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Damson Gin and Blackberries Video

I’ve been producing a couple more vlog entries on you tube.  Currently they are more diary-like entries with a few tips thrown in but I’m hoping to do some more structured How To’s as time goes on.

 
Here is episode two where we are picking blackberries and starting our Damson Gin for the year.

Please subscribe to our channel if you like the videos and tell us what you think in the comments.

Assortments and Oddments

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Sunny feet

 

The weather is truly on the turn here at Westwick after a bizarre Winter which was too warm to make me happy, and too cold to enjoy the outside as much as I’d like. Too warm because Winter should be cold, really cold, we shouldn’t have daffodils and crocuses popping up in December.  If it isn’t cold enough the slug population booms and they are the bane of my life in the Spring. And it was too cold because I am a cheapskate and decided I couldn’t possibly buy a new (read maternity) coat for the Winter and so going out anywhere was a draughty business.

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But we are getting reliable, sunny weather now and I can make sure Josh, R and me are getting outdoors as much as possible.  We explored our favourite park last Tuesday – Graves Park in Sheffield. It has this lovely city farm in it (so I get to dream about all the different breeds of chicken), a lake, huge playpark and more besides. Spring being fully sprung the farm had new lambs, piglets and even baby goats which was enjoyed by everyone (although R preferred watching the tractor mucking out the cows).

In terms of my BIG LIST I’ve been trying to crack on with the baby knitting (can’t leave it to the last minute as you never really know when they are going to show up).  I’ve got two cardigans mostly done save for blocking, steeking, button bands and the buttons – I’m procrastinating about the blocking which I hate. I thought I’d got most of a hat cracked until I realised it was  big enough for my toddler and so had to rip and cast on something in a more manageable size.

This is looking much better and I LOVE the colour.

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Roll on the rest of Spring.

I Did Something From “The BIG List”

Despite being very tired (and getting a surprise diagnosis of gestational diabetes – these two things may be related!) I have done something from the BIG LIST.

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Daffodils from our orchard.

It wasn’t something big – but I’ll take any wins I can get right now.

I finally made some more Vanilla Extract.  It won’t be ready for 3-6 months which is bad timing on my part.  I think I have maybe a tablespoon of the last batch left although it’s taken us about a year to get through 750ml at a cost of £10.  Which is really good!

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Very young and very almost-all-gone Vanilla Extract.

Only now I have to wait to use my new stuff and it would be really useful now I’m off the Sugar (refined sugar – nothing else seems to be affecting me at the moment). Actually I’m grateful that we cook so much from scratch.  It has made my GD diet very easy because I don’t eat any hidden sugar; the sugar I DO eat is absolutely upfront about where it is.

Although the Zero Waste Chef is my usual go-to-person for DIY foods and she has a vanilla recipe here – I actually took my instructions from Mommy Emu for this one.

Funny thing about diagnosis… I had been toying with giving up refined sugar for ages.  I’ve read so many articles, books and reports about (refined) sugar and I know how rubbish it makes me feel. But to be honest I just didn’t think I could give it up – it feels ubiquitous and I fight a daily internal battle on how much to give to R. I don’t want him to feel left out (and goodness knows we are already skating on thin ice as embarrassing counter-cultural parents) but I don’t want to pump him full of something which makes me uncomfortable.

So I’ve had a useful push me to doing something I was thinking I should do anyway.

However the annoying timing of this (aka Easter) is not lost on me.

P.S. I also realised that I ticked a second item off my list – taking some items to the local dump/recycling centre which are genuinely beyond repair.  But there were no good photos of that (you’ll be surprised to hear.)

 

So Many Plans

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a family with a baby on the way will be in want of a house move or major building project.”
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Somebody is enjoying the  Spring sunshine!

I’m currently 7 months pregnant with number 2 and I’m totally wiped out.  I am thankful we are not moving house or having major work done (this time last pregnancy we moved up here).

