Scrap Happy October

Tidying up my workshop and woodshed I discovered that I had accumulated, for who knows where, 3, yes 3 kitchen sinks! Actually the one in the shed on the veg patch is never used so make that 4. If I put another kitchen / utility room in anywhere am I really going to use a shabby old sink? No!

The inspiration struck. Sinks are intended to hold water and I need more small ponds in my garden to attract wildlife. A small hole, some scrap wood to build up the sides a bit, a new pond liner (the scrap I was going to use was too small and had got torn) and here it is.

It obviously needs more pebbles on the draining board. Nice round seashore pebbles not the rough ones from around the garden or out of the stream. I persuaded my friend Lindy (It wasn’t hard!) to take a trip to the seaside to have a walk on the beach and collect some. Just after this photo was taken a rogue wave came in and I got water in one wellie! Walking on the beach with one wellie sloshing and my pockets weighed down with pebbles had us both in stitches. It is going to take a few more trips to get enough to finish this job – a hard job but someone has to do it!

Scrap Happy is curated by Kate and Gun on the 15th of each month. The links below are to the amazingly creative contributors who make interesting things out of scraps that most people would throw away.

Kate (me!)Gun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
KerryClaireJeanJon, HayleyDawn,
Gwen, Bekki, Sue L, Sunny, Kjerstin,
Vera, NanetteAnn, NancyDawn 2, Noreen,
Bear, Carol, Preeti and Edith

A picklefest

A couple of weeks ago a tsunami of delicious fruit and veg came my way. Pottering round the supermarket I found that small hard pears were on special offer – perfect for making pickled pears or chutney. And a bit further along another offer on oranges. On my way home I called on my lovely friends John and Victoria who have a large old Bramley apple tree in their garden – could I use some? Usually Victoria cooks and freezes loads to use when they have visitors. Covid meant no entertaining so there was still a lot of apple in the freezer and, after a fall in the garden, she didn’t feel up to doing more just to stop them going to waste. I brought a huge box of them home. We had a few days of glorious autumn sunshine and each time I walked Roo (my Kelpie x Collie) I took a basket and picked blackberries from the hedgerows. Another friend, Lindy, had been given 2 red and 2 green cabbage plants by her Dad in the spring and they had grown to football size. Like me she lives alone so 4 huge cabbages were rather a lot! I suggested she make pickled red cabbage but it turned out that she had got it into her head that jams, pickles and the like were technically difficult and, if everything wasn’t sterilised to operating theater cleanliness, potentially dangerous.

So Lindy came over with her 2 red cabbages and we pickled them together. It is a 2 day process. Day 1 was to shred the cabbages and layer them with salt before leaving them overnight. We also spiced some vinegar and left it to cool. We had done that by lunchtime so in the afternoon we used some of the apples and the pears I had bought and made some chutney. After she had left to go to choir practice I boiled up the blackberries with some more apples for bramble jelly and left them to drain through muslin overnight.

The next day I was still boiling up the jelly when Lindy arrived so she got a quick impromptu lesson in ‘how to know when jam is at setting point’ and a reminder of ‘how to sterilise jars in the oven’. Then we packed the cabbage into jars and poured the vinegar on top. There was still time to make some pickled orange wedges using the fruit I had bought. A crash course in preserving! But she has some green tomatoes that she needs to use and feels confident enough to turn them into chutney (with some more of Victoria’s apples) without my help.

I turned some more of the blackberries into blackberry vinegar; I like it as a drink diluted with fizzy lemonade, use it in salad dressings and it is my secret ingredient in lots of savoury dishes.

I have been stewing and bottling more of the apples and now have nineteen 1lb jam jars on the shelf. And there are still a large bowlful left. I have plenty of jars but have run out of lids. I bought more but being a numpty I ordered the wrong size! They fit the smaller jars I have so will get used when I make more jam or things like onion marmalade but those jars are too small for bottling fruit. Maybe I will pick some sloes. Or rowan berries – I have never made rowanberry jelly. One thing is for sure – they will not go to waste.

