Tuesday, 28 April 2009


On Saturday we had a bit of a charity shop tour, and found a stack of "Golden Hands Encyclopedia of Crafts" magazine from 1975. They were 10p each, so we bought a few issues.

This copy has very simple instructions for making full and half circle skirts. On my birthday day out to York yesterday, we found a colourful swirly quilt cover, that I'm going to make into a fabulous full length, full circle skirt :) Pictures to follow, of course. 

My current favourite item from the magazines is this gorgeous quilted bedspread. It looks so warm and cosy! And the colours are fab too! 

I couldn't resist posting this picture too - look at this knitted belt and sash :) 

Inspired by the sewing and craft ideas, I bought this top in a charity shop for £1. It's a bit too big, but I thought I might be able to alter it, or chop it up and make a new top out of it. I love the pattern.

My plan went slightly wrong... and now I have lots of probably quite useless pieces. But I will persevere when I get another hour or so, and if all else fails I'll cut it up smaller and make it into a bag. Waste not, want not and all that... 

Sunday, 26 April 2009


I'm aiming to make all of my presents for people this year. I'm trying to keep it all fairly simple, no huge projects that take weeks! 

It was a friend's birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I made this owl coffee cosy. Peter cut this picture out of a magazine years ago, and didn't keep the next page so I had to guess at the instructions. 

I used slightly more, er, lively material than in the picture.

I'm not sure it looks like an owl! But I do like it :) The main background material was a fabulous dress, being put to many new uses, and the eyes are the buttons from the cuffs. 

We also put some of the home made soap in this pretty pink box. The soap won't be ready for another three or four weeks... but fortunately our friend is very patient.

And tomorrow is my birthday! We're going on a very exciting surprise day out, no idea where yet. I'm looking forward to it! 

Thursday, 23 April 2009


The compost bin is finished! Peter made it from an old table and a few cabinet windows, and covered it with some reed fencing I bought for something else. 

This is the inside - you can see the windows. Part of me wanted to leave it without the covering to watch the food turn into compost! But since it's right next to the road, we thought it was best to cover it. 

It fits nicely under the tree, and the space is so shady that there's not much else we could have done there.

I'll be able to grow things up and around it, and I'll put a stepping stone so I don't have to stand on the soil to fill it. I'm hoping I'll be able to keep it from smelling, because it's right next to the pavement, and right under the living room window! 

An early morning plod

I went for a run this morning, the first one of the year - about time too! I didn't actually do much running... but I did take a few photos. 

These pretty little daffs are the first thing I see when going out the door. They're in the shade most of the day, so have only just started coming out this week. 

First of all I went up the hill and past these exceptionally well kept allotments. You can just see the church in the cemetery behind the hedge. 

Then down this little footpath... 

And out in to the fields on the top of the hill.

I went through this little stile and off to the right - the path straight ahead is nicer, but I didn't want to go that far down the hill before work.

Over the fields a little bit, looking out at the view, and then down this bit of a hill.

Then over another field, and then back into civilisation.

I walked straight out from the house, and was only out for about half an hour in total, so you can see how close we are to the edge of the city. The views are great (even if the hills aren't).

I got back from work a while ago, and found Peter building a compost bin! So hopefully that'll be up and running soon. He'd also spotted another little critter to add to the collection we've seen in our garden - this tiny little mouse. 

Monday, 20 April 2009

A weekend in the garden

My mum's been here all weekend, and since I won't see her again before my birthday, she brought my presents. First up were these beautiful miniature daffs, which we planted outside the kitchen window. 

I also got sage and oregano plants, which go nicely with the other herbs I planted last week, and this bag of compost from the bottom of mum's compost bin she started last year.

Isn't a bag of compost, especially home made, a fabulous present for someone with none of their own? We spread it over the soil, and round the new herbs and the lettuce we planted out in a pot. We also measured up for my compost bin, so hopefully I'll be able to return the favour next year ;) 

This is the front garden once we'd finished in it.

There's still quite a lot of bare soil, but I've got more seedlings on the go which will go in here, and the plants that are in there will fill out over the year. I didn't really get it cleared in time to plant green manure last year, but I will next winter. 

