Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The end of March, the beginning of April

I thought it would nice to have a post at the end of each month, reflecting on things I've done, new things I've tried, and how things are working out in this quest for a more home grown life. 

I've stared lots of seedlings off, and made space in the garden for all the fruit and veg I'll be growing. (I was going to upload a photo but blogger isn't playing today...). We've already eaten rainbow chard, spinach and some herbs this year. 

I've started sewing again, and I'm enjoying it very much. I'm planning on making pretty much all Christmas and birthday presents this year. 

I've had a go at making soap - got off to a ropey start but it's drying out nicely now, and will hopefully be ready to use in a few weeks. I'll hunt out some coconut oil and try a different recipe this month. 

We've done lots of decorating in the bathroom, and it feels much more homely now. I think this sort of thing is important for feeling at home in your home (if that makes sense), freeing up a bit of space, making things easier to keep clean, and generally more relaxing.  We even managed a good bit of spring cleaning of the kitchen and entrance this week too. 

Money wise, I've checked my cash book today and I've actually stuck to the budget this month! Well, overall I have, although the 'emergency' fund was spent on tea and cake, and the 'garden' fund on food :) I'm learning.... 

I've eaten either at home, with friends, or taken a packed lunch every day this month, no more bought sandwiches for me! 

So overall, a month of trying out new skills, growing and sowing and sewing, and making life easier (funny how it sometimes seems to get more difficult in the process!)

As for April.... It's my birthday in April :) Which automatically makes the whole month more cheery somehow. 

In the house, we'll carry on pottering and decorating and organising. I'll make some more soap, experiment with some more food from the garden, and do some more spring cleaning.

In the garden, I'll clear some more space, build a compost bin, plant some veg out, and regain the seating area to sit out at tea time. 

At work, I'll take a packed lunch every day :) And I'll try not to spend (too much) time resenting my phd and more time actually writing it...

I'll stick to my budget, try more soap making, have a go at another sewing project, and spend more time writing, more time outside. 

And I'll look back at this post at the end of April and see how I've got on. 

Monday, 30 March 2009


I'm very much enjoying the lighter evenings this week. An extra hour of daylight in the evenings makes such a difference. There's time after work to potter in the garden and have tea watching the birds. What a treat! I can almost feel the summer... 

Last weekend a friend gave me some seeds.

"I've had them for a while..." she said - since 1979! The packets are actually quite beautiful, they seem rather old fashioned now, and I think I'll keep them to make into birthday cards. The forget-me-nots say "sow by December 1983" so I suspect they won't grow, but I'm tempted to try.

The nasturtium packet apparently "seals in the harvest-fresh vitality and germination. Normal ageing of seeds beings only when you open foil pack." I think I'll plant a few, and if by some miracle they do germinate, I'll write to Webbs Wonderful Seeds (if they still exist) and let them know.
Talking of seeds, I planted some broad beans this evening, straight into the ground, which I've never done before. I'm from the hotch potch school of gardening - put things in willy nilly with gay abandon, let them fend for themselves and watch the results. If I'm going to eat much that I've grown myself this year I might have to do a bit more planning! 

But for old time's sake I've just pressed a few broad bean seeds here and there around the beds, just to see what happens...

Saturday, 28 March 2009

A soap success!

Good news! After remelting, mixing and leaving overnight, the soap has set! 

I've cut into blocks and it's drying on the windowsill. It's still a little bit soft, but hopefully it'll dry out over the next few weeks. 

I've also been doing a bit of sewing the past few days. My friend's son will be four next week, and I'm attempting to make this naughts and crosses game. I haven't quite followed Tammy's pattern as I'm not the world's greatest seamstress, and I'm just using what I've got in the house. This is the board, with velcro on each of the squares. 

And these are the pieces - I couldn't quite manage naughts and crosses, so I've gone with chickens and flowers with a felt backing.

Today has been restful - sewing, cooking, pottering, a visit to the library, and tea and cake at the Women's Institute Country Market down the road. We go here every Saturday morning for a cheap cuppa and some gorgeous home made cake and crafts. We usually have a couple of friends join us too. A lovely start to the weekend. 

Friday, 27 March 2009

Budgeting (again)

Today I've been food shopping at the faceless supermarket down the road. 

I can never quite figure out the best way of food shopping for us. We're lucky to have a decent fruit and veg shop 5 minutes walk away, and also a small Co-op supermarket. Our natural inclination is to pop out a few times a week to get what we need, without list or budget, and this is what we generally do. 

