A very chilli January

It may be the 28th of January, but for me it’s the first day of spring. I spent a busy afternoon today repotting two of my citrus trees, splitting and potting up various carnivorous plants and sowing the first seeds of the year – mainly chillies.

The chillies and sweet peppers need a long growing season, so I always start them early in my dad’s propagator in the limery. I don’t own many things that belonged to my dad, but his propagator is a valued possession and I know he’d be delighted that I’m still using it.

This year, with my new interest in Mexican food, I have planted six varieties of chilli: lemon drop, chocolate habanero, jalapeño, black Hungarian, serrano and ancho. Fingers crossed for good germination.

No goals for 2018

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Mr Snail’s Wellie socks #2

This time last year I was just getting going with 17 for 2017 – a list of goals for the year. This year I’m having a goal-free year, but if I was ticking off last years list I’d be doing well – I’ve knitted a pair of socks, baked a couple of batches of biscuits, darned three pairs of socks and repaired the pocket of a pair of jeans. I’ve even managed to play a game of Scrabble – something that proved impossible to do when it was a ‘goal’ but easy when it’s just what we fancied doing!

A friend of mine mentioned today that her word for the year 2018 is ‘creativity’ and I think I’d like my year to be especially creative too. Since completing Sophie I haven’t done much crochet, but my knitting needles have been busy… not only the socks but good progress on the jumper with lacy side panels:

I’ve also started reviewing my WIPs. There are five main ones: the sofa cover, two lap blankets, a cardigan and the Beekeeper’s quilt. So far, I’ve looked at two of these. The sofa cover piece is currently 74 cm x the width of the sofa (the white measure in the photograph is 100cm long). This piece is destined to be draped over the back of the sofa… I just need to bite the bullet and finish it and then I can start on the two seat cushion covers, which will be much more interesting (NB the main cushion covers were finished two or three years ago).

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oh, those long rows!

And then there’s this lovely lap blanket, which I ran out of steam with.IMGP4938 Once I pick it up again I know I’ll enjoy making it and I have someone in mind to give it to. The centre is made from yarn that was given to me, but the edging is all scraps.

So, no goals for 2018, but plenty to get on with!

The Guppy Report

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Guppyfriends

Regular readers will remember that, in an attempt to further reduce the plastic pollution that I am responsible for, I decided to buy a Guppyfriend. Basically, this is a very fine mesh bag to use in the washing machine to trap fibres from manmade fabrics. In the end, I decided to buy two of them, because a single one is not big enough to contain a full load of washing. The decision was a good one, although not for the reason I initially thought. So, what did I think of them?

Pros: The bags arrived quickly and are well-made. There’s a little cover for the zip once it’s closed. to keep it in place and ensure that it doesn’t catch on anything. The opening is large, so there’s no difficulty filling or emptying the bags. Any items that I put in the bags seem to have come out as clean as without them.

Cons: If you only have one bag and you put all your washing in it for a small load, you might find that the drum of your machine becomes unbalanced and so won’t spin (this happened once when I was testing how well they worked). By splitting your wash between bags, this is less likely to be a problem. If you accidentally turn the bag inside out and reuse it, you’ll release any trapped fibres into your wash (unlikely as you’d notice before you got this far as the zip would be on the inside). If you stuffed the bag very fully, there would not be room for the items inside to move around and get washed/rinsed properly.

In fact the issues with washing distribution are probably only going to be significant if the majority of the things you are washing contain manmade fibres. Once I started carefully sorting my wash, I realised that a lot less than half of the things we wash contain non-natural fibres. Since natural fibres are biodegradable, these items (towels, bed linen, t-shirts, skirts, tea towels, dish cloths, sweatshirts, jeans, tunics, aprons…) don’t need to go in the guppy friend and go in the machine ‘naked’… thus being entirely free to circulate as the drum rotates.

Looking inside my Guppyfriends after a couple of months of use, I can’t really see any fibres and certainly no accumulation large enough to extract. I suspect that this is because of the nature of the items I’ve been washing: nothing ‘fluffy’ (no fleeces, for example) and those rare things that are 100% manmade (eg my swimming costumes) are very tightly woven. I’m sure households less focussed on avoiding manmade fibres in the first place might have a different experience, in which case the Guppyfriends would make a huge difference.

So, overall, I think they were a worthwhile purchase. They are no trouble to use and have the potential to make a real difference to microfibre pollution until we only use natural fibres for our clothes and household linens. Oh… and they are going to be really handy when I do any wet felting in the washing machine, as they will be so much more efficient than a pillowcase for stopping the filter getting clogged up with woolly fluff. This, however, is probably not a consideration for most potential users!

