Friday, August 31, 2007
Thursday, August 30, 2007
The term "self sufficiency" has all sorts of nuances that go beyond "people who grow all their own food". One meaning of "self sufficiency" is "capable, practical, skilled at day-to-day problem solving". My grandfathers both had it in spades, and both my parents had it to some extent, especially my mum. She would have a go at anything. She was especially skilled at working with textiles and ceramics, but she'd try her hand at bricklaying (and also demolition), plastering, woodwork, sculpture, plumbing, carpet laying, you name it. It's a quality that's increasingly rare. People would prefer to call a tradesman to do their painting and decorating. Mum wouldn't have dreamed of it and neither would I.
On the other hand she was a fan of things like the Betterware catalogues. I hate those. A special gizmo for cleaning down the back of the fridge? A doohicky that cracks eggs? Something to store your dishcloth on when it's not in use? I can solve those problems myself without paying someone £10 for a bit of plastic to do it for me. Because I'm self sufficient.
- Cut each dress into one long continuous strip. Each strip should be roughly two inches wide, but for heaven's sake, don't measure it - just do it by eye. You might be able to cut all the way around the dress in a long spiral, like peeling an orange. Or you might have to cut in a sort of zig-zag, as in the diagram. When you get to tricky bits like sleeves etc., use your own ingenuity. If you don't have any ingenuity, just buy a damn rug instead. Then roll the strips into balls. This step takes hours and hours. Making rag rugs is not a quick project by any means.
- If you are a neat freak, you can press your strips so all the ragged edges are hidden. You do this by folding the two raw edges to the centre, then folding in half so the raw edges are enclosed, then press. But I don't mind a raggy look - it is a rag rug after all. If you do press them, this stage will also take hours and hours.
- Take three strips and stitch them together at the top. Then fasten them to something like a chair and start braiding the strips. When you run out of one colour, or you want to change colour because you're going out of your mind with boredom and you're desperate to break the monotony, sew the new strip to the end of the old strip and continue. Roll the braid up into a ball until you have enough to start stitching the rug. Guess what? This stage takes hours and hours.
- Coil the braid into a spiral and sew it together with the toughest thread you can find, such as upholstery thread. Work on a flat surface such as a large table or your rug won't lie flat (we didn't do this and had to "block" the finished rug with steam and then stitch it to a hessian backing - if you work on a flat surface these stages will not be necessary). If you have a friend or a sister to work with, one of you can braid whilst the other coils. Funnily enough both stages seem to progress at approximately the same rate. Needless to say, this stage takes hours and hours.
I can't remember exactly when Steph and I started the maternity dress rag rug, but it was about two years ago. We've worked on it in fits and starts, sometimes quite intensively but often putting it away for months on end. I don't know how many hours we spent on it altogether, but it's a lot. This is no weekend project, it's much longer than that, but the end results are worth it.
It's finished now and is on the floor of my bedroom. It looks lovely, and is warm on my feet when I get out of bed. It's also full of memories - memories of my pregnancies, memories of breastfeeding the babies, and memories of working on the rug together with Steph. To me it's better than the finest Persian carpet could ever be.
First catch your rabbit. We bought two frozen dressed1 rabbits, two frozen dressed pheasants and a frozen dressed duck in the greengrocer in the village for £10. You can't complain about those prices.
Brown the rabbit in a frying pan with some butter. Place in a slow cooker or casserole dish with one chopped carrot, one chopped parsnip, one chopped onion and a few peeled shallots. That's just what we happened to have knocking around. You could use potatoes, turnip, swede, leeks, celery, the possibilities are endless.
Also add about an ounce of chopped pancetta and half a black pudding, sliced. Again - this was just what we had in the fridge. You could substitute bacon, chorizo, ham, sausage or anything like that.
Finally add a dried bay leaf and some fresh thyme (or rosemary, marjoram or whatever you have) and about a pint of scrumpy (or real ale or stock or wine - you get the picture).
Cover and cook in a moderate oven for roughly two hours, or until the rabbit is cooked through. If you are using a slow cooker, cook on high for an hour and then on low for five to seven hours.
1 Not dressed in blue waistcoats with buttons. It means they've been feathered, skinned, and had their guts, head and feet removed. It means something similar to "oven ready".
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
If the cable doesn't turn up today I'll buy another one from PC World. But it makes me cross. It has to be around here somewhere, and the house is pretty tidy so it's not hard to search. And yet wherever I look - it's not there.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Saturday, August 25, 2007
From the website:
We live in a pretty 16th century cottage in an English village on the Cambridgeshire/Suffolk border.The cottage cast includes three Miniature Pinscher dogs, one Maran hen, four bantams, 70,000 bees, fifty three fish and an Old English carp called George.
