Thursday, 2 July 2009

Graduation Day

I've been absent from here for some time due to a major computer failure (a word of advice to everyone who owns a computer and stores photos, documents, music etc - BACK UP EVERYTHING - regularly and often). Our hard drive failed and everything is gone, and the last time I did a back up was May 2007 so many photos and correspondence etc are lost for good. With a new hard drive in place I can now use the computer again but am so cross with myself for not being better at securing all our files. My son is devastated at the loss of many of his files and probably will never forgive me.

Meanwhile life went on without access to the internet, and when I finally got back I had over 600 favourite blog entries to read (still trying to catch up even now).

Since I last posted I have been on a short break to Helsinki with my daughter to celebrate her graduation. I will post about that separately. But more importantly, yesterday was Graduation Day and I was so proud (allow a mother to boast...) She received a First Class degree (BSc in Psychology), together with The Chancellors Award for the Best Student 2009, the British Psychological Society Undergraduate Award and the university's Department of Psychology Award.

A wonderful and truly well-deserved achievement.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Des Res

It may say something about me, but one of the most exciting moments of my rather mundane life, was having bluetits take up residence in our garden this year. I won't win any awards as wildlife photographer of the year, but I managed to snap this picture this morning. There are six chicks in there, and they all look pretty healthy.

Their mum and dad are the hardest working parents imaginable - they're providing a constant supply of live insects for their babies as they fly back and forth throughout daylight hours. Occasionally they stop for a snack themselves, and I always try to keep a good supply of bird seed, peanuts, suet balls etc. I don't know how soon these little ones will leave the nest, but I would love to see them when they make their first flight.

We get plenty of birds in the garden, sparrows, blackbirds, starlings, collared doves, pigeons, robins, and even have occasional sightings of wrens and thrushes. We also see swallows and swifts overhead.

We've also seen a couple of hedgehogs over the past few weeks, and I have put food out for them occasionally, though I don't think there is any shortage of slugs and snails for them in my garden!

As part of my effort to reduce my impact on the environment was to replace my ancient Flymo with a human powered lawnmower. It's pretty good, quite lightweight and easy to use and it even has a grass box, which means I can either add the grass clippings to the compost bin, or allow it to dry and use it for the rabbits' litter trays.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Potholders and Teatowel Swap

I recently joined in the latest swap organised by Rhonda, Sharon and Rose at Down_to_Earth, but have been so busy I haven't had time to put up photos of my efforts - and the lovely items I received from my swap partner Jo, so here goes:

These are the lovely patchwork potholders and teatowels Jo made. She said she learned how to make her own bias binding for this project. Thanks Jo - they are beautiful. We also exchanged recipes - Jo gave me her recipes for Stuffed Courgette Ring Crumble and Sweet Potato Burritos. I'm planning to try those burritos some time this week.

These are my finished items (sorry, not a very good photo).
The materials I used were a new piece of fabric I bought from a charity shop - about 2 metres long which means I have enough to make something else in the future, and the teapot and coffee pot were cut out from some calico offcuts I already had, and appliqued on by machine then chain stiched in contrasting brown thread. I got the template for the tea and coffee pots from Tipnut, where you can find loads of free resources for all sorts of crafts. I increased the size of the picture on a photocopier.

I think some of the great things about these blogs swaps is how we look for inspiration from other bloggers, learn new skills, brush up on old ones, find ways of using existing items from our stashes or find thrifting materials from various sources. And of course, get to meet new people too!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A new forest in Essex

This may look like a field to you, but look closer - it's a baby forest.

This is at Elmstead Market (near Colchester) where I joined in a tree planting event on Saturday. It was organised by the Woodland Trust, and was part of a project to create a new forest. I went along with my spade and wellies and we were all shown how to dig a hole, pop in the sapling and firm it in, and put a cane and a plastic tube to protect the young tree. I was given holly, dogwood, hawthorn and dog rose saplings to plant, four at a time. Over a couple of hours I managed to plant 40 little saplings in the hedgerow area, but I think the goal for the day was to plant over 1,700 saplings, both hedgerow and the actual forest, though many hundreds had already been planted. It was a lovely sunny day, and quite a few people turned out to join in, including lots of families. Some even brought along a picnic and made a day out of it. The Woodland Trust people provided hot drinks and had a supply of spare spades of all sizes for people who didn't bring their own.

In a few years this area will be covered in lovely native trees, and the forest will be open to the public.

The Woodland Trust organise quite a few events around the country, so find out if there is one near you.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Rubbish Free Week 9-15 March 2009

Here in Essex the County Council is promoting a Rubbish Free Week. I'm one of the approximately 600 people who signed up and am finding it a real struggle to be completely rubbish free.

