Thursday, October 31, 2013

Slow Living 2013 - October

This post is another in the Slow Living Month by Month series. It's a useful opportunity to bring together what I have been doing on this in the last month, and to remind myself of the progress I have made. After a rather un-slow September, I feel like I have been back on track this month - and am feeling much more positive as a result! I have to say that the major story this month is the realisation of just how much of a hoarder I am - and I have begun decluttering just one item a day to try to address this.

[NOURISH] I have reverted to live yoghurt for breakfast - it makes such a difference to my energy levels and (apparently!) to my breath. I smell better when I eat yoghurt. Who knew? More baking of bread, more meal-planning and home cooking (by my lovely boyfriend).

[PREPARE] My first attempt at mincemeat! I have no idea how this is going to turn out but I'm already looking forward to my first batch of mince pies. I've put two jars in the fridge and two in the cupboard, so I can see how the keeping times differ. My boyfriend and I also made fig jam. (Well, I saw 'we' - it was more him. I assisted.)

[REDUCE] I have rescued two pairs of shoes which had holes in the bottom, and have had them resoled. Several torn, worn and stained clothes have been unpicked, washed and pressed ready to be cut up for paper piecing. I do have to further add that as I have been decluttering more systematically, quite a few items have ended up in the bin (eg five-year-old make-up... euch!)

[GREEN] Still using green cleaners. I'm revisiting my cleaning routines to try to build 'a little and often' into my daily routines, making the best use of natural cleaners. I have also been experimenting with a natural dandruff remedy which is working a treat!

[GROW] No progress here this month... but I'm planning some planting for November/December! I have promised myself that when all the curtains are finished, I'll plant some bulbs. I'm having lots of fun looking into where I am going to start.

[CREATE] No shortage of items here! Another pair of curtains finished - that has to be the big one - plus I am working on a crochet blanket for a young birthday coming up soon. I've also had my first foray into candle-making, and have another pair of socks on the go.

[DISCOVER] I've been doing rather more reading this month, and have finished and enjoyed The English Village: History and Traditions by Martin Wainwright. A delightful and not-too-technical wander through the history of villages and their institutions, from church to pub.

[ENHANCE] This month I have invested in my more distant friends, with a number of letters and packages making their way to people with whom somehow I never manage to connect using more modern technology. The joy of surprise parcels and handwritten letters - both sending and receiving - is making its way back into my life.

[ENJOY] I have been really enjoying my 'slower' lunches at work the last week or so, taking the time to get out into the park and enjoy some fresh air.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What is this life?

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stand as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see in broad daylight
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at beauty's glance
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her eyes can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

"Leisure", by W H Davies - photos from another lunch break in the park

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Progress and a promise

Hahahaha!! I have FINISHED the spare room curtains. Did you hear that? FINISHED! Only, what, nine months after they were due to be completed? But they are FINISHED!

And don't they look luvverly? (Also, you can see from the second photo that there is definitely a lot of decluttering needed...) If I ever replace these curtains, I think I'll look for a stronger colour. We have silver-grey curtains in the main bedroom and deep red in the living room, which both work rather better. These bleed into the walls slightly... 

But given that these are part of my first ever foray into curtain-making, they're not half bad. And, of course, they serve the main function of keeping the light out and the heat in. When I first hung all the curtains (with pins in) in the spring, I was astonished at how much difference a pair of lined curtains made - or even a pair of net curtains - to the temperature in the flat. In fact, despite the temperatures outside and the fact that we are almost into November, we still haven't turned the heating on.

I have finally managed to motivate myself to make some progress with the curtains because I have made myself a promise. I have long wanted to start growing something on the balcony, but am reluctant to begin another project with so many half-finished, so I have promised myself that I can plant my first pot when I have finished all the curtains. Of the four pairs, two are now complete, so I am half-way.

Any suggestions for my first plant? If I manage to get started in November/December, I am currently thinking of garlic and tulips - something useful, something beautiful - but any suggestions are welcome!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

New header

With autumn closing in, I thought it was about time to change my blog header. What do you think? I was really feeling that the pinks and blues were too spring-y, so needed some reds and browns. Anyone got any top tips on how they do their headers?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Turning leaves

I've been thinking a lot this last week about balancing slow living with a fast-paced job, and have been thinking of ways to slow down at work. I'll be testing all the things on my list and sharing them with you, of course!

