05 May 2016

Drawing a Perspective

I had intended to publish this post earlier in the week, my intentions and reality don't meet that often at the moment.  There have been days lately when I have felt like I was in a room with no obvious way out and whilst I search for the door my panic levels rise, but inside me there is a small voice telling me all will be well.  It is not lost on me that this time last year I stopped blogging for a while, I thought I was doing a better job at managing my busyness levels this Spring but I guess my report card would say 'could do better'.

It is all too easy after the cold of Winter to want to be out and about all the time and saying yes to every invitations we are offered, forgetting the bigger picture whilst doing so.   I write 'the cold of Winter' as if we are now in the throes of a warm Spring, but Winter is clinging on here as it seems to be in many places in the Northern Hemisphere, we had as much snow last week as we did in the Winter months.  My busyness has frustrated my garden plans some what, but with hindsight this has been no bad thing, the few seeds I have sown have have yet to germinate, there is always next week.  My leeks that overwintered and survived the deluge of Winter rain are growing well as is the purple sprouting broccoli and kale which are providing enough for the odd meal and smoothie.

I am not much of a radio listener these days.  The news, which is what I most often switch it on for, is rarely appropriate for small ears, I did however catch some snippets last week.  There are a few days in my life when I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing.  One of those is the afternoon of 15 April 1989.  It was a Saturday and I was at work and, like every Saturday, there was a steady stream of colleagues dropping by to catch the football scores on the radio that was always burbling away in the background.  Most weeks it was drowned out by conversations, this was the staff canteen, that afternoon there was a hushed silence and no one moved, not even when someone came into the room.  We lost two colleagues that day one just sixteen years of age.  For 27 years the fans were blamed for what happened, vilified by the press with lies fed to them by the police and politicians until last week when finally the truth has been uncovered.  It is important to remember that the world was a different place in 1989 but even taking that into account lies are lies, and lies to protect your mistakes, your job and your profession cannot, ever, be condoned.

I am also a sporadic listener of a radio soap that is popular here in the UK.  One of the current storylines is tackling domestic abuse and has made for difficult listening at times.  I know how hidden this world can be as a friend of mine was brave enough to reach out to the authorities and only then did I find out what had been going on for years.   This programme has sensitively bought this world into the public domain, donations to support charities have increased as has reporting of violence in the home.

If Alice was a school she would be taking tests this month, every school child who is seven or will be by the end of August has to sit them.  They are tests built round right/wrong answers, an input/output assessment, you would expect then that all the tests be factual?  No.  The English paper is based on grammar, punctuation and spelling.  Some of the questions have several parts to them, all of which have to be right to gain a single mark, so even if the child has grasped the premise, one spelling mistake will mean no mark.  I cannot think of any way to make a test more demoralising and pointless.  My heart goes out to all those children and parents who are enduring this, it makes me immensely grateful that we are able to live on one income and home educate our children.  This week Alice has, amongst many other things, been building a circus out of lego, attended a Steiner French group, had many books read to her, recapped her alphabet learning, visited a local Bird of Prey centre where she handled a hawk and played ludo with two dice.

The busyness has meant less thinking time, thinking ahead is vital for our rhythm and I have been clinging on with finger tips with the minimal of thinking and planning, hoping that all will be well which it has, mostly.  It has meant far less time online,  I apologise if my visits to your blog have been sporadic but now you know why!  I haven't managed to post here for nearly a week, I think for the next few weeks, maybe longer, I will be posting less often and my visits to blogs may continue to be sporadic for a while, I do hope you are ok with that.   But, we are all happy and safe and that is the most important thing.

29 April 2016

April in Photos

It has been a month of contrasts.  Quiet times, busy times.  All seasons of weather, but most definitely April showers.  We have soaked it all up and noticed: 


Lichen on a rock in a drystone wall.  I haven't been able to identify it............


I have to admit I struggled with this category.  We didn't find a single feather during the month, or something that resembled one.  Taking photos of birds is really difficult and not something I am particularly good at.  I then had the idea of taking some photos of our bird feeders when this little Robin came visiting.  You would be forgiven for thinking, given my difficulty with this category,  that I took this photo months ago and have sneaked it in here but I can assure you that this was taken yesterday afternoon (28 April) it snowed on and off all day!

