Thursday, 30 May 2013

What a difference 7 weeks makes!

This year we've made a point of walking the same walk every month to see how the countryside and wildlife changes. (Click here for previous walks: JanuaryFebruary, March and April).

The walk is about 6 miles away from our house and not an area that we pass through in between times. It's very different from seeing the seasons unfold in our own garden or street. Each month we wonder about what we shall find.

We knew everything would have been very busy growing since our last visit, but it was still a surprise to see just how very lush and greener than green everything is at the moment. The English countryside at its best.

What else did we discover this time?

The Devon Ruby Red cattle are out to grass at last. Their auburn coats looked so smart in the sun, and they are such gentle natured creatures that you need have no fear of walking past them.

At the first opportunity Son was in the river looking for fish. He would have scrambled around the banks and splashed around with a stick for hours if we'd let him.

It was plenty warm enough for a picnic.

And plenty warm enough for the mud that claimed Son's boot a couple of months ago, to have completely dried out now, and for grass to be growing where once boots grew.

Nice and dry in May...
It was a different picture in February!

The water channel has dried out too, but that didn't stop Son walking in it.

Water in the channel - January to April
No water in the channel - May

Wildflowers are in profusion. Red campion, cow parsley, ragged robin, buttercups, bluebells, and many more.

We meant to look out to see what's growing where the chinese lanterns (that were replaced by snowdrops) used to be, but it was bank holiday Monday and the world and his wife were walking OUR walk and we got distracted when we bumped into some friends right in front of the chinese lantern wall. 

Can you spot the pig having a snooze in the sun?

The beech trees are in leaf. And so is everything else, at last!

Bare beech trees in February...
And almost fully clad in May...

The view up the Bybrook Valley last month. 
It looked much the same for four months.
But look at it now!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Tidy Friday - It's catching on!

In the weekly round-up of food waste and decluttering this week:

It's Food Waste Friday so that must mean oranges and carrots, yet again! We were the lucky recipients of Granny and Grandad's spare carrots which added to an already substantial carrot hoard of our own and I didn't get on the carrot cooking/freezing case soon enough *kicks self*. 

How I wish I owned this war time book, 25 Ways of Serving Carrots! (It is referred to in The Ministry of Food, which I took back to the library this week. I wonder if there are any copies still out there).

The tidying and decluttering plateau-ed this week, what with a weekend away and a week where there was hardly time to keep on top of the usual chores let alone anything extra. I was scratching around for something to make it look as if the whole decluttering thing wasn't getting as out of hand as the carrot situation in the kitchen when lo and behold, I sold two books via Green Metropolis the online charity bookstore which I discovered a couple of weeks ago. 

After all the comments on the blog about book decluttering and deep in my heart of hearts, I knew that secondhand book selling is not really the answer (and let's face it, having two books less doesn't exactly mean that we are now kicking back in a minimalist living room). But as the two books that sold were books that other online booksellers had rejected as they didn't think they'd sell (or there are just too many copies swilling around in the universe) I'm prepared to stick with it for some of my surplus books, and I hastily added a few more to my 'for sale' stock!

The other glimmer of hope for Tidy Friday is the effect it's having on (some) others in the house:

Daughter appeared with three bags of clothes that are too small or that she just won't wear any more. What's your preferred method of children's clothes disposal? Charity shop? Hand them down to smaller friends and relatives? Ebay?

If only I could get Son to take tidying and clearing out so seriously.

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by
to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

This month's books were brought to you by the letter M !

I didn't notice until I took them back, that the library books I borrowed in May all began with the letter M.

1) Meetings with Remarkable Trees by Thomas Pakenham was a beautiful book to look at. It's full of pictures of wondrous trees that made us all go, "Wow!"

Like the Crowhurst Yew in Surrey with its completely hollow trunk.

2) Or the broad-leaved lime at Pitchford Hall, near Shrewsbury, complete with tree house.