Absolutely number one has to be taking a real break at lunchtime. Like too many people, I eat lunch at work most days - either at my desk or in the lunchroom. While chatting with colleagues is good, too often I snatch a brief sandwich and dash back to my emails. Today I finally managed something I've been trying to do all week - I escaped to the park to jump up and down in a pile of dead leaves. Made me feel four again.

I took my camera so I could share the gorgeous colours with you. How does nature do it? Match the colours of the dying leaves to the pumpkin and butternut squash and other things in season?

The holly was covered in berries. I don't know how true it is but I was told that lots of berries is a sign of a very cold winter to come. I have no idea if there is any truth in that!

I love the colours that leaves turn at this time of year. I always think that it's at this time that you see the soul of the leaves - their true colours, underneath the veneer of the chlorophyll. It reminds me of Dylan Thomas's poem Do not go gentle into that good night - these leaves blaze and rage as they die, more glorious and more vibrant in their last stage before they fall and become mulch.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A slow Sunday

- Clearing out the rag bag, discarding the smallest pieces -

 - English paper piecing with the larger scraps -

- Baking bread -

- Making fig jam -

- Yum!! Gorgeous colours! -

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What's on your bookshelf?

Reading angry chicken's post about building a family library got me thinking over the last week. How did the selection of books on my shelves get there, what do they say about me and how do they enrich my life?

As you will have seen, I've been a little alarmed recently by identifying my reluctance to throw out things that are broken, damaged or no longer needed as the tip of the iceberg of proper, full-on can't-see-the-floors-or-even-the-walls hoarding.

The two factors came together with the realisation that most of the books on my shelf do not enrich my life. I have been holding on to lots of books that I have read and will never read again, some of which I did not particularly enjoy, but all of which I feel I have to keep hold of. This is perhaps partly a learned response, as I have always been taught never to get rid of books as they are an investment in your intellectual future, but also I think I have been clinging to an image that my bookshelves portrayed. I like being someone who has Virgina Woolf and Samuel Beckett on her bookshelves, even if I know I am never again going to read Nohow On. It was depressing enough the first time.

This means that every time I walk into the spare room, where all the bookshelves are, I feel conflicted between the life I would like to have and the one I do. Much as I would love to be an erudite reader who enjoys dissecting the finer points of Beckett after too much booze, this is not (or no longer) really a part of my life. I want to embrace new intellectual challenges - and read Beckett's plays, which I do enjoy, rather than his prose. I also look at the cluttered selection of books stacked two deep on all shelves, and piling up towards the ceiling, and feel how far this is from a peaceful, restorative and stimulating library I would like to have.

The purpose of a book is to be read. By holding books in perpetual storage on my shelves, all I do is make it harder to see the books I might pick up and read, and block new and exciting books from coming in to join the party. So I am selling four bags of books to the second-hand bookshop I frequent, and I hope they will entertain, inspire and challenge many more people. I can now actually see the books I have not yet read, and can think about which books I might like to add to a smaller but more meaningful and purposeful collection.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Being measured for custom-made clothes

Well... something like that! 

Having learned from my very first ever sock, which after months of struggling with knitting in the round and lace patterns did not actually fit onto my foot, I have knitted a guage tube and measured my feet before casting on a new pair of socks. This will (hopefully) be my second ever pair. I have decided to abandon the idea of patterns - this will be a tube, a tomato heel, another tube and some decreasing around the toe. Basically, I'll make it up as I go, but I will now be certain that the sock will fit, even if it might look a little odd...

This time I am knitting socks made from real wool. I bought this stuff aaaaaaages ago when the idea of socks first caught my imagination, and a friend recommended ebay as a cheap source of wool. This is indeed much better value per kilo than most shops, but I did have to buy rather a lot, and as my first forays into sock knitting were not entirely a success, I still have nearly four full spools of wool (in slightly different but still neutral shades). That's going to make me quite a lot of socks!

