Thursday, August 31, 2006
Mum taught me how to make patchwork this way when I was a child. When I began doing what might be termed "American patchwork" without papers she was fascinated - she hadn't known there was any other way of doing patchwork.
I treasure this top (it's not a quilt because it doesn't contain three layers - a top, a batt and a back - held together with stitches), because it's older than I am, because it was made by mum when she was a lot younger than I am now, and because it contains some really ugly fabric, even though it is rather a lovely top.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Nowadays patchwork and quilting is an expensive hobby, involving £12/yard specially printed cotton fabric and nearly as costly batting, thread, and special sewing machines. It's my most expensive vice.
I made the two quilts pictured here for a cousin who was expecting twins. Sadly, she miscarried the babies. One of the reasons I made the quilts for her was as a thank you to her mother, my aunt. My aunt made lots of beautiful knitted babyclothes when I had Thomas. She's a very talented knitter and needlepoint embroiderer, and I hoped to show my appreciation of her skill and her generosity by making a hand-made gift for her first grandchildren.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
But let's face it, not every day is a good drying day. June and July were beautifully dry and sunny, but August has been a bit of a wash-out. So I went shopping for an indoor washing line that wouldn't be an eyesore when not in use. We used to have one a bit like this, but it had got tangled and snapped so we threw it out when we redecorated. However I couldn't find one anywhere, so I decided to rig one up myself with a few wall hooks, an eyelet, a cleat-hook and some clothes line. It takes a full load of washing and dries it overnight whatever the weather. And when I don't need it, I can wind up the line so all you see is a row of hooks screwed into the wall.
I've got an A-rated (i.e. energy efficient) tumble drier, but I'm going to see if I can get by without using it much. That should cut my electricity bill, and of course do my bit to reduce global warming (not to mention sweater-shrinkage).
Click on the cartoon to enlarge it if you can't read the text. If I make it any bigger it messes up the sidebar.
Monday, August 28, 2006
- Maximum spend of £20
- Gifts to be second-hand, recycled, or hand-made
- Gifts to be thoughtful, personal and appropriate
I gave Ed some second-hand books I bought on eBay, by one of his favourite authors. He made me a cold frame out of recycled materials, for the allotment.
I am delighted with it and couldn't wait to find the right spot for it. I'll soon be filling it up with seedlings of winter veg, like winter cabbage. Already the weather is cold enough that little seedlings will benefit from the shelter.
I love my hand-made, recycled, thoughtful cold frame. Much better than any silly old lace knickers.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
She's gone home now, and Ed's holiday is almost over. But tomorrow is a Bank Holiday in the UK so he has one more day off work, and it's also our 13th wedding anniversary. This year we have agreed some rules for anniversary gifts - they have to cost less than £20, and they have to be second-hand, recycled or hand-made. I've got him some Raymond E. Feist books from eBay because he's reading his way through Feist's complete works the moment. I don't know what he's got for me but I've been banned from the garage all day and there have been sounds of sawing, drilling and hammering coming out of there, and when Ed came out for his lunch his hands were covered in what looked like wood preservative. Hmmm.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
To celebrate, we all went to the Poynton Show, the largest agricultural show in the North West. We usually go every year and it's always great fun. Last year we missed it because we were at Disneyland Paris, which you'd think trumps the local agricultural show by quite a wide margin, but the kids were upset when they realised they were missing the Poynton Show.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
It's 9 o'clock at night now, and the kids are theoretically in bed. They seem to be making quite a lot of noise up there though. We're just ignoring them. The chutney is still simmering, and Steph is strumming her guitar whilst I type this blog entry. There's a glass of red wine waiting for me when I'm done. The good life? I'm living it.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
On the other hand, you can't hoard everything forever or your house would become unliveable-in, so you have to throw some stuff away. Or better still, give it away to someone who wants it. That's why I subscribe to freecycle, a free mailing list that puts people with stuff they don't need in touch with people who want the stuff the other people don't need.