Pregnancy seems much harder this time around and frankly I’m making environmental compromises left, right and centre to get through the week.  I have lots of things I want to do and zero energy left after work, looking after R and doing my share of the cooking, washing cleaning etc.  But Spring is sproinging and I am reading lots of books and blogs about homesteading, permaculture and green living so naturally I’m full of ideas.

Last year was a slow time for us on our tinyholding. We put in a fruit patch, tried to get some veg in and Josh built the chicken run, chicken house and compost heap.  We also managed to get a couple of fruit and nut trees in.  But we didn’t move forward much and now everything seems to be under grass again. R’s naps became unreliable at just the wrong time so it was hard to garden while he slept and even harder to garden when he was awake since we had to stop every few minutes to prevent him climbing into the horse field by our property. We also worked on a separate writing project together which took up a lot of our time (and still is). But slow is fine, we’ll be here for many years and we’re in no rush.

This year I’m heavily pregnant in Spring and whilst the world around me is bursting with energy and action I’m starting to go into the new parent cave. The idea of bending over to weed or dig over ground or haul manure to the veg patch seems worlds away. I’ve read lots of blogs and seen videos of people doing smallholding work with tiny babies in tow and frankly I don’t know where they get the energy from.  Maybe I’ll find some of it later – I hope so.

But, I’m brimming with ideas.  So it is time to make a fun list of things I want to do around the place. Some small projects, some not small and almost none of which I can imagine doing until I’ve had the new babe and we’ve worked out what our new family routine is.

But I figured why not list them all in one place then as time and life demands – I can see what we can do.

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My beautiful hellebore in full swing.