3) I've already read and found useful several books by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who's well known for his work on mindfulness-based stress reduction in the medical world. (He's the Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School).  Containing short reflections and practices, 5 guided meditations on CD and a really comprehensive 'further reading' section Mindfulness for Beginners is a great resource for beginner and more experienced meditators. I get to teach mindfulness techniques in one of the groups of kids I work with, and try to 'practise what I preach', so this book counts as professional as well self development. 

I loved the Ministry of Food by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall (Hugh's mum). The blurb states that "The Ministry of Food shows how we can all survive the credit crunch with a bit of wartime wisdom and ingenuity." Written to accompany an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in 2010, the book has three sections: Dig for Victory, The Kitchen Front and Turn Over a New Leaf. It gave me a real insight into what life would have been like for my grandmothers, who were both young women during the Second World War, and what life was like under rationing. 

"By the end of food rationing in 1954, Britain's children
were taller and healthier than they have ever been."
The book also serves as a practical handbook for today with many wartime recipes (some of which have been adapted with more appealing ingredients) and lots of sound gardening advice. The artwork in the book, which is taken from the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Food's campaigns, is also part of the book's attraction for me. I loved the posters and slogans.

Now what books can I find beginning with J to read in June...

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A watched blackbird never sings...

Outside our house stands an old telegraph pole, that via a rather precarious spaghetti web of wires, brings electricity and phone connection to several of the neighbouring houses. We pay it no attention until it's windy and the internet connection goes. I've lost count of the number of cups of tea I've handed into cherry pickers over the years for BT engineers untangling electrical knots and testing the line.

At the moment the world wide web is flowing into the house faultlessly but we've still got our eyes (and ears) on the telegraph pole.

Chirpy the Blackbird has claimed it as his singing post.

He's there every morning when I wake at 6.30am, and he sings for us at the children's bedtime.

We're sure his tuneful melodies are produced purely for our pleasure (he brings just as much joy as the TV and internet that is being pumped into the house under his very feet) and for his own love of music making. It's not the strident song of early spring; of attracting a lover or claiming his territory. He trills at a leisurely pace with lots of interludes where he looks up and down the street and takes in the first of the morning sun and the last of the evening's.

He pauses even more when he knows he's being filmed by Son. Wildlife filming is harder than it looks you know.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Tidy Friday

There was salad-y food waste this week. One and a half tomatoes and some lettuce. Maybe it's because one iceberg lettuce seems to go on for a very long time, even with four of us eating it, or maybe it's because the weather is flitting from summer to winter and back again faster than you can say Food Waste Friday.  One minute we're eating salad in the garden, the next we shivering over mashed potato and sausage casserole. 

Elsewhere in the house, project Tidy is going steadily. Surplus crockery was disposed of via Freecycle. Freecycle is such an easy peasy way to declutter and I should use it more. I've never 'received' anything as you have to be so quick off the mark to respond to listings on the Freecycle website, but that works in your favour when it comes to decluttering! 

Within half an hour of advertising my crockery, there were three responses, and within two hours it had left the house. Given that there were four heavy bags of it, that was almost faster than I could have got it to the charity shop. The hamster cage and accessories (RIP Fudge) is taking a little longer to go but I have high hopes that a new furry friend will be benefiting from it soon.

The other success story is the shelves on either side of the porch which went from this:

to this:

resulting in one bag for the charity shop, one bag for recycling, one odd welly that had somehow lost its partner (not sure how to recycle that - any ideas?), some random leads and wires (recycled to Husband's 'man drawer'), and a pair of crocs that have been divested of Daughter's girly Croc adornments and should fit Son this summer.

And two overwintering chrysalises (or whatever the plural of chrysalis is). I left them undisturbed and hope they have survived the winter and will become butterflies or moths soon.

Any food waste or decluttering successes at your place this week?! Are you a freecycler?!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

8 things to do in Bath for Free!

This weekend I was trapped in Bath for a few hours (that's the Roman city not the kind that you fill with water) between Daughter street dancing her way through a rehearsal and end of year Music Academy Show.