I know I still have a huge pile/list of projects which should take priority, but I am casting this on mostly to have something beside my bed to do before I go to sleep. I am finding that even just one row really helps calm me down, slow my breathing and heart-rate, and help me to disconnect and wind down. Although at one row a night, it might take me quite a while to work through that stash of sock yarn...

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mincemeat and impatience

Yesterday evening I rushed home via the supermarket to make mincemeat and oh my god this stuff smelled AMAZING! Really Christmassy. I'm not sure I can really count it as preserving but it's certainly preparing, and now I can make entirely homemade mince pies all through December.

I also managed to salvage the candied citrus peel I made last year, which contains too much sugar and is pretty much inedible. I soaked it in hot water to dissolve some of the sugar and restore a more jelly-like consistency. Not sure how well this will work...

Having never made this before, I have no idea how long it will last, how it will taste, or how much I will use. Another first for me! It's strangely satisfying to see the jars and think of how hot mince pies will smell in the oven, and the warm crumbly taste...

However, I do wonder if my impatience to get started on this - rather than taking a slower, more tempered approach - might backfire. I feel like I ought to have spent a little more time searching online recipes, investigating how long mincemeat lasts, and sourcing a wider range of dried fruit. I did buy three kinds of raisins (in the absence of currants) but in the end two turned out to be the same kind, and I realised part-way through that we had run out of dried cranberries. Mixing this up while my boyfriend cooked and served supper also meant a rather interrupted process, extremely limited space in our small kitchen for both of us, and a larger than normal pile of washing up at the end of the evening. On reflection, this kind of task would make a better Sunday afternoon project, when I can relax into it more.

But this is all part of the experiment, no? I'm not sure how this recipe works, how the types of dried fruit interact, how switching brandy for whisky will work, how well it will keep, if the citrus peel will blend or still be a bit crunchy. For which reason I think next year I might try making two smaller but different batches so I can try out variations - dried fruit, citrus, booze, spices, potentially adding nuts? Ooh the possibilities!

Do you make mincemeat? Any tips or favourite variations?

Monday, October 14, 2013

How to: Hot mulled apple juice

When you're feeling a little under the weather, there's nothing better than mulled apple juice to give you a boost. It's a fruity, spicy, nourishing, warming kick that's like getting hugged from the inside. You will need:

- Apple juice
- A lemon and/or an orange (or other citrus fruit of your choice), preferably unwaxed
- Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, mace, other wintry Christmassy spices lurking in your cupboard
- Honey

Stick some apple juice in a pan. Could be litres, could be one mug's worth. Add in some slices of (washed) citrus fruit, a dollop of honey and a generous sprinkling of spices. Warm through for half an hour or more.


I usually dilute this a little as the flavours can become very concentrated but it's just lovely if you have a cough/cold, or as an alcohol-free alternative to mulled wine at Christmas. 

Warning: If making more than you will drink in one sitting, store in the fridge and drink within 2-3 days. It starts fermenting really quickly, and goes all bitter, tangy and slightly fizzy. Deeply unpleasant. To be avoided. Drink it fresh and hot!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

That having been said...

I love ablative absolutes, don't you?

So no sooner had I finally blogged about the soul-destroying pile of crap beside my bed which I was climbing over every evening than something changed. We were watching a tv programme today about a compulsive hoarder, and my boyfriend gave me A Look. I protested that I was not a hoarder but as the programme continued, I found it harder to argue this point. I also find it hard to throw things away, even broken and unusable things, because I feel they have an inherent value and deserve a better fate. I hoard very little now, but the idea that this practice is just the tip of a potentially life-damaging iceberg is rather terrifying.