Plastic is news

Since I last wrote, I’ve been seeing a huge amount in the media about the evils of single-use plastics. It feels like, finally, the rest of the world is catching up with what many of us have known for ages. I’ve seen discussions about un-recyclable coffee cups, drinks bottles, straws, microbeads, microfibres, plastic bags, cotton buds, vegetables wrapped in plastic… the list goes on. I hope that if you’ve read my posts over the years, the issue will not come as a big surprise to you. Perhaps it’s something you have already taken action on – remember every piece of plastic we don’t use, is one less that could become pollution. Some bigger things are afoot, however, as this wave of public concern starts to penetrate the consciousness of politicians and makes retailers and manufacturers worry that sales will suffer. For example:

  • Here in the UK a ban on microbeads in cosmetics came into force earlier this month.
  • There is increasing pressure for a deposit scheme on plastic drinks bottles, and this is the recommendation of the UK government’s Environmental Audit Committee in a recent report.
  • The supermarket Iceland announced this week that they plan to eliminate plastic packaging from all their own-brand products within five years.

But it is important to remember that you don’t have to wait for someone else to take action or to make a difference. You can vote with your wallet and you can, as an individual, make a difference. It’s easy enough to find lists of simple changes to make – say no to plastic straws and disposable coffee cups, buy cotton buds with paper sticks, take your own shopping bags and so on. You might, however, think a bit more creatively.

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home made moisturiser

Cosmetics are particular culprit when it comes to over-packaging, but it is possible to cut down on this if you think about your purchases. It’s easy enough to buy soap in paper rather than plastic, for example. I always used to use shower gel because I found soap too harsh on my skin, but a little bit of experimenting and I’ve found lovely mild soaps that I use all the time now. Similarly, I’ve stopped buying liquid hand-wash and now just use bar soap – my favourite in the kitchen is one that has coffee grounds in it to act as a mild abrasive (what a great alternative to tiny bits of plastic). I also use solid shampoo now, which again comes plastic-free. These days I make my own moisturiser (and I also supply my sister with it) because I got so fed up with all the packaging and the difficulty in avoiding palm oil. The ingredients do come in small plastic bags, but the amount of single-use plastic involved is tiny compared to the lotions and potions I could buy in my local chemist (drug store). In addition, it’s fun to make and very easy (I started with a kit from Aromantic).

In fact, if you have time, making all sorts of things yourself can cut down on plastics. My homemade biscuits involve relatively little plastic packaging (cocoa container lid, golden syrup lid, organic chocolate chips bag) and absolutely no palm oil. My bread only encounters single-use plastic around the yeast and salt, and my leek and potato soup is plastic-packaging free. I know it takes time to shop for plastic-free ingredients and then to combine them into the food you want to eat, but it is such a worthwhile activity – healthier for you and for the planet.

 

Cocktail time

Mr Snail and I have a favourite pub where we go to for dinner and sometimes for breakfast. A few months ago, however, we were browsing the cocktails menu (like you do) and discovered one that we’d both really like to try. There were two problems, however. First it was breakfast time, so it was a bit early in the day. Second, the particular cocktail in question has got lots of crushed ice in it and really needs to be drunk through a straw. Neither of us want to be responsible for adding to the mountain of unrecyclable plastic of which drinking straws are one component.

Our desire for cocktails isn’t constant and so it was only after new year that I remembered. A little bit of a search and I found a small company on etsy selling these lovely things, complete with carrying bag and cleaning brush:

They are now residing in my handbag, ready for use. We just need to a sunny day, so we can stroll down and enjoy our drinks… plastic-free and without the need to drive afterwards!

All wrapped up

My friend Kate* contacted me the other day to ask whether I’d ever tried making my own waxed cloth wraps for keeping food fresh. It’s one of those things that I’ve seen instructions for** but have never got round to trying: another thing on ‘the list’. Initially I thought that she was going to ask me how to do it, but it turned out that she was actually offering to make some for me – what a treasure!

And last week these arrived:

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waxed cotton wraps

 

They are made using beeswax and cotton fabric. I haven’t needed to use any of them yet, but I can see that, combined with some string or an elastic band or two, they are going to be really useful and a brilliant alternative to plastic bags and boxes… both at home and when going shopping. I suspect some of them might go on picnics with us too. I may even add loops and buttons, so that they have an integral secure way to close them.

-oOo-

* One of many: I know an awful lot of Kates, Katies, Kts and Katys – this particular one is local

** There are several approaches, differing only in the details of how to melt/apply the wax, for example here and here

Start with a seed

One of my favourite activities at this time of year is ordering seeds. It is a tangible manifestation of the summer to come, of abundance and the promise of longer days.

