Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Slow Living - July/August 2014

This post is part of a series started by Christine at Slow Living Essentials - although from this month it is now hosted by Linda at Greenhaven. I haven't actually done one of these since April!

{NOURISH} We've been enjoying warmer summer evenings to sit outside and linger over our food. More yoghurt has been made, and our first attempt at brewing beer, inspired by all the fantastic craft beer we've been drinking. There has been much yummy homemade pizza as well!

{PREPARE} The jam-making bug bit hard one weekend, and I'm hoping it will bite again soon as we are entering the last moment we can make jam for the year.

{REDUCE} Can I put my decluttering here? Much progress made. Still nowhere near enough but much. I'm also making progress on my first attempt at a patchwork quilt, which I'm making from old bits of worn out clothes. I also cut up my old jeans (found in a box in the basement) for cleaning rags and they are working much better than the synthetic fabric rags I was using before. Old jeans also became a pair of soft, comfy slippers.

{GREEN} Still making homemade cleaners - but being a bit more disciplined about routines so getting better results. I think I can probably count my egg-wash here as well - my latest attempt at no-poo is working well, currently alternating egg-wash and water only.

{GROW} I am finally growing something easily edible - lettuce leaves - and it feels great to toss them in with dinner. (Although not yet enough to supply our own salads - a goal for next year will to try to be able to avoid the salad bags in the supermarket and just eat homegrown.) Fresh basil goes on the pizza, and there are radishes about ready for eating.

{CREATE} Quite a lot of overlap here, as the patchwork quilt and even the beer brewing probably fall into this category. I've also made a pair of slippers from old jeans and cardboard. I've made some more progress on my embroidered table cloth but it's very slow-going.

And you? how has your month been?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Autumn bucket list

The wheel of the year is most definitely turning and autumn is here. The chestnut leaves are turning brown and beginning to fall. It was ten degrees yesterday and the hot water bottle made its first appearance. It's such a shame there aren't really any autumn traditions, I thought. Hang on a minute, I thought back. There's loads, I just don't observe them. Well, I replied, isn't it about time?

I spent a bit of time browsing pictures of autumn scenes on pinterest and once I had the picture of red trees, piping hot mugs of cocoa and seasonal food in my head, I started to write down ideas. I've been adding to them over several days and now I think I should reign myself in just a little - bearing in mind that it will be busy at work and I will only really have weekends to do autumn things. 

I want to get outdoors more, to be more proactive socially and to wring as much joy from the darkening days as I can. I hereby present to you:

The Autumn Bucket List

Get out - for a long walk, kicking leaves.

Forage - for fruit, nuts, pinecones.

Preserve - dried, candied or jammed.

Make - an autumn-themed decoration.

Bake - gingerbread, apple pie, or whatever inspiration hits.

Celebrate - the autumn equinox.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First adventures in brewing

So after drinking a lot of craft beer, attending a demonstration and generally thinking to ourselves 'this could be fun', we finally took the plunge and braved our first brew over the weekend.

There are many things that attract both of us to homebrewing. We both really enjoy good quality beer, and we like the people that we meet when seeking out craft beer bars and shops, visiting breweries and generally sharing this small pleasure. It's a very friendly, welcoming community - people want to share their love of brewing and drinking good beer, and encourage you to have a go. It very much fits in with our general philosophy of prioritising quantity over quality, and it supports our frugal living efforts because it's a fair bit cheaper to brew beer than buy it. Plus it of course appeals to me as another traditional craft to learn, a part of the traditional farmhouse's ordinary routine, and a very local activity and product.

I found a local supplier of homebrew kits and we went along to explore. To our delight we found the shopowner is a keen brewer, and spent a fair bit of time talking us through different options and advising us on where to start (which was essentially start with the simplest option and then add new steps gradually.) He also does demonstration days. It makes such a difference when starting out on a new challenge to know that we can call him up if we have any questions or if things go wrong.

We came home weighted down with some basic equipment and our first kit beer. There are three kinds of brewing - brewing from kits, brewing with malt extracts and brewing with whole grains. The most authentic and the most difficult is the last, in which you boil or 'mash' malted grains to extract the sugars and flavourings, then boil this with hops and other flavourings, then allow to ferment. Malt extract allows you to skip the mashing process - you get a powder or syrup which you dissolve in water, then you boil with hops and flavourings and ferment. We are starting with the simplest brewing method - kit brewing - in which you get a syrup containing all the sugars and flavourings which you dissolve in water and then ferment with yeast.

