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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.


Taking Stock – Hat Tip to Meet me at Mike’s

Check out Meet me At Mike’s great blog here.

Pip at MMAM does a taking stock post and this month I’m joining in.

Making: Stock, funnily enough.  I recently realised that there is an MSG substitute in my favourite organic stock powder and that was it.  I have resolved to only use it for vegetarian or vegan friends and the rest of the time it is homemade stock all the way.  This time it is chicken but I have mutton bones ready to go and this weekend our pigs come back from the butcher and I always ask for a huge bag of bones for stock.  Lots of making stock rather than taking stock at the moment then.

Cooking: Egg and Tomato sandwiches for today’s picnic (a very important part of my childhood). Blackcurrant and Blackberry cobbler with a lemon vanilla flavoured topping (I invented it, lemon in the scone topping is inspired, even if I say so myself).

Drinking: Fizzy water mostly, no diet coke.  Because I quit it, I quit diet coke!  I can’t quite believe it so I’m saying it again – I quit diet coke!

Reading: Down to Earth by Rhonda Hetzel, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, S.O.S. Capitalism by Richard Swift and (as an amusing companion to S.O.S. Capitalism) Making Money by Terry Pratchett.  Terry Pratchett was a huge part of my childhood (and my  adult life)  I was sad to hear he had passed (although in some ways I was pleased he’d been released from his illness as I know he would have wanted).  I expect I’ll be reading a lot of Terry Pratchett for the next year – reminding myself of his incredibly elegant and intensely clever work.

Wanting: More time, always more time!  I’m one of those people who cannot ever imagine being bored.

Looking: At a pair of long tailed tits that have just taken up residence in one of our cherry trees. Very pretty birds.

Playing: A lot of role-playing games at the moment: Hillfolk, Hot War, Don’t Rest Your Head, Apocalypse World, Rise and Fall.  Also lots of Board games like Race for the Galaxy and Pentago.

Deciding: To make coronation chicken this weekend.  It is sunny, I have an organic free range chicken about to be turned into stock… I really love coronation chicken.

Wishing: I had a green house/polytunnel – every south facing window sill is crammed with seedlings right now. Well that is next year’s plan!

Enjoying: The sunny weather – it has been really Summery, like June here.  One the one had I love it, I get up earlier, I feel more energised and relaxed.  On the other hand I can see and feel the effects of climate change.

Waiting: To get my seedlings hardened off and transplanted outside. I’m no fool though, it might look like Summer out there but it isn’t and the risk of late frost isn’t passed yet.  I’m being very patient

Liking: R’s new passport photo – totally adorable!

Wondering: Why my Japanese Beefsteak seeds haven’t germinated yet. Maybe the never will.

Loving: The fact I am growing 4 varieties of Heirloom winter squash this year.  We love Squash and these are the types which should keep all through the Winter.  Last year our squashes did badly so I’m hoping for better this year.  Varieties: Boston Winter Squash, Hokkaido Squash, Amber Cup and Black Futsu. Thanks to Anna for the Amber Cup and Black Futsu varieties.

Pondering: How we (as in all people in the world) can live in a way which is sustainable and give everyone a decent standard of living.

Considering: Writing another article for Green Parent Magazine – it was awesome to get my last one printed and I’m keen to do another.

Buying: Play sand for a sand pit, black board paint and wood stain to freshen up the playhouse.

Watching: Bones and Haven.  I love Bones, I love that the main character is not neurotypical, I love that 3 out of the main ensemble cast are awesome kick-ass women.  I would prefer to have more LGBT characters and relationships but it is still a relief to have so many amazing women on screen.  Haven is gentle and awesome and a bit like a grown up version of Round the Twist.  Do you remember Round the Twist?

Waiting: To get my seedlings hardened off and transplanted outside. I’m no fool though, it might look like Summer out there but it isn’t and the risk of late frost isn’t passed yet.  I’m being very patient

Hoping: That one day soon we have great weather and I can take R and Josh to the seaside at Cleethorpes.  Firstly to paddle in the sea, secondly to eat some really good fish and chips and thirdly to stock up on great fresh fish for the freezer.

Marvelling: At daffodils.  The previous owners spent years planting the orchard with lots of varieties of daffodils and every year I find some new ones.  This year I spotted two different varieties of double headed daffodils in two different colours.  I’d never noticed them before but they are beautiful.

Cringing: That UKIP seem to be doing so well (relatively speaking) in recent the UK.

Needing: A Hair cut, I’m ok with cutting R’s hair but I can’t manage a good job on my own.