What can you do for free in Bath if you've got a few hours to spare?

1) Check out the Beazer Maze near the weir. I loved watching these little girls laughing and running wild.

2) Visit the Victoria Art Gallery. You have to pay to see some of the visiting exhibitions but the permanent galleries are free (donations welcome).

3) Bath Abbey is beautiful. Like the gallery, donations towards the upkeep are appreciated.

4) The Central Library is spacious with a large children's section, study area, reference section and lots of computers to use. My idea of hanging out here for an hour on Saturday and reading the newspaper, perusing a few magazines and doing some writing, was scuppered by the fact that everyone else seemed to have thought of doing the very same thing.

5) Look up above the shop fronts, take a stroll and enjoy the Georgian architecture.

6) Get some peace and quiet at the Botanical Gardens in Victoria Park. I spent some time communing with the squirrels and enjoying my picnic tea here.

7) The play area at Victoria Park is always popular with my kids and there's a great skate park for older kids and teenagers.

8) Bath's street entertainment is as good as anything you'll find in Covent Garden. I'm already a big fan of Ben Powell the guitarist, so it was a treat to find him playing outside the Roman Baths. And I couldn't help but think of my bloggy friends down-under when I saw the didgeridoo player. (N.B. As a fellow musician who's also hoping to busk in Bath this summer, I'm not advocating that you pass by these guys without giving what you can!)


Local readers, what have I missed? 

Not so local? What's your local town or city and what are the best things to do for free there?

Friday, 10 May 2013

Tidy Friday

I've been blogging for a whole year now, and that year has seen some very positive changes to our food waste habits. Most Fridays for the last year, I've joined in with Food Waste Friday and blogged about it.


As a result our food waste has been drastically reduced. Special thanks to Frugal Girl and Simply Being Mum for inspiring me to begin my food waste and blogging journey!

I daren't stop blogging about food waste for fear of jinxing all the improvements in our cooking and eating habits that we've made over the last year. However I'd also like to see if we could extend this careful stewardship of our precious food to the rest of our resources. So far all my fighting talk about decluttering at the end of the Slim Your Bin project, has really been nothing but hot air I'm afraid! 

All the skills we've gained and put into practice about using what we've got wisely, not neglecting what's in our cupboards, not buying more than we need to etc, should be transferrable to our possessions. Add these skills to all the waste watching we did earlier in the year, and my trial of Stephanie of No Ordinary Homestead's Decluttering Made Easy course (which is currently on hold at Stephanie's end), and we should be in an ideal position to clean up our house, declutter and simplify.

On Tidy Friday I'm hoping that I can bring you good news about what's going on in the kitchen AND with tidying and decluttering in the rest of the house.

In the kitchen this week, there was food waste...a mouldy lemon and a small tub of decanted yogurt from weeks ago. Stale bread was turned into bread crumbs. And of course there was cake, well muffins actually.

Despite my love of home baking, I've never made muffins before, although I've probably read a million recipes for different muffins on various of my favourite blogs. This week Daughter suggested we make some 'breakfast' muffins to use up some defrosted blueberries. Cake for breakfast?

Actually a true muffin is not really a cake, as all you muffin makers will know. They have less sugar, less fat and less eggs than a cake, in fact probably a lot less unhealthiness than some breakfast cereals on the market. And the mix is referred to as a batter, so it's more of a substantial pancake/yorkshire pudding.

We made a batch of blueberry ones, using this recipe (we substituted 150g blueberries for the apricots and almonds) then used up an old apple and a small packet of cranberries to make some more. They're truly multipurpose and have been served at breakfast, eaten in the packed lunches, and dished up after school for a snack.

I'm a convert.

So that's the food waste. What about the rest of the house?

One black bag of man clothes to the charity shop, two bikes listed on Ebay and two books sort of disposed of.

This year, another goal was to slim the bookshelves. My plan was to read all the unread books that I have and get rid of a lot. In reality I have borrowed lots of library books, have been lent several books and received some as presents for my birthday.  I cannot say that NOT buying books is a grand self sacrifice or hardship in any shape or form!

