Wednesday, 27 June 2007

A fresh coat of paint

With the weather here more like spring than summer we have decided to do a bit of spring cleaning and decorating. We moved into our house when it was new, sixteen years ago and at the time all the interior walls were painted pale yellow apart from white in the bathroom. Yellow seemed an odd choice to paint a whole house and as we have got round to decorating each room we happily painted over it. The boys have chosen their own paint colours but for every other room, we have chosen a different shade of white, milk white, stone, jasmine white, lily white. I think I have been influenced by cool Scandinavian style rooms I've seen in magazines, they always seem so calm.

Of course all the tins of left over white have collected in the garage and if we need to touch up a wall we have no idea which white was used in each room. Hence my recent decision to simplify the whole decorating process and use the same shade of white throughout the house. Hopefully this will save us time and money as well as being more eco-friendly as we should eliminate left over paint. After much research we have chosen Green Paints from The Green Shop near Stroud. They produce a very good catalogue (there are no standards for organic or natural paints so it was good to have so much detail on ingredients) and have a mail order service but its not too far for us so yesterday my husband and I had a day trip by ourselves while the boys were at school.

The choice we made when faced with one of the biggest selections of natural paints in the country in a huge range of colours...........soft white! I'm not giving up on this idea of a calm uncluttered house that easily!

After buying the paint we had time left to spoil ourselves for a couple of hours, so we drove down into Stroud and had coffee in an organic cafe before wandering around the town. I found a small shop selling wool and managed to find some sock wool made in the UK, in Bradford, a good start in my effort to buy UK fibres. We then had a picnic on Minchinhampton Common and stopped for a wander around Cricklade before heading home. The area is very pretty and compared to our part of the world, very hilly. A pleasant, pottering sort of day which our boys would have hated but we really enjoyed.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

A rainy afternoon

Usually at the weekend I hope for good weather. At this time of the year though, when there are so many jobs to be done outside in the garden or at the allotment I sometimes think it would be really nice to have a wet day so that I can stay inside and knit or sew instead.

Today that happened and I spent a very pleasant couple of hours sewing.

There seem to be loads of bags appearing on craft blogs at the moment which can only be a good thing if it means that less plastic bags are being used. I got the idea for this one from Simmy who made hers with vintage William Morris fabric. Mine is not so glamorous, both the fabrics are left-overs, the green check from my younger son's bedroom curtains and the tulip fabric from our cloakroom curtains. Feeling very pleased with myself for creating a bag at no cost, I showed the family - the teenage verdict, "it looks just like a cushion, you're not going to use it outside the house are you?" - don't you find, children always bring you straight back down to earth!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

New knitting project

This arrived in the post last week.

Its is Corriedale Pencil Roving from Crown Mountain Farms. It is very,very soft and a beautiful mix of my favourite browns and rusts - the colour is "chocolate bar" and it is actually darker and richer than the photo shows.

Although I haven't quite finished my shawl and I have a jumper that needs a tiny bit of sewing to finish, I couldn't resist starting to spin this straight away. This is the first time I've spun commercial roving and I am really pleased with the results so far. Its very easy to spin and its nice not to have to do all the washing and carding first.
I just have one little thought niggling in my head. I ordered it from America. Here I am, trying to reduce the amount of energy I use, buying local foods etc and then I order wool from half-way round the world and it is flown over here! I didn't even consider this when I ordered, I had read nice comments about Crown Mountain farms, I liked the products and I ordered without thinking. I'm telling myself that I only ordered 8oz so it wouldn't have made a lot of difference to the fuel consumption of the plane but I suppose I should really be looking for a similar product closer to home.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Making Jam

The year is passing quickly and its time to make jam again. I retrieved my preserving pan from the loft to make a batch of strawberry jam. I picked the strawberries at a Pick Your Own just a few miles from home and we enjoyed strawberries for tea before I made the rest into jam.
My strawberry jam recipe is from an old cookery book I bought a few years ago. I like the recipe as it has a higher proportion of fruit than sugar.

The book is the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book and it was first published in 1925. Here is the recipe copied exactly as written. I like the old fashioned sounding instructions.

Strawberry Jam with Lemon

Proportions.-- To 3lb. strawberries allow the juice of 1 lemon and 2 1/4lb. sugar.

