Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The mother of invention

As part of my winter preparations, a new hat is in order for yours truly - last year's acrylic crochet ensemble was a little too baggy tea cosy like, a little too garish and not warm enough. A browse of Ravelry led me to conclude that I wasn't going to find a suitable crochet pattern that (a) was big enough for my huge head (b) compatible with any of the stashed yarn I have to work with or (c) wouldn't look ridiculous on me. In the end I bit the bullet and begun to search the knitting patterns - ignoring anything with colourwork, cables, lace, fancy shaping or any other extravagance that could trigger another knitting related mental breakdown in me (though that happened later anyway when I happened across the bag containing the infuriating unfinished jumper that originally triggered it). I finally settled on this Wurm hat in Sublime Extra Fine Merino Wool DK.

Knitting in the round is one form of knitting that still holds some charm for me. I am mesmerised that the humans who came before me worked out how to create the most important extremity-protecting garments - the socks, the hats, the gloves - using just their opposable thumbs, a clutch of double pointed sticks (and particular kudos to the smart-arse that threw away all but two and joined them with a length of string) and some nifty shaping techniques. I like the fact that rows and rows of knit stitches form stocking stitch - no need for any awkward purling or turning or sewing up. I like the fact that thanks to the short needles it can be done, bleary-eyed, with a baby balanced asleep on my lap at 3am should the need arise - and last time around, the need arose fairly frequently. It's not crochet, but it is a beautiful thing nonetheless.

Unfortunately, during the great knitting revolt of 2010 and the great house decluttering of 2011, the DPNs and circular needles have been mislaid, bar a single set of 4.5mm circulars - which having found my pattern and being  itching to get started, is annoying. The cooler weather combined with my being unproductively beached like a whale on the sofa for much of my day just served to remind me that I have lots to do between now and autumn and I shouldn't be wasting more time than I have to. In desperation I remembered a set of kebab skewers that I had saved for use as plant markers and serendipitously they were 4mm in diameter, just the size required - a quick sharpen with a pencil sharpener and I was ready to cast on. They would be better if I could have been bothered to find sand paper; and five would be easier than the four I have, but beggars can't be choosers and they have performed admirably.

As I rarely need DPNs this wide, these will probably become my permanent set, saving me several pounds; I will have to trail the charity shops and eBay for my finer pairs - though I am now tempted to go the DIY route and make my own from dowelling. I hereby offer my apologies to my dearest OH for the rant about the evils of expensive preprepared kebabs I subjected him to when he brought home the offending pack from the shop as we have managed to get our money's worth. Happily, it looks like I will have warm ears this winter.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Preparing for winter part 2

Whilst we don't regularly suffer extreme weather conditions in the UK (last year being an 'extreme' winter for us), we do have four 'proper' seasons. I like winter weather, as long as I am prepared for it. I like the cosy feeling of being wrapped up and impervious to the gales and to the drenching rain. I like being swathed in layers of fabric and hats and gloves and scarves, big chunky boots and socks.

I am shockingly under prepared in the clothing department for winter this year. The dull winter coat that I have sported for the last two years, that I bought out of desperation just as cold weather set in, was never really that warm and never fitted my long top heavy frame properly. Last year's snow and slush was a miserable experience as the icy winds went straight through me - one of the reasons that I couldn't wait for spring to arrive this year. My lovely winter boots that have seen me through the last few years fell completely apart this spring - zip and soles - and the quoted cost of repairing them was astronomical. This year I need to replace almost everything and don't want to succumb to desperation and part with more cash for less value than I have too. 

Whilst Operation Preparing for Winter Part 1 isn't going so well (as you can see from all that still naked glazing and wispy curtains), clothing us is going rather better. I rediscovered the joys of eBay this week and for the princely sum of £21.78 (inclusive of P&P) I have bought my own and the kids' winter coats.

I didn't expect to find a full length wool coat, in my size and in mint condition, within 5 minutes of beginning to look - a coat I actually lusted after brand new a couple of years ago but that was way out of my budget, so this was obviously (obviously) meant to be. It certainly made the frustrating hour I spent recovering my long abandoned eBay and Paypal accounts worthwhile. The Boy is delighted with his faux-sheepskin hooded coat and has been parading around the house in it for much of the day. The Girl's coat is in the post and I am just hoping that she likes purple.  Buying second-hand clothing makes some people squeamish, but when it comes to expensive garments like outerwear that you want to last a few years, it makes perfect sense. It is also the way to go for children - The Boy's first coat cost an arm and a leg new, for just four months of wear. This coat should see me through several years - at least four or five, hopefully more - if I look after it. It is warmer, longer and more attractive than anything I could buy on the high street for the same price, if I could buy anything for the same price. It is definitely worth the time and effort of searching regularly (out of season) for whatever you need.

There is still plenty to be done. I need to dig out and launder the winter accessories. Gloves need to be strung together so that when they are inevitably lost, they are lost in pairs and won't feel lonely. The Girl won't be old enough for shoes and I feel a woolly-bootie craft project coming on. The adults in this house could probably do with some nice warm woolly socks too, though I have never actually finished any of the knitted pairs that I have started and there is no reason to suspect that this year will be any different. I am even considering giving primitive crocheted socks a go as I imagine that they grow faster and less complainingly than their knitted counterparts. Pyjamas and slippers and robes need to be sourced too as we are determined to keep the heating off as much as possible this year. The to-do lists are getting ever longer, but actually this one is much more manageable than the house prep - and the thought of being wrapped up in swathes of warm fabric when this lovely warm weather fades makes me almost excited about the prospect of a cold winter.

