Thursday, 25 July 2013

A few of my favourite things...Lepidoptera, Pimm's and Observer's Books...

Life's slowed down somewhat this week. The end of the school year dragged its heels but finally arrived yesterday and at last there's more time to sit in the garden and smell the roses.

Or the Buddleia, to be more precise. We have a rather unruly bush that is attracting a bumper crop of butterflies this year.

One way or another I'm guessing the heatwave is responsible. The sunny conditions must surely favour the butterflies and it certainly means we've spent more time in the garden sitting under the parasol observing them. With a cup of tea or an end of term glass of wine or fake Pimm's (depending on the time of day). 

I've long been a fan of Aldi's Pimm's equivalent, Austin's. And this year was the first year I noticed Lidl stocking an own-brand Pimm's (or 'summer punch drink') called Jeeves. It didn't take long to persuade myself that it was my duty to the frugal blogging world to try it out, but at least I did wait until the end of term. By which time Lidl are only selling the ready diluted version. This is still very quaffable, especially at £2.99 per litre. (I suspect this works out to be more expensive than mixing your own, but maybe still less than using genuine Pimm's.)

Enough Pimm's drinking, let's get back to the butterflies. We realised that as well as the usual Cabbage Whites, Tortoiseshells, Painted Ladies, Peacocks and Red Admirals, there were two species we didn't recognise. At which point Husband instructed one of the children to go and fetch the Observer's Book of Butterflies from the landing.

We have a growing collection of Observer's Books, which I buy whenever I spot them in charity shops. They're kind of like the internet before the internet existed. Pocket-sized books that cover a range of topics from cacti to unmanned space flight, and coarse fishing to pottery and porcelain.

Some of our Observer's books.

For me, it's partly a nostalgic thing - I was given a few Observer's books as a child, and so were my parents and their siblings; Son has taken ownership of his Great Uncle's old Observer's Book of Trains. 

Originally published by Frederick Warne & Co (publishers of Beatrix Potter), the books were very popular with children in the 50s and 60s, and are still sought after today with mint editions of the first two Observer's books (Birds and Wildflowers) selling for hundreds of pounds. (There's even an Observer's Book of Observer's Books to aid the avid collector!) 

But what I like most is that the books stand the test of time. Although the illustrations in the early editions (grainy black and white photographs sometimes) are not great, the quality of the writing is always excellent and still relevant.

Enough Observer's Books, let's get back to the butterflies. We realised that although we have several of the Observer's natural history books (not mint editions unfortunately), we don't have any to do with insects or butterflies.

Fortunately, the Red Cross charity shop delivered the goods the very day after we noticed the butterfly vacuum in our collection!

And so we have been able to name the unidentified species in our garden; the Marbled White and the Comma. We think.

* The foreword to our newly acquired Observer's Book of Butterflies (written in 1937); still pertinent today. 

"It might well be asked whether yet another book on the British butterflies is necessary; whether indeed it would not be better to try and screen from inquisitive eyes and hide from grasping hands those butterflies that still remain to us.  That is not possible. The only course that lies open to us is that which leads through education to a proper appreciation of nature as a subject, not for wanton, thoughtless destruction, but for careful preservation and study, to be treasured for the joy it can bring to the seeing eye and the thoughtful mind.

In these days of quick and easy transport the countryside is no longer the sanctuary it was for nature, and unless we are careful, those who come after us may justly accuse us of betraying the trust we hold for them.

Such a book as this, therefore, complete in itself, accurate, reliable and convenient to use, is one of the best safeguards that can be provided, since it leaves no grounds for a plea of ignorance where our butterflies are concerned." 

Hear, hear!

Anyone else enjoying the butterflies, fake Pimm's or collecting Observer's books this summer?!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Bath bombs galore

In preparing for the green cleaning workshop I was involved with recently, I realised that the chief ingredient in bath bombs is bicarbonate of soda - that trusty eco cleaning staple. I decided to experiment with making them, so that the WI ladies could have a go.

They're really very easy; if we can make them, anyone can! There are a variety of recipes out there, which is testament to the fact that it's probably not a fine art. I went with what looked like a simple recipe and it seems to do the trick - it's smelly (nice smelly, that is) and it fizzes.