This is a list with some short term and some really long term household plans – some of this is probably 4 or more years down the road (just in case you think I’m being too ambitious!)
  1. Make Lemon and Lime Marmalade
  2. Make this amazing looking leftover mincemeat and marzipan cake from Make Do and Mend. – http://mymakedoandmendlife.com/2016/01/07/marzipan-and-mincemeat-cake/
  3. Read my chicken books
  4. Buy the rest of the kit we need for the Chickens (second hand if poss!)
  5. GET CHICKENS!
  6. Clear around the pig fence
  7. Weed the strawberry patch
  8. Weed the raspberry patch
  9. Get a new Damson Tree and plant in the pig pen
  10. Try making sourdough crackers: http://zerowastechef.com/2015/11/18/sourdough-crackers-2-0/
  11. Get a hammock for the garden
  12. Clear the Verandah of junk – get the council to come and help move the big items our builders left which we can’t shift.
  13. Repaint Verandah
  14. Put up candle holders in Verandah
  15. Get a giant pot, get grape vine, grow amazing grape vine over Verandah
  16. Make these totes out of leftover jeans – http://makezine.com/2011/04/25/denim_do-it-all_bins/
  17. Finish at least 50% of the mending pile
  18. Make Damson Jam – I use the Marguerite Patten recipe in this book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Basic-Basics-Jams-Preserves-Chutneys/dp/1902304721
  19. Make Damson Gin – this is the recipe I used last time.  It was the best ever and I’m never changing it! http://www.cottagesmallholder.com/two-recipes-wild-damson-gin-and-sloe-gin-37/
  20. Build Outdoor Pizza Oven
  21. Read Bee Books
  22. Get Bee Kit
  23. Get Bees (buzz buzz! Eat all the honey!)
  24. Re-learn how to make bread by hand (years of a bread maker have atrophied my skills – definitely one for when the kids are older though; right now I need that bread maker).
  25. Finish chopping cherry wood kindling.
  26. Grow Sweet Cicely
  27. Get a Poly Tunnel (then grow tomatoes – I’m on a tomato growing ban until then – too much heartache)
  28. Make Sauerkraut (again – I really like sauerkraut and it is so cheap and easy to do. The recipe in Five Acres and a Dream is a great one.)
  29. Make fermented dill pickles
  30. Conquer Yoghurt making (I am TERRIBLE at this!) But this idea might just be perfect – http://www.granny-miller.com/how-to-make-foolproof-crock-pot-yogurt/ and will save me buying a yoghurt maker.
  31. Make two really big aprons (WITH REALLY BIG POCKETS!) and wear them.
  32. Make Soap
  33. Dye the white yarn I’ve had for 5 years – then knit something awesome with it.
  34. Take a course on making Salami – these guys are local and told us they might start doing courses: http://www.jaquest.co.uk/
  35. Turn our clay soil into fantastic friable, nutrient dense gold dust.
  36. Empty contents of sand pit into veg patch and dig in.
  37. Refill sandpit for the Summer.
  38. Get a couple of geese (Honk Honk!)
  39. Redecorate the nursery
  40. Redecorate J’s study
  41. Insulate the floor of Josh’s study
  42. Make curtains for my study
  43. Redecorate tiny toilet and put old blind up.
  44. FIND OLD BLIND!
  45. Upcycle old blind into something nice
  46. Make curtains for nursery
  47. Put up old curtain poles in my study (then measure and make curtains… Not before!)
  48. Make an egg basket from the old denim I have in a moses basket.
  49. Clean and air out the old moses basket for our new arrival!
  50. Finish Hexapuff Blanket – https://tinyowlknits.wordpress.com/the-beekeepers-quilt/
  51. Knit rainbow stripe jumper for R
  52. Knit jumper for baby
  53. Knit hat for baby for hospital
  54. Clean out tiniest outhouse
  55. Clear out garage – find out what other tools we inherited with the house!
  56. Research what sorts of foodstuffs we can grow to supplement the chicken feed.
  57. Make a chicken tractor
  58. Prune apple trees
  59. Learn to quilt – quilt everything in the world!
  60. Make an apron with my current fabric stash (this apron maybe: http://www.stylemepretty.com/living/2013/03/20/diy-hostess-apron/)
  61. Make Vinegar – http://zerowastechef.com/2014/10/30/apple-scrap-vinegar/
  62. Make Kimchi
  63. Paint the shed with the protective woodstain (which we’ve already bought and is in the shed!)
  64. Clean and tidy the larder
  65. Finish my 10 stitch blanket: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/ten-stitch-blanket
  66. Finish my crochet blanket
  67. Successfully grow a melon (probably in the poly tunnel) The Prescott Ford Blanc is the variety I really want to crack! See here: http://www.realseeds.co.uk/melons.html
  68. Finish reading the Earth Care Manual by Patrick Whitfield – the book is amazing but so dense and physically large I sometimes struggle to hold it up to read it. http://patrickwhitefield.co.uk/books/
  69. Put up the two wall hangings in R’s bedroom
  70. Get my embroidery work framed and hung up in the house.
  71. Make Blood Orange Jelly – you won’t regret it I promise you! http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jan/04/how-to-make-your-own-jelly-cookery-club
  72. Make more vanilla extract ( I made 750ml over a year ago and it is almost all gone and it was delicious and cheap) – It is basically just putting whole vanilla beans in a bottle of vodka shaking occasionally and leaving it for ages. I use this recipe usually – it is great: https://mommyemu.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/homemade-vanilla-extract/
  73. Make big apron style pockets to go on the front of my purple cord and black cords skirts – Why do they think women want clothes without pockets!!! Where am I supposed to put my things.
  74. Make a bag for my Yoga Mat (yep – I’m totally a person with a Yoga Mat).
  75. Get rid of the two big wooden doors in the front garden – accepting I’m not going to be able to do anything useful with them and ask the council to take them away.
  76. Trip to the dump to get rid of/recycle a bunch of items which I can’t fix and which I can no longer even  I *might* fix.
  77. Make rosehip oil and use it on my face.  For 36 years my ‘beauty’ regime has been basically soap and water (I haven’t worn make up since I was 18 so I don’t need anything complicated).  Turns out that soap and water isn’t good for my skin anymore (especially in Winter!) and I’ve got a good recommendation and recipe for rosehip oil from here: http://lulastic.co.uk/thrifty-2/homemade-rosehip-oil-a-bit-of-thrifty-foraging/ We have a tonne of rosehips in the garden and even buying some almond oil to put them in will still be pretty cheap and might make a nice homemade present if I jazz up the jar.
  78. Make Beeswax food wraps to ditch the cling film.
  79. Take out some of the shrubs I hate (pyracanthas is the devils’s own plant) and replace with plants I like which are productive and attract bees.
  80. Build a solar oven
  81. Get rid of the long cement block in the garden.
  82. Get our porch ripped out and replaced (this is hopefully a possibility this year – which is good because it is standing only as a result of willpower)
  83. Clear out the front yard and make it into a safe play area for the kids.
  84. Make myself 2-3 new pairs of bloomers for Summer.
  85. Build an outdoor pizza oven.
  86. Build a treehouse from recycled materials for R (+ babe number 2)
  87. Create a raised bed/bit of veg patch for R to garden in.
  88. Plant an Acer in the garden.
  89. Plant a witch hazel in the garden.
  90. Do a cider making day with friends.
  91. Make Lemon/Lime/Blackcurrant or Raspberry Curd.
  92. Weed the herb patch
  93. Weed the soft fruit patch
  94. Transplant more strawberries into the soft fruit patch.
That is a good list and probably has various things missing.  It even looks like a schedule of blogs posts if I were so inclined.  I’ll report back as things get ticked off (probably slowly!)

