Three Things Thursday: 8 December 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Ms Emily’s Home for Full-Grown Nerds (and others) for Three Things Thursday. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

This week all three things are from a single trip out that we had on Tuesday. We went to visit Plantasia in Swansea… it’s one of the places that inspired the Eden Project and it’s about 25 years since I last went.

I was delighted to find several things there that I’m now growing at home.

First, this amazing hanging Nepenthes pitcher plant

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A Nepenthes

Mine has a long way to go before it can compete with this one, but it’s certainly grown since I first got it.

Second, a selection of other insectivorous plants: Sarracenia (pitchers), Drosera (sundews) and Dionaea (Venus fly traps), species of which I have growing in the limery.

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A community of carnivores

Third, Lithops (living stones). I have one surviving in the limery from the seeds I sowed back in 2014, but it has a long way to go before it looks like these:

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So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?

Out of my life

As the year draws to a close I have been reviewing some of the changes that I’ve made in my life over the past 12 months. Every year I try to do things to make my life that bit more sustainable, and this past year has been no exception:

  • I’ve given up liquid shampoo and shower gel in order to reduce transport of water and to cut out a bit of plastic packaging. I did come across some previously unnoticed shampoo in the bathroom the other day which I am using up, but once that’s done with there will be no more. I’m now only buying bars of soap/shampoo packed in cardboard/paper.
  • In goes the second one

    Our own container at the take-away

    I’ve started saying ‘no’ to lots of packaging – taking our own containers to the butchers and the take-away, for example, means a few less plastic bags and a bit less aluminium foil in the world.We also take our own fabric bags and repeatedly reused plastic bags to the greengrocer’s to put our veggies in. Plastic carrier bags have not been part of our life for many years.

  • We are now buying all our milk direct from a local farm. This means much lower energy inputs (transportation, processing) and no plastic cartons, as we take our own churn. In addition, we are keeping money in the local economy and the milk is delicious and great for making cheese, yoghurt and extracting the cream.
  • I’ve invested in a steam juicer, so we have another way of processing all the apples we tend to get given in the autumn. Making our own juice means repeated re-use of the bottles (cutting down on packaging), reducing transportation of processed juice and thus fewer food miles and knowing exactly what’s in the juice we are drinking.
  • I’ve given up fly paper – it may seem like a small thing, but it’s nice to feel that the fly control in the limery is being achieved by plants rather than a manufactured product.
  • during

    home-made brass cleaner

    I’m now making my own deodorant – it’s more effective than the ‘green’ stuff I was buying before, plus there’s relatively little packaging and it’s made from very simple ingredients.

  • I’ve started making more of my own cleaning products: re-usable cleaning wipes, window cleaner, brass cleaner. All of these rely on limited ingredients and I now have supplies of alcohol, white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and essential oils to make what I need when I need it.
  • I’ve increased the amount of mending that I’m doing. Darning, patching and sticking things together with Sugru are amongst my most common types of mending.

I’m not sure that’s everything for 2016, but it seems like some good steps forward. My next challenge is a bit more daunting: excluding palm oil from my life. I think that all our toiletries and household cleaning products are palm oil free, and I cook most of our food from scratch, so there’s none in that, but I do have a problem: my weakness for biscuits. I do like a chocolate digestive biscuit with a cuppa and sadly I have found that McVities, who make my favourite type, use palm oil. So, I have to find a brand I like that’s ethical, make my own, or give them up entirely. I’m now checking all the other products we use that may contain palm oil, just in case…

 

It’s complicated

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Which one is most ethical?

A couple of things over the past week have got me thinking about ‘doing the right thing’. First, I received a message from an acquaintance asking me about ethical knitting yarn. Since I’ve written extensively in the past about yarn ethics, I’m often asked for advice. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to give a straight answer. My preferences are based on my own morals as well as a knowledge of the sorts of fibres that actually ‘work’ for making different items. However,  we all have different perceptions of what is ‘ethical’ so my choices won’t be the same as everyone else’s. Anyway, I was able to provide lots of facts, suggestions and opinions, and the enquirer went away to do some thinking and research. Unfortunately finding reliable facts is a minefield in its own right, so it’s only possible to make a partially informed decision in the end at best.

The second thing was a news story, namely that the new Bank of England £5 notes are made using tallow, an animal product in the production of the polymer coating. This has led to a great deal of outrage being reported in the media and quite a bit on social media too. However, another acquaintance of mine who is a strict vegan has suggested that there are more important things in the world to get upset about. He mentioned the presence of animal products in a whole range of everyday and pretty-much-unavoidable materials.