This is the side garden once we'd finished.

It doesn't look like we did much! But we cleared the seating area (just out of the picture), pruned the fuchsia so it wasn't overhanging the path, and put all the bits I've cut down over the past few weeks into green bags ready to be taken away. The whole garden looks much better now the path's brushed - something I never think to do! 

It was a lovely weekend, we had a couple of nice walks too. I also tried another batch of yogurt - with ordinary milk this time instead of UHT. It didn't work! I left it overnight and it was just milk with lumpy bits in... I'll get some dried milk powder maybe, and try again. I'd love to be able to make my own yogurt, but obviously need a bit more of a consistent technique.
It was a good weekend for wildlife in the garden. It never ceases to amaze me the amount we get in such a small space. Here's the resident (well, round the corner) wood pigeon, foraging in the bits of grass growing from the seed pushed off the bird table (I really must do something about that!)
And we found this cheery frog under a pile of bricks and concrete we were moving out of a corner. 

He wasn't too impressed when we moved the bricks he was sheltering under, but we put a few back without disturbing him, and left some water out. He was still there last night, hopefully he's got a more suitable home somewhere close! 

Thursday, 16 April 2009


My second attempt at making quark cheese the other day didn't work - it didn't set. Then again, the first time I tried it worked, and I didn't do anything much different this time, so maybe I just didn't leave it to set for long enough. I do like the idea of making cheese though, and found these instructions on the Simple, Green, Frugal co op blog for making ricotta. 

It was very easy. You just heat up the milk until nearly boiling, add lemon juice (or vinegar, or some other kind of acid), and stir. When it's cooled a bit, strain the whey off. That's it! I had some on top of pasta and veg, and it was very nice. 

The rest is in the fridge waiting for tomorrow's lunch. 

I've spent much of the rest of the day writing and reading, with a bit of sorting of my sewing area thrown in. I'll post a picture over the weekend. I've also done a quick whizz round of the whole house as my mum is coming to stay tomorrow. Cleaning and tidying is getting much easier the more we sort the house out! 

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A busy week

It's been a busy week! A slight crisis at work has meant I've done more hours than usual, at all times of the day, including staying overnight. I also went on a surprise visit to my family at the weekend. All this would have been fine, but I've had a dreadful cold too, and been completely worn out. I've been burning tea tree oil in an attempt to avoid giving it to guests. 

We had two guests last night, and we had curry, baked potatoes, and home made bread. I also made a version of another Entertaining with Stork recipe - a ginger and cherry loaf, with banana instead of the ginger. It was beautiful straight out of the oven with hot custard, and tasted very nice cold this morning too.

In a break from the phd this morning I made another batch of the face scrub. I've enjoyed using this for the past couple of weeks, it feels nice and smells gorgeous. It's quite abrasive the first day or two, then softens a bit as the days go on. This little jar holds enough for about a week, so it's a scrub for a couple of days, then a paste for 5 or 6 days, then the new batch starts as a scrub again. It works well. 

Something unusual happened this morning - a man knocked on the door and asked if we'd like to buy some fresh fish. I vaguely remember there being a fish man when I was little (although I don't think we ever bought anything). I don't even eat fish, but we decided to have some for Peter. We had to change our minds slightly when we discovered the price... But we got 5 pieces (about a pound) of oak smoked kippers for £8. Probably not a bargain, but apparently it was very nice, and it'll do a few meals. 

I've said before that we spend lots of time watching the birds out of the kitchen window. The other day we were having a cuppa and this squirrel turned up.

He stayed for ages, snuffling up all the seeds on the bird table, and ignoring a wood pigeon that was trying to intimidate him. I know some people try to keep squirrels off their bird food, but we don't - and isn't he cute?

Saturday, 11 April 2009


I'm trying to grow a lot of veg from seed this year, but I seem to have a bit of trouble with herbs. When I discovered the florist round the corner sold herbs in pots, I thought I'd buy a few to start me off.

We've got a lovely book called "The edible flower garden", which shows lots of fabulous things to make and do with flowers, one of which is lemon balm tea. 