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recipes and future ingredients

For my birthday Mr Snail gave me Rick Stein’s new book The Road to Mexico, as I had very much enjoyed the recent television series. I like Mexican food, but I’ve never really cooked it. I settled down with the book the other afternoon to drool over the recipes and read what he has to say about various ingredients. As I read, I realised the potential from growing some of the herbs and spices for myself, and so I did some research and modified my seed ordering accordingly. I spread my orders between companies because no single company had all the seeds I wanted, including the two Mexican herbs Epazote and Hoja Santa. I placed the first order on Wednesday, so I was delighted to receive the seeds this morning. The company in question, South Devon Chilli Farm, sells ingredients as well as seeds, so I gave in to temptation and bought some large dried chillies and some chipotle (dried, smoked) chillies too. Chillies are the first seeds that I plant in the year because they do need a good long time to grow, so I’ll be planting the ones pictured very soon.

The rest of my seed orders mainly stuck to tried and tested things: a good range of peppers, spring onions, courgettes, squashes, parsnips etc. My only other departure was tomatillo seeds – another common ingredient in Mexican recipes and something that I grew successfully many years ago, but wasn’t exactly sure what to do with at the time. I do love the process of growing the things that I want to cook with – it may be taking ‘slow food’ to the extreme, but it is so satisfying.

My next gardening job is to have a good clear-out in the limery and then I’ll be all set for the 2018 growing season. Do you have plans to grow anything new this year?

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pictures and the real thing – hopefully I’ll have home-grown ones later in the year

 

Toasty toes times two and a long-overdue project

All the lists are gone, all the targets swept away! New year – no resolutions except to embrace creative inspirations and see where they take me. In fact, I made a start on this in the final two days of 2017, meaning that by new year’s day I had completed a project that I’d been wanting to get to grips with for months.

Ages ago – a couple of years, perhaps – Kate (Tall tales from Chiconia) very kindly sent me some sheepskin slipper soles that she has no use for in her tropical home. At the time I had some perfectly serviceable crochet slippers, so I put the soles to one side for future use. Since then those original slippers have been much mended… new crochet soles, reinforced sides, darning, more darning… but finally I decided to retire them (i.e. put them in the compost… wool is a good slow-release fertilizer). So a new pair of slippers was required and the time had come. I used Berber carpet wool and improvised the pattern:

Many thanks, Kate, they are lovely and warm and comfy.

Whilst I was in the mood for using things that have been sitting around for ages, I decided the time had also come to seek out a pattern for some yarn that Mr Snail bought for me for my birthday last year (or possibly the year before). The wool (New Lanark Aran in bramble) was chosen with a particular pattern in mind that I then decided I didn’t want to use. So, a bit of hunting around and I found a beautiful sweater pattern that appealed. In order to maintain momentum, I got started on it straight away. I’m using the row counter and some of the stitch markers that Kim put in my stitching santa box, so her gifts really were just right for me:

I’m rather surprised that it’s so difficult to show the colour of the wool accurately – those pictures were taken in natural light about two minutes apart. It’s actually about half way between the two, but the lighter one does show the different colours that are in there.

The new year has also started with some sock knitting as I’ve promised Mr Snail a second pair of wellie socks… his choice of yarn (we went and bought it together):

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WYS Aran

 

17 for 2017 – The Final Update

And so we come to the end of 17 for 2017. December has seen a flurry of activity and so, although I didn’t do everything on the list, I did achieve a lot. Here’s my illustrated review of the year:

Seventeen… little random yarny/sewn gifts. The final ones were sent this month and so this goal was completed.

Sixteen… batches of homemade biscuits. This goal was complete by early June.

Fifteen… cheeses.  This goal was completed in October.

Fourteen… pairs of knickers. The end of the year has been totally pants! I’ve made eight pairs in December, thus completing this goal. At the risk of lowering the tone, I’m going to show some of them off:

Thirteen… mends. Target reached in May.

Twelve… letters to friends. Target reached in June.

Eleven… new items in my Etsy shop. Completed in September.

Ten... plants given to good homes. Target reached in May.

Nine… we’ll talk about nine in a moment

Eight… meals using only our own produce. Target reached in September. Sorry, there’s a poor show of photographs here as I kept remembering after we’d finished eating that I was supposed to be taking pictures!

Seven… visits to see “social media” friends. Target reached in September.

Six… Pairs of socks knitted, using at least three different patterns. The final pair was completed this month and over the year I did use three different patterns.

Five… book chapters written. None, and this is why I’ll be blogging less next year.

Four… blankets for charity; knitted or crocheted. Target reached in February – all crocheted.

Three… sessions in the loft, sorting out some of the accumulated ‘stuff’ up there. I completed this last month.

Two… patterns published and on sale. I failed to complete the second pattern, but I’ll probably manage it now I’m not feeling under pressure to do it!