It's one of those wonderful win-win things that give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. On the one hand, someone came and took away my old chest of drawers for nothing, to go and be loved and used by someone else. And on the other hand I have collected some things I needed, like a huge chest freezer, or a vacuum cleaner, from people who didn't want them any more.
In the last few days I picked up a 3-dimensional train-shaped cake tin
and a large array of Grateful Dead cassettes. Now I suppose I need to find some stuff to give away, in order to rebalance the cosmic karma. Or just to stop myself from being crushed by my own clutter.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
I've been looking up some facts about the benefits of not filling the kettle each time you boil it. In a speech by the Rt Hon David Miliband MP at the National School of Governance conference, Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, London - "Public services and public goods: lessons for reform" - 6 June 2006 he said:
"If everyone boiled only the water they needed to make a cup of tea instead of filling up the kettle every time, we could save enough electricity in a year to run more than three quarters of the street lighting in the country."
And a press release from the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) said:
"Each time we boil the kettle we use more water than we need, we also waste valuable energy and contribute to climate change. On average, we could all save 90 seconds each time we boil a kettle - by putting in only the amount of water we need. Such a simple action would also cut household electricity bills -
overfilling each time we boil wastes enough energy in a week to light our house for a day or run a TV set for 26 hours."
Saturday, August 19, 2006
After that we had a look at the Air Raid Shelters. It cost £15 for us all to get and frankly I found less of interest to the family there than at the Hat Works. On the other hand I can see it must have cost a lot to fit them out as much as they have, with benches and bunk beds, toilets, nurses station and all the rest. They're probably half-way there to making it worth the entry fee. But perhaps I'm jaundiced because the kids got bored and started kicking off which isn't really the fault of the museum. It would have been better if they'd had a few more things like the Hat Museum - photo opportunities and things you can actually touch and try out. Sam really wanted to try the toilet for a start!
We never even got round to Staircase House or the art gallery, so we haven't exhausted the cultural attractions of Stockport yet. Which is pretty impressive, when you come to think of it.
Friday, August 18, 2006
"Each household or family unit operates somewhere on a 'food acquisition
continuum' (a phrase I've just invented) from, at one end (the far right if you
like), total dependence on the industrial food retailers to, at the other (far
left) end, total self-sufficiency."
The point of this blog is to describe our journey from somewhere near the far-right of this continuum to somewhere closer to the left. Earlier this year we got an allotment and started producing some of our own fruit and vegetables. Later we got two chickens and now have daily home-produced free-range eggs. More recently we have been picking wild fruit in the hedgerows near our house.
But we're still a long way off being self-sufficient. You could describe us as "self-sufficient-ish", which is also the title of a rather good website.
Created by twin brothers Dave and Andy Hamilton it is a mine of informative and useful articles about how to bring a little self-sufficiency into the most urban life. For example, there's an article on "The Self-Sufficientish Office" and "Tips For Those Living In Rented Accommodation", as well as the more ambitious "No-tech Solar Oven" and the extreme-green "Home-Made Washable Menstrual Pads". There's also a very lively forum. I spend some time there most days, either reading articles or chatting on the forums. It's been in my Links section (in the right-hand sidebar) for ages, but if you haven't checked it out yet why don't you go and have a look?
Thursday, August 17, 2006
The pool is part of Stockport's "Grand Central" entertainment area which also has bars, a multiplex cinema and lots of fast food places. It probably has bingo and a bowling alley as well, I've never noticed, but they seem to be part of the package. So we went to McDonald's for lunch and then to the cinema to watch "Cars". It was rubbish but the kids liked it. I'm sure the animation was all very technically stunning, but that's not what I want from a movie. The plot was off-the-shelf, and the setting was designed to evoke nostalgia for a time and place I never knew, so it left me cold. It wasn't as bad as "The Spongebob Squarepants Movie", but it wasn't "Shrek" either.
You can't really take pictures in the swimming pool (without either wrecking your digital camera or getting arrested), or in the cinema, and taking pictures in McDonalds just seems, well, tacky. So todays picture is from our visit to Chester zoo. I've tried to keep the swimming/animated movie theme going, though.