Something Fresh

...as a daisy, which have grown in their wonderful carpets this month.  Did you know that Daisy's get their name from day's eye as they close their petals up at night and spread them during the day?  Hence the expression as a fresh as a daisy, you have had a good sleep and are a full of energy just like the flower.


The view from the spot where our singing/nature group meets on a friend's farm.  The hills in the distance are the view from my house (I live on the other side of them).


I could have used this for feather but it was much more about wet, a scrape at a bird reserve we visited for the day when my parents came for a visit.  The Avocets were back for the summer and feeding in the water.  They were one of 53 species we saw during our visit. 


You are probably wondering what on earth it is?  A craft on two counts, a canoe shed built by my husband in our front garden.  It is empty at the moment but will eventually house two open canoes (scroll to bottom).  We have a large garage/workshop at the back of our house, but with two open canoes, two sea kayaks and a general purpose kayak the garage bit was getting a little full (not to mention a chest freezer, seven bikes, scooters and all the gardening equipment) we have been doing some building work at the front our house and decided that part of the garden would make a good place to store some of our boats.  It will have a green roof, we also have one on our garage roof (again scroll to the bottom), hence the slight tilt so that it can be viewed in all its, eventual, glory from the house.


My garlic is shooting!  I planted this in mid January, normally I plant in late October/ Early November but it was so wet then and for the rest of the year I decided to wait.  I am not sure whether they would have survived the 9.3m of rain we had in November and December!


April is the month when the wild garlic is ready for picking in my area and a huge carpet of them grows in one of our local woods.   We lived in the village nearest this wood when we got married and would visit often for a short walk at the weekends.  It was the place I took both of my children for the first big walk of their lives it took about six hours with lots of stops, now we can walk round in a couple.  We have spent two years, one when Alice was a baby and last year visiting every month to observe the changes in nature.  We always visit a this time of year to pick the wild garlic to make pesto.  It is one of my favourite places to take a walk and is close to where I live now.


A stick lady puppet made at our singing/nature group.  She has a rather Barbiesque waist which was not intentional I can assure you, luckily my children don't know who Barbie is.

Flower (my choice of category)

A beautiful camellia flower from a small tree, covered in these wonderful blooms, in the grounds of a the buddhist temple we visited with our home ed friends.   I will hasten to add we didn't pick it, we found it on the ground next to the plant.

Joining in with the Photo Scavenger Hunthosted by Hawthorn Spellweaver.  I have really enjoyed this challenge.  I have seen photo scavenger hunts on other blogs but the categories didn't pull me in to take part, but this one did.  I loved that all these categories were a catalogue of our daily lives and I wasn't take pictures for pictures sake if you get what I mean?   I am looking forward to seeing the categories for next month.......

24 April 2016

Ta Dah!

It's a long time since I finished off a big knitting project and posted about it.  Over a year ago, in fact. I finished off several projects for Alice last summer but as I was on a blogging pause they passed by without notice.

After my knitting failure on my last cardigan, I decided on a jumper to knit whilst I pondered the future of my lovely blue yarn*.  I have mentioned before that I have no idea how this pattern made its way into my favourites but I have been wanting to knit it for some time but there was always another project ahead of it in the queue.

It was a great knit.  Those endless rows on the body made so much quicker because there was just enough interest in the pattern to make it feel like it was going faster.  I had real difficulty when I came to join the front and back under the arm (it is knit top down) there was a basic chart provided for front and back but it didn't show how to bring the two sections together.  After two failed attempts I decided I needed to write out a chart and bingo it all came together.  This is a free pattern so this is not a criticism at all, I immensely grateful for all knitters who share their patterns for no financial gain to themselves.

So there we have it.  My first big knit of 2016.  Here's to many more!

Ravelry notes Here
Joining Nicole


*in the end I ripped the whole body out and have cast on another sweater, I am knitting from the bottom up, and will join the arms in which I haven't ripped out!

20 April 2016

In My Kitchen

I love to cook, good food is really important to me.  If you are anything like me you spend a large amount of your life in the kitchen preparing good nourishing food to eat, so this is what has been going on in my kitchen this month.  If you would like to join in you would be most welcome, leave a link in the comments section.