Sounds simple, but there's a lot of sterilising and temperature measuring involved already, so it is definitely worth starting simple to familiarise yourself with the equipment, and with things like reading the 'original gravity' (a measure of the sugar content before brewing which can be compared with a measure of sugar content after brewing to calculate alcohol content).

This has the potential to be a very frugal hobby. We have invested in some basic equipment, but we have calculated that (provided the beer comes out ok and drinkable) it would be substantially cheaper to brew our own beer than to buy it - about €0.70 per 33cl bottle for beer made with a kit, potentially much lower with grain brewing. Ideally - fingers crossed - we will soon be able to produce as much beer as we want to drink, with enough to offer guests and give as gifts. This will either get us invited to all the local parties - or none!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New tastes

The office has a fruit basket, stocked up every week, to encourage us to eat healthy food and not get sick. (They also have a biscuit jar, which encourages quite different behaviours!) They get seasonal fruits in, and this week I have discovered two new things I have never tasted before.

These are noisettes, which I think means hazelnuts. I googled and have discovered a world of fine nuance between hazelnuts, cobnuts and filberts. I am not entirely sure which is which

I don't think I've ever seen a fresh hazelnut before, let alone tasted. They're the same size and shape as the brown things you find on chocolate cakes, but they taste totally different. They taste fresh, crunchy and almost juicy - the closest comparison I can think of is fresh peas eaten straight from the pod. Yum.

The other new taste for me is these. I wasn't sure what they were, tentatively nibbled, and YUM! It's slightly tart, and sweet, but gently sweet rather than overpoweringly. Lovely. It's a kind of small green plum - so I think it's a greengage. I've never had a greengage before. I'm a convert - I think I'll get some for my fruit salad. Anyone have any experience of greengage jam?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Changing seasons

Today I'm posting a gratuitous picture of the kind of warm, cosy wood fire I'm craving today. Summer has most definitely passed on - the temperature is stuck around or under 15°. The nights are drawing in and I am rediscovering the simple daily pleasure of drawing all the curtains and snuggling under a blanket on the sofa. It feels so warm and safe inside. Hot water bottles may soon make an appearance.

How are the changing seasons imposing themselves upon your notice?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Deadline decluttering

I've generally been pretty good about limiting clutter building up in the last few months, apart from two key areas - the table for mail for processing, and the spare room. On Friday morning, the spare room looked like this:

Two forces have combined to give a deadline for the decluttering. Firstly, I made a deal with my boyfriend to get something I want in exchange for clearing the build up along the sofa and on the desk, and the second is that we have a guest coming this weekend. Both dictated that these spaces needed to be clear by the end of this weekend. And I have found that the deadline has really helped:

Miles better. There is still a pile on the desk and a bag on the sofa - both my boyfriend's - but it already looks so much better and I feel so much lighter. Why didn't I do this ages ago?

I struggled to motivate myself to spend my weekend sorting through this stuff - I hate decisions and I'm really good at procrastinating. I found it useful to remind myself that if, as I hope, I will eventually have animals to care for (not to mention children), then I absolutely cannot procrastinate. If animals need to be fed and watered, brought in for the evening or given other care, that has to be provided regardless of whether or not I want to spend the afternoon on the sofa with a bottomless pot of tea.

Now I think I'm going to go make some cushions and a throw to prettify the sofa so I want to keep it tidy in future.

P.S I must confess much of the staff has moved rather than been given away...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The cost of a thing

There's a great Emerson quote often cited in simple living blogs, to the effect that the cost of a thing is the amount of life you exchange for it. I've been reflecting on this profound principle in the rather banal context of bed sheets.

When we bought our bed last year, we also bought bed sheets as it is bigger than beds we have previously used. We got cotton sheets (my request) in shades if grey and white (my boyfriend's). We have a duvet that is so good at insulating that it is too hot for most of the year, and except for the very coldest months we sleep under the empty duvet cover with assorted blankets on top.

