Not much like spring

Despite the sowing of seeds in the limery, spring has not really arrived here yet and I daren’t sow any seeds outdoors for fear of them drowning! Of course the day when it was gardening weather this week, I was stuck in a training room doing a food safety course and exam. Now I have some free time it’s chilly and raining. I did manage to plant a new rhubarb root earlier, but then the rain started so I’m letting some of my little helpers get on with a bit of weeding and pest management:

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slug-hunting (I hope)

I’ve finished my editing work for the week, so I’m getting on with my first ever crochet sweater:

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work in progress

Sadly, the picture doesn’t do the colour justice… I would describe it as teal with some coloured flecks. The yarn is from New Lanark – a favourite maker for me, although this is the first time I have used their chunky wool. And, as ever, Max is keeping an eye on progress. He’s a bit chilly as he was clipped yesterday, but he does look lovely:

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Max has had a hair-do

The wet weather is forecast for the whole weekend, so it looks like more indoor seed sowing and crochet are on the cards. What are your plans for the weekend?

Three Things Thursday: 19 January 2017

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain (note her new self-hosted web site) here are my 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, antibiotics. It’s very rare Chez Snail that any of us take antibiotics – we are generally quite healthy and we don’t go rushing to see the doctor with every cough and sniffle. With excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics, various bacteria are building resistance and therefore becoming untreatable. I’m pleased to say, however, that when required they mostly still work. In fact, this week it was Max who was in need – the poor little chap developed an abscess on one of his anal glands, resulting in a very swollen and sore bottom. However, a shot of antibiotics from the vet and a subsequent course of tablets and he’s pretty much mended…

Second, Muraya koenigii. My recent interest in Indian cooking has led me to start investigating growing some of my own exotic ingredients. I was so happy, therefore, to discover somewhere I could buy a curry leaf plant. They apparently make great house plants, so this one will live in the house in winter (needs to be above 15ºC) and in the limery in the summer. I do hope it thrives, as I have lots of recipes that include curry leaves.

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curry leaf plant

 

Third, the kindness of strangers (and friends). The Sixty Million Trebles group on Facebook was set up as a project to make blankets for charity (at least half going to refugees). However, it’s so much more than that and full of kind people. On Sunday the organisers set up a ‘Solve My January Blues’ event for the group. You could post up a request to cheer you up in the depths of January (the group is based in the UK, although we do have members worldwide) and members tried to help. I do find January a bit glum, so I asked whether anyone would send me a hand-written letter. Well, wow – what a response… I’m all smiles after only four days, look…

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lovely letters and cards

And a bonus smile… these flowering in my garden today:

So, those are 3+1 things making me smile this week – what about you?

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.

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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

Kindness

The other day my friend Andrea (who I have never met in person) posted the following on Facebook:

Never let the outside world suppress your passion for kindness and altruism. It may be looked at as unorthodox at times, but I promise you that you are not alone. Kindness and love can change the world… we just need to believe that we can make it happen. (John Bryant)

I don’t do new year resolutions – I feel that if a resolution is worth making, you should do it at the time that you think of it… like giving presents. But, having said that, I do think that my focus in 2015 is going to be on kindness and altruism.By choosing to make a stand and to be kind, we can start to separate ourselves from all the confusing stories we are presented with by politicians and the media* and focus on something that is actually achievable, positive and has an impact on our ourselves and others.

If we make connections with other people around the world in a spirit of kindness, we will surely be encouraged to treat our fellow human beings with respect and to respect the environment in which they live. Kindness is not just about charitable donations or helping a friend, it’s about having a caring attitude to everyone. I am especially keen to extend my sphere of kindness to those who I never meet, but who are indirectly affected my choices – the people who make my clothes, grow my food, support my lifestyle.

Some direct kindness is also good for the soul and so later this week I will be dispatching two packages – one to Tasmania and one to the US – to two lovely and inspiring people that I have never met but with whom I wish to share some of my creative bounty. All this is thanks to the kindness of Pauline, The Contented Crafter, and you can read the details here. I want the contents of the packages to be a surprise for the recipients, so no photographs yet… you’ll just have to make do with one of Max testing out some of my packaging material:

This box feels comfy

This box feels comfy

Kindness is something we can all increase in our lives and, in all cases, it will make the world a better place. So, will you join me in trying to be a little kinder?

