Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Homemade laundry powder, finally!

I haven't made laundry liquid in such a long time, partly because I so rarely go into the city centre to purchase Borax substitute - it really does make all the difference. Instead I have been using all kinds of things - the odd box of cheap commercial powder from the corner shop, grated soap and soda crystals and even bottles of shampoo and shower gel I received for Christmas that I can't use on my body for whatever reason. All quite frugal, but they lack a certain...homeliness. I loved making my own laundry detergent; I loved washing Gus's nappies with it. Such a silly thing to feel empowered by, but I honestly think that making the things we need from basics is good for the soul.

In a fit of enthusiasm I ordered a box of Borax substitute at extortionate price (£2.55, most of that is postage) from Amazon yesterday - only to walk into our local hardware store and find it sitting on the shelf, a freshly stocked new line, at a very reasonable £1.30. I have emailed to cancel the Amazon order, I bought two boxes for that price and supported a small family business at the same time.

Laundry powder makes so much more sense than having gallons of laundry liquid stashed away in our tiny kitchen and so I will be making that in future. There seems to be one recipe on the Internet that has done the rounds since the dawn of time homemaking based blogs. I have no idea where it originated. This is basically that recipe with a little more washing soda added - we live in a very hard water area. I used two bars of homemade olive castille soap for this which made it even cheaper and gives it a pleasant scent. 

* * * * * *

Laundry Powder (hard water)

6 cups (loosely packed) grated soap
3 cups soda crystals
2 cups Borax substitute

Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl. Use a stick blender to pulse the mixture to break up the soap a little. Mix thoroughly with a spoon and store covered in a cool dry place, shaking occasionally to ensure thorough mixing.

Use scant 1/6 cup per load

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After Christmas this bread tin was full to the brim with a fraction of the chocolate we received - far more than our healthy annual family quota (not that we keep an official tally or anything - it's just this years haul was particularly monstrous, added as it was to the tail end of the Halloween treats. Roll on Easter!). We have used as much of it as possible in hot chocolate and cooking, palmed some off onto visitors and now the rest is hidden away in a small bag

Which means I now have a fancy, if a little large, laundry tin. I will probably double the recipe next time so that it is at least half full!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Organising seeds

Today I spent an hour organising the seed tin. The tin starts every year beautifully ordered and usually ends it in a state of utter disorder. This year as you can see, it isn't too bad - showing just how much time it spent resting on the shelf, untouched, last year .

I am ashamed to admit that many of the packets have been mistreated. Almost all of the flower seeds are spoilt after the tub they were in was left out in the rain. Millions of years of genetic heritage and hundreds of generations of horticultural tradition and I leave them out in the rain to sprout and decay in their packets. These were obviously the first to be culled from the collection. Of the seeds that escaped being left out in the rain many were half open, spilling their contents into a unique seed mix in the bottom of the tin.

Next to go were the out of date seeds. I've previously kept 'expired' seeds for a couple of years past their sow-by date and have had some success germinating them.  This year I have kept a single out of date packet of Purple Calabash tomatoes - a very ugly but delicious tomato that is my all time favourite. I shall try and germinate the five or six seeds that are left and save some of the seed for next year.

Thankfully, 2 packets of flower seeds survived. Firstly, sunflower seeds collected from our biggest sunflower head last year. Secondly:

The seed sachet survived intact even if the sowing and growing information is lost. I love this plant. I bought one the year we moved in, planted it in deep shade (I really had green thumbs back then) and watched it struggle valiantly on for a few months before it succumbed to mildew. I have never seen a plant for sale since and finally invested in the seed last year. The two seedlings I managed to germinate were killed in the slugpocalypse of 2012. I feel I owe it to this pack of seeds to pass on it's genetic line.

This year I have gone back to organising the seed sachets by family followed by earliest sowing date. As first sowings are made, the sachets can be moved to the back of their family until we come full circle next January, or moved forward a month or so ready for a second sowing. Each family currently has it's own tub - all of those Chinese takeaways dishes stretched to full value.

Despite repeated promises to the contrary every single year, I know that I will be buying more seeds. Browsing the catalogue that arrived last week (self sabotage in action - why did I ever open the thing? See how I could never live up to my promise?) I stumbled across a plant that promises to solve a several decade long lifestyle shortcoming (more on that when the seed arrives) - and well, it would be wrong to order just one packet of seed wouldn't it?

We are going to need a bigger tin when the new seeds arrive, but everything is now in order. And so tomorrow the very best bit begins.

Monday, 21 January 2013


Some of us are beginning to show our age. I noticed my hands this year are looking particularly elderly for a 27 year old - dry, wrinkly creases have appeared across the back of my hands and up over my wrists. Too many summers of baking my pale English rose skin under a hot Norfolk sun have caught up with me - not that I wanted to tan, I just had far better things to do back then than stopping to apply sun lotion. Lesson learnt.

