Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Slowing down should not be rushed

I'm feeling a little embarrassed about my tantrum yesterday - so petty to get so worked up about something so small. I'll leave it up, though, because it is honest. It's not that infrequent for me to get deeply annoyed because I've spent the whole day at work looking forward to some crafting activity, and then I am disappointed in this when I get home.

It's a reminder, I think, not to be in too much of a hurry about slowing down. Building a simple life doesn't happen overnight, it takes time, and the journey should be savoured as an end in itself, not just the means. I had forgotten this last night, but that story had a happy ending - I started with something I could do and sewed on the buttons. I felt calmer after this, remembered the pliers in the cupboard, liberated my seam ripper from its casing and was able to complete one buttonhole before I curled up with a mug of cocoa (inspired by Jane Brockett's Cherry cake and ginger beer)

It's actually by far the best buttonhole I've done yet! I'm using a slightly different stitch (see tutorial here) and it's coming out much more evenly. I think I might need to redo the bars along the bottom, they're sticking out a bit too much, but other than that, not bad for my first ever buttonhole on an actual garment! I'm feeling pretty chuffed.

Next time I'm feeling this frustration, I will take a look at the teeth marks (!) on my seam ripper and remember to slow down, rather than getting worked up.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Technology fail

There have been quite a few posts around blogland recently about honesty in blogging - about how often we only share the good bits, perhaps because we're trying to fool ourselves that our lives really do look that picture perfect.

This evening, I have entirely failed to stitch a buttonhole. An attempt to do so with a machine had me with screw driver, tweezers and scissors trying to excise a ginormous tangle from the depths of machine.

Thinking, 'sod it, I'll do this old-school', the sewing machine went away and out came the needle for hand-worked buttonholes. But oh no. The stitch ripper has jammed - I must have rammed it into its lid too tightly, and I've spent fifteen minutes trying to get it out, resulting in sore fingers and no buttonhole.

My alloted time for crafting has elapsed, leaving me annoyed and frustrated and with NO BUTTONHOLES.

So that's honesty.

UPDATE: Judicious application of pliers has resolved one part of my difficulty. Now I just need to stitch the buttonholes. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Slow Living 2013 - July

I'm joining the Slow Living Month by Month project again - taking stock of progress and challenges in trying to slow down and live more mindfully. 

[NOURISH] I've continued eating breakfasts of natural yoghurt and fresh fruit and salad lunches. I've started eating breakfast at work to give myself time to (occasionally) go for a run in the mornings, as I'm just not getting round to doing sport later in the day. An unexpected bonus of the late breakfast is that I don't get hungry again until just before lunch, so no more snacking mid-morning. Tonight I cooked for the first time in aaaaages - almost-cooked falafel burgers (I never manage to time these right!)

[PREPARE] Erm... not much to report here.

[REDUCE] Just the usual jars kept back for the next round of preserving. More expected for this next month.

[GREEN] I experimented this month with two new green cleaning methods - baking soda and tin foil for cleaning silver, and using sunflower oil as wood polish (with lemon juice to help lift dirt.) Normally I see olive oil recommended, and I have used this before, but olive oil aint cheap, so I'm experimenting with replacing it with sunflower oil where possible.

[GROW] Still nothing. I REALLY need to start on this...

[CREATE] More (slow) progress on the homemade curtains. It's going to feel soooo amazing when they are finally finished, it's been six months so far. The first single curtain was finished this week, hopefully its pair will be done soon.

[DISCOVER] I have discovered A Girl Called Jack's awesome blog about living on the poverty line, with some intriguing budget recipes. I have also fallen in love with a second-hand bookshop, and am currently reading Vanity Fair (getting a fabulous return on my investment of €1).

[ENHANCE] Supporting local tradesmen and shops is revealing some pleasant surprises (see bookshop above).

[ENJOY] Leisurely evenings, afternoons and meals with friends. With the fine weather, we've been eating on the balcony a lot, which means less tv as we actually converse (I know, OMG) and casually judge all passing pedestrians. Lots of fun to be had making up stories about their lives and journeys. As you can see above, I've dug out Jane Brockett's Cherry cake and ginger beer, which is self-indulgent combination of revisiting my favourite childhood characters and worlds, and tantalising descriptions of food and recipes. Even though it's pushing thirty degrees outside, I'm suddenly in the mood for cocoa...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The difference between choice and necessity

Many of the blogs I read on simple living, cutting back, slowing down and so on are written by people who have made a choice about the lifestyle they want to lead. These are sometimes prompted by changes in circumstances, but are predominantly about choice.

However, recently some blogs have started appearing which are not drive by choice. People living on unbelievably and unsustainably limited budgets, feeding their families for £10 a week or less. For these people, the lifestyle they blog about is not chosen but a seemingly inescapable and terrible fate. I have only really read one blog but the level of resilience, creativity and passion in such dire circumstances is something that demands respect. So now I'd like to introduce her to you.

