Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cart before the horse

I have collected a large number of books, very few of which I am particularly attached to. Most are ones that I keep meaning to read and never get around to. The bookshelves take up a lot of space in what is currently the spare room, and are definitely functional IKEA bookshelves rather than pretty ones. They were never intended to be long-term fixtures, but when my dad decided he didn't want my boxes in his attic any more and brought them over, books were a large factor and even though many have gone to the second-hand book shop, I still have far more than I need or want, or than we can really fit in the available space.

Following on from my pondering of Hannah's house last week, I've been putting quite a bit of thought into what we might change in this flat and I really like the idea of building some bookshelves into the wall made from wine crates or similar, using all the space up to the ceiling so we can relocate the big bookshelves down to the basement for more practical storage there. There's some beautiful examples on pinterest.

My boyfriend and I have recently been discussing some of the changes we'd like to make - some small (add radiator covers, re-upholster the dining chairs) and some bigger (change the doors, knock down the wall between the kitchen and the living room). On the question of the bookcases, one point became clear - we (or rather, me, as the main hoarder in the house) tend to accumulate stuff to fill the space available. Before building in beautiful bookcases, it would make sense to get my huge book collection down to a more sensible size.

I think this would be a good approach, because it also means we have a better idea of how much storage we really want/need and don't just full a wall with shelves which then look empty, making me feel a compunction to fill them.

Of all the rooms in the house, I think this is a good place to start because it's the one we use the least, so easy to paint/build/adjust. I've been pondering how I could address the 'book' challenge - I am struggling with the idea of getting rid of books I haven't read yet, and many of the books have not been read, in part because I tend to pick up and re-read books I've read, or start a new book before finishing the last one. Someone gives me a new one, or I read a review of a book on my shelf - I have started but not finished approximately fifteen or twenty books currently on my shelves showcasing my collection of bookmarks.

I've been wondering whether the Project 333 approach might not be a good idea - essentially ration myself to a set number of books for a few months, and see how that goes. There's limited space in the basement, but what I've done is tidied out my bedside table and put a selection of six books there. I'm going to challenge myself to ignore the other bookshelves and stick to these six for the next two months, and see how that goes. Maybe it needs to be fewer books, or less time - or more time.

Have you tried anything like this?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

All or nothing

As a general rule, I have two speeds - frenetic and stationary. Momentum easily overwhelms me - if I'm doing nothing, I find it hard to get started, but equally once I'm up to speed I struggle to slow down.

This generates a number of challenges - it affects my sleep because if I'm active late in the evening, I struggle to stop and wind down, or alternatively if I'm inactive I don't really feel tired because I've done pretty much nothing.

It also means that I struggle to maintain routines - I let the dirt build until I go on a cleaning frenzy (known as a 'Monica moment'). I would so much rather get the housework done gradually, so the house is never a tip but never spotless and I feel generally positive.

This morning my boyfriend and I were very busy and productive. We took apart the toilet to find out why water was constantly draining into the toilet bowl, and have managed to both identify and partially fix the problem without forking out any money. He replaced the toilet seat. I cleaned the bath tub (oh boy did it need a clean).We cleared out our basement and chucked quite a bit of stuff.

When we got back up to the flat, I sat down and started pondering the bookshelves in the spare room. My boyfriend had to intercede and remind me that we need down time too - that weekends are good at getting things done but should also involve time to soak in the bath, read a book and generally relax.

I'm wondering about trying to do just one thing a day for the housework - no particular order at first, just to get into the habit of doing something when I come in from work. I did once embark on an elaborate cleaning routine and it lasted several weeks before it collapsed. But when I started decluttering, the one-a-day approach really helped me.

Do you have any favourite tips for building up a routine to stay on top of housework?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Progress, or My Easter Monday in pictures

:: Finished scarf with tassels ::

:: Pickled beetroot ::
:: Fresh beetroot and radishes growing beautifully ::
 :: First try at a loaf with my sourdough starter ::
:: Skirt lining - just needs hemming and putting into the skirt ::

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The crafty home

This post is part of a series on homes that inspire me, as part of mulling over what my dream house looks like and to help motivate gmy declutterin. Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five

This home is rather different from the others I've blogged about. It's not an example of small-space living or building your home from scratch, but rather of making a space utterly your own. (Warning: this is quite a picture-heavy post.)

Hannah is a professional stylist/design/generally creative person, which is blindingly obvious as soon as you land on her blog. She made the (I think) very brave decision to become a mother at what is now a relatively young age (though as my boyfriend's grandmother likes to remind me, for previous generations having kids in your mid twenties was already late, hint hint hint...). She left the world of steady employment and is now making a career as a freelance writer/styler/generally creative person.

