Sunday, 21 June 2015

Laundry Loveliness

I'm going to admit I'm not a great fan of housework; I know it's the thing to be embracing housework as an empowering thing but for me no matter what I try, this approach eludes me.
I should say here, that doesn't mean my house is a pit of filth and dirt; I do clean but not with joy in my heart but with resignation that this needs to be done.

However, I have found that some things do help make it less of a burden.

Cheerful tools, sweeping rather than vacuuming and making my own cleaning products.

Today it was the turn of the laundry liquid.  
Now considering the adverts on television you would think this needed a chemical lab, umpteen exotic ingredients and various cartoon characters singing as you make it - a sort of 1950's housewife version of Walt Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

Well no; actually it's incredibly simple and requires 4 ingredients of which one is tap water.

 Yep that's right, grated soap, washing soda crystals, borax and tap water.

 You add 1 cup of grated soap toe 1 1/2 litres of water and then gently heat until the soap dissolves.

 Next you add 1/2 cup of borax

 and 1/2 cup of washing soda crystals

You take them off the heat and stir them all together until they are dissolved and the mixture begins to thicken.  At this point I add any fragrance I want to put in; usually something fresh such as lime or floral like lavender.

You should end up with about 1.8 litres of liquid.
 I then divide this between my six 1.5 litre bottles, so that ends up with 300ml (0.3l) in each bottle. 
I then top up the bottles with tap water to get the right dilution.

And so there you have it - 9 litres of laundry liquid.
and the recipe?  Well Rhonda of course!

Summer Solstice

It's the summer solstice today - the longest day of the year, one of the two turning points on which the year hinges.

It's a magical day, marked with dawn vigils and singing, dancing and picnicking in the sun; unless you live where I live where it means 'whoops we slept in', 'that wind's a bit cold when you sit still', and 'oh well, I'll mow the lawn then'.

So I took advantage of the breaks in the cloud to record the party that was going on in the flower borders; red carpet day for plants and everyone has their best frock on.

I have to admit a slight touch of pride in this border.  It wasn't here 18 months ago, although many of the plants, especially the cranesbills, had been with me for years in pots in the old back yard.  The young apple tree which you might just be able to see behind the yellow lysimachia has also spent it's formative years in pots and is now relishing unrestricted root room. :-)

 I have to own up to loving riotous colour in my flower borders.

 I adore it when plants intertwine and the contrast between the 'Johnson's Blue' cranesbill and orange Fox and Cubs just makes my heart sing.

The lysimachia looks scrumptious with the red geum and Fox and Cubs.
Fox and Cubs is an orange hawkweed, a wild flower come weed that grows on rough ground (doesn't say a lot for the quality of our soil) and it shares with the lysimachia that strong belief that it should be present in the entire garden.  It requires a strict hand but is worth it in my opinion for the gloriously cheerful flowers it gives you.

 Slightly quieter but no less lovely is this white Jacob's Ladder, it has the most delicate perfume and subtle violet edging on the inside of the petals.

 This is my so called woodland/ fern border.  The field maple to the left of the Jacob's Ladder is another old friend enjoying its freedom from pots and in spring it shelters the wild garlic and violets that grow under it. 
The ferns are growing into just the sort of cover a cat might need in order to keep up undetected surveillance of the bird table - not how we planned it.

And last but definitely not least this bronze fennel wears the most beautiful smokey foliage which goes wonderfully well with nearly all fish dishes.

Behind it you can just glimpse a climbing rose which I was lucky enough to skip dive from a neighbour who was having a clear out at our old house.  It has the most delicate white roses but I think this year it's going to spend most of it time on growing rather than flowering.  I can't wait to see what it does next year.

Happy Solstice everyone!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Is this really news?

I'm sitting here on a Friday night watching the news - and one of the leading stories is that Mo Farah has missed two drug tests over two years.

Now let's just dissect this: 
  1. Mo Farah has not been accused of taking perfomance enhancing drugs.
  2. Allegations have been made that Alberto Salazar (Mo Farar's trainer) practiced doping techniques in a Panorama documentary.  No organisation has confirmed this. Salazar has not been convicted of providing performance enhancing drugs to any athlete.
  3.  Mo Farah has missed two drug tests - according to Ukad rules (UK anti-doping) an athlete who missed three tests in any 18-month period could face up to a two-year ban. Yes that's three, not two.
  4. Farah's first missed test was in early 2010, months before he joined Alberto Salazar's training programme.
  5. As Dan Roan, the BBC sports editor said "Anti-doping regulations state athletes must give details of where they will be for one hour every day. But inevitably, on occasions, they're not at home when the testers come calling. We know that in 2011, around the time this story relates to, nine UK athletes missed two tests. But that number can change. In 2014 it was only one, so it's not common but it's not unheard of either. But the ramifications of missing a third test can be very serious."
So to recap here.......
Mo Farah isn't accused of taking performance enhancing drugs.
He's within the testing attendance parameters set by the UK anti-doping.
Someone he works with has been accused (not convicted) of providing performance enhancing drugs but not to Mo Farah.