This diary charts our haphazard journey towards self sufficiency and beyond.
They've got bees, chickens, they forage from hedgerows - basically they sound just like us and I'm glad to add them to my blogroll. Why not pop across and read the latest entries?
Friday, August 24, 2007
We'll be using one jar tomorrow to make Black Forest Gateau.
The book has hundreds of recipes, organised by month. This is a really neat feature because if the winemaking mood takes you, you can easily look up what is in season at the moment. In the winter months it gives recipes for things like wheat, tinned fruit, and Ribena wine. If you're searching for a particular recipe there's an index in the back.
Berry (who in life had a really impressive moustache) teaches you not only how to make wine, but also all the "whys". By following the book I developed an understanding of winemaking which allowed me to experiment with my own brews. I think my all time top success was a 5 gallon batch of "everything the greengrocer was chucking out on Saturday afternoon", which resulted in a fabulous wine very like a good Cabernet Sauvignon. Sadly I never wrote down the proportions and so the recipe was unrepeatable. But then again Berry advised me to always keep scrupulous records for this very reason, so the fault lies with the student, not the master.
I don't have any other winemaking books and I don't feel I need any. First Steps in Winemaking has everything I need.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
I used to make my own wine, and would like to make some this year (plum, do you think? If damson is good, why not plum?). But I no longer have any equipment, and the shop I used to go to is no more, there's a huge shopping mall where it used to be ... any ideas where I can get the stuff I need??
I'm lucky to have a fantastic winemaking and homebrewing supply shop just a few miles away - The Brew Shop. But I don't get all my supplies from there. For example, you can scrounge 5 gallon buckets from chip shops and take aways. They get their oil delivered in them and are happy to give them away. You can sometimes find demijohns in charity shops and on Freecycle.
Eleanor helped me prepare this batch, by placing some damp paper (kitchen roll, blotting paper, whatever) in our bean sprouter, but you could use a saucer. Then she sprinkled mustard and cress seeds liberally but evenly on the damp paper. If we keep it moist, in a few days we'll have lovely fresh mustard and cress to eat.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Jools Holland played a fabulous set on Thursday night, and Richard Thompson was his usual stellar self on Friday, after Fairport played the whole of Liege and Lief with the original line-up (so far as possible). Dave Swarbrick was amazing. He's a new man following his transplant op. The last time he played Cropredy, he was wheeled on stage in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank behind him. This time he walked on, played standing and bopped about with the best of them. Needless to say his playing was peerless.
Cropredy festival now has a fringe. The two pubs in the village booked several acts (including some of the bands who performed on the main stage last year) and put on their own concerts. Also there was a huge screen behind the main stage on which they showed live images of the band, the crowd, and some cheesy videos (the one for Hiring Fair was especially cringe-able). It was great for a shortie like me, who has never really seen much at the concert, to be able to see what was going on onstage.
The highlight, however, came on Saturday night with the video for Matty Groves - in Lego. If you don't know what I mean, it was done in a similar style to The Brick Testament. Simon Nicol sang it absolutely deadpan, although the audience were all hooting with laughter at the video. They followed it up with the usual medley, played with even more energy and zip than usual, and the drawn-out ending was thoroughly silly and fun. I can't imagine how they're going to top it next year.
The only disappointment, for me, was the large number of absent friends. Our family met up with my sister Lindsey and her husband Andrew, and Lindsey's friend Steve and his kids, and we had a great time. But we missed Steve H., Jim and Catrin, the Roses, Shona, Ford, Christina and Alan, and especially my sister Steph who couldn't make it this year. Please, guys, do your best to make it next year. "Meet on the Ledge" just isn't the same without you.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
All life is connected, so the extinction of the Essex emerald moth is just as important as the gentle baiji. But it should give us a wake-up call to think that we humans have driven this animal out of existence.
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
A small prize will be awarded to someone who can identify the song which inspired the title of this article.
The process of hooking the two bikes together, or unhooking them, is very quick and simple and requires no tools. When the bikes are unhooked, the pole telescopes down and clips to the frame of the adult bike, out of the way. So on a long journey you could tow the child a while, then let them cycle a while, then tow them a little more, hooking and unhooking when necessary without too much trouble.
If you have a look at the Trail-Gator website hopefully all will become clear, or just look at the pictures with this post which show it in action.
