Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Half-term trip to Oxford

This is becoming a regular fixture for us. My husband works in Oxford and so in the school holidays we drive over, spend an afternoon shopping and/or looking around and then meet up with him after work for something to eat.
Now the boys are older they like to go around by themselves leaving me the luxury of a couple of hours by myself to explore. I'm not really a shopper at all and feel very overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff in the shops and by the crowds of people. However I have found a small Fair Trade shop in Oxford (next to St Michael's church, Cornmarket Street) which stocks some clothes including People Tree and accacia (Anokhi and Chandni Chowk), jewelery, handmade notebooks and cards, baby clothes and loads of handmade gift items. I bought a summer top made from hand loomed cotton, made in India. I have mixed feelings about buying Fair Trade products from abroad as opposed to buying something made locally, as there is still the environmental cost of transport to be considered. I also wonder if small communities could become dependent on the trade for a major source of income and then should the market became unsustainable, because of rising fuel prices maybe and the market for their goods disappeared whether they would be in a worse position than before. For me the answer seems to be to reduce the total amount of things bought new, so reducing the amount of resources consumed wherever they come from, but when buying new, choose a source that acts responsibly towards the people it employs and the processes it uses.

After my shopping I had some time left and spent a while wandering around Oxford and trying to escape some of the crowds.

A few photographs of Oxford.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Trying to grow parsnips

I've had my allotment for over ten years now and I've still not found out how to get a reliable crop of parsnips.
The photo shows a part of my allotment I have yet to clear from last year and you can see that as well as loads of weeds and foxgloves there are a lot of self seeded parsnips now coming up to flower, proof that parsnips can grow here. Last year I sowed parsnips from saved seed and got a good crop. This year I sowed some at the beginning of March. I know they can be slow to germinate, but after several weeks had passed and nothing was visible I sowed some more in another part of the plot. Nothing at all has come from either sowing.
I've found this before, some years I get a good crop, then encouraged by my success I sow loads the next year and get virtually nothing. I am hoping that a few self seeded plants will grow and I will just garden round them so that at least I have a few parsnips for next winter.
I wonder if any gardeners have any thoughts about this. I let three or four plants go to seed each year and collect seed from each to get a mixture. Could it be the way the seeds are stored, in a glass jam jar in the garage, cool but not that cold ? Would the seeds be better in the fridge -do parsnips need a cold spell?
Any advice would be most welcome because I really like parsnips!

Friday, 25 May 2007

Baking Bread

About a year ago a friend recommended I get a breadmaker. I had made bread occasionally at weekends but hadn't ever got into a regular bread making habit. Since breadmaking machines seemed to be very popular, I was persuaded and bought a basic model. The bread it made was acceptable but I found that I used it mainly for mixing bread dough to bake bread rolls in the oven.

A couple of months ago it worked its way to the edge of the worktop while mixing and took a nose dive to the kitchen floor. A bit battered it worked for a while and then died.

I made some bread by hand . I had forgotten how much I enjoyed mixing and kneading the dough, finding a warm place for it to rise, before knocking it back and shaping the rolls or putting it in a tin. I also started to make changes to the recipe depending on how much time I had, a bit extra yeast and putting the dough in a covered bowl in the airing cupboard if I wanted to be quick, using less yeast and leaving it in a cool room if I was due to be out for a few hours.

I've been baking bread by hand now for several weeks and I won't be buying a new breadmaker. I like having more control over the process and varying it to suit me rather than following the precise instructions. The only thing I miss about the machine is that I can't program it to have bread ready for when I come home from work, it was nice opening the front door to the smell of fresh bread, if I worked full time I might reconsider. For now though I am enjoying the gentle quiet process of producing our bread without the whirring of the breadmaking machine.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

First Strawberries of Summer

I visited the farm shop today and there were strawberries, not organic but local. These came from Harlow in Oxfordshire about 30 miles or so from home.

They were delicious so I didn't do anything more than add a little lemon juice and sugar. The bowl is Victorian, not valuable at all but very pretty.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Exam time

Its exam time in our house with both boys having exams next week and then a weeks break for half term and then elder son having another weeks worth.

The panic has set in for elder son and we are trying to help. Its a difficult balance, to encourage study while making sure there is time to relax, time for fresh air and exercise and time to think of something else. School impresses upon the students how very important these exams are for determing their future careers, and they are, but maybe not quite as important as all that. If the results don't turn out as hoped there will be other paths to follow and there are second chances, its not the end of the world. Difficult to convince a stressed student of that though. I've decided that I can best help by making mugs of tea and baking cakes!

This afternoon we went for a walk to enjoy the countryside and have a complete break.

We followed the sign

but the path wasn't always obvious.

Lots of wild flowers

Moon daisies


Pink Campion


and lots of fresh new growth everywhere.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Reusing and recycling

I was taking advantage of the wet weekend to go through my mending pile and make a few alterations to some clothes when realised that what I was doing is now considered "green" and is often presented as a new activity. It is of course what people (women particularly) have been doing for centuries, in fact it is probably only the last one or maybe two generations that haven't mended and darned.