Greengrocers in Chelmsford Market

(picture borrowed from Chelmsford Borough Council's website - I hope they don't mind)

However, I am making very conscious choices about how I deal with each item of rubbish and changing the way I shop to have less rubbish that will end up in landfill. For example, I didn't shop for fruit and veg in the supermarket as I didn't want to have bananas, cucumber etc encased in plastic. As I work in Chelmsford and there are two greengrocers in the market, I bought most of my fruit and vegetables "naked". Swede, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, bananas, apples and onions all loose and straight from the scale into my shopping bag (which I brought with me).

Essex County Council have a "Choose2Reuse Tuesday" event at County Hall every month, and this month's coincided with Rubbish Free Week. The idea is to take unwanted items in, take items that you want that other people have brought, and anything left over is donated to local charity shops. I took some paperbacks, a few kitchen items and couple of other odds and ends and came away with a CD, two books, and a cute toy rabbit which is sitting on my office desk. When I've read the books they'll go back again next month. The next event is on Tuesday 7th April.

In Essex we have a recycling rate of 38%, which is slightly better than the national average. We must all do better, but at the same time making better choices about what we buy, so that we have less non-recyclable packaging. If we are more conscious of what happens to all those plastic bags and wrappings when we've finished with them, we might shop differently.

How well am I doing with being Rubbish Free? Well if I'm honest, I do have some rubbish - pretty much all plastic food packaging, but a little less than usual. In a typical week there is one carrier bag in our dustbin and so far we have about half a carrier bag full. If we can be very careful over the weekend then we should have reduced our landfill waste by about a third.

Footnote: I am very sorry to hear about the decision in the High Court today to allow an additional 10 million passengers a year at Stansted Airport (and increase of about 30%). Stansted is in the middle of rural Essex and this must be a huge blow to local people. This will mean about 25,000 additional flights in and out of Stansted, which only has one runway, so this must have enormous implications for noise, air pollution, increase in road traffic etc.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Composting with rabbits!


As the owner of two rather large rabbits, I get quite a lot of rabbit droppings to dispose of. As rabbits are vegetarians their manure is perfect for making compost, and I thought I would show you what happens when you use rabbit droppings in your compost bin.

Rabbits should always have a ready supply of hay and/or straw as bedding, and if they are litter box trained the bedding materials stay clean and dry and although you could put that hay or straw straight into the compost bin, every week or so I clear out the used bedding, mix it up with shredded paper and use it to fill their litter trays. I can get unlimited shredded paper from my office, but I also shred the few bits of mail that I receive (I don't get much junk mail now as I always ask to be removed from mailing lists).
I make up about 10 litter trays, which usually lasts about a week, as I change at least one every day. Our rabbits have one litter tray inside their house, and two outside. Rabbits are actually very clean animals and in the wild would never urinate in the same area they sleep in. Unfortunately, many people keep rabbits in housing that is much too small, and they have no choice but to go in the area where their food or nest area is. If you've been here before you will know that I've gone to the other extreme and given them lots of room .

Anyway these are the litter trays all made up:

And when they're full, the whole lot gets emptied into the compost bin.

Give it a quick stir around... add a few kitchen scraps and garden waste

Keep adding to the bin until it is full right to the top, and then just leave it undisturbed for a while.

And in no time the worms will start doing their magic...

Then after a few months, it will look something like this....

Ready to dig into the garden.
Our compost bins never really get smelly; I have three of the heavy duty plastic bins, but even in really hot weather I never notice a bad smell. All my bins stand on the soil, which helps with draining away excess moisture and allows the worms to get in. I have a couple of old bits of carpet which I put over the top in very cold weather, just to make sure the worms don't freeze, and it's surprising how quickly it all turns into very nice compost.
I've just emptied out one of my bins and have spread the contents all around the garden, and used some to top up pots with perennials and shrubs in. All the rabbit droppings, paper, straw, waste vegetable matter etc have made a really lovely dark rich compost for improving the garden soil, and it's completely free!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Wiltshire weekend

I had a lovely weekend in Wiltshire with my lovely daughter; we walked, talked, ate cakes and cream teas and had a really relaxing time.

We stayed here

We visited Avebury,


and Lacock.

It was wonderful.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Easter Chicks

I received an anonymous comment recently asking for a pattern to make the Easter Chicks I mentioned a long time ago, and couldn't reply direct as there were no contact details.
I've had this pattern for many years, just jotted on a scrap of paper, and have occasionally adapted it slightly, but to be honest, it's technically not mine. So I hope that by giving the pattern here I won't be contravening any copyright law!