I mentioned in my last in my kitchen post that I had been making toothpaste and deodorant and many of you asked me to share my recipes, which I did in my last post along with many other cleaning products I make. Thank you to all who commented and shared your own cleaning 'recipes'. I didn't mention why I make my own, aside from the fact that it fits neatly into my efforts to live sustainably, I do so out of necessity. About four years ago I started experiencing hives like symptoms on my hands over the course of the year it got worse and worse as I couldn't work out what was causing it. It was when I started to wake up with a swollen face and eyes swollen shut that I realised it might have something to do with the cleaning products I was using. So a new journey started into making my own, I haven't dared buy them again I really don't want to repeat that awful experience.

It has been all about baking in my kitchen this month.  There has been lots of salad making too, old familiar recipes and a few new ones too, but it is the baking that will be the content of this post.

I have made Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday for a few years now using the recipe from Nigella Lawson's Feast cookbook.  I have been wanting to make other types of bread with my sourdough starters and thought that Hot Cross Buns would be a good place to start.  They turned out really well and didn't last that long.  They were definitely from the slow cooking avenue of baking, the recipe started twenty four hours before baking day.  They only needed a little attention each time, I do like that kind of baking fitting it in around other jobs be done.  You can find the recipe here.  I haven't tried making anything else but writing this has reminded me that I want to, if you have any suggestions or good recipes I would love to hear about them.

As part of our Spring and Easter project/traditions we observed Purim and we made these Haman's Purses for tea, a traditional dish to eat for this Jewish Festival.  You can fill them with any filling you like, ours were made from dried apricots soak over night and then pureed in a blender they were delicious!  I also made a stew using Carlin Peas which are a North of England speciality at this time of year, I had never heard of these peas before but they were selling them in my local health food shop just before Easter so I just had to give them a try.  They are also eaten around Bonfire Night in November.

I stopped eating anything with refined sugar in about six months ago it wasn't particularly difficult as I don't really have a sweet tooth.  I realised quite by chance that it was giving me stomach ache.  I stopped eating it for a few weeks, then started again, and repeated a couple of times as I wanted to be sure it was that, and not something else, before I stopped eating it completely.  As I have Crohn's Disease, which I manage through my diet, I kept a food diary too I didn't want to exclude yet another ingredient without being sure.  I have been experimenting with other sweeteners in baking to see if they cause a problem too, but so far so good.  I have made two cakes sweetened with honey (the recipes call for maple syrup which is incredibly expensive in the UK so I have been using honey instead) and apple puree.  It makes a tasty moist cake and is really easy to make, definitely my kind of recipe.  If you want to give them a go you can find the recipe here, and thank you to this lovely blogger for putting me onto the recipe.

I made my sourdough starters some months ago now. We don't eat a lot of bread, but I make it most weeks and have got a good rhythm going. Every Friday morning I get the starters out of the fridge (I have one rye and one spelt) where I store them in glass jars. I leave them to stand for day to warm up to room temperature. If you need to make bread more often you could probably just leave your starter on the side all the time it I haven't tried that so don't know if it will work. What I have found with making sourdough bread is that you need to find what works for the flour you are using and your climate, recipes are a good starting point but bear in mind where the author lives! There is a huge amounts of advice out there some of which will work for you and some won't, but even when it doesn't work it is never, usually, a complete disaster. So having warmed up my starters, in the evening I make the sponges combining the starters with flour and water which I leave to stand, covered, overnight. The more you make bread, the more wild yeasts you will have floating around, the more you sponge will bubble, mine looks good now but it hardly bubbled in the beginning. On the week I took these pictures the rye sponge (on the left) was more lively than the spelt, some weeks it is the other way round. In the morning I remove some of the sponge into back into my jars to become the next starter, the rest is mixed with more flour to make the actual loaves. The rye does not need any kneading as it makes a wet dough that you slop into an oiled tin to rise. The spelt I knead for a short while, if you knead it for too long it makes for a very dense chewy loaf, so until it is smooth will do. I leave it to rest for around fifteen minutes before dividing into two loaves and placing on a floured baking tray to rise. The flour stops the loaves sticking to the tray. How long I leave it depends on the temperature. The warmer the place the less time you need, a maximum of three hours if it is cool, again this is something that is best worked out for your own house. If the loaf is starting to flatten slightly it is ready for the oven! I freeze these loaves and always have a good supply in the freezer ready for those occasional weekends when I am too busy to fit in making any bread.