Questioning: Why my work IT is so unreliable?

Smelling: Frankincense essential oil, nothing is more calming and balancing to me.

Wearing: Summer trousers in purple cotton, grey t-shirt and grey cardigan.  Lots of layers for the changeable weather (cold one minute, warm the next).

Following: This new blog I just found today Frontier Dreams.  Looks like just my thing.

Noticing: Some of my friends in Transition Chesterfield talking about the Stainsby Festival – small, local folk festival which is family friendly.  I’ll definitely be going to that!

Knowing: That I’ve just made some really good chicken stock – it is so concentrated and so jellylike I can turn it upside down over my head and it stays put!

Thinking: We are coming up on meal planning time for the week. We plan all our meals in advance and it really does save lots of time, money and stress.

Admiring: I’ve been reading this blog post by Frugal Queen about a Quilting Exhibition she went to.  I’ve never tried quilting (although I’ve toyed with it before) but some of these are incredible.  So inspiring that I might want to give it a go!

Sorting: My knitting bags – I had so many on the go I didn’t realise how many pairs of scissors I was hoarding.

Getting: serious with our fruit patch.  Josh just planted out 30 strawberry plants (free from his Dad!), we also have 2 white currants, a morello cherry, 2 hazelnuts, a sloe, a cherry plum, a second crab apple and a rescued rhubarb plant.  This is in addition to our existing 4 black currants, Victoria plum, damson, 14 raspberries, 2 red currants, apple orchard and blackberries in the hedge.  Just a couple of gooseberries to go and we will be sorted 🙂

Bookmarking: 100 ways to up cycle your clothing, how to make lined curtains, the moneyless manifesto and how to get the most out of your solar panels.

Coveting: This Frida Kahlo fabric.

Disliking: My allergy – I have a dusty allergy and despite my medication it is kicking my ass right now.

Opening: An Amazon Prime account by accident and then immediately closing it again.  Bastards trick you every which way.

Giggling: With R, apparently the sound of my dressmaking scissors opening and closing is *the* funniest thing ever!

Feeling: Upbeat – I just have this feeling that this Summer is going to be amazing, full of great weather, great company, home grown vegetables and fruit, eating on the verandah, river swimming and BBQs with our home raised meat.

Snacking: Satay Broad Beans and Strawberries and Cream.  I have only a couple of short months in order to cram *all* the Strawberries and Cream into my face.

Wishing: I had a new camera – my phone camera has been busted for a long time and it really put a cramp on my blogging (I’ve only recently realised that and decided to go ahead without pictures for a while!)

Helping: Myself to better health, I’m getting close to giving up sugar completely.  Just need to make the final mental leap 🙂

Hearing: Lovely quiet (the neighbours have turned their music off)

Seven by Eight: A Knitted Cowl pattern in 56 Stitches

I mentioned previously about my recovering creativity. One of the things I decided on after my inspirational visit to Yarndale was to knit an oversized cowl.

Seven by Eight Cowl

This was a Christmas gift for my sister which is why I’ve been waiting to put it up on the blog.  She kindly agreed to model it for me in the beautiful snow we had here on Boxing Day.

I’ve designed a few items before but I decided it is high time I put them somewhere for posterity and all good knitting patterns deserve a name so here is Seven by Eight – a simple cowl for a simple day.

You will need:
200g of an aran or bulky weight yarn, single plied
Size 8mm needles and a cable needle.

1.Cast on 56 stitches using a provisional cast on.

Here is a simple provisional cast on you can use.

2. Then starting with row one of the pattern below.  Knit piece until it is as long as you like (try wrapping it around you and see how it sits) ending by knitting row 7.

Seven by Eight Pattern

Undo the provisional cast on and pick up the live stitches from the bottom of the work.  Graft the two pieces together using Kitchener Stitch so that the pattern flows seamlessly across them. The row of Kitchener stitch will effectively be row 8 of the pattern.

And Voila!  Seven by Eight, a lovely quick knit.

A few notes: Choose something soft (the skin on the neck is a sensitive thing) and choose something evenly plied – the slubby nature of e.g. Manos del Uruguay is lovely in the right project but will ruin the stitch definition of the pattern.

Here is an in progress photo full of ideas that didn’t make the final knit.

Trying out different stitches

Autumn Happens

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

I first noticed Autumn had started arriving a couple of weeks into August.  There was a tang in the air first thing when I fed the pigs, several people said that they could smell Autumn and the temperature dropped (I was a little under prepared for the cold when we were on holiday!). So much happens in Autumn for us that I wanted to create a little bloggy, mood board post giving you a taste of our Autumn so far.