Go With the Flow…

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Cheese Scones – so easy and soooo tasty.

 

I am a big fan of doing a Word of the Year.  It is a fun way to remind you what you want more of in your life in a really gentle and flexible way.

I do lots of goal planning in the gap between Christmas and New Year.  Little bite-sized chunks, working out what I want to do in the coming year.  I get excited about all the possibilities which exist in a fresh year barely started.  I’m described as relentlessly cheerful by my partner and so I approach every New Year with a great deal of excitement about all the awesome things we will do in it.  But I don’t leave things to chance – I’m a planner and so I work out what magic I want in my life in the coming year.  I work out how to make it happen and I schedule it in.

A word of the year is like a quiet theme that wends it way through the year; something I can come back to time and time again to remind myself what is important for me right now.  It isn’t as defined as my goals, although I definitely have a set of actions to take to make it real!

I’m not sure where the ‘Word of the Year’ originates.  I’ve seen it pop up in so many places in blogland over the years and I first encountered it through the Leonie Dawson Life Workbook (my main planning tool) about 4-5 years ago.

To the nitty gritty… this year has been a strange one for me in terms of planning my goals.  Although this blog was almost silent last year I did a lot of writing behind the scenes. I had a role-playing game published and launched a successful kickstarter (role-playing again!) with Josh.  It was a great year for goals and projects even if the blogging took backseat.

Now we are going into 2016 expecting a second amazing baby in May.  So I’ve been reluctant to plan lots of big projects and goals into my life because you never know how your life will change when you detonate a baby into it.  (And frankly levels of exhaustion unknown last time are already kicking my bottom). I’ve no idea how long I’ll need to adjust to the change post-birth. So although I have plans this year they are fairly low key and I can scale them up or down as I need to.  The priority is fulfilling the kickstarter before detonation day and a couple of other similar projects and hopefully getting chickens in the Spring but otherwise my plans are for art, role-playing, knitting, writing, mending, lots of outdoor time as a family and a modest veg garden if I can manage it.

Which brings me back to my word of the year.

 

Flow. 

As in ‘go with the…’.

I wanted a word which meant I could ditch, downscale or change any of my other goals GUILT FREE if our family’s needs (and my needs) required it.  I wanted a word I could mutter under my breath to help me relax when R refuses to wear trousers in freezing temps.  I wanted a word that was the opposite of the anxiety which I’ve lived with for much of my life.

I’m posting this with one month into 2016.  I’ve made lots of small changes which are sticking, more yoga and swimming, banning screens for an hour before bed, breathing and consciously unbunching my muscles when I hear the awful phrase “I don’t want my teeth cleaned, I do it myself”. I’m still getting tired and stressed, but when I feel that way I remember my word and at the very least I cease feeling guilty that I’m stressed.  And that is a huge step forward.

Do any of you do a Word of the Year, planning or goal setting?  I’d love to hear about it!