Getting the thing fixed onto your bike in the first place is a bit trickier. The explanations are extremely clear - in retrospect. Beforehand there is much scratching of the head and peering at the photos on the box to figure out what it all means. I am no mechanical genius, but I'm not a total numpty either, and I managed it. It also involves taking apart parts of the bikes I had never considered taking apart before. For example, I had to remove Sam's front wheel entirely, and disassemble my rear brake assembly. If you're a bike nut, it'll probably be no trouble at all. I'm not a bike nut and I found it a bit daunting, but I got there in the end.
So how does it ride? I've only taken it up and down the crescent a few times, but it seems OK under those circumstances. It's heavier than cycling alone, obviously, and getting underway from a standing start is harder. The child has to sit fairly still - if they sway from side to side, or waggle the handlebars violently, the whole apparatus wobbles and the adult has to use their weight to keep it all upright and going in a straight line. And you have to drum it into them not to apply the brakes, because that gets really annoying.
I've also found it a problem that it's attached to the seat post because I'm a stumpy little thing and I had my seat in the lowest position. Now it's slightly too high for me, which exacerbates the "starting from a standstill" problem because my toes are at full reach at the bottom of the stroke.
I'm not ready to take it out into traffic yet, I want to practice a bit more in a traffic-free environment, first.
I've been researching a bit about the effects of leaving lights on. I was looking for some figures about how much money we could save if we switched them off, or how much excess carbon we produce by leaving them on. But I got sidetracked when I discovered a website about light pollution.
The picture to the right is a composite photograph from space of the earth at night. You can clearly see densely populated places that glow at night from countless millions of lights. Now being able to see at night is a wonderful thing, and I think that street lighting, car headlights, lighting in our houses and so on are all of such great benefit that the energy is well spent. But shooting all that light directly up to space is not a good use of energy. Our lights should be better targeted, so the lighting illuminates only what we need to be illuminated, not the whole surrounding area. My bedroom window looks towards Manchester, and the orange sky-glow on cloudy nights is a saddening sight.
The lack of visible stars is also a loss. In 1999 we went to Cornwall to view the solar eclipse. I was heavily pregnant with Eleanor and so made regular night-time trips from our tent to the toilet block. At 2am I noticed the sky. My God, I had no idea there were so many stars. I had lived in the city my whole life, and had probably never seen a star with a magnitude less than about 2 or 3. The eclipse was a wonderful phenomenon, but that view of the cloudless night sky was just as memorable.
It is also believed that light pollution may disrupt the lifecycles of animals such as insects and birds. Many people are familiar with midnight robins, who sing under streetlights, mistaking night for the day. And everyone knows that moths and other night insects will gather around a light. When the night is filled with lights, what effect does this have on their behaviour and lifecycles? Bright lights are thought to confuse migrating birds and hatching sea turtles. And of course, astronomers hate light pollution.
I will find out about the cost and the carbon implications of leaving unneeded lights on at some point. But until I do, reducing light pollution is another compelling reason to turn the lights out.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Can someone tell me why farmers say they get so upset about their animals being slaughtered whenever that is the purpose that they keep them for in the first place?
I just can't get over how ignorant that comment is. Other frequent comments state that farmers are wealthy and lazy. People honestly seem to believe that farming is basically like working in an office, but with better scenery.
It drives home how detatched most people are from the foundations of human existence - the production of food. A recent survey showed that 22% of 1,073 adults questioned did not know bacon and sausages originate from farms. The President of the National Farmers' Union, Peter Kendall, said people were "blinkered by the bright dazzling lights of their supermarket".
They fail to see that British farmers are working hard behind the scenes to provide the nation with 60% of its food supply, produced in an environmentally and welfare friendly way.
If you have a few minutes, please read this account of the only slaughterman to be employed by Defra throughout the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. He is extremely articulate and I found his account educational and very moving.
People think slaughtermen are big tough guys, we're not. I'm 6ft 2in and 17 stone but I'm still human and I care. The people who say foot-and-mouth disease doesn't affect humans have no idea what they are talking about.
I need to build up my own cycling skill before I'll feel confident doing this on proper trips, but getting it fixed up already gives me the impetus I need to actually get my a**e in gear and get cycling.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
For example, there is a checklist to see whether the house is energy efficient:
- I have taken a look and our loft is/is not insulated
- I tested each window in our house for drafts by holding a feather in front of it and seeing whether it fluttered. ___ windows had drafts.