For those of you who remember that I have 2 dogs and are wondering why I only mention one, Orchid, my lurcher, is getting on a bit (at least 11 years old) and has arthritis which is particularly bad at the moment so long walks are out of the question for her.

Back to Basics

Some of you may remember that at the beginning of the year I embarked on two embroidery challenges / courses online – Sharon B’s Pintangle (http://www.pintangle.com) and Anne Brooke’s 52 Tags (http://www.annebrooke.co.uk). I have to confess that I am way behind on both having got, I think, about as far as February! However they are purely for my own pleasure and to learn more of the skills so I am doing them only when in the mood. Summer never is good time for me to do much crafting as the evenings are short and the garden demanding. Maybe over the winter I will feel like doing more.

However two things became glaringly obvious very quickly.

Firstly I had no idea there were so many embroidery stitches with so many variations on each – why did it never occur to me that if I could whip running stitch I could try the same thing on others? Or that blanket stitch could go both up and down in the same row? Doh!

Secondly that I had never used an embroidery hoop and could see no purpose to one. I did try once, years ago, and the fabric just slipped all over the place so I gave up. A link from one of the stitches in Pintangle explained that I needed to wrap the inner ring in tape to give grip and that a small hoop is easier to manage than a big one. I bought 2 small hoops and several meters of narrow cotton tape in Cardigan Market, did the wrapping as instructed and now it all made sense! I still find it a bit unnatural but I am getting there.

My old hoop and one of my new ones. I wrapped both to try them and see which I preferred.

Those experiences set me thinking. Every woman in my family could do embroidery. I was told that my paternal Grandmother won prizes for her needlework but she died before I was born. Her daughter and niece had tablecloths they had embroidered, some of which I inherited. But I don’t remember actually seeing any of them doing it. I have no recollection of being taught to embroider. I made a mat with blanket stitch and cross stitch on Aida fabric at school and somewhere along the line I picked up stem stitch and satin stitch. Did I glean it from a book? Was I given a kit for Christmas? Did I start to make something and ask Mum to show me how to do the next bit? I will never know. I am just glad that I have started at the beginning, learning in a structured way to do it properly.

But that linked to another problem I was having – knitting. I had realised that whilst I could knit, did knit, made perfectly acceptable things when I knitted, it felt very clumsy and seemed to involve a lot of letting go and picking up movements. I was sure my Mum did it in a much smoother way but of course she died nearly 30 years ago so I can’t ask her. The embroidery revelations made me recognise that I similarly have no recollection of being taught to knit or of watching her closely to see how she did it. I identified the main problem as being that I was having to take my right hand off the needle to hook the yarn round it, then grasp the needle again to make the stitch. I knew Mum had a way of flicking her right index finger to make the same move. So I have been experimenting and have discovered that managing the yarn with my left hand in exactly the same way as I do when crocheting works for me. It also makes ribbing and any other pattern which involves switching from knit to purl and back a doddle. I have no idea if this is an orthodox technique but it works!

Of course in the process I went back to ‘stick your tongue out and hang onto the yarn as if there’s an overexcited St Bernard on the other end’ stage! Very salutary. I will have more patience with novices now!

By chance I had got a book from the Library on knitting blocks and decided to practice my new method by knitting some of those. I had a box of balls of Aran yarn which I had knitted into a jumper, worn a couple of times, decided I didn’t like, and unravelled so if I made a hash of it I wasn’t worried. The first block I tried was knitted in the round on 4 needles – big mistake! I have knitted loads of socks on three or four needles but there the work drops down and the needles are short. Here the fabric got wider and on the long needles contrived to keep stabbing me with at least one of the needles that was not being used at the time. So then I tried one which was mainly stocking stitch with a simple diamond of lace stitches. Better. Now I am doing what it describes as ‘diagonal pattern’. Fiendish! If I make a mistake (and there have been plenty) it is a devil to take back. I have pulled the whole thing off the needles and started again twice. It is only stubbornness which will get it finished! However I am getting the hang of the technique much better with so much practice.