I am…

Listening to this…

I started the tradition of listening to Enya’s The Celts to herald Autumn without really realising it.  Maybe it is all the mist in the video that does it.  Anyway I love this album and it is the start of my Autumn.


The air in each season smells differently to me, Autumn is sharper with more bonfires but not as biting as Winter.  It loses some of the warm dust and flower scents of the Summer and smells of the soft decay of leaves and apples.

Damson jammy treasure

Damson jammy treasure

Damson Jam, for the last two years I’ve made Damson Jam in September.  We have a fabulous Damson tree in the garden which produces a good crop.  Everyone in the family believe Damson Jam to be the King of Jams.  The smell whilst it cooks is like no other Jam I’ve ever made.  It’s like taking a bath in plums – but proper plums, not the pappy stuff in the supermarkets but a sweet, sour floral punch in the face. I use the Damson Jam recipe in Basic Basics by Marguarite Pattern – an excellent recipe which gets the balance of sugar just right.

Ignore Kirsty Allsop’s Sweet Damson Jam recipe – the point of Damson Jam is that it is tart, just this side of uncomfortably tart… otherwise you might as well eat strawberry jam, nice but missing the point.  I always work hard at jam making to preserve the flavour of the fruit, if you aren’t careful you can end up with jam that just tastes of sweet and not a lot else.

Frankincense essential oil – sounds more like Christmas I suppose but the warm resiny scent just makes me think of fallen leaves and apples and pumpkins.


Apple, cinnamon and raisin bread.


Yummy bread

Yummy bread

Last October I made a huge batch of apple puree from our apple harvest.  I didn’t know if R would take to baby led weaning and I wanted to have a back up supply of some puree from our homegrown produce.  Also to stop it going to waste (we had far too many apples to eat last year).  Anyway we hardly used any of it.  R was made for baby-led weaning, he loved it from the first bite of avocado and we never fed him purees in the end.  Which left a large store of apple puree in the freezer.  I want to get rid of it before the next lot of apples are ripe and so I added 1 cup to this loaf instead of water.  Delicious!


I am not buying any books again this year (an ongoing challenge I have going on with a friend to encourage us to read what we have… which is a lot!) but my Mother Out-Law was getting rid of a huge pile of books and I couldn’t say no.  Especially welcome as there were several golden age detective fiction novels, a little habit of mine.  So I’ve been reading a lot of Patricia Wentworth novels (like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels only more of them and more knitting!) and also the one new purchase I allowed myself which was Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie.

Ancillary Justice is a sci fi novel by Ann Leckie and this year’s winner of the Hugo award.  It is brilliant, it is interesting and challenging and does exactly what good sci fi does – uses science fiction to give us a new lens through which to look at our own society.  I’ll definitely be reading more Ann Leckie (when the reading embargo is done).

Web pages wise… I’m reading these

Pinterest board of DIY Christmas ideas

Ten things to Love About Autumn

Chasing Piggens advice on butchering their pigs (so many good tips!)


About Christmas!  Shocker, there I’ve said that C-word.  But I am thinking about it and not in a bad stressful way in a gentle-planning-with-the-luxury-of-time way.  I want to spread the cost of Christmas and the work of Christmas and that means starting now making gifts like Damson Gin (which takes 3 months min to make), planning for the right cuts of meat from our pigs in October to make a Christmas Ham. Buying yarn for knitted gifts.

This is the Damson Gin recipe I’m using by the way and so far it’s excellent.

Damson Gin

Damson Gin


I’ve been doing a good amount of mending recently. Getting things in order before the cold weather arrives.

I’ve discovered that during the hour or so every day that R likes to explore the living room (aka: pulling all the DVDs off the shelves that some fool re-stacked the previous night,  seeing how many wooden shapes he can fit in his mouth, trying to squeeze behind the sofa etc.) I can get mending done.  I can’t do anything else like reading or checking my laptop or phone, even knitting – those things are too interesting to Mr Curious Baby, but I can mend.  So in the last month I’ve mended several socks, rips in clothes and sewn a toggle closure back on my Winter Coat that I popped off when I was pregnant (and I refused to buy a Winter Maternity Coat).

There is always more mending to do but I’ve found a nice space for it in my life for the moment.

…Since writing this I have, of course, found more mending to do.

Pig bit a hole in Josh’s new jeans – tiny but I need to put some stitches in it to stop it getting worse.