And yes, I understand that Sod's law dictates that this will be the mildest winter on record. Better to make hay whilst the sun shines, however, just in case.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Information is power

I have begun recording our gas and electricity meter readings again, on paper, once a week, in the hope that we will be able to set a realistic usage reduction goal. I have finally found a use for the 'set reminder' alarm function on my phone and now it beeps at me every Wednesday and tells me to read the meters. You can of course do this by looking at your bill statements - though if they are anything like ours, they probably appear to be deliberately complicated and misleading and it will be simpler to do it yourself.

Yesterday I moved our energy monitor from the dingy corner of the kitchen where it has sat virtually ignored for a year to a prominent spot on the living room mantelpiece. You don't actually need one of these gadgets to monitor your usage (I would never have bought one as they cost the best part of a weeks food budget) but if you can borrow one or get one free from your electricity company,  it is a conspicuous reminder that you are using energy constantly - and therefore spending money constantly. I had great fun going around the house turning everything off at the wall, trying to get the reading down to zero (yep, that is fun to me). In a few weeks when it has become second nature to do so, we won't need it any more and will save the money (admittedly pennies) that it costs to run.

My thrifty instincts are in overdrive at the moment - I don't know if it is the drop in income (though bouts of thriftiness do not necessarily coincide with bouts of necessity), or that I desperately want to get started on saving up for my little house in Norfolk, or just my utter contempt for a system that thrives on parting me from my life energy in the form of earned money - but it is good to be on the wagon. Many people may think that studiously tracking consumption is a waste of their time, but personally I find that it keeps me on track and usually opens my eyes to something I have previously missed that may cut our expenditure further. It is the first step to recognizing where your energy and focus actually goes - as opposed to where you think it may go.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

House proud

Now that my house is fairly uncluttered, keeping it tidy and clean has become easier - and more of a priority. I notice things now that didn't really bother me before - or if they did, they were dwarfed by the much larger piles of clutter and chaos looming in the background. One particular bugbear of mine? Kitty footprints. We seem to have the grubbiest footed cats in the neighborhood - rain or shine they bring dust, soil and other muck into the kitchen and across the lino. This is where we put their food bowls, so it gets particularly grubby particularly quickly. Or it did, until this morning.

I finished this rag rug last night - it is cheap, cheerful and recycled - all of my favourite things. I simply cut inch wide strips of old sheets and fabric offcuts and crocheted rows of double crochet (that's single crochet to those of you in the US) with a 7mm hook. With hindsight, 1 inch is probably excessive - it was quite hard work pulling the loops through which made my hands sore. If I were to make a bigger one I would use thinner strips and a larger hook - though it has made a substantial rug that doesn't slide around and will stand up to frequent washing. Did I mention it was cheerful?

OK, I have a long way to go before anyone could describe me as house proud. But caring about kitty prints is a start, yes? And doing something about it - even better?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Time to whip out the teapot?

I have always drunk both tea and coffee - one of my earliest memories is of being given 'tea' first thing in the morning - basically warm milk that had had a teabag dipped in it for a few seconds.

I went through a phase in my early twenties where I had quite a collection of loose leaf teas and used to brew them properly, but fell out of the habit. Tea drinking holds a special place in British culture (according to Wikipedia we have the joint second highest consumption in the world at 2kg per person per year - assuming there are 3g of tea in a teabag, that's roughly 666.666667 odd cups) - but like most things that have become cheaper and more convenient, we have paid it less and less respect. Some of the big main brands are just plain awful; and yet at work I have supped them mindlessly anyway. Sitting down for a cuppa is something that I know my nan did; and my great nan and my great great nan... and that is quite comforting. I doubt I will ever give up the caffeine entirely, but I would like to cut back and start treating it with the respect it deserves.

Every morning now one of us gets up and brews a cafetiere of coffee, which sets us up for the day. We stopped using instant coffee about two years ago as we found most of the instant fairtrade coffees didn't taste that good and were quite expensive. This has actually turned out to be more frugal and healthier for us, because we drink less coffee - one or two cups a day, as opposed to four or five - but what we do drink is better quality. There is something grounding about boiling the water, waiting for the whistle of the kettle, pottering around the kitchen whilst waiting for it to brew, before finally sitting down with a cup to drink. Our tea on the other hand is generally the bagged variety brewed in the mug. The mornings that we choose to have a quick cup of tea don't feel quite so...peaceful.  As a result, the coffee is generally winning out.

Last week I was in the shop where we buy our tea and coffee and they had a display of their fairtrade products. The bagged tea and loose leaf tea were sat next to each other and surprisingly, the shelf labels gave a price per 100g for both products. The loose leaf tea was about ten percent cheaper than the bagged variety - and of course, because it has room to properly unfurl and stew when loose in a pot, you actually need less than is packed into one teabag to brew a decent cup of tea. The loose leaf variety also removes an extra layer of processing and packaging which can only be a good thing, surely?

I have dusted off the teapot and will be buying a box of  loose leaf tea when our current store runs out. Does anyone else use loose leaf tea? Or a teapot? Does it work out cheaper?


Blogger is driving me up the wall at the moment. I have just realized I haven't replied to some comments in the last two months because I haven't been receiving emails about them. I will be checking the Blogger dashboard every few days to try and keep up!

I love hearing from you all, please don't take it personally if I have ignored you!


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