Supporting small

Over recent months many small businesses have found themselves in a precarious situation – unable to open shops, sell at markets – making it all the more important that we support them now to ensure their future existence. We Snails have done our very best to buy from small traders over the past 10 months and have managed to source the majority of our food that way – luckily in our part of the world there are many, many small food producers and an abundance of independent retailers. In addition, we’ve been able to access direct from some producers via the internet. I know that people who cannot go to the shops have found the big supermarkets to be a lifeline, but those of us who are able to shop locally can play our part in making sure that people in our community who have small businesses continue not only to survive, but to thrive. Plus, many of our local small businesses have gone the extra mile to support the vulnerable in our community – delivering emergency supplies at short notice, for example – something that you simply wouldn’t get from big companies. In addition, many small businesses, despite suffering themselves, have donated to local food banks and other charities supporting the needy.

Aside from shops that sell food, other retailers have found the last year even more of a challenge. Even well-established companies are being affected. I noticed that Baa Ram Ewe, producers of fabulous British wool (including the stuff I made my latest fingerless mittens out of), have had to resort to crowd funding to give their business a chance of surviving (here is the link). Whilst I have been at home, I have tried to make the majority of my on-line purchases of materials for making things from small, independent companies, but I also keep an eye open for very small enterprises who are crowdfunding. And this is how I came across Midwinter Yarns, who were trying to collect enough money to produce a Welsh wool to add to their range. They are based in Scotland, but have Welsh connections and their wool sounded lovely (you can read about it here, although their crowdfunder was successful and closed last summer).

My contribution was sufficient to receive six skeins of their hand-dyed yarn. The wool arrived a few weeks ago and so I needed to find a pattern that would be suitable for the amount of yarn available. Having gone out of my usual comfort zone and chosen a sludgy green colour (the photo on the left below is closest to the actual colour), I wanted to make something appropriate, which I think I found with Southern Pines by Dora Does.

It’s worked top down, all in one piece, so there’s no sewing up at the end. I had a bit of an issue early on in the pattern, but Michelle, the designer. was amazingly helpful, even though it turned out that the problem was me being dim rather than an issue with the pattern itself. It will have long (or at least 3/4) sleeves, and I’ll make the body as long as uses up all the yarn – this is one of the joys of top-down garments. I plan to make a skirt to wear with it out of some grey and white fabric I have with a design called “crop circles” (the fabric was from an independent on-line store, but more on that in a future post). So, a new outfit in hand all from small, businesses – long may they survive.

A tempting red apple

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Sketchbook is tuning out to be a great project for me to be involved in. Not only has it given me the opportunity, for a brief time, to be the custodian of some beautiful art, it also gave me the excuse this morning of visiting my favourite local yarn shop: Red Apple Yarn in Lampeter.

At this point I must say that whilst I’m a supporter of local yarn shops, they are not all created equal and Red Apple is rather special. First of all, it’s full of gorgeous yarn, much of which is British, and second it’s owned by Jude – an amazingly knowledgeable lady who doesn’t mind at all if you go round the shop stroking the stock (just as long as you don’t drool on it) and will chat about things woolly for as long as you like!

It’s not entirely wool, though… there’s buttons too…

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a grand use for the old post office counter

 

What I went for, however, was something particular, namely some Cambrian Wool, which comes from Welsh Sheep. Part of my contribution to the Sisterhood creation is going to be made from this:

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genuine Welsh wool (on the lower shelf)

 

So, if you are ever in Ceredigion, I highly recommend a trip to Red Apple Yarn, which can be found in the Old Post Office in Lampeter – tell Jude I sent you! In the mean time, you can keep up with Jude’s adventures in knitting on her blog, where you can also find contact details, opening hours and lots more

Memorials, museums and memories

London – it’s a very strange place to me. There are some amazing things, there are some bizarre things, there are anachronisms and there is just so much that you can choose to do.