I wonder what else I will discover I have only half learned?

News!

I have been thinking for a while of doing another blog about my woodland adventures. Today I published the first post on ‘Going Batty in the Woods’. You might want to take a look! There will be some cross posting particularly for scrap happy but mostly this blog will stick to my musings and more ladylike pursuits! https://goingbattyinthewoods.wordpress.com/2021/08/25/getting-ready-1/

Who know’s?

I came across a post on Facebook recently – sorry I can’t remember where it originated or who posted it so I can’t acknowledge it properly. The gist was that when we read about, or watch a film about, someone travelling back in time the essential feature is that a small thing they change back then makes a big difference to the present when they return. On the other hand we all tell ourselves that the small things we do now are irrelevant to solving the big issues.

Maybe not every small action does make a big difference but how can we know which ones will and which one’s wont?

Today I went to a meet-up at the home of a couple who are members of one of the Permaculture groups I belong to. I chatted to P who was widowed suddenly a couple of years ago and who told me shortly afterwards that she looked to me as a source of strength because I had been widowed some time before and had made a new life for myself. I never saw myself in that light before. Now I offer other bereaved people support and empathy more consciously. Today she told me she is moving house and how sad she will be to ‘leave S behind’ but also excited at a fresh start.

The I spoke to L, a psychotherapist and yoga teacher about her experience of doing both those roles on Zoom during the pandemic. To C a former Climate scientist, now smallholder, about the strengths and limitations of climate modelling and the book his wife (another, still practicing, climate scientist) is writing on the subject. To a couple who recently moved to Wales and are now planting a garden and converting an outbuilding so they can work from home more. I was able to point them in the direction of resources they may find useful and invited them to come and see my garden in the hope that they can learn from some of my mistakes as well as my successes. To B who I met at Coppicewood College when he was a student and I was a regular volunteer and who is planting trees on his site which produce nuts and fruit. He has been thinking about a business making fruit syrups and I suggested he consider fruit vinegars – I will send him the recipe. And to the hosts who I know listened to me a while back talking about rewriting my will and setting up Lasting Powers of Attorney, took some of the ideas and used them. There were others I would have loved to chat with but time ran out.

Part of our hosts’ garden

When I came home I read a post from Jean who blogs as ‘one small stitch’ (https://onesmallstitch.wordpress.com/2021/08/21/ramblings) in which she wondered if her making and mending made any difference when the challenges of Climate Change are so huge. I imagine we all wonder that at times. Should we be doing more? if so what?

But Jean’s posts, like those of all the bloggers I follow, inspire me in so many ways. To make things and mend things, to think about the World and see it through different eyes, to go on learning and trying new things, to recognise the kindness and generosity of human beings to each other.

I have no idea which, if any, of those encounters I had today will change the world in the slightest. I have no idea if any of you reading this will find it useful or encouraging. I will never be a powerful politician or run a global company (for which may the world be truly thankful – I am not cut out for either role). I will go on doing what I CAN do – making the small changes I am capable of, making and mending, gardening and wooding, reading and writing, reaching out to others through blogging and meeting and offering them the help and support I can. I may be a ‘daft old bat’ but we are all connected, each of you to me and through me to the people I spoke to today, and in our various communities and conversations, urging each other on, our combined small acts might, just might, change the future.

Scrap Happy August 2021

A bumper bundle of very varied scrappy happy projects this month.

First, and simplest, I needed a mat next to the hob to put hot pans on. This is half a slate left over from when our roof was replaced many years ago. There were several – some full size and some half – stacked in a shed. A run through the dishwasher to ensure it was clean and a rub over with Olive Oil and it works a treat.

Second is a new sawhorse made by Laura with my help. It was made entirely by hand from wood cut for the fire. Because her cabin is heated entirely by the woodstove and I have a fire in my sitting room we get through a lot of firewood. All of it is cut up on these simple horses which eventually start to fall apart. At that point a new one is made and the old one returned to the firewood pile!