I'm trying to tweak this a little for now as it ends up costing quite a lot of money, as well as time! So I've started making a list, setting a budget, and for the time being heading to the supermarket once a week. I'm hoping that I'll be able to organise myself, check prices and stock, and start getting most things from the local shops fairly soon. 

I've been keeping track of what we spend on food, and it's about £160 for the two of us. We don't eat meat, I don't eat fish, but we do get through a lot of fruit, veg, tins of chick peas and other beans, and lentils, as well as jam :) 

We make our own bread (in the bread machine), and generally make pretty much everything from scratch, so surely we must be able to get that spending down a little...

I've realised that I still spend quite a lot on popping to the shops for some milk - sometimes 5 or 6 times a week! I like my tea VERY milky... So, as an experiment, I'm cutting down from about 7 cups of tea a day (sometimes more - that's surely not good?) and trying to just drink herbal tea. We have a big stock already that we've acquired, and I don't like it as much as 'normal' tea, so hopefully it'll end up cheaper. We'll see. So far it's going ok, and I'm not missing proper tea that much. 

I'm also sprouting some green lentils for salads and stir fry, and growing lettuce and tomatoes so we don't need to buy salad. I'm trying to cut down on cheese too, and having a go at making two meals at a time and freezing one. 

I might try to knock the budget down to £140 for April, and then after that see if we can get it down further. Shouldn't be too difficult, hopefully. 

Working hard and enjoying life

I've had another productive day today, which has included lots of writing and finishing off a phd chapter. Slowly chipping away at it is doing the trick after all! 

This is the view that greeted us through the kitchen window on coming down for breakfast this morning. 

Our garden is small, and the bird table close to the kitchen window, so we spend many an hour, tea in hand, watching the antics of the birds. This wood pigeon and it's mate, and occasionally another couple, are daily visitors, and make us laugh by sliding incompetently down the branches, being intimidated by sparrows, and sitting right on top of the pile of seeds like Smaug the dragon. You can see the lilac buds in the background too. 

As my toiletries run out, I'm experimenting with making replacements. This morning I tried a face scrub, adapting a recipe from The Fragrant Pharmacy by Valerie Ann Wormwood. It's a lovely book about using essential oils to promote general well being and healing, and I often refer to it to deal with cuts and bruises and colds. 

The face scrub is just a couple of spoons of medium oatmeal mixed with a teaspoon of sweet almond oil and a couple of drops of lavender. The book called for ground almonds too, but I didn't have any. 

I patted it onto my face with damp fingers, and massaged it in. It was beautiful! It smells divine, and feels gorgeous, and there was no need for moisturiser. My skin has stayed soft all day. I'll definitely be experimenting further soon. 

Talking of experimenting... I checked the soap again today. There's a layer of oil that's separated and formed on the top. I had a scout round the internet, and found this site which recommends checking the recipe and remelting, which is what I did. The result looks much more like I think it should, so it's wrapped in a towel now and I'll check tomorrow if it's hardened. 

All in all, a good day! 

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Soap news, and brandy snaps

Between bouts of writing today I've been checking up on the soap mix. It's looking a little better today, although it's nowhere near setting yet. Looks like I might have got to the 'trace' stage now. I'll leave it another day or so and see how it's doing. Even if it doesn't work, I'll try again (measuring things properly this time!) as I'd love to have home made soap. 
My little lettuce pots are doing well, it's probably about time they were repotted. I'm being cautious about putting them outside, as every other year I've done that they've been eaten almost immediately. So I'll put them in bigger pots I think, and wait til they're a bit sturdier. You can just about see how close the edge of the garden is to the road in this photo. 

For tonight's tea I made two casseroles (one for tomorrow) with onion, carrot, kidney and adzuki beans, potatoes, and some rosemary from the garden. To fill the oven I thought I'd make some shortbread to have with friends at the weekend. 
It looks and tastes nothing like shortbread, but it does taste very much like brandy snaps! I wish I'd thought to curl it when it was still soft. Best put it in a tin before I munch it all now! 

I'm enjoying this little blogging journey very much. It's making me think much more about how I spend my time each day. My main business of week days is usually writing, but instead of mindlessly wandering around the internet during (unscheduled) break times, I'm stopping, getting away from the computer, and doing a little housework, or sewing, or chatting, or just sitting down with a cuppa. 

It's made such a difference these past few days! I feel much less wound up, much less resentful about my work, and I'm actually getting more done, not less. How wonderful.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Rainbow chard and unsuccessful soap

I've been writing today, and as a break I popped into the garden to pick some rainbow chard, spinach and chives. 