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The Albert Memorial

On Thursday morning Mr Snail and I decided to have a stroll up to Hyde Park, through Kensington Gardens, past the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert memorial to the Serpentine. The parks were full of people walking dogs, cycling, rollerskiing, visiting the cafes, playing with their kids in the playgrounds, and generally having a good time outdoors. There was much to see, from wildfowl, to The Household Cavalry out and about with their horses (one troop complete with plumes and shiny metal breastplates) and we spent a happy couple of hours wandering around just enjoying being there. There’s no charge for entry into the parks and they add some welcome green amongst all those buildings.

 

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In the courtyard at the V&A

The previous day, Mummy Snail and I spent the day at the V&A and Mr Snail went to The Science Museum. We did visit a special exhibition for which there was a fee, but general entry to both these museums costs nothing (likewise The Natural History Museum and The British Museum) and they are huge. Such a variety of exhibits in each of them, and such amazing architecture. We don’t visit London very often, but we do try to go to at least one museum when we do, and we are never disappointed with what we get to see. In fact, the main purpose of our trip this week as to see the exhibition at the V&A, although we also fitted in afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason plus a West End Show.

And as we packed to come home on Friday morning, we realised that we hadn’t bought a single ‘thing’ to bring home – we had spent money (food, taxis, theatre tickets, hotel), but Mr Snail and I had not bought any ‘stuff’. Instead, we brought home memories. We seem to do this naturally now – we don’t look for gifts or souvenirs, apart from the occasional picture to go on the wall, and not even that this time. Life is about so much more than things, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to spend time like this with my mum… may we have many more such trips… in fact that there’s another exhibition that we have our eyes on starting in December…

 

Just one thing

The other day, someone on a discussion group that I’m a member of asked what one thing they should do to start leading a more sustainable life. I have to confess that I didn’t respond, but it is a question that I’ve been pondering ever since. Of course there’s lots of things you could do, from saying no to plastic bags to catching the bus rather than driving the car, but on reflection, I think my advice would be to consider your eating habits.

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In control of your own potatoes!

If you start thinking more about the food you eat, you will begin to wonder what’s actually in it and where it came from. The more your food has been prepared or processed before it gets to you, the more difficult it is to unpick its history, so you become less and less sure of what you are actually swallowing. Let’s consider two extremes, in the form of mashed potato:

  •  If you eat a potato that you have grown yourself, then you can be sure how far it has travelled, what chemicals have been applied to it, exactly what variety it is and when it was harvested. In addition, it’s pretty certain that it won’t have had any packaging, except when it’s parent seed potato arrived for planting. You can boil it and eat it without any additional ingredients, but any that you do add – salt, butter, milk, oil – will be under your control in terms of source and amount.
  • If you buy pre-prepared mashed potato, you’ll have to look at the ingredients to know what’s in it (for example, Tesco Fresh Mashed Potato contains: Potato, Skimmed Milk, Whole Milk (9%), Butter (Milk) (3%), Salt, White Pepper). You won’t know how the potatoes were grown, and you may only have the vaguest indication of where they were grown and/or processed (the Tesco version states “Produced in the UK” and nothing else). There’s bound to be packaging (plastic and cardboard in this example) and there’s going to have been lots of food miles, because of transporting the potato to the processing plant, transporting the product to a central distribution centre and from there to the shop, before you can finally transport it home to eat.

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Buying in bulk can mean less packaging

Of course, we can’t all grow our own food, and many people can’t grow any of their own food, but if you can (even a little bit), you can be completely in control of that part of your diet. The next best option is to buy direct from the producer – if you buy from the person who grows or makes your food, you can ask them questions about it. In addition, in my experience, small producers of non-luxury foods generally minimise their packaging as it costs them money: many small-scale sellers will aim simply for freshness and protection. Buying direct also reduces food miles because the supply chain is so short. The popularity of farmers’ and producers’ markets has given many more people the opportunity to buy direct, plus more and more small producers are selling online. This is encouraging, but still you’d be very lucky to be able to source all your food direct – almost all of us have to rely, at least to some extent, on third party suppliers, and then there is an element of trust in the relationship.