The third is a complete contrast – much finer, more delicate and girly! Inspired by Sandra who blogs as Wild Daffodil (https://daffodilwild.wordpress.com/2021/08/12/marquee-mandalas/) I made some crochet mandalas / doilies out of part balls of crochet cotton. Sandra mounted hers on plastic coated wire rings in order to hang them up but I am following a suggestion on one of the patterns and have soaked them in wood glue which should both stiffen them and make them water resistant. I have some crocheted snowflakes which I stiffened with strong starch and which I have used for many Christmases so here’s hoping the glue works

And finally I wanted a padded board to pin knitted or crocheted pieces out to shape and to use as a small temporary ironing table when sewing. I wrapped my father’s old drawing board in a used-but-nearly-new towel given to me by a friend when her Mum went into a home and secured it on the back with duct tape. To avoid the glue sticking the circles to the towel I put a bin liner between them but that is a ‘one off’ extra!

Curated by Kate and Gun Scrap Happy is a collection of posts on the 15th of each month featuring things made entirely from scrap by the contributors listed below. Follow the links to get inspired to use up your left over fabric, yarn or other stuff! Not everyone posts every month but all the blogs are well worth looking at.

Kate Gun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
KerryClaireJeanJon, HayleyDawn,
Gwen, Bekki, Sue L (me!) Sunny, Kjerstin,
Vera, NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Bear,
Carol, Preeti, Edith and Debbierose

Two Big Beasts

A couple of weeks ago I had a message from my son – could he have the use of a space 3m x 3m in my workshop? He had put a shipping container on the garden of a house he owns and rents out in the same road as his home with the intention of using it as a workshop. But the a neighbour complained to the Council who told him it was ‘not in keeping’ and must be removed. That left him with all his tools stored in a small shed in his own smaller garden (which already houses his office) but nowhere to use them. Of course I said ‘Yes’ and by rearranging my stuff created the space he needed.

So a flurry of parcels and packages arrived and he sent me a list of materials he wanted me to order from the local Builders’ Merchant. Then they were followed, last Monday, by the man himself plus his cat. Not your average moggy, not even a pedigree cat. This is an F3 Savannah Cat, at least twice the size of my more humble ones. But a lovely softie who acts more like a dog in many ways and obviously thought that my garden was Heaven! He did give my dogs and cats a bit of a shock though – not quite sure what sort of big beast had entered their domain!

Odin explores this new territory

My son is a software developer but, like his father, my father and my paternal grandfather, loves making things in wood. It transpired that the workshop space was needed to build a computer controlled wood cutting machine thus combining his two passions. He has a small one at home which can cut things about the size of an A4 sheet of paper but having seen its potential he wanted one which could do handle anything up to a full sheet of plywood – 2.4m x 1.2m! Hence the large area of floor space required.

With intermittent help from me to ‘hold the other end of’ and a couple of trips out to get things he hadn’t realised he would need, he built the worktop the sheet of wood will sit on. It is 2 layers of heavy ply with framing and 2 sheets of insulation between them to stop it flexing.

The cutting head has to move in 3 dimensions – up and down the bed, from side to side and deeper or shallower, so he also needed a gantry which travels along the sides of the bed (the x axis)) with another piece which moves side to side (y axis) and can also raise or lower the cutter (z axis). The gantry and other wooden parts run on small wheels on tracks and are pulled into position by motors which have thin rubber tracks around a cog wheel – think caterpillar tracks. The motors are controlled by the computer.

This bit travels from side to side on the gantry and the top part raises or lowers the head

By Friday evening the thing was built and he had wired up 2 of the 4 motors but ran out of time (he had to drive home early on Saturday morning) to connect the other 2 let alone test it all and make something. He will come back as soon as he is able to finish it and then we can start playing with it! As you can see it is pretty massive – definitely a big beast!