 One… gardening apron. Completed in April and worn a lot since. 1 gardening apron

As you can see from my spreadsheet I had two total failures, and one half failure:2017-12-31 (1)

I gave up even thinking about the nine games of Scrabble a few months ago. The problem here was that it was a ‘target’, so every time I thought about playing a game, I was put off because it felt like I was doing it to add to the list. In the end this became so much of a barrier that we didn’t play at all in 2017. I think spontaneity rules for having fun, so don’t make it a goal!

The second of my two patterns didn’t get published because I just didn’t have time. It’s actually well on its way to being done and I hope it will be available soon. One of the reasons I didn’t prioritise it, was that the first pattern hasn’t sold particularly well. I plan to look carefully at my marketing and market places in the coming months.

My final failure was my book-writing. I have to confess that I slightly sabotaged this one myself. Right at the beginning of 2017 I privately set myself another goal for the year. I wanted to average at least 100 hits on my blog every day in 2017. In order to do this, I knew that I would have to write regularly, and I knew that I would have to boost the figures by writing new posts if visits started to decline. This meant that in 2017 my writing was all directed towards the blog (and some letters) and so I didn’t get going with the books. I have, however, spent a lot of time thinking about them and I’m hoping that the ideas that have been swirling about in my head will make their way onto the page soon. By-the-way, I achieved my aim with readership of the blog, so now I need to put aside my obsession with reader numbers and move on… hence deciding to drop Three Things Thursday, for example.

As you can imagine from the above, I’m not going to be doing 18 for 2018. I’ve enjoyed doing this in 2017, but I think these sorts of targets can be rather restrictive if you keep trying to adhere to them. I would recommend giving it a go for a year, but probably no more. The thing that I have really got out of this past year is that it helped me get into the habit of doing certain things: baking biscuits and listing things in my etsy shop being the two most useful habits to have acquired and the number of times I have done these things (and others) has far exceeded my original goals.

So, that’s it for 17 for 2017. Did you do it? Did you do everything? Did you do anything after January? Will you do 18 for 2018*? I’d love to know everyone’s thoughts.

-oOo-

* If you are planning to do the 2018 version, I have a blank Excel spreadsheet if you want a copy. I made it for a friend who wants to give it a go; just drop me a line if you want one.

My Kind of People

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The Masterpiece in all its glory (picture: Alan Charlton)

When I first started blogging, I wasn’t really sure where it would lead or what to expect. I was originally inspired by Hedvig Murray, a permaculture practitioner I met on a course about seven years ago. I thought that I would share information relating to my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design and maybe keep in touch with other like-minded people. Well, I did that… and we made a blanket known as “The Masterpiece” to represent my permaculture diploma (thanks to all those of you who contributed all those years ago – I’m still sitting on it every day as I work and blog). I think I’ll put together the story of the blanket in a post soon because so many of you weren’t around for it… and I also want to include the story as a chapter in one of my planned books.

Anyway, I finished my diploma, but by that time the blog had become a record of all sorts of stuff that I do and a place where I had met and made friends with amazing, talented, enthusiastic people from around the world. And this is really what I hadn’t expected – that my blog would become one aspect of a community; that I would follow other blogs; that I would write to, Skype and even meet fellow bloggers face-to-face. That we would send each other gifts, that we would swap our creations, that we would share ideas and give support, and that we would feel part of a safe and caring ‘space’ were all totally unexpected outcomes.

The time and effort invested in blogging is always worthwhile. At one point I thought that I might have to give up replying to comments, but what’s the fun in that? The comments and responses make a blog the dynamic and responsive space that it is – if I just wanted to tell you stuff I’d write a book or set up an ordinary web site. Both have their place, but they serve different purposes. And so, the blog carries on and people continue to be immensely kind.

Not long ago I gained a new reader, Patricia. She came to the blog via a personal recommendation… actually someone who I know through permaculture and who was there when I did my diploma presentation with the blanket. I hope that she’s going to write a guest blog post soon and stimulate some discussion but in the mean time we’ve communicated by email and via the blog. Anyway, the other day I mentioned that I thought I’d get myself a new notebook and make a start on writing one of those books I have in mind. Immediately Patricia said she had just the thing and today I received this:

With this explanation:IMGP4864Oh, I’m so touched. What a wonderful gift – what wonderful history. Thank you, Patricia, I hope that one day we can meet up and talk fabric and yarn ans sustainability over tea and cake.

So, that sums up my experience of blogging – you really are my kind* of people – thank you all for being here.

-oOo-

* According to the OED, ‘kind’ has several meanings, including:

A natural quality, property, or characteristic; a distinctive feature of a person or thing

and

A class, sort, or type of people or things

and

the people with whom a specific individual has a great deal in common

and, my favourite

Having or showing a benevolent, friendly, or warm-hearted nature or disposition; ready to assist, or show consideration for, others; sympathetic, obliging, considerate.

 

 

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