My beloved jeans have a developing hole

Got a great warm hand-me-down babygro for Raffi but it has a hood on it.  I know I’ll never put in him in it for bed with the hood, it will be uncomfortable and just get in the way.  So I’m snipping the hood off and sewing down the raw edge.

One of Josh’s jumper’s has split at the seams.

Plus the never-ending pile of socks 🙂

Plenty to keep me busy I guess.

Tarragon and veg frittata

This is a favourite recipe of mine. Frittata is an easy stand-by supper, which tarragon adds a robusy, almost meaty flavour to.

Most of this meal was prepared using stuff grown in our garden.

Most of this meal was prepared using stuff grown in our garden.

It’s easy enough to cook. The default recipe involves lightly frying some chopped onion, then adding half a kilo of cubed potato and frying for 10-15 minutes longer, then finally add a chopped courgette and fry for a few minutes more. On this occasion I substituted some spinach, of which we currently have a glut, for the courgette. I wilted it in the pan and then chopped. I reckon this would work ok with lots of different green veggies – kale, cabbage, chard, peas even.

Add eggy goodness.

Add eggy goodness.

Once the veg is done, add half a dozen eggs that have been beaten together with chopped tarragon. A good amount of chopped tarragon is needed, say a couple of tablespoons.

Top with cheese and bake in the oven for 30 mins at 180 C.

Feeling hungry now.

Feeling hungry now.

The result is delicious, filling, healthy and easy to transport for picknicking. Indeed, this is exactly what we did with it – an afternoon walk in a local wood munching on frittata (and Becky’s home-made chocolate cake) was a very pleasant way to pass the time. T Rex was particularly impressed and got quite upset when there wasn’t any left!

No Plastic Round Up

You might remember that July was No Plastic July and I pledged to participate in it here.

This was a really interesting challenge. My goal were to eliminate Plastic from the following places…

1. Liquid soap

2. Toothbrush for my son

3. Crisps and savory snacks

4. Drinks in plastic bottles

5. Yoghurt

We did fairly well overall – the biggest success was making our own liquid soap and reusing the old dispensers for it.  Normally we use bars of soap but there are a couple of strangely designed sinks in this house which won’t accept them.  I will definitely be carrying on with this one.  It was better for the environment in every way (better even than buying Ecover), much cheaper and really very easy.  It also provides me with a way of using up the little pieces of soap shrapel I do collect from the bars.

I discovered (just in time!) from Westy Writes that the alternative to a plastic tooth brush (the bamboo one) sheds it’s bristles really badly and will nott stand up to the robust attentions of a toddler.  So unfortunately we stuck with plastic here.

Crisps and Snacks – we did pretty well throughout the month by either eating homemade cheese straws or going without. It was only right at the end I realised I could have been making Kale Chips the whole time (doh!) but ultimately I don’t have the time to make potato crisps from scratch and the cheese straws whilst delicious were a bit rich in the end.

Drinks in plastic bottles (except Milk) – again we did really well, I bought a sigg water bottle and remembered to take it to most of the important places.  But I have back slid on this a little since August started but it will be easier in the Winter when I drink more herbal tea.

Yoghurt – this was my big disaster.  I made two attempts at making Yoghurt and both times it was terrible.  I will crack this.  Making my own yoghurt will save us a lot of money and a lot of plastic and I’m sure I can do it.  This great tutorial from Zero Waste Chef will be essential (I probably need to start by buying a new thermometer!)

During the month lots of other things happened…

Firstly I became so much more mindful in my consumerism.  I ditched lots of other products because of disposable plastic, many things that weren’t in my list of 5.  I discovered that the Ethical Superstore’s packaging has very little plastic in it and all the cardboard is recycled.  That Dr Bronner Soap comes in paper wrapping with no plastic.

I discovered there is plastic in tea bags and that if I want to buy milk which is organic (i.e. more sustainably farmed) and where the farmer is paid a fair and liveable wage for their work then I have to buy it in plastic bottles.  I found a lot of these compromises over the course of the experiment and it was sad to realise that there is no one true path to being Green these days.  There is only the least worst option for most things you need to buy.

I spent a lot of time wondering about plastic recycling and how good it really is.  This great post from Treading My Own Path – confirmed a lot of my fears about how recycling plastic is no magic bullet solution.  We have to stop/reduce buying it in the first place.

Once I started thinking about the problem of plastic, I realised it is everywhere! I always thought we were pretty Green, but frankly I’ve come out of NPJ in equal parts inspired to take more action and despairing that I can make a difference.  This led to my writing the really popular 5 Ways to Beat Eco Burnout Post  that I’m really proud of.