The small or medium-sized red strawberries are the best for preserving. Pick the fruit and carefully reject any that is unsound. Put it into the preserving pan and bring it to the boil stirring all the time. Meanwhile have the sugar weighed out, crushed if necessary, and made very hot in the oven. Add it gradually to the fruit without letting it go off the boil. Pour in the strained lemon juice, and boil together until the jam will stiffen.

I particularly like the phrase " boil together until the jam will stiffen" because without adding pectin strawberry jam can take an age to boil to setting point. Mine has set though it could be described as a "soft set", still yummy though.

I used to seal my jam jars with wax paper circles and the cellophane secured with elastic bands but I have now found that providing the lids are in good condition then the jars can be sealed with the lids alone. If the hot glass jars are filled with the hot jam and the lids which have had boiling water poured on them are screwed on immediately then the cooling jam pulls a vacuum and seals the jar. I've used this method for several years now and have only had a couple of failures so some of the jars have been used for several years and they still seal. You can be sure that the jar has sealed securely if the lid becomes depressed in the middle after cooling. Any jars that don't do this we use straight away.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Summer gardening

Its been a lovely relaxing weekend. Exams are all over now so life returns to its normal routine.

We spent most of the weekend outside in the garden and at the allotment. Today I harvested broad beans, mange tout, lettuce, redcurrants and potatoes together with a bunch of pinks. The potatoes are the ones I grew in pots on the patio. I planted them about three months ago and put three tubers to a pot. I got just under 3lbs of potatoes from a pot.

Still on the subject of gardening, while in Starbucks on Saturday I picked up one of their free packets of coffee grounds for the garden. According to the label, the grounds have an almost neutral pH and can be put straight on the garden or added to the compost heap. I usually compost my coffee grounds with the rest of my kitchen waste but I decided to sprinkle these straight on to the soil. I seem to be overrun with slugs at the moment and I'm hoping that they don't like the taste or texture of coffee. I hope they don't absorb any caffeine though, the last thing I need is hyperactive slugs!

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Enjoying Summer

The weather here at the beginning of the week has been perfect summer weather, not too hot but with cloudless blue skies. At this time of year I like to spend as much time outside as possible so I have been doing a lot of gardening and neglecting the housework.

I have a sort of unwritten rule that I have to do all the jobs that need doing and make sure everything is tidy before I start on non-essential things. I think this must stem from when I was growing up and we always had to do our homework and clean our shoes before we were allowed to watch TV or read a non school book. As we got older and got more homework I think this rule was relaxed but even today I still find it difficult to sit and knit or read if there are jobs to be done around the house. Of course this sort of approach means that I don't knit or read as much as I'd like because lets face it there are always jobs to be done.

One afternoon this week though it just seemed too nice to go inside and so I broke the rule and spent some time outside washing some fleece ready to spin. I started to knit a shawl ages ago and then ran out of wool and only need to spin a small amount more but it has remained unfinished for months. Tuesdays sunshine was perfect for washing and drying the fleece.

When I was taught to spin, about five years ago now, we were taught to wash the fleece in small batches just a few locks at a time. My spinning teacher was adamant that whole fleeces should not be washed in the bath! As I only spin wool for my own needs I have so far followed her method and enjoyed the gentle washing process. This fleece was a fawn Shetland and as always I was amazed by the range of colours within the fleece.

This is the shawl looking a bit sad and scruffy, I am hoping that it will look a bit more respectable once it has been finished and blocked.

After my little bit of time off I still didn't feel like going inside so I got out the ironing board and the extension lead and did my ironing in the garden. That way I got to enjoy the summer weather, guilt -free!

Monday, 4 June 2007


For some time it has been a dream of ours to live in a house with a small plot of land/big garden to grow more vegetables, plant a few fruit trees, somewhere with room for a greenhouse and where my husband could keep a few chickens.

Its a big birthday for him this year and as always approaching birthdays make you more aware of the passing of time. I decided that we might be waiting a long time for the right time/place/stage in our lives to do all of these things, so a couple of weeks ago I suggested that for his birthday he might like to have chickens in the back garden.

He has been excitedly visiting lots of "chicken" web-sites and last week we visited the
Domestic Fowl Trust to have a look at chicken coops. Back at home he has spent the weekend walking round the garden wondering where we can squeeze in the smallest of chicken coops. We have decided on a suitable spot and last night he clicked the "add to cart" button and ordered his birthday present of a starter kit and two chickens. This is definitely the most excited he has been about a birthday for years and its not even the big day until August!

The rest of the family are humouring him but actually we are quite excited too.