I was also tempted by a fennel plant - for some reason a number of our visitors recently have been drinking fennel tea, and I thought we could have a go at making it. And fennel is a beautiful plant, although this one looks a bit droopy now I've planted it. 

I also got a couple of varieties of mint - this is spearmint

and this is basil mint, which I'd not heard of, but which apparently offers 'the summery taste of basil in spring'.

The only herb I've managed to keep alive since last year is a tiny rosemary plant which doesn't seem to have got any bigger, and these chives, which I've been harvesting regularly and putting in stir fries and the quark cheese that I made the other day. 

I managed to grow coriander from seed this year, but I've planted it outside and it's looking a but sorry for itself, so I'm waiting to see how long it lasts... 

Friday, 10 April 2009

Wildlife and hot cross buns

It's Good Friday, and although I don't do religion, I'm always willing to use an excuse for a cake. The dark rainy weather today also made a hot cross bun (or three) sound very appealing. Peter found a recipe in this old BeRo baking book.

They didn't quite turn out like the hot cross buns you usually see in the shops, but they are exceptionally nice, a bit more like orangey spicy scones. We had some with a cuppa this afternoon. 

We later found a recipe which uses a bread maker to knead and rise the dough, which would probably result in a more bread like, normal looking hot cross bun. Maybe that's one for next year. 

While we were eating our buns, our resident wood pigeon came to the bird table, and spotted me taking a photo of it. 

Thursday, 9 April 2009


I thought I'd write this post because of the comments I've received from several family members who have read this blog and said "shouldn't you be writing your PhD instead of making soap...?" So here's a post about PhD-ing.

This picture is of my desk this morning. It's in the attic, under the skylight. Someone had left the desk in the street with a note saying 'please take', so we did. Peter made the bookcase. The boxes on the floor have photos, cds, and an assortment of rubbish in. If you click on the photos, they get bigger and you can see better.

It wasn't feeling very restful with all the papers and stuff on the floor... so I spent half an hour putting things away, getting rid of paper, and changing the furniture around a bit. 

It had gone a bit dark with the rain outside by this point, so the photo is a bit dingy! The photo on the left is my young cousin - quite a lot younger in this picture! The two cards at the back are of pictures painted by my friend. The photo on the right is of a valley in Orkney I went to on holiday. And in the glass frame laid down on the yellow cloth is a collage of found treasures made by Peter. 

I've moved the bookcase to the sewing area on the other side of the room - that's a project for another day. I've got a bag full of papers to take to the office, and the cds and photos are under the yellow cloth. 

On the desk is my PhD management folder (until I think of a better name for it). I've been doing this PhD for years, and have so many papers, folders and files everywhere that it's difficult to keep track of things. I started this folder a few weeks ago, to keep the most recent things together, and so far it's working well. It's an old conference folder thing that was just hanging around in the house.

The chapter I'm working on at the minute gets put in a pink plastic folder, so it's easy to get out. On top is the sheet I use for planning the section I'm writing, so I can see everything I need to do on one sheet.

There's space for post it notes and small paper for messages and numbers. There's a couple of zips for pens and paperclips. In the space at the side, I keep some plastic wallets with copies of the past couple of chapters I've been working on, together with articles I'm collecting to read for those chapters, and notes when I've read them. I've also got a plastic wallet for notes from supervisions.

The red hardback display book was also hanging round the house, and has been put to good use. On the front is a work plan, with the date of my next supervision meeting, things I need to do before it, and a space to tick off when I've done them. Inside is a sheet to write issues and questions and things I need to find out later, so I don't get sidetracked while I'm trying to write. 

There's a list of books and articles on loan from the library and other people, and dates they're due back. I've got a sheet with contact details of people in the department, and one where I write the current version of each chapter, so I don't lose track of whether I'm on version 556 or 557... 

At the back is an overall work plan, showing when I plan to have each chapter finished and handed in. And there's an ongoing list of things to do that need chipping away at - listing references, filing articles, and scanning in photographs. I do 15 minutes of one of these each time I go into the office, and they're slowly getting finished.