Per bath bomb you need:

3 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon citric acid
half a teaspoon of almond oil or coconut oil (we used sunflower oil and that seemed to work fine too)
3 drops of a nice smelling essential oil
water to mix

Mix all the ingredients except the water. Spritz the water into the mixture gradually to mix. It's like making a sandcastle - you want enough water to compact the bath bomb but not enough for it to be too wet and to start fizzing prematurely! You soon get the hang of it after making one bath bomb. Even if your bath bomb seems too wet and starts expanding scarily, it will dry out eventually.

You can buy special bath bomb moulds but we used paper cake cases and either flattened the mixture in or rolled it into a ball.

Similarly you can buy pigments to colour your bath bombs but we used a bit of food colouring and that seemed to work OK.

The weather has been just right for drying rose petals; just pick them and leave them in the sun. You'll need more than you think you do because they shrink drastically.

These were bath bombs that appeared too wet
to start with but turned out OK.

Having stockpiled a load of bath bomb ingredients for the WI event, I teamed up with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust again this week for a 'Green Teen' event in Warminster. They were making 'green' toiletries so bath bombs fitted the bill.

The Green Teens enjoyed making them too, and had a different slant on bath bombs to the WI ladies; according to the teens if you break a bath bomb up and put it in a balloon water bomb the result is fizzingly spectacular! 

I've still got a lot of the ingredients left so no prizes for guessing what my kids are going to be making their teachers for end of school year gifts...

More bath bomb top tips and random facts...

  • Ingredients can be found in hardware shops, health food shops, or online (in the UK) at Summer Naturals or the Soap Kitchen.

  • If you can't be bothered to faff around making bath bombs then just chuck a bit of bicarbonate of soda in the bath for a skin softening spa-like experience! Essential oils and almond oil will add to the moisturising experience. Bicarb baths are also recommended for chicken pox patients and psoriasis sufferers.

  • Some recipes specify cream of tartar instead of citric acid but then your bath bomb doesn't have the nice fizzy effect when you drop it in the bath.

  • Everyone I've spoken to agrees that you don't want too much compostable material in your bath bomb - no point in enjoying a relaxing bath bomb if it then takes you half an hour to clean the bath of lavender, seeds, petals or glitter! And also you don't want your bath bomb to look too much like a fat ball you'd put out for the birds.

  • If you make bath bombs as gifts make sure the recipient knows it is a bath bomb and not a bar of soap...Son had a sad experience a few years ago with an Easter bunny shaped bath bomb that he thought was a soap. He tried to wash his hands and then watched tearfully as poor bunny rapidly dissolved and disappeared down the plug hole.

  • Because bicarbonate of soda is a great 'green cleaning' product, use your bath bomb crumbs or residue to give the bath a quick clean round!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Rural Wiltshire is where it's all at!

Last Monday, Potterne Springs WI devoted its evening meeting to the topic of reducing waste.

It was a hot, sunny evening, and I wondered how many people would make the effort to wend their way down the lane to the Wiltshire Scout centre for the evening. We're a little bit obsessed with recycling and reusing here but our enthusiasm is not always matched elsewhere, and given the choice between a sunny Monday evening in the garden at home or a thrilling talk by Wiltshire eco bloggers and Wildlife Trust staff, even I might have faltered.

But this is Potterne Springs WI we're talking about. Sue Groffman had put a huge amount of effort into promoting the evening further afield and opening it up to the local community as well as WI members, so the turnout was impressive. Over 40 people came along (double the usual attendance figure).

Jen showing people how to make a bag from an old t shirt,
and recommending ways to reuse your old jeans!

Jen from My Make Do and Mend Year gave an impassioned speech on reducing waste and fighting consumerism (which she is doing very successfully in her 'buy nothing new' year), Emma from the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust gave her top waste-watching tips, and I waffled on about some of the things we have been doing to reduce waste since the blog was born last year and since we took part in the Slim Your Bin project. As someone in the audience pointed out, there is nothing new to this way of thinking - for many of our mothers and grandmothers it would have been second nature. 

I'm sure that to some extent we were preaching to the converted in Potterne. But as my family found from taking part in the Slim Your Bin project, there's always one more little thing we could all be doing when it comes to saving the planet. My 'one more little things' for the evening were learning that you can recycle butter packets by soaking them in water to separate the paper from the foil, and that rubber bands and latex rubber gloves can be composted. 

Emma demonstrated how to turn a plastic bottle into a planter.

Speaking was a little nerve wracking, but the real fun started when we got going with the workshops. Jen was busy with her sewing machine. Emma transormed a milk container into a planter (and if there had been time would have decorated it with sweet wrappers to give a mosaicy effect).