What I love about these pictures is how an already beautiful space becomes totally alive, thanks to the simple, personal and often seasonal touches she uses. Some of the things I love, some are less my style, many I would never think of in the first place, but she has made her home a space that speaks very warmly of her, her life and her imagination. I am increasingly aware that my home is rather impersonal in some ways - I have all these ideas and never really have the time/discipline/competence/courage to implement them. Hannah's blog is gradually giving me the courage to make some bolder moves in my home.

 Source: seedsandstitches

The same space evolves through the year - all the photos below are of the same kitchen table through the seasons:

 Source: seedsandstitches

 Source: seedsandstitches

I love that's both simple and chaotic, colourful and calming, and above all - unpredictable. This is not a home you could pick out of a catalogue, it's been pieced together like a patchwork quilt, with colours and patterns that my brain tells me don't go together while my eyes point out that this is quite evidently not true.

Definitely food for thought. Plus she's given me some fabulous ideas for homemade birthday and Christmas gifts.

Pictures from http://seedsandstitches.com/ used by kind permission.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A day off

Today was a day off from pretty much everything. Work, laundry, sewing, bread-baking, yoghurt-making, housework... After our weekly food shop, we upped and offed to Bruges for the day.

Bruges is sometimes called the Flemish Venice and it certainly smells like it! It's a beautiful old city on a sunny day like today, albeit a little full of tourists, and ideal for our kind of sightseeing which mostly involves wandering randomly through interesting streets, exploring churches and other sights we might stumble upon, and discovering cafes, bars, craft beers and artisanal chocolatiers.

We've been drinking a fair amount of craft beer recently, and an off-hand comment from my boyfriend revealed an interest in possibly having a go at brewing beer. This is really quite exciting for me - so many of the things I do as part of this drive for a make-your-own lifestyle are things that I do alone, but now here is something we could do together. 

We've been talking about beers we like and beers we'd like to make, and I've been talking him through the results of my research into how to brew (basically outlining the differences between kit brewing, malt extract brewing and grain brewing). We'll need to find a bit of equipment and do a bit of planning, but I think home-brewed beer is definitely in our future - and an opportunity to explore this new field together.

Of course, some things need doing, day off or no day off. The plants need watering, the sourdough starter needs feeding and the dishes need washing. But I'm definitely smiling today, after my day off.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The sewing machine has been a-whirring...

I've been taking full advantage of the shorter working hours this week as client work slows down for the holiday season. It helps that my boss is on holiday (at least in theory - she still works, but less than in a normal week) so the rate of task accumulation is much less, allowing me to clear my decks and tackle the 'rainy day' (or rather slow day) jobs like filing old emails.

I've been listening to a lot of background music this week, and my new discovery is Bella Harper. Thank you Deezer for your 'Hear This' section, I'm discovering some artists I really like through these recommendations. Check out her song 'Good Man's Wife' which you can listen to free and legally online here. (At least in Belgium - not sure how this works overseas...)

In addition to discovering new artists, I've been on a major sewing spree the last week or so. I've made a pair of pajama bottoms, from fabric I originally bought for a dress and then decided wasn't very... dress-like. I've got as much fabric again, and I'm toying between making a skirt for work which I can wear with blue and pink and purple jumpers this autumn (it's quite autumn-y isn't it?) and making another pair of pj bottoms for my sister, because the fabric reminds me so much of her somehow.

I finally got the pleats and darts right on the skirt I'm making from a pair of my boyfriend's wornout trousers. I'm now taking apart an old shirt of my boyfriend's which I salvaged from his last donation to the charity shop, and I'm going to make a skirt lining from the fabric. For those interested, the tutorial I am loosely following is on youtube here.

Remaining tasks after I make an inner skirt from the lining fabric are to attach the waistband, finally decide on the length, and decide what I'm going to do on the bottom hem. Ruffle? Plain? Lace? We shall see. I do feel ultra frugal with this skirt though - a custom-made skirt for work made from cast-offs? Even the thread I'm using to sew with is left over from the grey bedroom curtains. So far, the only cost is my time and the electricity to run the sewing machine.

What's working its way through your machine yet? Any projects you are planning? For me, I've got a very small and a very big project in mind... Any guesses?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Not the to-do list, or past and future challenges

We all have a to do list. I don't know about you, but mine is epic, vague, scattered across my computer, my phone and my memory, and nothing ever gets done. This is something I do intend to address.