So I AM working, and it's a lot easier now I've got everything in one place, and easy to find lists of what needs doing and when. It's also a lot less stressful (and again easier) when I give myself decent, proper breaks and do cheery things like making yogurt or soap or dinner, sewing, cleaning (not sure that's cheery yet, I'm getting there), or gardening. 

More soap and some yogurt

I managed to get hold of some coconut oil from an Asian grocery shop (99p a bottle!) so I made some more soap, just with coconut oil and olive oil. It didn't set (I guessed the amount of caustic soda again...), but I left it overnight, remelted it, and it's worked. It's a beautiful golden colour, although you can't see that in this picture. I'm very pleased with it, and having trouble waiting for it to be ready! 

I also had a go at making yogurt yesterday. We've got through ten, yes, TEN pints of milk in the last 3 days, so I thought perhaps if we could use yogurt for museli/porridge instead of milk, it might work out cheaper. 

I got a few recipe ideas from this money saving expert discussion. I tried it with UHT milk, thinking it would be cheaper than normal milk, but I think it actually turned out pretty much the same. I didn't use dried milk powder since I didn't have any. And I don't have a yogurt maker either...

So, I heated a litre of UHT milk to about 100 degrees, mixed it with a couple of teaspoons of natural yogurt, and put it in this lovely wide mouthed flask that was just sitting on a kitchen shelf looking pretty. People say to leave it overnight, but I was being impatient and made it at 10am, so I opened it mid afternoon. 

It was quite runny, but I think that's because I didn't use any dried milk powder. It tasted fine though. I left half of it for another couple of hours - other than being a little bit more of a tart taste, it's not that much different. 

I think next time I'll try non UHT milk though. If it's going to work out pretty much the same cost, I think I'd prefer the taste over the UHT. I'm pleased though, it was easy to make, too about 10 minutes overall, and I think with normal milk it'll taste the same as bought yogurt, but cost a fair bit less. Another success! 

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Living in the city

I've often heard people say they'd love to move to the countryside so they could be more sustainable, more self sufficient. Chickens, goats, a nice big pond, being able to grow all your fruit and veg - what is there not to like? I've lived in a little rural village, and I loved every minute of it, although I wasn't able to grow anything at all at the time. I understand the appeal. 

But I'm in a sentimental mood (having just returned from the pub!) and I'd like to stick up for living in a city for a minute. 

Now, I know that plenty of people already think city life is great, but I wanted to explain why I think it is. I know this is just one city, just one place. 

I'm lucky to live on the edge of a city. In 30 minutes walk I can be in the city centre, or at work, or at most of my friends' houses. In 5 minutes, I can be looking out over the hills (not always snow covered).
We can buy local milk, fruit, eggs, vegetables, meat, all grown in the city, and most of it within about 5 miles. We live close to a lot of charity shops, independent greengrocers, butchers, newsagents, cafes, restaurants and pubs. There's a bus every 5 minutes, and trains to all over the country within 40 minutes walk. I can't say much for cycling here, it's too hilly. But it's an exhilarating experience once you're used to it. 

Our garden is small, and all of it is next to the pavement. No good for privacy and sunbathing, but great for meeting the neighbours. People walk past and look in through the windows, but we can always see what's going on in the street. There's endless entertainment, and always new people to meet. We have a thriving Freecycle network for turning trash into treasure, and LETS scheme for bartering time and skills. There's always something going on if you want company, but also open spaces, parks, quiet walks, woods, and the national park close by if you'd rather solitude. 

I can't keep chickens or goats here in this tiny garden, and I'm not going to grow my entire potato quota for the year. But I can grow herbs and fruit, veg and flowers. My garden isn't a full time job, although sometimes it seems like it could be! I don't have to drive to the shops or the pub (even though sometimes I do). I can easily get organic veg, flour, rice, whatever else we might use.
Life is as simple or complex as you make it. I've had a complicated life, a simple life, and now I've got a riotous, joyous combination of the two. I suppose I'm just thinking, don't wait til you're in the perfect place, the perfect time, to make a start this whole simple living thing. Here and now is the best place and time.