We have been enjoying a new to us salad recipe this month.  It has many ingredients and takes time to put it all together, but I know that the more I make it the quicker I will get.  It is really tasty so it is worth it!

Apricot and Chick Pea Salad

200g bulgar wheat
150g cooked chickpeas*
50g sprouted mixed pulses
50g dried apricots soak overnight and chopped
25g toasted flaked almonds
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp crushed dried chillies
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
pinch cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
to taste salt & pepper

Pour boiling water over the bulgar wheat and leave to stand for 30 minutes then drain. Fluff the grains up with a fork.
Mix together the bulgar, chickpeas, sprouted pulses, apricots, almonds and parsley in a bowl.
To make the dressing, heat the oil in a pan, fry onion until soft. Add spices, cook for 2 minutes, season and stir into the salad immediately.

*if you are using dried chickpeas this equates to approximately 75g.

Based on a recipe from the Vegetarian Society Website.

16 April 2016

[Almost] Edible Spring Cleaning

There is something about the Spring that makes you want to clean and declutter.  After months of cool temperatures it feels wonderful to be able to throw open the windows on a sunny day.  The sunlight has the added disadvantage of showing how much dust is swilling around as it glistens in its rays, doing a merry dance.  I am the first to admit that I am not a huge fan of housework, I do the minimum I need each week.  I am reading a fascinating book at the moment, it is not about cleaning but it does mention our obsession to clean and in doing so we are ridding the world of good and bad bacteria and worryingly in the case of the good ones possible forever.  A bit of dirt is no bad thing it would seem, I am also doing my bit for the preservation of good bacteria.

I mostly* always use my own homemade products when I clean.  The cleaning product aisles in the supermarket are not ones I ever venture down.  When I inadvertently do, on the way to the checkout, the smell of chemicals is really strong and totally overpowering.  A recent study highlighted that whilst they might clean our homes the fragrance chemicals in these products react with the air effecting air quality in our homes, if you also use scented candles and air freshness you could be creating an interesting, and not terribly good for you, soup.

The two ingredients I use the most are ones that you might find in your food stores.  Bicarb [baking soda] and white vinegar, I use enough of each to justify buying it in bulk as the shops tend to only sell small quantities.  I use the bicarb to clean all surfaces, floors and the bathroom suite either sprinkling it neat and rubbing it in with a damp cloth or dissolving in water and using the solution which is what I do to clean the tiled and wooden floors.  A 50:50 mix with borax is my washing and dishwater powder.  I inherited a carpet in my bathroom which can get a little smelly at times, but this carpet deodoriser is perfect for removing the smell.  You may wonder why we don't just get rid of the carpet but the floorboards underneath are not a suitable flooring either, the bathroom will eventually need an overhaul so there is no point replacing the flooring only to rip it out again when we come to replace everything.

My oven doesn't get a clean inside very often, we eat very little meat so I can get away with it.  But when it does get a clean I make this:

Oven Cleaner mix 1/4 cup salt, 3/4 bicarb and a 1/2 cup of water and mix into a paste, apply into a warm and oven and let it sit for a least an hour or overnight and wipe clean.

I not only clean the house with bicarb, I also use it to make.....

Deodorant  1/4 cup deodorant, 1/4 arrowroot, 2tbsp coconut oil (you can also add drops of essential oil if you wish) melt the coconut oil and mix.  I use an old deodorant stick and keep refilling it, you might need to store this in the fridge in summer if your house gets warm.

