Chilly and Chilli

The first germinating seeds of the year are always special, in particular when their toasty conditions in the propagator are in such stark contrast to the outside (poor garlic under that net tunnel):

Apparently spring is coming!

Three Things Thursday: 14 December 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with happiness.

First, snow and no snow. Here on the west coast of Wales, because of the influence of the Gulf Stream, we rarely see snow, so it’s a novelty when it falls – as it did on Sunday. However, I only like it when I don’t have to go anywhere (as was the case on Sunday and Monday) and I’m generally pleased to see the back of it. So, it’s been a good week, because it arrived, stayed for a few days and now it’s all gone.

The hens were not impressed and mostly refused to venture out.


Mags and Aliss were not keen

Second, being stuck indoors. The weather on Sunday kept me inside and it gave me the excuse to focus on sorting out parcels for some of my random acts of kindness (part of my 17 for 2017) as well as doing some sewing. Having not used my overlocker for several months it did take me ages to get it threaded and working at the right tension again, but it’s all systems go now.

Third, Sophie. I was too busy to post on my progress yesterday (I was doing some very short deadline editing); so, since she’s making me so happy, I thought I’d share my work today (not blocked, so a bit untidy).

I really like one section in particular – several rows of small stitches in different colours:


simple but lovely

I’m thinking that I might use some of the left-over wool to make something in this style once Sophie is done.


So, that’s some of what’s making me happy this week. How about you?


Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

Three Things Thursday: 16 February 2017

*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*

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain here are my Three Things Thursday…

First, a little bit of snow. On Saturday it snowed in Birmingham – it was lovely to open my curtains and see a dusting of white. I find snow a bit stressful if I have places to drive, but since I just had a short walk from my hotel to the meeting venue, I really enjoyed the sight. In fact it didn’t last long, but it was beautiful whilst it was there.

Morning snow

Morning snow

Second, a good night’s sleep. I’m always a bit concerned about the comfort of a strange bed. At home we sleep on a natural latex and wool mattress, so normal sprung mattresses feel a bit odd in comparison. However, I need not have feared: the hotel I chose for the weekend had lovely comfy beds… and snailvaark and Iolanthe agreed…

Nothing like a comfortable place to nap

Nothing like a comfortable place to nap

Third, coming home. It’s enjoyable to have a trip away, but it’s always good to be back home. After two consecutive weekends on my travels, it was lovely to return home to Mr Snail and the pups.

Mr Snail and the pups at our own front door

Mr Snail and the pups at our own front door

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

When the world gives you snow – make cheese

After an hour it was white

After an hour it was white

You should always be flexible in life, so when it started snowing very heavily today I simply changed my plans. We live right by the coast, so snow is not particularly common and we are not set up to deal with it. Even so, when the flakes started to fall I didn’t think it would be a problem. However, an hour later it was still snowing and the ground, even the road, was white. I was supposed to be taking the car to the garage and have lunch with a friend in Aberystwyth, but she reported snow up there too so I cancelled arrangements and rescheduled for next week (lunch and car).

Which left me with an unplanned day… and 8 litres of organic milk that I bought yesterday. The obvious solution was to combine these two resources and make cheese. After the success of the soft cheese, I decided to have a go at a ‘simple’ hard cheese. The biggest issue with this is the size of containers, but the pans I use for preserving turned out to be ideal (and, of course, easy to sterilise). The new cheese-making book made me realise that, at the temperatures required, I don’t need to have a water bath on the stove for bringing the milk up to temperature and maintaining it there, I can just have a big plastic tub and add warm or cool water to it, which is what I did and is, in fact, much more controllable.