I am trying my best to drink my eight glasses of water a day. A moisturising barrier between my papery skin and the biting wind would also be helpful. We still have a few litres of olive pomace oil left over from soap making and some beeswax of forgotten prior purpose (perhaps just because it smells so nice?), more than sufficient to make something soothing.

* * * * * *

Winter balm

1 30g bar of beeswax, grated
1 cup olive oil
Geranium essential oil
1 clean prewarmed glass jar (1 1/4 cup capacity)

Heat the oil in a bain marie over a a gentle heat. Stir in the beeswax until completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the essential oil. Pour into the jar and leave to cool. 

* * * * * *

My hands are supple once again. I applied no less than four coats to my lips this morning, each coat being sucked into my skin almost immediately until they were back to their former plumpness. In this short space of time it has been pressed into service not only as a body, hand and lip balm but also as a shaving oil  - and a lubricating oil for the tension knob on my spinning wheel. I suspect it could be used as wood polish too. I love having one jar in the place of many, two ingredients in the place of potentially hundreds. 

I used geranium oil simply because we had it, but doing a little research suggests that it has some application in balancing oily skin, which is very handy for someone whose skin varies between filo dry and butter pastry. Most importantly though, geranium oil is the smell of spring and summer. It reminds me of  one of the happiest moments of my life, sitting drinking tea on the lawn of a hotel in Kathmandu, the walls, window sills and beds riotous with red trailing geraniums. Before that moment, I think, I had actively disliked the smell; now I love the 'greeness' of it. In our garden we had a geranium, 'Attar of Roses', with small delicate pink flowers that appeared at the height of summer and smelt of Turkish delight - I wonder if I were to invest in a bottle of rose oil, the two oils combined might recreate that smell?

Friday, 18 January 2013

Snow falling on toddlers

It was someone's first snow day today...

I expected our 18 month old daughter to appreciate the white stuff a little. She did, babbling inquisitive but accepting noises from her warm windowside seat. Then we decided to take her for a walk. Wrapped in many layers we set out for less slushy pavements and white spaces. She didn't smile through any of it. We set her down on the ground and she fell forward into deep snow. Turns out snow is cold and wet and she really doesn't like cold and wet. We carried her around for half an hour in an ever increasing state of grump until it was time to collect her brother from preschool. The magic was lost on this one.

We the parents had fun though. We met a few new local residents:

My beloved nearly fell down a fox hole:

I took lots of photos of pretty snow covered trees:

We also lamented the loss of childhood. Where were all the ruddy faced munchkins who should have been out building snowmen and throwing snowballs at passing strangers (us)? We saw a handful on our short trek, though the local school was closed, and many a vast expanse of snow lay pristine where it fell.

After picking Gus up from preschool, we stopped to build a snowman and to have a snowball fight of our own. And then it was business as usual - time to settle down inside to thaw out slowly, time for lunch and time for me to go to work.

Today was a good day and once again the fresh air did me good and sharpened my mind. But the snow, the snow added something magical. It was impossible not to be mindful - of every step lest I slipped, of every branch and roof and car in a landscape that had been made new by a covering of white snow and every crisp breath of air that I drew. And whilst it made the urban landscape beautiful, it reiterated that I really was made for wide open spaces and a slower, rural pace of life. One day. 

I hope you also enjoyed your day, whatever the weather!

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Welcome Sam and louisemeiklem, thank you for following!

Let it...

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


We might have neglected the allotment a little over the last few months. By which I mean we haven't even set foot on it since mid August. 

There was so much wrong in our relationship with our plot - it's too far away, we have to drive to it, we didn't have any spare cash to throw at it, we were really really busy, Gus hated it and would run off, Elsa would start grumbling within ten minutes of arriving...the list of negatives was quite long. We almost gave up the lease in December when the renewal notice came through the door.

At the very last moment, I panicked, called up and payed our dues with hours to spare. The thought of being in the city without a patch of actual earth to cultivate was a little too much. Instead, I accepted our failure over the past two years, took a deep breath and set to work rethinking the whole thing.

The original plan was ambitious and maximised the amount of growing space. Lots of bed space, narrow paths and not much else - fabulous. But it didn't work. Growing space is only so important to actual productivity it turns out.

We have a new plan.  A large part of our problem was that in an attempt to maximise growing space, we forgot the most important things - space to sit, space to throw down a blanket for a picnic, or a tent for the very sunniest and rainiest days. We forgot the people who make the garden.

We visited the plot yesterday. The Girl was happy to eat clods of earth and watch us work. I think we have a real allotment baby toddler there. Which is good, because we have much work to do...