It's in this context that I am making my first quilt. I'm aiming for something warm and breathable which we can use during spring, autumn and cooler summer nights (like this August). But I've also been thinking about those sheets.

You see, what I didn't take into consideration when we bought them was laundry. We have two sets if bedsheets, each eith a light grey duvet cover, grey and white pillow cases, and a dark grey fitted sheet . Unfortunately these cannot be washed together because the dark grey runs, making the white and light grey linens murky. So I now have a situation where, in order to change the bed every week, I have to do two small loads of laundry each week. A whole laundry load for a single sheet? It's almost painful. The energy, water, wear on the machine and extra work for me is frustrating.

I've worked out, though, that if we make the beds with plain white sheets in the way my mother grew up with, I could cut out three quarters of all bed linen laundry. I would need four white sheets and three sets of white pillow cases. I'm thinking this might be my next project after the quilt is done- it would save me a helluva lot if time, and a not insignificant amount of money. I could change the bedsheets every week, and do one load of laundry every fortnight, cutting out three loads of laundry. This is not an insignificant saving and would simplify my bed linen cupboard, laundry routine and bed-making each morning.

So far, so good. I am happy to invest in some plain white sheets and pillow cases in order to cut running costs - and I could even make them myself, far less work than the patchwork quilt. But but but. I checked out prices of white cotton at my favourite fabric shop, and it would cost me three times more than a shop-bought fitted sheet. But I can't do apple-pie style beds with fitted sheets. However, you may recall that I do have a large amount of cotton large enough to back the patchwork quilt which I bought for about €6 if memory serves - one tenth of what it would cost if bought in the main shop. Therefore I could keep haunting the 'puces' (fleas) or odds-and-sods-room of the fabric shop until I find enough lengths of white cotton. But that is unfortunately dress-making cotton, rather thinner than I would like... Hmmm. Could I convert a bought fitted sheet into a plain sheet?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday reading - The Moneyless Manifesto

I am utterly delighted to discover that Mark Boyle's The Moneyless Manifesto can be read online for free! I forgo many of the books I want to read on the basis that it is (a) money I can't afford to spend and (b) more clutter on my shelves (and alas, I have yet to find an English-language library in Brussels.) Free and online is an immediate solution.

Mark has lived several years without money, and in his book proposes a move towards a 'gift economy' where we don't exchange goods or services on the basis of a set value, but rather provide each other with what we need just because we need it and each other to survive and thrive. I particularly love the story of a free festival organised in Bristol - food, booze, workshops and a huge party all organised for free, with everyone contributing what they can and want to make from foraged or salvaged or borrowed things. No money involved at all. It's a seriously cool idea.

Read it here.

My moneyless slippers

Some other bits and bobs I have enjoyed reading this week:

Stressed by the daily commute? Try 'canuting' - and travel by canoe
Slow parenting?
Make your own deodorising disks
Be a clutter detective
Don't waste a moment

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Free slippers

It's been a grim August. It's grey and rainy, and because they can't figure out how to turn off the air conditioning at work, we're all sitting in front of our computers wrapped up in jumpers, jackets and even blankets against the cold. So just the weather for making a pair of slippers!

You may remember I found a HUGE number of old worn pairs of jeans in one of my boxes in the basement? I've been googling ideas for things to make with all that denim, and one of the projects I came across was a tutorial for making a pair of slippers out of old jeans and cardboard. Unfortunately I now can't find the link for the one I used but there are plenty more around t'internet!

It involved drawing around flip flops on cardboard, cutting them out and covering them with denim, then stitching them into the back pockets.

They are super comfy, super soft and super warm, which shouldn't really surprise me as they are made from lovely worn denim cotton, but it did surprise me nonetheless. I'm not sure how well they will wear, but I'm only intending to wear them around the house, they were totally free and they are 100% compostable. And I've got plenty of denim left to try making a second, stronger pair when these wear out!
I really enjoyed making these. In each effort to simplify life, I encounter complication after complication. (The latest is trying to make or find plain white cotton bedsheets. It would cost three times more to make them than to just buy fitted sheets, but that's really not what I'm looking for, but I can't justify paying three times the price...) 

This project is so simple. Easily completed in an evening after work from things that would otherwise go in the bin, this is satisfyingly frugal, green and creative all at the same time. A little thing making me disproportionately happy.


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