Easter Chicks

Using 4ply wool in lemon or yellow and using No 3(11) needles, cast on 26 stitches.
Row 1 - K
Row 2 - Inc, K10, inc, K2, inc, K10, inc
Row 3 and alt rows - K
Row 4 - Inc, K12, inc, K2, inc, K12, inc
Row 6 - Inc, K14, inc, K2, inc, K14, inc
Rows 7-14 - K
Row 15 - Inc, K to end, Inc
Row 16 - K
Row 17 - As row 15
Row 18 - K
Row 19 - As row 15 (44 sts)
Row 20 - Cast off 12, K20, cast off 12
Rejoin wool to remaining 20 sts
K 14 rows
Pull wool through remaining stitches and gather tightly.
Sew seam, stuff head with cotton wool or toy stuffing fibre, run a thread around the base of the neck and pull tight to shape and finish off loose ends.
Embroider eyes with black thread, or use felt dots
Cut beaks from orange felt and sew on, or knit from contrasting orange or dark yellow wool.

The beaks on mine are literally three stitches cast on and cast off again, but you can do anything you like.

You can use "fluffy" wools to give a different effect, especially some of the baby wools that have a fleecy feel. I've knitted the chicks in double knit and chunky wools too (you might want to adjust the pattern or your needles a bit if using chunky as they come up much bigger).

I've also knitted hens using beige or brown, and create a little comb from red wool.
These I knitted in stocking stitch instead of plain knitting but they don't look quite right somehow.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Basket making

I had a wonderful Christmas present from my daughter - she paid for me to go on a two day basket weaving course. It was really enjoyable, and in the two days I learned how to make some willow baskets. Everyone on the course started from the same basis, with two hoops, and each of us ended with a very individual result.

This is called a God's eye. It holds the hoops together.

I managed to cut myself quite early on (with a Stanley knife) but I still remembered to take photos at each stage...

The final result was a neat little basket which would be perfect for collecting eggs in (if only I had a couple of chickens in my garden!).

Here are my three finished masterpieces (not too bad for a first try, if a bit rusic).

I really enjoyed the weekend - all the materials we needed were provided, and we had help at every stage. It would be fun to do more but there's a lot of advance preparation (the hoops were dried for weeks beforehand, and the other weaving materials had to be soaked to ensure they were flexible). I might have to scavenge in the hedgerows for materials to practice with.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

(picture is from a greeting card - I'd just love to be able to create this sort of thing myself)

Happy New Year to anyone who drops by here.

I hope everyone had a really nice Christmas. Our Christmas was good - my Mum came up on 23rd and my daughter and her boyfriend came up on Christmas Eve. I'd been quite under the weather with a bad cough and spent most of the weekend before Christmas in bed, and was at work on the Monday so it was quite a mad dash to get everything done. In the end everything was fine, though I didn't get to make my mince pies until Christmas Eve, which is very late indeed. The important thing is everyone arrived safely and we spent some good time together.

I did manage to find time decorate my new mantle shelf, but failed to find any decent materials in the hedgerows. It's basically a pine garland with a lovely piece of holly and gold coloured ribbon twined round, with some wooden letters and hearts and stars.
Here is another bit of my effort at Christmas decoration - I have quite a lot of these twiggy things which I put around the room in vases. I don't really like tinsel or garlands hanging from the ceiling, but I love lots of candles and silvery or sparkly stuff. The two little chickens were a present from my daughter - she knows I would like some real chickens, but these little metal ones are almost as lovely as the real thing.

While mum was here I took her out for a few day trips, but I am rubbish at taking photos. We walked along the beach on Mersea Island, and had lunch at a nice pub called the Victory. We visited some pretty Essex villages, Tiptree, Tolleshunt D'Arcy, Fingringhoe, Wivenhoe. We also walked along the Blackwater Estuary at Maldon - but I didn't have my camera with me so can't show you all the lovely views we saw!

I am not a big fan of shopping in the sales but I did buy a couple of these beautiful glass Christmas baubles which were on sale in BHS. We also went into one of the Woolworths shops that was closing down - I felt quite sad, to see the end of an era. We also visited a few charity shops in Billericay (one of the things Mum and I both enjoy is a good charity shop!!) and I got a couple of little bargains - this lovely wool for 89p a ball.

I drove mum and my daughter back to the West Country on Thursday and I went to work on Friday so life is now gradually going back to normal again. This morning my son and I took down our tree and decorations and stored everything away - it feels a bit sad that everything is over for another year.

We are quite pleased that we managed to really cut down on waste this Christmas. No food was wasted, and very little rubbish was created that couldn't be composted. I think next year I would like to see if we can do away completely with wrapping paper, and try to give each other more useful presents. I find the idea of making lots of handmade presents for everyone quite appealing - but I think I would need to start planning well in advance.