Yesterday we went to Chester Zoo. It's a great zoo. It's huge - over 100 acres. And it has a vast range of animals. It's also really well-planned and laid out. And it's family-friendly; it seems that every time the kids are getting tired you come across a play area, or a grassy lawn, or a picnic area.
The highlight for me was watching a small snake eat a whole (dead) rat by dislocating its own jaws. They only feed about once a week or even less, so we were lucky to get to see that. The orangutans were good, too. I love orangs very much. The low point was Eleanor and Sam becoming hysterical in the bat cave. The bats are kept in a large free-flying cave which visitors walk through whilst bats fly over and around them. It was amazing. You don't get to see them close-up as you would if they were in little tanks, but we had plenty of opportunity to peer at creatures in little tanks and this was a different experience. We persuaded the younger ones to give it a go, and patiently encouraged them. They seemed to enjoy it and I was proud of them for bravely doing something they were initially reluctant about. But at the end there was an airlock-type thing between the cave and the exit proper and a small bat had become trapped. It was panicking, and Ellie and Sam panicked too, screaming the place down so that keepers came running over to find out what the fuss was about. It took a while to calm the kids down but a life-sized model of a rhino that peed impressively (although an addition of some steam would have added to the verisimilitude) once a minute was a sufficient distraction.
The drawback is it costs an arm and a leg to get in. We only went because we'd got a couple of "child goes free with a paying adult" vouchers, and a half price child's ticket, so we got in for £30 instead of the prohibitive £60 it would have cost otherwise. Once inside there were many other attempts to part us from our money, and we made it very clear to the kids that we had brought a packed lunch and plenty of drinks, and would be buying no ice-creams, balloons, hats, car stickers or soft toys. They accepted this pretty well. We did go on the zoo monorail when we found a queue shorter than 45 minutes. I was disappointed though that there was no way to bring home any zoo manure, as you can at some other zoos. I'd have got a kick out of putting elephant dung on the vegetables, and it would have been a better souvenir than any of the other tat on offer.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Yesterday I picked over a stone (15lbs or 7kg) of damsons from our one tree and I only got about half the fruit down (the tree's quite tall). And my neighbour promised me all her fruit earlier in the year. So I'm thinking a big bucket of damson wine.
Sam and I went to Congleton farmer's market. We actually made it this time. Shouldn't have bothered - it was a big disappointment. Most of the stalls were bog-standard British manky market variety - cheap bathtowels and mobile phone fascias etc. We did pick up some home-made cakes and some ostrich sausages from the few genuine farm stalls that were there. We also bought some cheese in the covered market from a trader who was very surprised when I asked where the cheese came from, and if I could taste it before buying.
Monday, August 14, 2006
I liked the quote from Claire Willis of the National Society of Allotment and Leisure Gardeners (NSALG)
"It's becoming much more of a community activity. I see my neighbouring allotment holder bringing his children, so they can watch how to cultivate vegetables and seeing the distinction between growing food and buying it from a supermarket"
I never realised I was part of a trend.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
But of course the bext thing about Cropredy was catching up with old friends. My sisters, Stephanie and Lindsey are pictured. Also there in 2006 were TJ, Andrew, Shona, a trio of Steves, Leila, Thomas, and Cropredy virgins Elaine and Amy. Absent friends this year included Jim and Catrin amongst many others.
It all seemed to be over far too soon but the dampness in my Doc Martens and the lingering smell of patchouli will keep the Cropredy spirit alive for a little while yet.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
A neighbour will be chicken-sitting for us. The allotment can manage without any attention for a few days.
We'll be back on Sunday with lots of photos, suntans, lovebeads and muddy shoes. Hope you have a good weekend too.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
I tried "bean-sprouts" because for over fifteen years I have sprouted my own beans for salads and stir fries. It's very easy: soak some beans in plenty of cold water overnight, then put them in a sprouter. I use a three-tiered sprouter like this one but you can use a jam jar just as well. Rinse the sprouts once or twice a day and in a few days they will have started to sprout. You can eat them when the sprout is about the same length as the seed. I put them in salads and sandwiches and they taste really fresh and alive, which they are. You can also cook them in soups and stews and stir fries. I always have sprouts on the go.