However, today's post is not about the to do list, but the want to try list. I don't know if this happens to other people who start to build a more deliberate, individually crafted life, but the list of things I want to try keeps getting longer and longer and longer. I really want to render lard. Why? I don't use lard in anything, but maybe I could or should. And it's another skill, a historical one linking me with generations past, and one which would come in very handy should we ever raise and butcher our own animals (in another lifetime). Plus it looks so white and fluffy in blog posts. Want.

It's not a ripple when you drop a pebble in a pond - smooth, even circles gradually spreading. The process is more akin to simulations of how pandemic diseases spread (there's an example here if you don't know what I'm talking about). One dot glows. Then several close by. These fade as glowing dots appear, covering ground but seemingly hapharzadly, faster in some directions than others. It always looks a very wild kind of spread, unlike the orderliness of the ripples. (Hope I haven't freaked anyone out with the pandemic simulation!)

That's how simple living is evolving for me. Not a steady, orderly, progressive interest, but surges of interest in certain areas, drawing me into related fields, before another surge draws my attention elsewhere but the prior interest draws me back and soon, before I know where I am, I've covered the globe. 

Yoghurt making leads to cheese making and sourdough and beer and fermented foods. Homemade beauty proucts lead to homemade cleaning products, no-poo and growing my hair out, which leads me to begin to develop confidence in my own unconventional fashion choices prompting me to try Project 333 and ultimately set out to customise and handmake my wardrobe. Setting out to grow a few herbs introduces me to permaculture and soon I've put my name on an allotment waiting list and started looking into heirloom seeds, green manures and polytunnels. Now I find myself reading about rendering lard, building a garden smoker to smoke bacon at home, and goats' milk vs cows' milk.

I'm just taking a moment to step and think 'woah!' It's great that I've read loads on keeping chickens and am already aware that, for example, chickens are not naturally vegetarian, they like taking dust baths, they need grit in their diet and fresh eggs do not need refridgerating. However, given that keeping chickens is a long way off, maybe I should focus on things I can do now? So I can add to the progress I've made which, when I get caught up chatting with a colleague, seems to be rather a lot by 'normal Western life' standards. To be entirely honest with myself, reading about chicken-keeping is another form of escapism, a distraction from the life I'm trying to build here, today, and which requires me to step away from the computer screen.

It's very easy to get so caught up in the idea of the simple life that we put less energy into actually living it. Perhaps it's better to log off and just be present here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book of Fermentations

It's amazing how quickly something becomes habit, becomes normal. I've been making my own yoghurt for what, two months? And already it's something I have going on in the background while I do the washing up. I've had one or two less successful batches - not kept at warm enough temperatures to incubate, I end with sour-smelling milk. Not sexy. But when it sets perfectly and you can turn a jar on its side like this? I get a thrill that somehow I just don't get from sending emails.

But by and large, I'm finding that making yoghurt is a very easy addition to my routine. I'm making yoghurt once or twice a month - it lasts two to three months in the fridge, particularly as I can usually get an airtight seal in the jars by filling them right to the top and ensuring both milk and jar are hot. Yummy and super simple. I'm still making one litre at a time - I did try two litres once, but the jars took up too much space in the fridge.

I'm now moving on to my next fermenting challenge - growing a sourdough starter. I have recently started looking at some things on my want-to list and thinking: well that's straightforward, why don't I give it a go? I have flour, I have plastic tubs, I have water. Let's go.

So far so good - beginning signs of fermentation, and oh my god the smell. Somewhere between rotting fruit, dangerously cheap alcohol and feet. I am assured by my trusty book about bread that the smell will mature, but at this stage I'm opening all the doors and windows every time I take the lid off.

The starter is not yet ready for my first bake, but I've been working up to it by trying out the sponge method of baking bread. Basically, you mix the water, yeast and some flour into a batter the night before you bake, and leave it to ferment. I'm afraid my unsophisticated palate could not detect any great change in flavours and the yeast was not noticeably more active after its overnight feast, but the dough was much easier to knead and work.

The final bread was yummy - I'm gradually expanding the selection of flours in my cupboard and now have white, rye and multigrain. I really, really need to find a better solution to storing the flour than just folding over the tops of the bags but so far, nothing. We use glass jars for the 1kg bags of plain flour, but I generally buy larger quantities of bread flour.

Now wondering what my next adventures in fermenting will be... Any suggestions? I'm thinking of moving on to cultured cheeses, or turning my hand to brewing beer.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

I'm addicted to my pared-down wardrobe

Three months ago I started this crazy project - to live with only 33 items of clothing and shoes (excluding sleep wear, running clothes and coats) for three months. I did share this with a couple of people at the beginning, who mostly looked alarmed and asked whether I'd spend the whole time doing laundry. However, three months in, the project is complete - or at least the first stage. 