I'm wondering whether I need to come to terms with the idea that, in the process of simplifying my life, I just have to accept that some of the things I have accumulated to this point cannot be a part of my journey going forward. Eventually I will reach a point where I don't have any 'superfluous' clothes which I am torn between keeping, donating and cutting up for crafts. I will reach a point where every used item of clothing can be 'processed' for rags and reusable fabric. At the moment, I just have too much. An example: I have some off-cuts from the curtain lining. It's too small to be used for more curtains, and even if it were, I have no more lined curtains to make. I've been keeping them with the idea of using them as backing for a crocheted rag rug or something like that. But I also have several lengths of beautiful new fabric just waiting to be used, some Vogue patterns waiting to bring a new dress to life, and a wardrobe desperately in need of rejuvenating. Why don't I give up on odds of blackout lining and focus instead on these other projects?

I'm also realising that by perhaps overcomplicating my project list - by intending to do everything from scratch from the beginning - I'm disincentivising the smaller projects that I could more realistically achieve with the time available to me after my long days, and the rule I have somehow developed of throwing nothing away is more hindering than helping my creativity. There's nothing wrong with small steps - in fact, I am reminded of my colleague's reminder that when starting a new job, you need the humility to accept that you will make mistakes during the learning process, and that you have to give yourself time.

So today the space by my bed is clear. A lot of the mess has just been moved around - the clothes back to the wardrobe, the spare fabric into a box - but I've put some things on a 'to donate' pile. (Now I just need the steel resolve and ruthlessness to actually donate them, instead of rescuing things.)

Either way, I think I will sleep better tonight for having a less stuff to navigate.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


The blogs I most enjoy are not the ones that depict a picture-perfect life - much as I enjoy the fantasy of that, I know that this is just not possible for most (all) of us. So it follows that, much as I would love to turn this blog into a catalogue of the best moments, a collection of pictures of tidy rooms and fresh ironing, of homemade bread and pots of tea, I feel compelled to honesty. Today is a day for confessions.

Confession the First: The Pile

It has to be capitalised. It's not a pile. Oh no. It's The Pile. This is a picture of the area beside my bed:

It consists of scraps of fabric from old projects, balls of wool, the swatch for a new pair of socks I'm planning, letters that need replying to, documents which need filing, books, handcreams, jewellery, a bag of essential oils, my spindle and wool for spinning, a spare towel, my slippers, my flip-flops, and lengths of fabric ready to be used, as well as old clothes that need mending or that are past mending and are ready for the rag bag.

To be brutally honest, the Pile was a helluva lot more impressive two weeks ago. I've removed a significant number of items in the rediscovered craftiness of the last two weeks. Please also note that the pile extends under the bed as well.

My challenge is pretty much the same one as always - being constantly torn between on the one hand a desire to get rid of surplus possessions, to simplify everything from my wardrobe to my craft cupboard down to practical, beautiful essentials which contribute towards my goal of living a purposeful, efficient yet meaningful and uplifting life - and on the other hand, a reluctance to throw things away which still could have function, a desire to repurpose, reuse, adapt, personalise. Which means I get as far as taking old clothes out of the wardrobe, or keeping fabric scraps out of the bin, but not as far as actually DOING anything productive with them!

I have spent most of my evenings for the last week unpicking the seams of four items of clothing which were so stained, worn, torn and moth-eaten (repsectively) that I had resolved to finally convert them into panels for my next next next project, a patchwork quilt. (Never do things by halves. My first patchwork quilt will be super-king sized). I am finally making progress with some of the pile - but I am stumped by the 'superfluous' but still functional clothes. Can I bring myself to cut up perfectly serviceable clothes? My moral dilemma of the week.

Confession the Second: Bloody beeswax

One of the crafty projects that has been on my list for sometime was making homemade candles. I've watched Kirsty Allsop do it, and it seemed really basic - melt wax, add essential oils for scent, pour wax into containers with wick inserted. Allow to cool. It seemed so easy.

At first, it was rather hypnotic - I was moved to take a photo of the melting beeswax, which also smelled lovely. But then I came rather unstuck with pouring the wax - the wicks I had bought from the craft shop sort of floated around. My boyfriend came to the rescue, improvising with a teaspoon and a couple of toothpicks, and the wicks were in place. I thought the worst was over - BUT NO!