Isn't that chard a beautiful colour? I chopped it, steamed it, and mixed with an egg, milk and cheese mix, then topped with fried onions, grated carrot and oats and put it in the oven. It was exceptionally nice! Sadly there wasn't very much, I'll make more next time. 

This evening I've been having a go at making soap for the first time, using Rhonda's instructions on her beautiful 'down to earth' blog. I must have gone wrong somewhere... as I've been stirring for an hour and a half (yes you read that right!) and I still don't have a 'trace'. 

Perhaps I should get a set of scales, rather than guessing amounts? Or use an electric mixer? 

An online help guide suggests stirring for 5 minutes, leaving for 15, stirring for 5... for 3 hours. I've already done half of that, so nearly there! 

Looks like that's my evening planned out then... 

If it ever sets, I'll post a photo. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


Tonight I've done a little sewing I've been putting off. I've embroidered a few simple pictures onto some towelling sleep suits for a friend's baby. 

Good job I bought aged 3-6 months - it's taken me ages to get round to doing this even though it too me less than half an hour. Isn't that always the way?

The pictures are quite rough (as are the photographs!), I'm not very practiced at this. But they were made with love, and I think my friend will appreciate them.


I've been thinking about this blog and what to use it for, and after reading other blogs I think I'd like it to track my journey along the path to a more peaceful, simpler life, growing food, making presents, and generally slowing down a bit and having a cheery time :) 

I've been reading Rhonda's blog about simple living recently, and it's inspired me to think about all the things I've done already, and things I'd like to do. This is a nice way of thinking things over for myself, even if nobody else ever reads this blog.

I'll talk about money today, as in the past it's been one of the main stresses in my life. 

I've never been one for spending money on clothes and handbags, but I do tend to fritter it on cups of tea and cake in cafes if I'm not careful... It's surprising how much you can spend on that! 

A couple of years ago for a number of reasons I'd managed to run up debt on an overdraft and credit card. It got to the stage where I was having bank charges taken out, which would make me overdrawn, then I would get more charges, and I was only ever paying interest off the credit card. I decided it had to stop, and with some frugal living, changes in phone bills, and cutting back, I managed to pay both off. I cut up the credit card and closed the overdraft facility. 

Yesterday I noticed I'd gone overdrawn for the first time in about 2 years! And it was only because I wasn't paying attention, having a coffee here, a piece of cake there... So today I'm bringing myself back to reality with this post. 

I'm well on the way to sorting out my budget (although I'm still not perfect!) I now live on the income I get from two days work each week. I save £2 coins for holidays and treats, and small change to go towards an emergency fund. I feel much better about money, and don't feel that pang of dread when I open a bank statement (except yesterday!).

I don't want a lifestyle I have to work full time to maintain, and I'm fortunate that I don't have one, and neither does my partner. At the minute I'm writing up a phd (of which more later), so I effectively 'work' more than full time, and I'd rather it didn't continue. When I've finished I'll carry on with my part time job at least for a few months rather than jumping straight into a full on, full life job. I'm realise how lucky I am to be able to do that, but part of it is through the choices I've made too. 

Tonight I'll sit down and tweak my budget, to see what I've been doing this past month to get off track. Then I'll put some bread in the machine (which must have saved us a fortune since we bought it, we go through at least 4 loaves a week!) and do some sewing. 

Monday, 23 March 2009

Bathroom and baking

Well, it's not finished, but it's got skirting and a floor! It's taken me the best part of 2 days, swearing a lot, and there's quite a few imperfections, but I'm happy with the effort I put in and the end result. There's still a bit of tidying needs doing, but for now I'm celebrating!
I've also made an experimental loaf in the bread machine (all my loaves are 'experimental') - with chives and rosemary from the garden. Here it is, along with one of our home made scones.

Not a great picture! On the wall in the background are a couple of plastic automatic tea dispensers - which almost never have tea in them. I must do something about that soon! 

For now though, I'm going to have a well deserved bath in the new bathroom. 

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Reshaping the bathroom

This weekend I'm working on the bathroom. Amongst other things it needs a new skirting board and carpet. I'm trying to make a skirting board out of some reed fencing from the garden centre, but (unsurprisingly) it's all falling apart and won't attach to the wall. 

I'll post an 'after' picture if it ever gets finished! 

Frost and snow

Well, I haven't posted since January! There's been a lot going on since then. We've had a fair bit of frost...

And some heavy (for here!) snow which caused chaos for days but made the garden look very pretty! 

The sun is shining now and spring is most definitely on the way. My lettuces have started sprouting, as have the sweet peas. No sign yet of pumpkins, courgettes or nasturtiums (but then it's probably too early to have planted them!)