Now all I have to do is tidy up the rest of the workshop!

My reward is that I will be seeing my son more frequently and can ask him to programme the machine to cut wood out for me and drill the holes where they should go – a sort of ‘made to measure’ IKEA in my garden 😉

Scrap Happy July

Two really simple makes this month, both in wood.

I have been teaching Laura to make things out of the wood we cut from the garden and woodland last winter. With my help she has made and hung this gate.

I made another table for the garden from half an old door, some offcuts of shelving and some sawn down studding – all scrap from the new utility room.

ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of genuine scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful or useful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Email Kate at the address on her contact page http://talltalesfromchiconia.wordpress.com/contact-me . You can also contact Gun via her blog to join. We welcome new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of us know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).

Kate Gun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, JanMoira, SandraChrisAlys,
KerryClaireJeanJon, HayleyDawn,
Gwen, Bekki, Sue L (me!) Sunny, Kjerstin,
Vera, NanetteAnn, Dawn 2, Bear,
Carol, Preeti, Edith and Debbierose

The Magic Roundhouse

Another thing which ha been taking up quite a lot of time for me recently but has again been great fun, has been helping to work on the Roundhouse at Dyfed Permaculture Farm.

Some years ago we were given an old yurt to provide another meeting space – somewhere smaller, more intimate, tidier and quieter than the Barn. For a couple of years it worked well although we knew that the timber was not in great condition and the canvas had been mended. Then one Autumn, just a few days before we were going to take it down for winter, a gale blew and when we looked the yurt had a very distinct lean to it! A couple who love the Farm and visit regularly but live in England offered us some money to build something that would be useful and enhance the facilities. We decided to build a Roundhouse to the same footprint as the yurt in the same spot. As far as possible we would use materials we had on the land (timber from managing the woodland, soil, straw and hay) parts of the old yurt, and reclaimed materials which we could collect.

Over the summer of 2019, with the help of a local man. Richard Sylvan, who has built many roundhouses, we got the circle of posts up and the roof on all using timber felled on site. Some of the work was done by our regular volunteers but we also advertised it as a course with people paying a modest fee to come and learn. The roof is a ‘reciprocating’ one – the radial rafter poles were laid in a spiral on top of an upright which was then knocked away – each rafter holds its neighbour up! it gives us the whole span without pillars. Very clever! The rafters were covered with the canvas from the old yurt roof, then a heavy duty pond liner (we had to buy that!), some gravel and then on the top turf which we scraped off the car park thereby doing two jobs in one. Over that winter 2019/20 even just having a space to shelter under was very useful. But building work stopped until Spring.

Then Covid struck. For a while only the 2 households who live on the farm could do any work there. Then in the summer, as restrictions eased a little our small group of regular volunteers began to have occasional workdays and we spent one of them doing some minor repairs to the yurt floor. We managed to hold a couple of management committee meetings in the shelter of the roof which kept the rain off but not the wind so we were essentially out of doors but not getting wet!

Repairing the floor pieces

This year, once things began to ease again we decided to make a push to get on with it. It wasn’t possible to run courses but having ascertained which of the regulars could make each date we were able to invite a couple of people who had been on the original courses, and lived locally, to come as volunteers for the wall building. The walls are lengths of cordwood from trees felled on the Farm land interspersed with bottle bricks (an empty wine bottle and a jam jar taped together) and all held together with cob which is a mixture of soil, clay and straw. We obtained permission to dig clay from an old pit a few miles away, Richard came back to show us how to do all this. The windows are all ‘found’ ones – donations of replaced windows or ‘wrong size’ panes. There is still a small section of wall to fill in once the fire has been installed and the flue put through the wall and there are a few other odd gaps to be filled in when we have another batch of cob made.

Then we spent a long day putting the floor down. It was originally the gymnasium floor in a girls school and still has the markings for netball! It was salvaged and cut up to become the floor of the yurt and is now laid in the Roundhouse. The hole in the middle is the original space for a stove and will be filled with a mosaic – that will be the finishing touch!