Book Review: Moontime by Lucy Pearce

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I love reading and although I read less than I used to now I have a busy toddler I still try and get in as much as I can.

When I was feeling particularly lost in Motherhood Lucy’s book “The Rainbow Way: Cultivating Creativity in the Midst of Motherhood” was vital and re-energising for me.  So I jumped at the chance to review a copy of the second edition of Moontime when it was offered!

I’ll be the first to admit I’m pretty ambivalent about my periods.  They are neither bad nor good, they just are.  They are a bit annoying when I want to go swimming, they are extra hassle when I have to remember to wash my pads (I’m still a big re-usable hippy!).   But they are neither horribly painful and heavy or deep and meaningful spiritual experiences.  But I am a big hippy and I am open to thinking about things in new ways and it was in the spirit I picked up Moontime.

I did not regret it.  Lucy has a beautiful writing style, warm and heartfelt.  Her words flowed off the page and it was a joy to read.

It was also wonderfully practical. I’m in my 30s, I’ve had a baby, I’ve read all about fertility and I thought I was pretty smart about my insides.  But there was loads of factual information in here that was a revelation to me.

Secondly I really enjoyed reading how other women experience and celebrate their cycles.  This was a whole new world I never knew about and it has opened my eyes.  It was an amazing world of women gathering together in Red Tents, connecting and making a special kind of magic and it goes far beyond simply bleeding once every 28 days.

I think there is something I’ve been missing here, there is some level of connection with myself which Moontime might just be a roadmap to.  I’m still thinking and digesting what I’ve read and I’ll definitely be re-reading – so many things to think about!

There is a link here where you can buy the book (not an affiliate link).

Full Disclosure – I got a free review copy.

Some days are harder than others…

I love working on my green life.  Most of the time.  But there are days like today when I realise how vital good health is to living sustainably.  We don’t live in a world which properly values (or even provides these days) for those with debilitating chronic ill health. On days when I have less energy I really feel how impossible it would be too live as sustainably as I want to if I lost some of my health.

Today was a less than perfect day – it’s been a long time since I’ve had really poor sleep with R but last night was the worst teething he’s had.  Those final 4 molars are just brutal on a small boddie and he needed a lot of TLC to get through the night.  So today I have dragged myself through my housework, I have put as much energy as I can into multiple readings of: “What the Ladybird Heard”, “Toddle Waddle” and “Goat Goes to Playgroup” (R is on a Julia Donaldson jag right now) and I have hauled myself into town to take back library books and get wrapping paper.

But thankfully organisation has helped keep me on the sustainable path even today…

1. We meal plan in advance so I knew what I was cooking and I had all the ingredients to hand.  So no getting a take away in frustrated exhaustion.

2. I walk most places so my background level of fitness is perfectly serviceable.  I might not be able to run a marathon but I can do a 4 mile round trip with the pram fairly easily, even on no sleep.

3. I prioritised my jobs – it is essential to keep on top of the washing so I made sure I put a load on, I had a big tub of homemade chicken stock in the fridge which I portioned up and put into the freezer (don’t want it to go to waste!). I took the library books back so I didn’t get fined.

4. I made dinner during R’s naptime so I wouldn’t be so rushed at the end of the day when I’d be more tired (A very good decision, past Becky made!)

It wasn’t all glorious:

1. I made a batch of lemon flavoured scones thinking I’d get ahead on some meals but I forgot to add any raising agent.  That was a disappointing waste of time, flour and lemon zest.

2. I didn’t put any dried washing away – the stacks are teetering around us.

3. I’ve got R’s chest cold, boo.

One or two days of being ill I can manage with this life but we really took a hit earlier this with a prolonged period of illness that really knocked out system out.

Fact is it takes time to shop for bargains and check out the greenest options, it takes time to plan meals and walk instead of using the car, it takes energy and work to cook from scratch, to wash nappies, to plant a veg garden and process half a pig into sausages, bacon, hams etc. It can take money to buy the more expensive options like Ecover or organic meat etc.

Living sustainably with chronic illness must be extra hard. I’m going to count my blessing for today.