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it’s enough to drive you to drink!

Because I’m nether vegetarian nor vegan, I’ve never really considered whether there are animal by-products in the objects around me, but the debate piqued my interest and I found several articles mentioning the presence, or potential presence, of tallow in polyethylene. Animal fats may also be present in cosmetics, soaps, detergents, candles and crayons, but I knew about all these so it’s animal fat in the production of plastics that is most interesting to me, because I wasn’t previously aware of it. This means that there are all sorts of everyday objects that purist vegans and vegetarians may want to avoid – pvc seat covers, plastic shopping bags, raincoats, shoes, condoms (it’s in some latex too)… you get the point.

 

However, the amounts are tiny (measured in parts per million rather than percentages) and so, maybe it’s ok to ignore? And it’s not always used in plastic production. Again, it surely depends on your own moral compass and where you draw the line. Again, however, we return to the fact that the issue is complex and that finding information about a particular object or material is likely to be extremely difficult – components of your plastic shoes may have been made using animal products, but how on earth would you find out?

I suppose that where I’m going with this  ramble is that we live in an extremely complex world, where making completely informed decisions is just not possible. However, the simpler a product, in theory, the easier it is to make that informed decision, right? Well, up to a point, but I invite you to read Leonard E. Read ‘s 1958 essay I, Pencil and then tell me it’s easy…

Playing

Sometimes it’s good to play. So, after making some very specific items for particular reasons and to deadlines, I thought that I’d spend some time just playing with my crochet hook. I have piles and piles of yarn oddments to use up, so I’ve been trying out some new patterns and some old favourites:

They are various sizes and I plan to put them (and more) together quite randomly into a large blanket that I will donate to Knit for Peace, who can always find a good home for woolly items.

All the above are made of wool or acrylic, but I also have a bag of cotton yarn oddments. Because cotton isn’t stretchy, it doesn’t really belong in my planned blanket, so I thought I would have a go at a completely different type of square, with a view to putting lots of these together into a fancy shawl or throw. It’s not my best work, but this is what I made:

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cotton square

The design is from the book Connect the Shapes. I’m rather fond of this book, particularly because it’s spiral bound, so it stays open whilst you are working from it! In addition it includes both charts and written instructions, making complex patterns easier to follow.

Now I have another specific task to get on with, but the playing has been fun…

Cream of the crop

We’ve now been getting our milk direct from Penlan y Mor for a couple of months and we are starting to get into a routine. We send a text to check it’s ok to call in, and if it is (there’s not been a problem yet) we drive down with our 10 litre churn and get it filled from the huge refrigerated tank. Once home, we decant it into glass jars for storage in the fridge or plastic cartons for the freezer.

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Ready for storage

However, since the milk is so creamy, it seems silly to buy cream separately, so I’ve now started leaving the milk to settle for a couple of hours before bottling, so that I can skim some of the cream off the top:

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Skimming

I store this in a fancy glass jar… no particular reason, I just like it. And then we can have cream on our waffles for Sunday brunch – yum.

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a little jar of cream

Now, I just need to get into a routine with cheese-making, which was the reason for getting milk from the farm in the first place…

We have a winner

Last time I did a give-away, it was in conjunction with Mr Snail and he insisted that the draw be made by Sam the dog and be filmed (the clip is here if you want to re-live the excitement). This time, however, I was much more restrained. I wrote the names on some re-used paper, placed them in a bowl and got Mr Snail to make the draw over our morning coffee.

So, did you enter? Did you win these cute little decorations?

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are they yours?

… and the winner is… drum roll, please…

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a winner!

Congratulations Emily of Miss Emily’s Home for Full-Grown Nerds! How very appropriate, since it was Emily who introduced me to the idea of ‘Three Things Thursday’ in the first place. Once I have your address one robin, one Christmas pud and a bauble will be winging their way to you in time for… well, Easter probably.

Thanks to everyone who took part, especially for sharing the things that made you smile. Maybe we’ll do this again sometime.

Three Things Thursday: 1 December 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Ms Emily’s Home for Full-Grown Nerds (and others) for Three Things Thursday. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, the lovely blanket that I knitted earlier in the year has been coming into its own now we’re having some cold weather. It is just the right size for snuggling under whilst I work

Second, making plans. Over the past couple of weeks I have been busy making arrangements for some trips in 2017: taking my mum to London for a few days so we can go to the ‘Undressed’ exhibition at the V&A; another holiday to Cornwall, because we had such a great time this year; a weekend of permaculture in Birmingham; and a trip to Manchester to spend a day crocheting in public at The Make It Shop to promote the Sixty Million Trebles project. I had to buy a diary so that I could write everything down!