On the positive side this man did win two gold medals in the 2012 London Olympics.

My big issue here is that this is NOT news.  It is conjecture at best.
In the grand scheme of things this is not important.  
Important things that news should be about are:

climate change
environmental degradation and wildlife poaching
peak oil
economic depression, 'sustainable growth' and austerity
human trafficking and slavery
war and terrorism

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Showers and soap

So guess what I did today?

Yep, that's right it's soap making day.
I don't know why but I always end up making soap when it's raining - something to do with the flowing water perhaps?  

It's a job that I truly love and here's my gear ready to go.
Scales for weighing everything, rice bran oil and coconut oil (I forgot to include the olive oil), caustic soda to add to the rainwater, old stockpot and spoons to cook the soap up with, fragrance and tea tree oil.

 I start by adding the caustic soda to some rainwater to make lye and as the resulting chemical reaction cools down to 50 degrees C, I heat the oils up to the same temperature and then add the lye to the oils.  

It starts to change almost immediately.

Now I stir, and stir, and stir..........

....passing through the 'caramel sauce' stage.....
....until finally it reaches 'trace'; this is when the ripples from stirring stay on the surface.
Now is the time to add any fragrance. I always add tea tree oil for its antibacterial qualities and this time I added some perfume oil from Lush, the warm and furry smelling 'Exhale'.

Time now to pour it into the molds; as you can see I use old Carte D'Or ice cream containers, they are firm enough to get a good set but are flexible enough to get the soap out fairly easily.  I have tried posh silicon molds but they just don't seem to cut the mustard for me.

I've included Rhonda Hetzel's book 'down to earth' as this recipe comes from Rhonda's blog - as anyone who reads this blog will know, this is my go-to source for nearly all things frugal and simple.

Tomorrow I will take the soap out of the molds and cut it into slices; then I just have to wait 6 weeks for the soap to cure - during this time the soap hardens off and the harder the soap when you start to use it, the longer it lasts in your bathroom.

The final soap lathers beautifully and is very soft on the skin, leaving you with out that dry feeling that some soaps and shower gels can do.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Hay Time

One of great joys of living in a farming village is watching the seasons change and the repeating cycle of farming tasks.  This last week it has been the turn of hay making.  I wrote about it here last year but couldn't resist the temptation to post some more pictures of this years work.

This was the hay field before mowing - full of buttercups and grasses.
I know I'm biased but to me this is one of the best views in the world; words cannot describe just how much I love looking at it.

Mowing begins.

 Hay bales drying in the sun.

The Nu checks out the quality of the farmers work - she approved.

 The field was even more delightful in the golden light of the summer evening.

 Look at the quality of that light - gorgeous.

 In the next field over we have some equally photogenic cows to delight us.

Breathing in deeply and sighing hugely in contentment.
Sometimes it's the simplest things to be grateful for.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Arrakis, also known as Dune

Friday night and one of Jean-Luc's favourite films is on.  Dune, based on Frank Herbert's novel of the same name.  Made in 1984 by David Lynch; this sci-fi epic had a stella cast including Jurgen Prochnow, Max von Sydow, Sian Phillips, Francesca Annis, Patrick Stewart and Freddie Jones, not to mention a young Sting.
The film is an epic Game of Thrones type story set on a desert world.

The next day Jean-Luc and I took advantage of the glorious weather and went to a local National Trust site, where, like two children, we spent three happy hours wandering the woods, beach and sand dunes quoting cheesy lines from the film at each other.
I make no apologies for the following pictures of Wormsign, the Great Erg and other silly things.


The Great Erg depression - we navigated our way round the edge of this dangerous territory.

Wormsign - Usul has not called a big one!

Only the Fremen can walk the deep desert.

And then thankfully we got to the other side of the dunes and saw this....

Miles and miles of lovely  beach 

 And the sea - deep breath and sigh.

We pottered along the shore, beach combing and enjoying a brisk exfoliation from the wind and sand and then headed back inshore for a picnic of sandwiches, salad and fruit, all lovingly prepared by Jean-Luc, (sadly devoured before I even thought to take a photo).

Once we were back in the sandy grasslands I got my own geek on and did some plant spotting.  I haven't done any plant surveying for about 15 years but was thrilled to recognise some of these beauties.

Hounds-tongue, a relative of Borage

 Hairy Birdsfoot Trefoil

 Wild Asparagus

Storksbill, a relative of Cranesbill geraniums and Herb Robert.
Little pink stars scattered across the sand.

We moved into the woodlands and saw.....

 White Campion

 Red Campion 

and the gorgeously named Spring Beauty.

Tired, happy and full of fresh air we made for the obligatory ice cream and the knowledge of a day well spent.