The first part of cheese-making requires a lot of intervention, and so my unexpected day was a gift in this respect. There’s heating, and adding the bacterial culture, and mixing in rennet, and waiting, and mixing, and allowing it to settle, and straining through cheesecloth several times before putting it in a mold and starting to press it. It takes about six hours before it’s ready to go in the press – some of that time you can leave it to its own devices and some you have to be directly involved, but either way you need to be around and only doing other tasks that you can stop when necessary. Anyway, the cheese is now in the press, so fingers crossed that my first attempt will produce something edible.


I must start by apologising for the lack of posts recently, but I have been on holiday… to Norway. Somehow the snow seems to have followed me home, though, so I am still making use of my down jacket and snow boots! Anyway, since I can’t get out in the garden, my plans are (1) to write a new blog post; (2) to do some work on my permaculture diploma; and (3) to order some seeds and dream of warmer weather to come.

Our first stop: Torvik... we go off for about 10 minutes

Our first stop: Torvik… we got off for about 10 minutes

When I mentioned to friends that we were going on holiday, most people asked if we were going somewhere sunny… nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, for part of our holiday we were in places where the sun simply never appears over the horizon at this time of year… way up in the Arctic Circle (I now even have a certificate to prove I’ve been there). It may seem an odd thing to choose to do when the days are already short here, but I really wanted to experience the polar night and to see the northern lights. The former was guaranteed, the latter relied on luck.

The sun failing to appear once we were in the Arctic Circle

The sun failing to appear once we were in the Arctic Circle

I’m conscious that going on holiday is, often, not the most sustainable activity, but I feel that meeting people from other parts of the world and seeing different lands helps me feel part of the whole and gives me some perspective. In fact, because we wanted to see the fjords, we knew the best way to achieve this… a trip on the Norwegian Coastal Express – Hurtigruten. The company originated in 1893 as the post boats, travelling up and down the coast of Norway. providing links to many remarkably inaccessible communities. And the company continues to do this – their boats travel up and down the coast, calling at 34 ports every day all year round, transporting goods and acting as a ferry service (including taking cars). They used to carry livestock too, but have stopped doing this now! Instead, they carry tourists – encouraging them to disembark and look round even the smallest town that they visit… experiencing the local culture and supporting local businesses.

This is, I have discovered, known as Geotourism – something I do naturally when I visit another country, but clearly a concept that needs to be promoted to others. National Geographic state on their website:

Geotourism is defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.

Geotourism incorporates the concept of sustainable tourism—that destinations should remain unspoiled for future generations—while allowing for ways to protect a place’s character. Geotourism also takes a principle from its ecotourism cousin,—that tourism revenue should promote conservation—and extends it to culture and history as well, that is, all distinctive assets of a place.

Me with our racing team!

Me with our racing team!

And it made for a brilliant holiday. All of the on-shore activities involved local people and businesses: a Viking Feast at the Borg Viking Museum on the Lofoten Islands; dog sledging with teams from the Tromsø Wilderness Centre (we were lucky enough to have the owner, Tove Sørensen, as our musher and be pulled by her racing team); a fascinating trip to North Cape, lead by Jerome, a local from Honningsvåg, who gave us real insight what it is like to live at the northern-most tip of Europe; plus we wandered around villages and towns – meeting really friendly folks as we went. In addition, the majority of the crew on the boat were Norwegian and the food served was representative of local cuisine – lots of fish, berries and, or course, reindeer meat. So, rather than just being on a floating hotel, we experienced some real Norwegian culture and, hopefully, supported the livelihood of the people who live along the coast of the country.

It was snowy at North Cape

It was snowy at North Cape

We also got to see the Northern Lights – one clear night we experienced them as green beams extending into the sky, then later we saw the brightest stars that we have ever encountered, so bright that they were perfectly reflected in the dead calm waters of the fjord that we were sailing through. Much of the holiday was spent gazing in wonder at the natural beauty of Norway: the tiny settlements perched precariously along the coast below towering mountains; the snow-capped peaks; the barren islands with a single house on them; the twilight of the polar night at mid-day; the black storm clouds. So many memories and a truly unforgettable trip.

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