In her own words: A Girl Called Jack

Poverty isn’t just having no heating, or not quite enough food, or unplugging your fridge and turning your hot water off. It’s not a tourism trade, it’s not cool, and it’s not something that MPs on a salary of £65k a year plus expenses can understand, let alone our PM who states that we’re all in this together.

Poverty is the sinking feeling when your small boy finishes his one weetabix and says ‘more mummy, bread and jam please mummy’ as you’re wondering whether to take the TV or the guitar to the pawn shop first, and how to tell him that there is no bread or jam.

Hunger Hurts, written 30 July 2012.

Jack's blog is a fantastic resource of tasty, varied recipes on a shoestring budget (around 10-30p per serving). I can't wait to try out her super-simple soda bread recipe, and the sheer variety of dishes is impressive. She won the Fortnum and Mason food blog award, and a quick trip to her blog will show you why. (Her record? Carrot, cumin and kidney burger, 9p.)

Her blog is more than that, though. It's a a passionate and biting comment on modern politics and poverty. She identifies two kinds of food poverty - lack of funds, yes, but also lack of knowledge, skill and confidence about cooking on a budget. She comments on the misperception that ready meals are cheaper than cooking, and calls on us not to accept the availability, convenience and price of ready meals as an excuse for child obesity. I totally agree with her that we need home economics to be taught in schools - how to budget, how to cook, how to maintain your living environment.

Please go visit her blog and take a walk with her along the food poverty line.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fizzing whizzbees

So as I'm working my way through my new, provisional, constantly revised home management routines, one of the once-in-a-blue-moon cleaning tasks which has come around is cleaning the silverware. Last attempted circa 2001, it was desperately needed. For the last year or so, some jewellery has languished in the cupboard because it was too tarnished to be worn.

Because I haven't cleaned silver in forever, I don't have any silver polish or similar in the cupboard. So, naturally, I wandered on down to Rhonda's list of green cleaning recipes. Does she have a method for cleaning silver? Of course. Is it a really lazy, straightforward method, using ingredients I already have lying around the kitchen? You betcha.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Slow and Steady: Building routines

I've always been more of a hare than a toirtoise when it comes to cleaning and household maintenance. I let everything build up for weeks, months, while moping and feeling down. Then I have a blitz, when I try to do everything all at once. My boyfriend describes these days as me 'having a Monica moment', after the Friends character.

Bloggers like Rhonda at Down to Earth or El at A Thrifty Mrs speak about how routines help them keep control of their homes, and of course you can't mention routine-building without referring to Fly Lady. I've been reading these and similar blogs for a while, wanting to build a routine and not really sure how to start.

A few weeks ago, I realised that, almost without noticing, I had built up a small routine. I had been more reliable at doing the washing up every day, and from there it was a small step to dry and put away the dishes. And then it was so easy, with the surfaces clear, to wipe and dry them. And then it just made sense to wipe the sink and splashback tiles while I was at it. So without realising, I have built up the beginnings of a routine which means my kitchen is always usually tidy and clean, a welcoming space to cook or bake.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My Brussels: Bouqinerie Thomas

The life of a book-lover in Brussels is a tough one. I would ideally use the local libraries but their English-language selection is non-existent. English-language books are not routinely sold in the French and Flemish bookshops. There is a branch of Waterstones here, but the mark-up is obscene, making Amazon the only real option for affordable books

But hope is not lost. Ladies and gentleman, I give you: Bouquinerie Thomas.

Monday, July 8, 2013

My 'boring' revolution

Young people are supposed to rebel against the previous generation, to break taboos and seemingly archaic restrictions, deconstruct and reconstruct the world around us. This is often seen as destructive, passionate, creative, alternative, dangerous, inspirational - but always in-your-face, always exciting.

My father was a hippy in the 1960s. I've seen wonderfully hilarious (to me) photos of him with long hair, and flowers painted on his face. He harangued university professors about why they didn't throw bricks through the window of number 10, Downing Street.

My mother was a rock-chick in the 1970s. Her revolution included microminiskirts, and embracing the wackiness of 'Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy' and Pink Floyd.

My revolution?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A slow weekend

We've had a very slow weekend, savouring every activity as it comes: enjoying the sunshine in the park, reading under the shade of the sycamores, trying out artisanal beers in a beer-and-cheese pub, baking bread, sewing curtains, some light housework and plenty of long cups of tea on the terrace with some knitting.

How was your weekend?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Falling off and getting back on

So as you've probably noticed, May and June were pretty quiet around here. At least when it comes to blogging.

I started a new job at the beginning of May (although I've been a bit absent for a while due to family health issues). My new job is fantastic - I'm now in a small but international organisation. It's incredibly vibrant, everyone at every level is friendly, supportive and dedicated, and there is a strong sense of purpose, drive and achievement through everything we do. (And we do a lot.) The only downside is that the hours are long and inflexible.

Monday, July 1, 2013

God showing off

Does anyone else find themselves strangely hypnotised by the colours of fruit and vegetables? No synthetic colour can match it. It reminds me of Dylan Moran's views on this food group:

"It's just God showing off. Look at all the colours I know!"


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