I learnt some new skills, picked up new information but best of all I met lots of cool bloggers and amazingly interesting people.

Roll on Zero Waste Week!

Knitting with Leftovers

I knit a lot and virtually every day.

Some of my knitting uses thrifty, frugal options, but some of it includes luxury handspun alpaca. It is my hobby and whilst I do try to source eco-friendly alternatives (I never buy standard cotton for dishcloths because it’s eco-footprint is so bad) I have bought some wonderful expensive and luxury yarns for my hobby over the years. I’ve even bought a few and had them posted from the US because Socks that Rock is really the best sock yarn I’ve ever used and you can’t buy it in the UK (I’m weaning myself off this habit though and haven’t bought any yarn for over 6 months – I’m pleased you agree that is a REALLY LONG TIME!)

I wanted a nice little text overlay here with the title of the post... far too many colours to make that a reality :(

I wanted a nice little text overlay here with the title of the post… far too many colours to make that a reality 😦

But I never throw any yarn away.  I am a master at stretching out yarn and finding ways to use up the leftovers once a project is done.  Like with food and garden prunings there is no such thing as yarn waste.

This post is a list of my 3 tips for using up yarn and 3 patterns which are really good at making the most of every scrap.

1. The Beekeeper Quilt –  by Tiny Owl Knits. This is a paid for pattern, but it is worth every penny. Not only because I love this design, it is modular and therefore easy to knit whilst out and about, but of all the patterns I’ve ever knitted, this is the best pattern for using up leftovers.

A hexapuff waiting to be stuffed.

A hexapuff waiting to be stuffed.

Firstly it is made of tiny hexapuffs knitted in sock yarn.  In my knitting career I’ve knitted about 90 pairs of socks (I know!) that is a lot of leftover sock yarn.  Some of my leftover sock yarn went into darning but darning doesn’t use it all up.  This project is perfect because I can knit hexapuffs out of all my fabulous colours put them all in a basket and only start to make up the blanket afterwards at which point I can pick the colours and place there where I want to.  I’m not limited in placing colours next to each other in the order in which I complete my original projects that generated the leftovers!

Not only do I knit with the leftover yarn but the teeny tiny scraps of yarn which get snipped off after sewing in the ends… they get used to stuff the hexapuffs.

AND… I fill some of the hexapuffs with dried lavender from my garden to give the blanket a lovely smell and keep the moths out.

This is the ideal pattern for using up things and just look at how gorgeous it is!

A sea of little hexes.

A sea of little hexes.

2. The Oddball Spiral blanket – by Sarah Bradbury (free pattern). This is my current big project.  Up until recently I had a huge bag of leftover Aran weight wool and no idea what to do with it.  I tried to knit a stripey vest but I couldn’t get enough colour repeats out of the yarn I had left so I ripped it out for this blanket.  There are only 9 live stitches at any time and the pattern is easy to memorise.  You will end up with a giant blanket if you keep going (like me) and I’ll probably finish this in the Winter now as it is too hot to work on.  But if you don’t mind the blanket looking a bit mismatched then use long and short colour repeats where you have bigger and smaller partial balls of yarn.  I think because of the geometric design you can pull off irregular colour patches which only makes this pattern more brilliant.

The blanket is growing.

The blanket is growing.

3. Baby Trousers – by Mini Magpie (free tutorial).  This is not a knitting project.  This is what to do when knitting goes wrong… so horribly wrong.

Many moons ago, before I was as wise as I am today, I knitted a wonderful Hoodie in Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran.  The pattern was incredible and I will knit it again one day. The yarn was super soft… but that was the only good thing about it.  It pilled (went bobbly) and looked terrible after I’d worn it precisely once.  I kept wearing it because it was warm and I’d worked so hard on the amazing patterned cables.  And one day in a fit of helpfulness Josh washed it for me.  Pure wool, 20% cashmere in the washing machine.  I think you can imagine what happened (I won’t describe it for the delicate amongst you but let’s say it involved, felting, shrinking and a lot of swearing).

It is a testament to my stubborness that I’m still wearing it about 7 years later despite the fact it is clearly a couple of inches too short, everywhere.  The yarn cost a fortune, the jumper took ages to knit I wasn’t going to give up on it that easily.  But I think the time has come to say goodbye.

As I said above no wool is wasted.

I’m going to cut the (now felted) jumper up to create the trousers in the above tutorial (possibly even dungarees if I can work it out) and then cut up the rest to use as stuffing in the beekeeper quilt!