Thursday, 10 January 2013

Jute love

I have a couple of items from The Make List of 2013 on the go. I even have my first finished object:

I see now that a few things are going to get added to the list over the year. Who knew I needed a crocheted jute fruit bowl until the crocheted jute toy basket I was working on was at the 'too big to be functional as a toy basket, too morale shattering to unravel and start again' stage? Not I.

This stuff is wonderful to crochet with. It is a little rough, it took a lot of stops and starts and hook changes to get the tension right, but is produces just want I wanted - a flexible yet self supporting form, sturdy enough to sit upright on the floor as a throw tub, flexible enough to be picked up by the handles and safely carted up and down the stairs, into the garden or wherever else wooden bricks and a train set might need to go.

On top of all that, it was FREE! I like free. Despite all the needle changes, the circular mat that forms the base warped and rippled and I made it far too big for a toy basket, something I realized long after I started working  the sides.

We did actually need a new fruit bowl. Every time we wanted to make a large batch of bread, we first had to empty out the large mixing bowl that we have been using the past few years as a fruit bowl. It I hadn't done just this a few days before (after many months of no bread making) I would have spent a few hours ripping out and re-crocheting. Hooray for New Year baking enthusiasm!

A new toy basket is now in progress, I have just started working the sides. This one has rippled slightly, apparently I just don't own a hook large enough, but will work just fine for toys. The jute works up fast, no doubt there will be another finished object soon enough, but the fact that just one short week into the new year, I even have a FO is quite something for me.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The longest month

Every winter I am melancholy, usually more intensely so after the winter solstice. My rational mind tells me that the darkest days are now behind, but by that point the damage is done and the dull wet landscape particularly dispiriting. I find myself wanting to sleep for 14 hours a day (if only!) and to lock myself away for the rest of the time. My brain slows down and everything is a little fuzzy until well into February. By March, I am quite content again.

This year I resolved to get outside more. Every day I need to get outside and see sunlight; not just on my way to someplace, but to really get out and see. A walk, a good long potter around the yard, sitting in the park. Not just to soak up the light but to find something in this grey urban landscape to be inspired by.

I 'borrowed' my neighbour's dog a couple of days ago and headed out for a walk around the grounds of the mental hospital. This is one of the most beautiful corners of my neighbourhood, sprawling Victorian landscaping, no flower beds, just trees and shrubs and lawns. Everything is a little wild and overgrown and if you stray from the main road, you could be in the countryside.  I ran with her through the muddy grounds, she was happy, as was I when I dropped her home. 

On Monday I didn't make it anywhere, but made up for it yesterday.  I spent 15 minutes pottering in the garden an hour after the sun rose. The yard is a mess - less pottering and photography and more tidying next time!

Spring comes early to our patio yard. It hasn't seen a killing frost yet. The annual geraniums have stood through the winter, the chard is looking majestic as opposed to standing-but-battered. There are random bulb plantings left over from previous occupants that spring up every year and this year they have started particularly early. Most  importantly of all, the rhubarb is on its way.

Later we took an afternoon stroll to the beach. We sat and had a cup of tea from The Coffee Cup and then wandered along the prom, then back through the gardens, which is a whole other post, because we found yet more nooks and crannies of Portsmouth that we never knew existed, hidden in plain view.

Fresh air and greenery are the very best medicine for a funk; add a little exercise in and I feel a thousand times better. I had a solid seven hours of unbroken sleep, a rarity these days.

Dogs are also good medicine. Have I ever mentioned how much I wish I had a dog of my own? A huge, shaggy house-bear of a dog, like a Newfoundland. A house bear that could drag me out of the house in the depths of winter. Oh for a bigger house and a large garden. One day, one day.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Make List 2013

I am not normally one for making plans at this time of year. Autumn is the time for new plans and I should be well into action by the time January 1st rolls on around. That didn't really happen last year and so there I was, making my plans in the first week of 2013.

There are lots of lists... a places to go list, a personal development list, a stuff to grow list, among others; and this, a make list. This is the list of all of the things we need to furnish our lives that I believe I have a good shot at making myself.

Item 3 on the list was, naturally, 'draw mum being a camel (whilst she is away from her notebook for a mere 30 seconds making a cup of tea)'. Tick!

Onward to item 4 - scrap that list and instead put it here online, safely out of reach of small hands wielding biros:

Placemats x 6
Coasters x 10
Cushion covers x 3
Pot holders
Dining seat pads/covers x 6
Wall Art
Yarn! (no reason, I just NEED it)
Jumpers x 2 for Gus
Cardigans x 2 for Elsa
Coat pegs for Gus & Elsa
Baskets/bins for toys
Hat, scarf and gloves for me
THAT jumper for the man of the house (yes, it's still not finished)

My list seems...long...ambitious...exciting. Because I am at that stage in my life when working out how to make coasters and hats and potholders; and choosing patterns and yarn for jumpers - and then actually making them - is exciting. That's where I am at and it feels just fine.


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