-oOo-

* Thanks to John B. for another post on FB that made me think about this

 

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?

Sprucing things up

Looking around our house the other day I realised that you would never know about my obsession with fibre… other than all the work bags and baskets. You may be surprised to know that the place is not awash with afghans, covered with crochet cushions nor festooned with felt. There are a few things around… felt tea cosy and camera case, lots of knitted socks and a variety of hats and gloves, but not much that’s showy or obvious. Around my office, you can see a knitted Nessie, crochet snail, mushrooms and bacteria, but they are quite discreet. Much of my work has been given away, swapped or sold. Soon, however, the masterpiece will adorn our bed and I will start on my Bavarian crochet afghan.

It's all too easy to lose a dog in our sofa

It’s all too easy to lose a dog in our sofa…

But right now I have embarked on a big new project. Our sofa is nearly 14 years old. It’s still comfy and we don’t want to get rid of it (despite the fact that it eats hair grips, crochet hooks, scissors and, occasionally, dogs), but it is looking rather tired and Sam has decided in recent years that all the zippers on the cushions are especially yummy and should be eaten. We have a spare set of covers, but we are fast running out of covers that have functioning zippers for the big square cushions (five of them) that go along the back. Fortunately, Sam has not noticed the large zipper up one side at the back of the sofa, so the two big covers are ok. In theory, I could replace the zippers, but I don’t want to for two reasons: (1) I hate putting in new zippers, and these are right along the top of each cushion, so are fiddly to replace, and (2) Sam would probably just eat them again (sigh). Anyway, it seems like a great excuse to yarnstorm my own home.

... but it's still comfy

… but it’s still comfy

And so, blue yarn has arrived and crochet fun has commenced. I’m making the first cushion cover with Attic24’s Neat Ripple pattern as this was so successful for the cushion I made for my sis. Originally my intention was to make them all the same, but I’m tempted to use the same palette for them all, but different designs (would this be too much?) I have chosen five colours from the New Lanark range of double knitting wool: sky haze, iris, limestone, navy and denim. It’s going to require rather a lot of yarn and many hours of work, but I think that it will look great when it’s done. So often people throw away perfectly good furniture because it’s got a bit worn, so it feels good to put some work into reinvigorating  this sofa.

The first cover is progressing

The first cover is progressing

Not quite the big reveal…

I know that lots of you have been itching to see progress on the Masterpiece and I have been remiss about keeping you updated. Frankly, over recent weeks, something had to give and this was it. As a result I have lots of squares to post up on the Masterpiece Page as well as work to do on the scrapbook, although some of the pictures have made it onto the Pinterest board. However, having got my portfolio of permaculture designs sent off at the beginning of the week, I have had time to focus on some crochet.

Yarn from Karen... just starting the square

Yarn from Karen… just starting the square

All the squares that I have received are now part of the blanket and there is a gap for just one more that I’m expecting very soon. The final square that I am making myself is from wool sent to me by the lovely Karen B of Sweet Baby Veg. In fact, I had a couple of other squares already done, but when this yarn arrived this week, I just had to add some to my blanket. I haven’t decided what to do with the rest, but I will, no doubt be inspired soon. Karen was very modest about her gift, saying that it was not particularly original, but I honestly cannot think of a better parcel to arrive through the post. The yarn is made by Tavistock Tastes and Textures and is from their flock of Jacob’s sheep, which graze on Dartmoor. The colours are ‘natural’, ‘rust’ and ‘ocean’. It’s turning out to be lovely yarn to work with and speedily worked up…

Completed square

Completed square

Anyway, this is where I am at so far, with the above square and the one from Lorraine still to be incorporated and then lots of edging. What do you think?

So far, it’s got Max’s approval:

And Sam’s quite keen too:

Happy dogs

Happy dogs

Getting organised

As well as getting rid of extraneous ‘stuff’ from around the house, I’m also trying to be more organised with the stuff that I do want to keep. This is a real challenge for me because I am just naturally untidy (I wish I wasn’t). Since I always have numerous craft projects on the go, I decided to start making project bags in which to keep them – each one neat and tidy and separate from the others. This also gives me an excuse to make yet more things! Here is my first completed one, containing the, as yet unfinished, hoodie in Jacobs wool (I’ve sort of lost the incentive to finish it quickly now the weather is warmer):

I adapted Lucy’s Jolly Chunky Bag pattern (Attic24) to make it the size I wanted and used New Lankark aran weight wool.