Over the years I’ve read so many labels on packets containing food. Sometimes, I just can’t face the disappointment of discovering that my favourite biscuits contain palm oil, so I don’t read the ingredients, but sooner or later I get round to it and often it results in me making changes to my diet. There are some products that I’ve given up not because of the ingredients, but because of the packaging (teabags, for example). As a result there are now only a few things that we eat that I haven’t made myself, and increasingly I find that I no longer enjoy the flavour of pre-prepared/processed things that I used to eat or drink often . This, however, has been a very gradual process. Twenty years ago we did almost all our food shopping in a supermarket and I didn’t think twice about buying a pizza or a bag of frozen chips. And this is one of the joys of focusing on food – small changes accumulate over time and because we eat every day, a little change can have a big impact over a whole year.

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Some home-made food is fancier than others

I wish I’d kept better track of the way our food has changed – it would be interesting. I’m sure that stopping going out to work made a big difference. Since I now do all my paid work from home, it’s much easier to fit in cooking from scratch. My commitment to cooking has also meant that I have bought kitchen equipment that I would otherwise not have bothered with – for example, my Kenwood Chef sure does get a lot of use, and we like it especially because a single motor can run the coffee grinder, blender, ice cream maker and mincer as well as the basic mixer; it’s also possible to buy spares if there’s a problem. Having the right equipment makes a huge impact on the speed I can make things, although very few items are essential.

 

So, if you want to make a start on saving the planet, think about your food and make a few changes that fit your lifestyle. You may be surprised how your shopping and diet are gradually transformed without a huge traumatic shift in your habits.

The little things

Often I feel that with all the major events going on in the world, I am completely insignificant, my actions are futile and I might as well not bother. And then I realise that I’m not designed to live in this world of global news; that I can only assimilate information from a community that is meaningful to me and that I have to adjust my focus.

So, I have been trying to avoid The News, I’ve stopped following various people and organisations on social media and I’ve been concentrating on things I can do. I know that one of these things is to share ideas and so I’m feeling a little bad that I’ve hardly written for the past few weeks. I know that a stone thrown into the pond makes ripples that spread a long way. So, in that spirit, here are a few things I’ve been up to to save the planet in my own teeny-tiny way and make so ripples…

Katy the Night Owl gave me some eating apples from their neighbour’s tree, so I rolled my sleeves up and got baking, I used some of them to make an apple plait – a sweet, enriched dough filled with cinnamonny apple. It was delicious.

Then I put the remainder of the apples to work temporarily – encouraging some of the green tomatoes in the limery to ripen up:

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Come on tomatoes – there is nothing I like to make with green ones!

There are still chillies to harvest and tomatoes ripening up every day, so I made yet more passata, converted some of it into sweet and hot sauce (recipe here) and bottled up the rest.

I do still go shopping and when I do I try very hard to remember to take my own bags and containers. I’ve recently started going to a little local butcher who is happy to tell me about the source of all the meat that I am buying and to put all my purchases into my storage boxes rather than plastic bags… I’m hoping that she’ll start encouraging other customers to do the same.

The haul included some suet for making dumplings. As with many local butchers, this was free, although a donation for their charity collection was requested. I love using something like this that’s otherwise considered a waste product. You may have noticed that my bag is emblazoned with the words ‘Community Clothing’. This fabulous project is…

a manufacturers cooperative with a simple mission; to make excellent quality affordable clothes for men and women, to create great jobs for skilled workers and by doing this help to restore real pride in Britain’s textile communities. (Community Clothing web siteCommunity Clothing web site)

I got the bag via a crowdfunding campaign which helped to get the project off the ground.

So, that’s it, that’s the sort of thing that I do – shop local, support small businesses, use and preserve seasonal produce, reduce consumption of single-use plastic, oh and make cake, because the world is a happier place with cake…

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Lime cup cakes

Alladin’s Cave

Now, you know that the idea of a shopping trip as entertainment is complete anathema to me. So you will be surprised when I tell you that I jumped at the chance of going shopping with my dear friend Ann yesterday. You will be less surprised when I confess that she offered to take me to a yarn shop! In fact a yarn shop that is closing down and that we had been planning to visit for a while… namely the Colinette factory shop, These creators of yarn in amazing colours are based in the depths of mid-Wales, but sadly I have never visited them before and never will again, because from 22 January, they will only be selling online.