Monday, August 07, 2006
As squash art goes it's not a (pumpkin) patch on the ones here. The link is to The Potimarron Project, a guy who will send free pumpkin seeds to anyone who agrees to give part of the crop to their nearest homeless shelter. I think it's a wonderful idea and I'll be participating next year.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
I was busy in the kitchen all afternoon making 24 cheesey potato scones, 10 portions of chicken soup and a large batch of gooseberry and marrow chutney.
It's encouraging to see a lot of people have voted in the poll on this page challenging you to only boil as much water as you need. The challenge was inspired by Andy Hamilton on Selfsufficientish.com. He emailed the customer service people from Typhoo, Yorkshire Tea, Tetley, PG tips and Twinings to suggest they include advice on their packaging or adverts not to boil too much water, and he asked other people on the Selfsufficientish forums to do the same. I emailed them and got replies from Yorkshire Tea and Tetley. If you're sitting at the computer with a few minutes on your hands (and I'm guessing you do - you're not reading this blog for your work are you?) why not click on one of the links which will take you directly to a "customer comments" page and ask them to advise tea-drinkers to help save the planet. Coffee drinkers beware - we're coming after you next!
Friday, August 04, 2006
- Fried duck eggs
- Fried mushrooms
- Fried tomatoes
- Fried bread
- Whole-earth baked beans
- Homemade potato scones
- Realeat Vegebangers
- Realeat Vege Bacon
- Vpud vegetarian black pudding
Boil 1lb floury potatoes and mash them. Add a generous knob of butter, plenty of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and enough wholewheat flour to make a dry, rollable dough. Split the dough in half and roll out into two half-inch thick circles. Cut each circle into six wedge-shaped slices with a knife and fry in butter for a few minutes each side.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
On the way home we went to the farm shop nearest us to get some fruit and other supplies. Whilst buying locally made cheese (though not Cheshire cheese, confusingly) I picked up a vegetarian black pudding. We'll have it for tea tonight and I'll report back, but if it's anything like the vegetarian haggis I had once it could be delicious.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
I've been getting on with jobs in the house instead. I made some hot redcurrant and chilli jam using another Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe (from the Children's Cookbook) which is really delicious. I also made gingerbread men with the kids and chicken soup from the carcase of the chicken we had at the weekend. I painted a built-in cupboard Ed made to house the gas meter ages ago, and I reupholstered a dining chair.
What I haven't managed to do is figure out how to upload the photos from my mobile phone into the PC, nor fix my broken digital camera, so I can't show you any of those things. You'll just have to take my word for it. Hey, if I had wanted to lie I would have said I had met Nelson Mandela, run a marathon and played a live gig to hundreds of thousands of people in Hyde Park. But I didn't. Think about that.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
You'll have to scroll right to the bottom to see the other changes. First of all is the Rustle The Leaf comic strip which I believe will be updated once a week. Click on the link if you want to view the older strips. Whilst you're at it, you could also click on the One Million Europeans Against Nuclear Power banner and sign the petition. I know it's a contentious issue and some people think nuclear is the best non-polluting alternative to fossil fuels. If that's how you feel, don't sign it, I won't mind!
Down on the allotment I picked a couple of peas. The peas were tiny, too small to pick really but I couldn't resist. I even tempted Tom to try one and he said they were "delightful". I agree - they're astonishingly sweet, downright sugary. It's funny, they're much sweeter than the blackcurrants we picked a little while ago, and far sweeter than the morello cherries.
One of the childhood memories that kept coming back to me when we got this allotment was of a visit to some friends of my parents. They had a pea patch in the garden, and my sisters and I absolutely ravaged it, stripping it of peas and eating them on the spot. I don't remember getting in trouble for it, but I don't remember ever being invited back either. I won't mind if Tom and the other children eat all the peas straight off the plants. It'll just be nice to see them getting vegetables in them.