I photographed the bag last night with a chair as a backdrop and I was surprised to find Max underneath. I wonder if he felt he’d had a hard day:

In case you are wondering the wine is Cheverny – it’s French and very good.

Round and around

Most annual crop growing systems benefit from some sort of rotation, where you grow different crops in the beds from year to year so that you don’t get a build up of pathogens and a depletion of specific nutrients. Your rotation can last three or four years, and there is lots of information available on how to plan; for example the Royal Horticultural Society give  a brief outline of both three- and four-year rotations here. In practice, many vegetable gardeners either do not have the space to practice a rigorous rotation (for example not growing potatoes at all, or only growing them in containers) or simply can’t be bothered.

My pick-and-mix placement of crops usually works

My pick-and-mix placement of crops usually works

In my small garden, I could be strict with a four-bed rotation as I do have four raised beds. However, I’m not consistent with the crops that I grow, so sometimes I want more than a quarter of the space given over to one type of crop and sometimes less. Also, I like mixing crops in the same bed, which sort of puts a spanner in the works. And anyway, I’m just too disorganised. I like to be creative and spontaneous, so basically I plant what I feel like where I feel like with the proviso that I don’t plant either onions or potatoes in the same place two years running. In fact I try out new crops each year and some of the less conventional ones (like Aztec broccoli or oca) almost certainly have fewer diseases than the standard offerings  and different nutrient demands. I do try to move my beans around each year because (a) they always get a healthy dose of compost dug into their bed before planting and (b) they are nitrogen-fixers, so should help boost the fertility of the place they have been.

Last year the potatoes grew in it, this year it's being used for mangetout

Last year the potatoes grew in it, this year it’s being used for mangetout

In addition, in my garden, I do lots of container growing. I make use of loads of home-made compost for this purpose and, of course, it doesn’t just get used once.You can’t, however, plan a rotation for your pots in the same way as for land. Last year I used lots of my fresh compost for potato-growing in dumpy bags. After I harvested the potatoes, I left the compost in the bags, but folded the tops down to protect it. I don’t want to grow potatoes in the same compost this year, so that has been transferred into some big pots for growing mangetout up the fence. Compost that has had tomatoes or peppers growing in it usually gets transferred into a bed that will be used for squashes. Because tomatoes and potatoes both get blight, I try to avoid transfer of spores in compost so don’t use compost from tomato pots in potato beds.

It all sounds quite complicated, but actually, I don’t have any difficulty remembering what I grew where (especially since I always take lots of photos) and deciding where to plant. I’m sure there are some of you out there who love an organised rotation, but you are clearly not scatty like me!

And while we moved compost today, Max enjoyed the sunshine!

And while we moved compost today, Max enjoyed the sunshine!

These foolish things

Today is 1 April – traditionally associated with practical jokes and fools. I’m not a fan of the practical joke – it seems like a mean way to be entertained, and always at the expense of someone else. As for ‘corporate jokes’, they rarely raise much of a smile; the ones listed in this article in The Telegraph today seem particularly dull. I do, however like a bit of silliness. The world is a better place for us laughing together rather than at each other. So, rather than play a trick on you, I thought I’d share just a few frivolous things that make me smile…

Amigurumi

Worm, toadstools, slug, strawberry, Cooey the pigeon and a bacterium

Worm, toadstools, slug, strawberry, Cooey the pigeon, a cup cake and a bacterium

An unexpected gift

A lucet from Linda

A lucet from Linda

Chickens… they don’t come much more foolish than this

Lorna

Lorna

Self-patterning yarn

Doesn't look very promising in the ball, but makes fantastic socks and random hexipuffs

Doesn’t look very promising in the ball, but makes fantastic socks and random hexipuffs

The newly invented ‘slippie’

Our slippers!

Mr Snail-of-happiness and me… with toastie toes

And, finally, not foolish, but something that always raises a smile… a lovely sunrise:

Winter sunrise

Winter sunrise

So, what’s making you smile or laugh today?

Oh, and a little addition… these foolish things make me laugh too:

Max and Sam

Max and Sam

 

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