I mentioned white vinegar earlier, this is great for cleaning glass you can spray it on neat or dilute with a little water, wipe off with some old newspaper.  It gets used neat as a fabric conditioner , 2 tbsp with a few drops of essential oil.  I use lavender which seems to be doing a great job of keeping the moths out of our house, that is not to say we were ever infested with them but I rarely see them in my house these days.  I also use it neat to clean the loo.   If you have mildew then mix 50:50 with salt to make a paste and wipe onto effected area.  I have read recently that you can use it as a weed killer anyone ever tried this?  I am not sure what effect it would have on the soil or on other plants growing near by, I will be doing a little more research before trying that one out I think.

You have probably had enough now, so I will leave you with one last recipe.  I mentioned recently that I make my own toothpaste, here is my recipe for that:

Toothpaste 4tbs coconut oil, 4tbs fullers earth /bentonite clay, 1/2 tsp fine sea salt, 10 - 15 drops food grade peppermint oil.  Mix together, add a little water if necessary to gain the consistency you like.

What cleaning products do you make?


* I buy soap and washing up liquid

I will be back on the 20th (Wednesday) with this months In My Kitchen if you wish to join me.

12 April 2016

A reusable game

I have a love hate relationship with Pinterest, well maybe hate it too strong a word but I don't love it as much as some.  My boards are minimalist, I think Marie Kondo would approve have you read her book?  I picked up a copy at my local library, I didn't realise what it was until I got it home and started reading it.  I had to laugh at some of what she wrote (a lot of it is very wise advice) about only keeping the things that bring you joy,  I know that if I asked Alice that about some of the items in her room she would give me a now thats a stupid question look.  I note she had a baby last year, perhaps she will change her tune a little on that one, in relation to children and their possessions, in the years to come.  But back to Pinterest, it is now so popular that often when I am searching online the top of the search is dominated by it, but clicking on the link takes you to an entire board rather than exactly what I am looking for.  Of course those boards will always be popular ones, but I don't really want to wade through all the pins* to find the relevant one, the links are so often dead so are of no help to me.  Please tell me I am not the only one frustrated by this?

I get how it works and see its use but it doesn't work for me, I prefer to bookmark, it makes you keep things minimal otherwise you cannot find anything when you need it or I just use the little grey cells, as Poirot would say.  A long time ago I read a blog post about a game that I thought was such a good idea that I stored in my memory as something to make one day.  I needed the right child to gift it to, and this year I do.  This one was made for a birthday in March and another will be made for June.  Cameron has requested one too.

It is an amazingly simple idea, based on a very old game much loved by children the world over.  A small bag with some ribbon sewn on the front, a few pieces of marked wood, the play is endless and portable, you will never run out of space on the paper or lead in the pencil.  I made this entirely from materials I already had, the bag is made from an old work t-shirt of my husbands which had hardly been worn but a change of business name rendered it no longer suitable, lined with a piece of cotton that I buy in sales when I see it (plain cotton which is always useful to have in a fabric stash).  I love ribbon, it is one of the few things that I buy just because I like it, it rarely stays in my drawers for long I always find a use for it, or Alice takes it to use for 'something' as she so charmingly puts it.  This one was a perfect match for the fabric.  The counters were made from the end of a length of dowl that my husband had in the garage, cut into thin slices, sanded, marked and coated in a little wax.

Sometimes the simple things are the best.

Joining Nicole

*One board I clicked through to recently had over 750 pins!

08 April 2016

Weather and Gardening

Back in November I made a note of everything we did in a day. I love using this blog as a record, looking back at old posts to remember those moments that are small and seemingly insignificant but nonetheless special in their own right. Last week I did it again.

On this particular day I was first to wake, that is not always the case, sometimes Cameron is up long before me and has had his breakfast and is sitting doing something when I come downstairs. I do like my mornings when I am up first it helps me get the day going although, because I know that this is not always the case, I usually organise myself the night before.  I like to spend that time tidying, putting the washing on and making myself a pot of tea.  I potter without distractions making myself ready for when the children come down.  Alice appeared first with an armful of soft toys, some of which go everywhere with her.  Whilst I cooked the pancakes we have for breakfast she played with a playmobil figure she has named Emily, she too was cooking pancakes in her kitchen.  Whilst we were eating them we talked about Penguins and do they only lay one egg and why, the sound the washing machine was making, which to her was like being on a train, and whether I had seen her on the hanging bar at gymnastics she had been too tall to hang from it!  At some point Cameron came down and got himself his breakfast and joined us at the table.  We talked about our plans for the day and what time we were going to do what, this conversation was interrupted by a phone call from one of Cameron's friends in the village it was somewhat fortuitous as he was asking if Cameron wanted to go out for a walk in the afternoon, we adapted our plans accordingly.