The original intention was to put doors on the three remaining sections but in the light of the pandemic we have decided that for now we will hang big curtains across there. That will encourage us and any other users to keep it very well ventilated. We had a meeting in there on Monday night and it was a magical space.

To read more about Dyfed Permaculture Farm and see more pictures go to http://www.dyfedpermaculturefarmtrust.org.uk or to their Facebook page

Over the border!

I have been quiet for a while, not because I have had nothing to write about but because I have been too busy to sit down and type about it all!

Now that restrictions are easing and I have had both my Covid vaccinations I went to visit my daughter for a few days. Some of you may remember that she works as Learning Support Assistant in a primary school and it is easiest for her if I visit during the holidays so I went for part of half term.

As you can imagine it was wonderful to see her especially as the last time was August! We packed a lot into a few days. The lease on her rented house was coming to an end and although she could have renewed it she was considering moving. She has made the house into a lovely home and has some fantastic neighbours but the landlady is very reluctant to spend money on maintenance and repairs. Last winter the badly fitting, single glazed windows and lack of loft insulation meant the heating was not up to the job and the house was very cold. Then 2 neighbours (both in rented homes) announced they were moving – who would come in their place? It seemed sensible to look at other houses to rent. So once again I found myself viewing properties with one of my children! Front runner was a very similar house to the one she was in, on a quiet estate within walking distance of the town center, but with a slightly different layout of rooms and much better maintained. As in many towns and cities, especially those built in the 60’s and 70’s the suburbs are arranged around roads which radiate out from the center of town and the buses run along those radial roads, So to visit friends a couple of miles away in the next ‘village’ means a bus into town and another out, or using the car. So paradoxically living near the center should help her kids’ social lives! After a lot of weighing up the pros and cons including the hassle of changing her address on everything, dealing with the benefits system and packing everything up, she decided to move and we set the wheels in motion.

Two viewings of the place on different days meant we were in town so I hit the charity shops to replenish my wardrobe after being unable to do so through the Covid restrictions. I had noticed that another aspect of my rut was that every morning I pulled on jeans and a t-shirt type top, the only decision required being short or long sleeves, then a fleece hoodie. Sometimes they were clean and tidy clothes suitable for being seen out in and other days they were gardening wear with stains and holes but that was the only difference. It was so long since I had worn earrings that the holes had almost healed over and I abandoned my watch when the battery ran out. By going into ALL the charity shops we found a skirt, a dress, a pair of smarter trousers and several tops in my size.

A selection of my finds – some are in the wash!

And as we were out and spending money (It hardly hurts at all to wave a plastic card over a machine which beeps its thanks!) we had a pub lunch one day and ate out at Wagamama another evening. If any of you know of a good cookbook or website that would introduce me to cooking Japanese cuisine (bearing in mind that my local supermarkets have limited ranges of ‘world foods’!) please tell me. What we had was delicious but very new for me. The pub lunch included a particularly nice relish which I managed to re-create at home – recipe below.

Red Onion and Red Pepper Relish

Sweat half a kilo of thinly sliced red onions slowly until beginning to soften, add one and a half red peppers cut into short thin strips and continue cooking until everything is soft and starting to melt. Add salt, pepper, a generous slug of balsamic vinegar, a desertspoon or so of dark muscovado sugar, a heaped teaspoon of grain mustard and a splash of blackcurrant vinegar (or pontack sauce or red wine vinegar). Continue to simmer for another ten minutes or so stirring frequently for the flavours to mingle. Check the taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Either pour into a jar and store in the fridge OR pour into a bottom lined cake tin, top with a circle of ready rolled puff pastry and bake at 200 deg for 20 mins then invert onto a plate as a tart for a delicious lunch. I made it when friends came and they asked for seconds so it must have been OK!

There are at least 2 more posts about my activities in my head and I will try to get them onto the screen soon!