- We have ___ lightbulbs in this house. ___ of them are low-energy bulbs.
... and so on. Eleanor has made a poster saying "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." and stuck it up in the loo. Lovely.
I had an ulterior motive in buying this book for the kids. Often they thwart my attempts to be green - they can't be bothered to turn lights off, they can't be bothered to separate the recycling, they'd rather take the car than walk or cycle places. When you've got an eco-mum, this is how you rebel, I suppose. But this book makes being green seem like subversive fun. The back of the book says "Your parents' generation have wrecked the planet. Now it's up to you to make them fix it again". It seems to be working, on Eleanor at least. If I want Tom to read it I'll have to slip it inside an Artemis Fowl cover.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
I was interested in this because I've just been researching the cost of taking my family to London for a two-day break. If we travelled by train, the cheapest tickets I could find cost a whopping £787. But we could all fly for £79.10.
Is it just me, or is that stark-raving utterly totally bonkers? Just how dedicated a greenie do you think I am, that I could afford to pay almost £700 extra to travel by train compared to flying? A £10 tax per ticket on the flights wouldn't be enough to swing the balance though. It seems to me that train ticket prices need to come down considerably - like by a factor of ten - to encourage people to let the train take the strain.
Friday, August 03, 2007
- I was already green! I never leave lights on in empty rooms! 100%
So go on, prove whether I'm right or wrong? Am I the only one with this shameful secret? Vote in the poll today.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
If you don't know what a blog carnival is, it's a regular round-up of lots of the best posts on a certain topic - in this case natural family living. If you're a blogger, submitting your best posts to a relevant blog carnival is an easy way to boost your readership, and hosting a blog carnival is also a boost although that requires a bit more work. If you're not a blogger, then following a blog carnival on a topic that interests you is an easy way to find the best posts on that topic, and discover great new blogs.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Steph (not my sister) asked how we made the mosaic fireplace. It's exactly the same process as tiling but much more fun.
- Prepare the surface by cleaning it and removing any loose material.
- Smash some old plates, cups, ceramic tiles or whatever into small pieces (it's all fun and games until somebody loses as eye, so do wear safety goggles).
- Our design was random, but if you want to make a pattern mark it out on the surface before you start.
- Using a grout spreader, spread readymixed multipurpose grout over part of the area to be tiled. We didn't grout the whole area in case some of it dried out, so we just did a square foot or so at a time. If you're making a pattern, mark it into the grout by dragging the edge of your spreading tool, to make a line so you can see what you're doing. (At this point I should say that grout is very caustic so wear gloves. But we didn't.)
- Press bits of crockery into the grout. Ours slid about a bit but they didn't fall off so we just kept going. Keep the spaces between them about 1/8 - 1/2 inch or so. You need some space to get grout in, but you don't want big white areas.
- Let your design dry overnight. We found at this stage there were some big lumps of grout sticking up but they rubbed off fairly easily with our fingers after only a day. They'd probably have gone harder if we left them longer.
- Rub more grout into the spaces between the tiles. Work it in well taking care not to leave air gaps. Rub the grout more-or-less smooth with your fingers, and don't worry about getting it on the surface of your tiles. you can wipe it off in the next step.
- With a moist sponge, wipe over the surface of your mosaic to remove excess grout and smooth the grout lines. Allow the grout to harden overnight, then give it a final clean up with an old toothbrush.
Bear in mind that the end result is more decorative than practical. You can't make it level and smooth no matter what you do, so it's not really suitable for tables, trays etc. You can't easily clean it because stuff tends to get stuck in the grout recesses so it's not really suitable for bathrooms or kitchens. Suitable projects include house number plaques, garden ornaments, mirror and picture frames, "sculptural forms" etc. Or you could mosaic entire buildings, cathedrals and public parks if you are an insane genius.
- I've gone green! I calculated my carbon footprint! 15 votes
- I was already green! I know my carbon footprint! 13 votes
- I don't want to! I'm scared how big it might be! 1 vote
- I'm greener than thou! I've been carbon neutral for ages! 3 votes
I found it an eye-opening exercise to calculate my carbon footprint. Although I score well in some respects, apparently my household electricity bill is higher than average. So that gives me a clear target to focus my energy-saving efforts.
It was great fun to do and I love the end result. So much nicer than the nondescript brown tiles that were there before. It was also a frugal makeover as Steph found the plates as a job lot and they cost less than new tiles from B&Q would have done.
Steph has gone back home to Sunderland now with my young nephew and niece and I miss them already.