Cameron always likes to spend an hour on the computer after his breakfast, I have tried hard to change this but I have had to make peace with the fact that that is the way our days look at the moment.  Alice is much more of a take it or leave it with screens, on this particular morning she also spend time on our tablet at the same time, but that was the only morning in that week that she did.  Whilst they were busy I hung the washing outside, watered the new herb plants I recently bought and sewed the finally seam on a present.

After half an hour Alice was ready for something else.  We played a game of dominoes with a set of cards that I made years ago for Cameron. They are used to play a whole set of games, dominoes being one of them, to provide experience of mathematical relations, likeness and difference.  When Cameron's time was up we had a game of ludo with two dice, multiplying the two numbers thrown to give the amount to move your counter this has been a great way to learn the tables up to six, I have ordered some ten sided dice to help with learning the rest.

We have never observed or celebrated at Easter in our house,  now that I have the framework of an Advent project I wanted to do the same for Easter.  In the weeks leading up to Lent I spent time drawing together stories, books, craft ideas, poems and songs, as Easter coincided with the dawning of Spring this year some of what I chose fitted with that too.  On this particular day we read The Angel and the Dove and sang two songs from Spring.

Last year we spent time doing projects together this worked well for most of the year, as the year drew on I realised that their needs were changing and they would benefit more from working on their own individual projects.  They both wanted to work towards Scouting badges for their first project of the year.  Cameron has been learning about the weather and Alice, gardening.  On this particular morning Cameron read about synoptic charts and drew one for his lap book, whilst Alice drew a tree depicting the changes of the seasons.  Whilst they were both hard at work I sat writing too.  I am enjoying this time we have a few mornings a week, I can write letters and blog posts both things that I have struggled to find the time for in the past.  I think it is important that I model this behaviour in front of them, showing them that the hard work they put in now will have a use later in life.

It may sound like it was a morning full of hard work but it ended with some play time whilst I got dinner ready.  Keepy uppy with a balloon and an elaborate game with toy cars that started yesterday.  Whilst we ate lunch we listened to Mali a Putumayo CD which doesn't seem to be available anymore.  To bring our meal and the morning to a close we read a story from this book and a poem from Spring.

Cameron went off for the afternoon with this friend.  They were taking a walk round the village to find suitable sites for filming.  He and his friend have spent some time over the past few weeks writing a script together, a Roman and Celt based story.   Alice and I decided to make some Flower Fairies together she made a daisy and I a Violet, I am not convinced mine came out that well but it is very sweet all the same.   We put them both on our seasonal table along with the crocus fairy that she made a few months ago.  We store all our seasonal table bits in a couple of shoe boxes which are getting very full, Alice went through them both and found a lot peg people that shouldn't have been in there.  She had great fun playing with them all and has continued to for the rest of the week.  We sat and read a chapter book together on the sofa by which time Cameron had returned from a successful walk.  They played more car games, playmobil and lego whilst I cooked tea.

Having eaten and cleared up, we spent the evening watching a programme from this series.  Programmes like this always make me wish that I was born into that world.  The day closed with a chapter from our current bedtime book and some reading for me, a marvellous book that kept me up late for a few nights!

It is interesting to look back over the previous posts to note the changes.  The biggest is that I am doing more and more preparation.  This comes in fits and bursts at the moment, a setting up period which requires a lot of time followed by my weekly planning to fit all that preparation into our rhythm.  Cameron is nearing the end of his weather project and wants to learn more about our village next.  Alice is really keen to learn to read, she has expressed an interest before but the methods I have used in the past have not been right for her.  She learns very differently to Cameron so I have to rewrite everything I have used for him.  She is nearly seven and I feel she is ready to learn her letters now, but if she isn't then I hope that what I have spent time putting together will be right for her some day.  I will be back in six months time, I wonder what we will be doing then?