Oh woe, woe and thrice woe. For I have STILL not got the bloody beeswax off the plastic measuring jug I used for pouring the wax. I have tried freezing it, which is supposed to make the wax harden and crack off. I have tried soaking and scrubbing it in boiling water, alcohol, baking soda and washing up liquid, individually and in combination. The jug sits on the side in the kitchen, looking sorrowfully at me, and reminding me to give it a hopeful bath every time I do the washing up. Each day, it becomes infinitessimally cleaner but it's definitely not wax-free yet.

Gentle readers, take heed - do not put melted beeswax in an implement you intend to use for cooking. Have a beeswax jug in the corner of some cupboard which can live with a crust of wax.

I think that's enough honesty for today! I'm off to ignore the pile of projects and do some knitting.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Four minutes is four minutes too long

I was very lazy and took the bus home today. My work is not a long walk from home, but after a long day it's tempting to just hop on a bus, particularly if it's leaving fairly soon. Today, it was due to leave after four minutes.

I sat down and reached for my phone - there are useless games on my phone which are frankly rubbish but they help pass the time - and I thought: how silly to do something pointless for the sake of killing four minutes. Is a four minute wait really too long? I should value this down-time, when the rest of my day is so rushed.

It's not just me - the lady sitting next to me was trying to find a wifi hotspot, and all around me people were checking phones and emails, reading work-y-looking documents. We're all crazy and we all need to think of a four-minute wait as a pleasure, a chance to stop and do nothing for a few precious minutes - stare out of the window, people-watch, reflect. Mentally compose a blogpost. Unplug, switch off and recharge.

Does anyone have synonyms for those which don't make us sound like laptops or mobile phones? Perhaps even the language we use to describe this busy buzzy life needs to slow down and become more organic.

Even when it has slowed down, Brussels doesn't switch off -
The European Parliament just before dawn

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Slow Living 2013 - September

This has been a very rushed month. This weekend - and particularly today - is a most welcome change in pace - much slower, more meditative, more leisurely and more satisfying generally. I feel like I've made a few small steps towards being on top of things, being in control of life generally and choosing which direction to go in, rather than simply reacting. This month has been an insane month at work, with very long hours leaving me very little in the way of time for family, friends and crafty pursuits. This is something that needs to change, although quite how I'm going to do that, I do not know.

So September hasn't been slow. I hope October will be slower. As a reminder, this is part of the Slow Living Month by Month series started by Slow Living Essentials, and this month in particular it is a reminder of how much less I achieve than when I'm focusing on savouring life, to help me focus more in October.

{NOURISH} Lots and lots and LOTS of porridge this month. Lots of 'eeeeew'-s from my boyfriend. I think even I am porridged-out at this point so will have to hunt up my cereal recipe. More homemade bread. I wonder what the next step on this area might be? Almost everything we eat is prepared from scratch

{PREPARE} More reducing than adding to our pile of homemade preserves - munching through jars of jam and marmalade.

{REDUCE} Not sure there's anything here, apart from the usual mending of clothes. Does making my own oil diffuser using an old yoghurt jar count? It's working brilliantly to make the bathroom smell lovelier.

{GREEN} I have switched to using plain shea butter on my face - much better than the oils I was using but not quite where I want it. I'm currently exploring possible combinations. I've also switched to using white vinegar instead of lemon juice to mop the floors, with Eucalyptus oil to mask the smell - much better finish, much shinier and noticeably less sticky

{GROW} Still nothing!

{CREATE} I finished my first ever pair of socks and boy do they feel good! I'm noticing that my feet feel much better after wearing homemade socks - much more cushioned, much warmer. Although I did use synthetic yarn and I think this that real wool might be better at controlling *ahem* odour.

{DISCOVER} I've been doing more Coursera courses - specifically on public health policy, an area increasingly part of my future career plans. The best thing about Coursera is that they are free and have no credit value, so I can take as long as I need to complete them.

{ENHANCE} Much exploring and enjoying of the local market. My cousins came over for the car-free Sunday and we pottered around the big festival in the centre, full of craft beer and animals in front of the royal palace.

{ENJOY} I've had a fair bit of family time this month - via skype more than in person - but I am really reminded that short, frequent contact means you feel much more in touch with each other's lives than longer but more spaced out calls.


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