I remember lots of make do and mend in my chidhood (60s and 70s). There was certainly a lot of unpicking of jumpers we had grown out of and combining the yarn from several garments to make one new one. I had a fawn coloured cardigan which when I had grown out of it was duly unpicked and remade into a poloneck jumper. Extra wool was needed and the resulting jumper had a fawn body and the sleeves and neck were made striped, fawn, blue and orange! It sounds dreadful now but orange was very popular amongst my friends in the seventies.

I can also remember updating my existing trousers into flares by inserting a triangle of material into the outer side seam. I also had to add more fabric lengthen them, partly because I had grown and partly because they needed to be longer because of the platform shoes I tried to walk in!

Anyway back to the present day and a couple of my latest renovations.

This bag has been recycled twice. It started life as a chunky aran jumper but I found that I didn't get much wear out of that so I unpicked it and knitted a funnel necked jumper from a Rowan pattern. After much wearing and washing this started to felt so rather than trying to do anything else with the yarn I deliberately tried to felt it by repeatedly washing it in the washing machine whenever I washed a load of towels. When I did my washing on a standard 60C wash this process didn't take more than a couple of washes but now washing in an eco-friendly cool short wash cycle it took weeks of repeated washing to felt properly. Eventually it had felted enough to make this simple bag - I just cut the peices out and sewed -it shouldn't fray but I did some buttonhole/blanket stitch on the flap and round the buttonhole to make sure.

This weekends project was updating a summer skirt. Please excuse the photos which were taken inside on a very dull day.

Actually I'm not sure the pictures show much at all! Basically I just took nine inches off the hem and added some ribbon. Hopefully I've turned it from an almost ankle length skirt that I very rarely wore to a more practical summer skirt. Now I just need to wait for this rain to stop and summer to return.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

A rainy Sunday

It has been raining all day today. It has been gentle steady rain, not so hard that it runs straight off the land but the sort of rain that seems to be really soaking into the ground.
A rainy Sunday is a perfect excuse for a leisurely day. It was too wet to garden, I couldn't do any laundry as obviously it wouldn't dry and I didn't feel like going out. I stayed in the warm and dry at home. Bread was baked, cakes were made (and quickly eaten) and there was time for some sewing and spinning.
I know the British are famous for grumbling about the weather but this has been one wet day I've really enjoyed.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Unwelcome house guests

Yesterday when my husband went up into the loft to get his holdall ready for a business trip he mentioned that there seemed to be a couple of piles of sawdust on our nice shiny new loft insulation. Shining the torch onto the rafters I found two small wasp nests hanging directly above the wood dust. Luckily as they were small we were able to dislodge them into jam jars although we only managed to get one wasp.

I put the jars in the freezer for a couple of hours to kill the queen wasp and anything that might be inside the nests. When I was sure that nothing was left alive I could take a closer look at them.
To say I am not a big fan of wasps would be an understatement as when my younger son was about six he ran into a wasps nest in a bank in the woods behind our house and was "attacked " by them. We rushed him to accident and emergency but luckily he had no adverse reaction. We counted over 70 individual stings. He is almost 15 now and still very wary of wasps.

Even though I don't like them, I can't help but admire the structure of their nest.

The perfect hexagons in the middle were encased in layers of very thin paper-like material presumably all made from our rafters.

I don't know much about the life cycle of wasps but as we only caught one wasp I think I will be checking our loft at frequent intervals for the next few weeks just in case.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Small scale gardening

We have a fairly small garden and although I have my allotment to grow vegetables, I still like to grow a few things in the garden. Every year I try to squeeze a bit more in and when I looked at this patch I wondered if I've gone a bit too far.
Underneath a minature apple tree, Discovery, I have strawberries plus some chives and some peppermint (for peppermint tea). A couple of weeks ago I thought there might be room between the strawberry plants for something else and so I moved a few ruby chard plants. I am now wondering if the chard will shade the strawberries too much but you never know it might all work.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

A busy weekend and the first cuckoo.

I'm just getting straight after a busy weekend. My parents came to stay. They live too far away for day trips so when we see each other it has to be for a few days at a time and when they've gone I always seem to be exhausted and need a day to get the house back to normal.

Whenever they come it seems to take an age to get ready, and I feel the need to try to have every thing perfect. You would think that at my age I wouldn't feel the need for my mothers approval but it seems I still do. It doesn't help that our "spare room " is used as a study/office/room for the boys model stuff and we have to move all this out to make room for the sofa bed to unfold.

Anyway I think the weekend went well. The weather was fine and we were able to go out for walks. I really noticed them slowing down this visit. They are in their mid seventies and they were taking such care walking over the uneven ground in the woods. I suppose if they lived closer I might not notice these gradual changes but in just a couple months since I last saw them they seem to be acting so much older. I'm feeling sorry at the moment that we don't live closer. I'm sure many people feel like this with families spread over much longer distances than I have to cope with.

It was on our walk on Sunday that we heard the first cuckoo of the season - 30th April. When we heard it we all ran a few steps. I don't know how widespread this custom is. When you hear the first cuckoo you should start running or you will be lazy for the rest of the summer.
I grew up in Somerset and my parents are from the Bristol area so I don't know if this is just a West Country thing or whether there are people running around all over the country at this time of year!

I'd be interested to know if anyone else follows this custom.