Third, presents through the year. As you may know, here at Chez Snail, we don’t do Christmas. We don’t give gifts and we ask people not to give them to us,  and we don’t send cards any more. It’s not that we are mean, we’re just not into all the waste and overindulgence. Instead, we give gifts randomly at other times of the year and so I’ve just sent a hat to one friend and I’m currently making a little toy for another friend who tends to feel blue in the winter. I can’t share a picture of the latter as it’s gong to be a surprise, but here is a picture of some baby hedgies that went as a surprise to some friends earlier on in the year:

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hoglets

Finally, if you are waiting to hear the results of last week’s give away, you’ll have to hang on for a bit as I haven’t had time to do the draw yet… soon, I promise!

So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?

Putting the limery to bed

On Saturday, kitted out in my new stripy pinny, I tackled a job that I have been putting off… getting the limery sorted for winter.

Now that the temperatures have dropped, we’re not spending so much time out there – although it’s an excellent location for hand sewing as the light is so good. We are tending to drink our morning coffee in the kitchen and most of the plants that filled the space have died or died back, although the citrus trees are now in there after their summer outside and there’s one tomato plant that’s still surviving.

There were two main jobs that needed doing: cleaning and cutting back. I like to give the pepper plants a chance to survive the winter (although it’s a bit hit and miss), but they need to be pruned back. Some of the carnivores die back, and it’s important to keep them tidy and not swamped by decomposing leaves. So, all the peppers were chopped back to stems, the insectivorous plants cleaned up and I put all of them outside in the sunshine whilst I gave the windows and sills a thorough cleaning (mainly with white vinegar).

Finally, everything was returned to the limery and a few of the potted herbs were brought in – rosemary (I tend to lose this outdoors over the winter), sage and oregano – as well as the (still small) tea plant. The passion fruit was already nice and tidy, so I think we are all set for a period without much growth of anything.

It feels like winter is really here, although I remind myself that it’s only about six weeks before I’ll have to get the propagator out for sowing the 2017 peppers and chillies, which just goes to show how the limery has extended our gardening year!

Oh and remember, if you want to have a chance of winning my little crochet decorations, you need to leave a comment on last Thursday’s post telling me what’s making you smile this week (a ‘like’ won’t do).

Beatrice is keeping me clean

In my younger days I did a lot of dressmaking, but I don’t do so much now, partly because I don’t live alone (as I did until I was nearly 30) and using a sewing machine is not very sociable. Knitting and crochet, on the other hand are quiet and portable and I’m better at them! However, the older I get the more sewing I find myself doing. This way I can choose eco-friendly fabrics and turn them into garments that I actually want to wear and that won’t fall to bits after a few months.

I’ve been wanting a new apron to wear whilst cooking for a while now. My old one was ok, but didn’t provide the coverage I wanted and didn’t have pockets. I hadn’t seriously looked for a new one, but happened to see mention on the Facebook ‘Make do and Mend’ group of a pattern for, what looked to me, like a perfect pinny. It’s called Beatrice and it’s a design from Sew Me Something. I bought the pattern (delivered the next day) and ordered some fabric (one length of organic cotton and one of an organic cotton/bamboo mix from The Organic Textile Company) and some bias binding. And then, helped by the vaarks as pattern weights, I made my pinnies…

I’m really pleased with the results… although they may be too nice to get dirty! I think I might make another in denim to wear for gardening…

Oh and just a reminder, in case you missed it, that yesterday’s post involved a give-away… you can check it out here.

Free Things Thursday: 24 November 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Ms Emily’s Home for Full-Grown Nerds (note her new blog) and others for Three Things Thursday. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

Over the past few days I’ve been testing out some crochet patterns for my friend Danielle of The Make It Shop in Manchester. There were three of them and each one made me smile

First, a bauble:imgp1105

Second, a Christmas pudding:

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Third, a robin

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Have they made you smile? Would you like them? Well, I’m giving them away.

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Simply leave a comment below (or with a re-Tweet for my Twitter followers) and tell me one thing that’s making you smile this week and I’ll enter you into the draw to win all three of them. I’ll send them anywhere in the world, but I can’t guarantee that they’ll be with you for Christmas 2016 if you are a long way away. Entries will close at midnight GMT on Wednesday 30 November.

If you don’t win, Danielle has kits for sale in her shop to make them yourself.

So, go on, tell me what’s making you smile this week…

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