The getting rid of books part has been slow and I'm not sure that my discovery of selling them via Green Metropolis is going to speed things up, but it certainly feels good for the soul.

I know I could just take the books to a charity shop and some of my books will certainly go this way, but I thought I would give Green Metropolis a go. They are a UK online charity bookstore that sells all its books for a flat fee of £3.75. They list your books and pay you £3 when they sell. You hold on to the book until it sells, and then post it to the buyer. They have several charity partners, and their blurb claims that "By using our website to buy and sell your books, you're not only helping yourself, but you're also doing your bit for the environment and helping us support the great work of the Woodland Trust and our other great charity partners. And by making the most of what we already have, is one of the best and most effective ways to help protect the planet!" I've chosen the Woodland Trust for my charity as that seems to complete the circle when it comes to the life of a book. 

It was easy to register, and if the books actually ever sell, it looks like a win/win method of parting with books. Far preferable to having tax dodging Amazon or Ebay take a cut of the purchase price.

There's a friendly forum for booksellers on the website and from this I can tell that depending on the popularity of my books, they may take some time, possibly weeks, to sell, so it's not a route for the fast track declutterer. I have set up my Green Metropolis bookshop in a drawer under my bed, and am hoping it will have more than 2 books in stock soon.

How do you get rid of your books? Have you ever sold online or maybe even bought or sold from Green Metropolis?

Monday, 6 May 2013

Kiddiwalks giveaway winner!

There were three entries for the bank holiday give away on the blog and two on the Facebook page. The winner, drawn at random, is:

Fran (the Anonymous)

Congratulations Fran! Please could you email me ( your contact details and I will forward them to Countryside Books who will send you your Kiddiwalks in Oxfordshire book!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Does what it says in the Kiddiwalks book...

Firstly, don't forget to enter the bank holiday book giveaway! (Details here).

The giveaway is for a Kiddiwalks book from Countryside Books. The Kiddiwalks books cover many of England's counties. As I said in Friday's blog post - don't be put off by the 'Kiddi' part; the walks are great fun for kiddis AND those of us that are now only kiddis at heart rather than in body. 

We put our Kiddiwalks in Wiltshire book to the test again yesterday when we went for a walk on the Pewsey Downs. Our area of North Wiltshire is geologically more like the Cotswolds, so the chalky downland landscape is very different, and once we'd got past Devizes, the kids were exclaiming that it felt 'just like being on holiday!' That's exactly what you want from a Mayday bank holiday outing. 

The walk starts at the Pewsey Downs National Nature Reserve free car park (GR 116637). From here there are walks in all directions but this Kiddiwalk heads west. We had the Ordnance Survey map of the area, and although we could probably have managed with the book's sketch map and by following our noses, it was a useful cross reference.

The book promised fine views on a clear day and this was certainly the case. Up on the hilltops it really did feel as if we could see forever, or at least as if the whole of Wiltshire was laid before us. The only down side of the downs is that it's very exposed and breezy up there, and everyone agreed that battling the wind made it feel as though the walk was longer than 2.75 miles.

Hair blowing sideways across face - Beaufort Scale 6?

There was plenty of interest from the Wansdyke, a two part bank and ditch earthwork, the origin of which is unclear. Maybe it marks what would have been the limit of North Wessex, or maybe it was a Romano-British defence against the Saxons. Most importantly to us, it provided some shelter for our picnic.

Possibly the only time I've eaten a picnic wearing woolly hat,
sunglasses, suncream  AND a waterproof!

And an opportunity for Son to take some of his lying-on-the-ground photos. Later on in the year, the area is especially good for orchids, but at the moment there are plenty of cowslips and dandelions!

There were views of the Alton Barns White Horse from up close, and a cake break at Adam's Grave, a late Neolithic long barrow.

All in all, another successful Kiddiwalk. If only I could enter the book giveaway myself!