Today I hauled the suitcases of clothes from the basement to the bedroom, selected another 33, and sent the suitcases back again - but rather lighter, as I have put aside two items for the rag bag (stained/damaged) and 15 items of clothing, one pair of shoes and a necklace to go to the charity shop.

I have sometimes tired of certain items, and I haven't got quite as versatile a set of 33 as I could have if I were prepared to go out and buy the best clothes, but that's not really the point of the exercise. I have hugely enjoyed having a spacious wardrobe, being able to find clothes when I want to, and I do wear a greater variety on a day to day basis than I used to. I also find laundry easier to stay on top of, even with the addition of ironing. I'm a definite convert.

It's wonderful to open the wardrobe and be greeted with this everyday, instead of the old pile of crumpled, dirty clothes that used to greet me:

Compared to the last set of 33, this one includes more skirts, more basic options for work and less jumpers. The one thing I am really missing are lighter tops I can wear to work - less severe shirts and other things I can wear for work and home. I haven't managed to make many things in the last months so still lacking colour. But when I'm super busy, as I have been for the last month, it's so valuable to have just one place that is not chaotic and cluttered, one thing I feel in control of.

Have you given Project 333 a go? Can I tempt you, if your wardobe looks anything like mine used to?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Things making me smile

Homemade pizza dough rising. We've got some friends coming over for dinner, and a homemade tiramisu in the fridge for afters. Yum. (And yet my brain is thinking: maybe one day we'll have made the booze as well. And grown the tomatoes. And made the mozzarella.)

I have finally got off my butt and planted up some of the seedlings. I've potted up those with two true leaves of decent size.

I'll be back at length tomorrow, but now we have guests at the door!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The everyday matters

I wanted to share a really cool project which Cheryl over at Time to Craft is doing.

Inspired by a 1922 competition which invited farmer's wives to write letters to their imaginary daughters, each accompanied by a square for a patchwork quilt, Cheryl is composing a series of letters to her daughter as she builds a quilt patch by patch. I've really enjoyed her first two letters (here and here) and the thoughts they have prompted.

The discussions around wearing make up and doing homework seem to me to be about much bigger questions - being yourself, deciding who that is, laying the groundwork for your future. These are subjects as worthy of consideration at 21 or 101 as at 11. And what I particularly like about Cheryl's approach is how she uses these everyday examples.

We all choose to be who we are every day, and every day that changes slightly. On the one hand, that's fantastic. We grow and evolve and learn and change - how boring if we were all the exact same people at 50 that we were at 15 - and the decisions we make each day can inform the next day, and so on.

On the other hand, it means that it is very easy to find yourself someone you never meant to be because of little things that seem not to matter at the time. Whether that's reaching for the cookie jar (yes folks I broke my no-chocolate-cookies-streak) or allowing work to slowly erode your free time (ahem), or how you handle stress or conflict or frustration, the little decisions matter.

The little repetitive actions that we make the time to do - washing up or doing exercise or spending time with loved ones or blogging - not only reveal our priorities but reinforce them, and choosing to repeat something or avoid it changes the role it plays in our lives. I think many of us are evaluating this - if I say my family comes first, but they only get a few hours a week of my time, is that really accurate? Am I, in fact, kidding myself?

I've been thinking a lot recently at work around ethics - while we have to comply with various rules and guidelines about how we represent our clients or approach certain stakeholders (basically if we're paid by company x, we have to be open and transparent about it), I'm increasingly aware that actually my actions and my reputation are my own concern and responsibility, and while being compliant with the set requirements, even in my everyday phone calls I am considering how my own standards compare, and beginning to ensure that I satisfy my own as well as my clients' standards.

That should seem like an obvious thing to do, but it's very easy to follow the standard in place without thinking about whether it's the right one for me. And not with big gestures - I'm not speaking to the press or the President or anything - but I am realising that my every day emails and every day phone calls add up to a sum greater than the parts and I want to be damn sure I feel comfortable with what that sum looks like.

The same applies to other areas of my life. I think of myself as a simple/slow living advocate, but as my recent work habits show, that's not really accurate. I think of myself as someone healthy who takes care of herself, but I rarely excercise and eat more biscuits than I should. That doesn't mean I should beat myself up about it, but be honest with myself and try to make time for the small daily tasks that reflect and reinforce who I want to be.

So who do I want to be tomorrow? I'm not totally sure, but I think that asking the question is far more important than finding a conclusive answer.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...