I’m saddened that a ‘real’ shop like this is disappearing; partly because it provides an opportunity to see the actual colours and feel the texture of yarn before buying (just not the same online) and partly because of the jobs that will disappear as a result.

Anyway, off we went and experienced temptation and inspiration…

It’s hard to capture the lustre and depth of colours in the yarn, but at least the pictures give an idea of the variety.

I know that, like last year, I plan to reduce my stash this year, but since this was a one-time-only visit I did succumb… some multi-coloured 100% wool from the sale room that will be used to make hats and fingerless mittens, plus an amazing lilac wool/bamboo mix, of which I can’t quite capture the gorgeousness in a photograph.

In fact, the day was about much more than shopping… it was about spending time with a friend and sharing an experience. It was also about lunch – we ate at the Quarry Cafe in Machynlleth… it used to be owned by the Centre for Alternative Technology, but when they decided to close it, the workers too over. If you are ever in mid-Wales, it’s well worth a visit.

Nothing to see here

Today is, apparently Black Friday: a concept unknown in the UK until five years ago, but now hyped mainly by big corporations who want to sell you stuff. According The Guardian newspaper:

President Roosevelt gave it a special day, police in Philadelphia nicknamed the resultant chaos – and Amazon and Asda exported it to the UK…

Black Friday takes place in the US the day after Thanksgiving. It involves retailers cutting the price of their goods to encourage households to get back into shops after the US public holiday and it kickstarts the Christmas shopping period.

To counter this, there also seems to be a campaign entitled Buy Nothing Friday. The idea is that you actively aim to avoid any purchases today.

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Nothing special about today… so here’s a picture of Max

But for me today is going to be go about your business as usual Friday. We’ve arranged to meet some friends for lunch at a local cafe, so we’ll be there supporting a small business… but not because of some hype, just because we want to eat and socialise and because they do nice food. Then, we need to get stuff for the chickens, so we’ll probably pop into a local store to see if they’ve got it and if they have we’ll buy and if they haven’t we won’t. While we’re out we’ll probably buy some milk and vegetables, because once you’ve made a journey in the car, it’s good to get as much out of the trip as possible and the nice organic food shop is close to the place we’re having lunch. And then on the way back, Mr Snail will drop me off to go and donate blood, because today is the day when the vampires are in town…

And that will be our day. We will spend money, but not any more or less than we would have done anyway. We’ll buy things from small local businesses, as always, and we’ll just behave normally.

I can’t help feeling that this is the answer… ignore the hype and just get on with your life… as I say, nothing to see here…

Finding pleasure

What makes you happy? New shoes? Going to the cinema? Champagne? A walk in the park? Diamonds?

It’s different for everyone, and it changes as we get older. These days I get much more pleasure out of ‘doing’ rather than ‘possessing’. Experiences with my friends and family give me much longer-lasting pleasure than I ever get from ‘stuff’. And being creative -making, growing or cooking – makes me incredibly happy. Of course, there are things that I own that I love and wouldn’t want to be without: my knitting needles and crochet hooks; my laptop (old by current standards); my work light; my new varifocal glasses; my mp3 player (ancient by current standards!) for playing audiobooks… But I don’t want to replace them. Newer versions would not make me happier.

Judging by what we see presented in the media I am the exception. You only need to think of the queues that form when a new i-phone is about to hit the shops to realise that this sort of thing really means something to lots of people. I do wonder, however, how long the joy lasts. Is there a constant desire to have the latest/newest/shiniest/most fashionable ‘thing’? So that as soon as they own the new thing, they are thinking about its future replacement. And there is plenty evidence (here for example) that materialism does not make you happy.

So, this weekend, when I had two days to do as I pleased,with no one else to think about (Mr Snail was away helping my sister dismantle a shed) I didn’t rush off to the shops, I painted the hallway, I planted potatoes (in pots in the limery) and me and the pups did lots of this:

The only thing missing from the pictures is the tea and biscuits!

I do need to do some shopping soon, but that’s for seeds… which you only own for a short time before they magically transform into something else!!

 

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…

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.

 

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