perhaps I’ll just save myself the trouble and ask to be removed from everyone’s databases … all the time spent not reading marketing e-mails can be dedicated to admiring my completely natural eyelashes – mascara-free and as straight as a die – and cooking waffles.


Goodbye sunshine

What a fantastic morning!

Today, 20 March 2015, we experienced a partial solar eclipse – over 90% of the sun was obscured by the moon. And here in west Wales we were lucky to have completely clear skies and a friend who hosted an eclipse breakfast party. Mr Snail came home specially for the event, which made it even more memorable (you can read his post about it here).

We Snails went to China in 2009 to see a total eclipse, but it was lovely to have the chance to experience this one at home. In China we made new friends, here in Wales we were with old friends – both occasions were remarkably sociable. It’s lovely the way that such a natural phenomenon draws people together and can result in a remarkable ‘human’ experience as well as a fascinating astronomical one.

One can only imagine the terror that people experienced in earlier days when the light disappeared, but in modern times it feels like an opportunity for celebration. We enjoyed viewing the spectacle directly through special glasses, as well as projecting the image onto card through binoculars and (believe it or not) a colander! In addition, the image could be seen when the light passing through the canopy of a tree was viewed on a piece of card. Pictures cannot capture the atmosphere nor the strange light, but here are a few to give a flavour of the morning:

And then after more than an hour, we retired indoors and Linda had prepared the most fantastic breakfast… coffee, porridge, croissants, fruit, marmalade, jam, yoghurt, toast. And we spent another couple of hours enjoying good company and great food.

So, huge thanks to Linda and Graeme for hosting such a lovely event – it could not have been better.


I may be speaking too soon, but today I have noticed some signs of spring in the garden:

Not to mention on the washing line:

Washing on the line - sunshine and blue sky

Washing on the line – sunshine and blue sky

And in the fields:



In addition, Max has been groomed  and clipped for the warmer weather:

Max in his spring plumage

Max in his spring plumage

Sam, on the other hand is not impressed:

Sam not knowing how a dog crate works

Sam not knowing how a dog crate works

Now, I know there are dull days to come, but I do feel so much more positive at this time of year compared to during the dark and wet days of winter.

Tomorrow I will plant seeds! Now there’s nothing more optimistic than that.





My Way

You can find Lu-Tze here

You can find Lu-Tze here

The death of Sir Terry has started me thinking about his creations, particularly his characters since DEATH has been getting a mention in so many of the media reports. My two favourite Discworld books (Thief of Time and Night Watch) both feature the character of Lu-Tze and I am very fond of him. I think that this is mainly because of his unique perspective on life.

Lu-Tze is a History Monk (they have the responsibility of ensuring that anything happens at all on the Discworld). Throughout life, he follows his Way. He explains its discovery to his apprentice Lobsang, as follows:

‘Have you seen the visitors we get here?’

‘Yes,’ said Lobsang. ‘Everybody laughs at them.’

‘Really?’ Lu-Tze raised his eyebrows. ‘When they have trekked thousands of miles seeking the truth?’

‘But did not Wen say that if the truth is anywhere, it is everywhere?’ said Lobsang.

‘Well done. I see you’ve learned something at least. But one day it seemed to me that everyone else decided that wisdom can only be found a long way off. So I went to Ankh-Morpork, They were all coming here, so it seemed only fair.’

‘Seeking enlightenment?’

‘No. The wise man does not seek enlightenment, he waits for it. So while I was waiting it occurred to me that seeking perplexity might be more fun,’ said Lu-Tze. ‘After all, enlightenment begins where perplexity ends…

… ‘But why Ankh-Morpork?’ said Lobsang.

‘Look in the back of the book.’ said Lu-Tze.

There was a yellow, crackling scrap of paper tucked in there. The boy unfolded it.

‘Oh, this is just a bit of the Almanack,’ he said. ‘It’s very popular there… It’s just an advert for the Ankh-Morpork Guild of Merchants… “Ankh-Morpork Has Everything!” He stared at the smiling Lu-Tze. ‘And… you thought that —’

‘Ah, I am old and simple and understand. Whereas you are young and complicated. Didn’t Wen see portents in the swirl of gruel in his bowl, and in the flight of birds? This was actually written. I mean, flights of birds are quite complex, but these were words. And, after a lifetime of searching, I saw at last the opening of the Way. My Way.

(Thief of Time, Terry Pratchett 2001)

And as a result Lu-Tze found Mrs Cosmopilite, a dressmaker (not a seamstress). He carefully records her wisdom: gems such as ‘How do you know you don’t like it you haven’t tasted it?’, ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’,  and ‘It does you good to get out in the fresh air’, along with the over-arching explanation ‘Because’. And these form the basis for his Way in life.

I think I could follow a Way based on the wisdom a dressmaker with some common sense… what about you?




Goodbye Sir Terry, and thank you

Yesterday my favourite author, Sir Terry Pratchett met one of his enduring characters: Death (who always spoke in capital letters). Terry loved communicating via technology and so it is fitting that his death was announced via his Twitter account:


“Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.

“The End.”

The world has lost a wonderful, creative mind. He certainly inspired me. So, I’m reproducing this Terry-inspired post from 2013 as my tribute to the passing of a great man.

Boots – the world according to Sam Vimes

New boots - I hope they last!

New boots – I hope they last!

Now I know that quite a few of you are Terry Pratchett fans like me (well, perhaps not like me, because you probably don’t name your chickens after characters out of his books), but for those of you who aren’t, I want to recommend that you take a look at his writing. He is generally considered to be a writer of comic fantasy and that is certainly true at the most superficial level. However, in my opinion, he is a remarkably astute social commentator, as well as having what appears to be a vast knowledge of history, philosophy, science and literature. Well, maybe he is just good at research, but he certainly draws on it very elegantly in his writing.

Anyway, I was thinking the other day about the economics of poverty… at least the economics of being poor in an affluent society and remembered the best explanation of this that I have ever read. I should explain that Sam Vimes, the character in this excerpt, is from a very poor background, but  finally marries a very rich woman.

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

And that does seem to be it… over the years I have been lucky enough to be able to afford to buy some good quality items and I can attest to the money that this has saved. In addition, if you can pay for them, it’s possible to choose things that are designed to be repaired… our bamboo flooring in the kitchen can be sanded down and refinished, meaning it will last for many years; on the other hand, cheap laminate flooring has to be replaced once worn because it just can’t be repaired or rejuvenated.

As things stand, this is a difficult cycle to break.Leonard Cohen was right when he wrote

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

- Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

I got sole

Our slippers!

Mr Snail’s slippers #1 and my slippers in their heyday

Crochet slippers have turned out to be very popular. I’ve made then for myself, my mum (two pairs), one of my nieces, one of mum’s neighbours who has been very kind whilst mum has been ill and Mr Snail (also two pairs). However, they are a bit tough on the fingers to make and so I’m determined to ensure that they last as long as possible. The most recent three pairs have been made of Axminster carpet wool and had the soles coated with latex, but my pair was just made from yarn I had lying around at the time (now there’s both Axminster and Berber wool lying around, but not then). So, it’s no surprise that they have started to wear out:

Nearly worn through

Nearly worn through

Regular readers will know that I hate darning, and anyway, the whole of the bottom of both slippers was wearing thin, so a more radical solution was required: new soles. I didn’t have any black yarn, so I opted for a lovely blue with an added strand of purple sock yarn to increase the bulk a little. I started with a chain 18 stitches long and then just worked round and round in double crochet (UK terminology) until I reached the appropriate size, After that, it was just a case of stitching the new sole onto the old slipper and now I’m back to toasty feet again:




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