I took along green cleaning ingredients like vinegar and bicarbonate of soda to show how you can knock up your own washing powder, tooth paste, vinegar cleaner and bath bombs. There were two strands to my thinking: a) once you learn a little about eco cleaning, you realise that if you've got vinegar and bicarb in the cupboard under the sink, you can tackle many cleaning tasks easily, and without generating lots of waste. It also empowers you to have a go at other things made with similar ingredients, like whipping up bath bombs, and b) even if you never make washing powder or toothpaste again, the simplicity of the ingredients and the ease with which it can be made will make you wary of the advertisers' claims for their fancy laundry wares or oral care products. There is a choice - we don't have to buy into their products in fancy packaging with a list of ingredients as long as your arm, and the alternatives don't have to be expensive.

Sarah from Devizes Freegle poses
at the eco cleaning table.
Between the three speakers, we all made the point that resources are precious, from crisp packets to clothing. Just think of all the energy expended to make them and transport them, before you even start thinking about their disposal. A second use for all that everyday treasure is always better than hasty disposal or even recycling.

Washing up scourers made from
satsuma/orange/onion nets.
Hopefully we converted a couple of people to composting, or reusing and making do and mending, or simplifying their cleaning cupboards. Or maybe we validated the good things that people are already doing. For me, there was also something very hopeful about being in the depths of rural Wiltshire in a room buzzing with people who care, and are keen to do their bit. 

"Never underestimate the power of a small group to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Down to the river to play...

This year one of the really simple but very enjoyable things we've been doing is to go on the same walk every month.

This route up the Bybrook Valley is far enough away that when the time for the walk comes around once a month, it seems a novelty all over again, but near enough to home that it's easy to slot in to family life. Apart from in June, that is, when our busy schedule and hay fever got in the way.

Last week we set off after school on a very hot Friday afternoon for what I'm calling the Junely walk; our June walk completed in July, so that we don't break the year's cycle.

There are things that surprise me every month. Each time I think that surely there won't be very much change since the last walk and that this will be the month when it won't be worth taking any photos. Nature doesn't change that quickly does it?  And every month I'm proved wrong. In May everything was so lush and green, that I thought it couldn't possibly get any more summery, and that that was how it would be now, for ever, or at least until Autumn.

But of course nothing stays the same. The plants have grown even more. The grass is even greener. The wildlife is different. The light has changed. Shadows are falling at new angles.

And every month also, I'm certain that the rest of the family will be completely fed up with my bright, monthly walk idea and I'll be setting off alone.

Chance would be a fine thing! 

We even had new recruits for this walk. Two extra boys lugging a large bottle of cloudy lemonade, came with us to play in the river.

Having broken the rules and missed out the official June walk, we could dispense with the usual route and cut straight to the chase. It was so hot that the river beckoned whilst the three mile walk around the valley didn't, and we headed directly for the water.

In this weather, if like us, you don't live near the sea then I can't recommend a trip to the nearest river enough! I could think of nowhere else I would rather have been that evening than right there, sitting under the shade of a tree, watching the dappled sunlight play on the shallow water and the damselflies dance above the rippling flow, listening to the boys splashing and moving large stones around purposefully whilst the girl paddled at the water's edge. And we had it all to ourselves. Who needs the two hour journey to the coast?! Not us!

If you want to compare notes with previous months' walks click hereJanuaryFebruary, MarchApril and May).

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Everyday Life On A Shoestring - the Wimbledon Special rerun!

Even if you take only a passing interest in tennis, you're probably aware of who won the Wimbledon Men's final on Sunday.

I've heard a lot of discussion on the radio this week about whether the UK is doing enough to support young sportsmen and women to move through the ranks in tennis and other sports, and whether all the talk of the 'Olympic legacy' is becoming a reality. Well, regardless of what's going on elsewhere in the UK, I'm pleased to say that we are playing our part here when it comes to youth sport and so, in honour of Andy Murray (and our deceased rotary washing line), I cannot resist re-running our Wimbledon Special blog post from this time last year...

"If you're living in the UK, you can't have escaped the fact that today we have a Brit, Andy Murray, in the Wimbledon Men's final!  As I write, he is battling Roger Federer to become the first home winner since Fred Perry in 1936.

Here at Everyday Life On A Shoestring, we like to play lawn tennis too.  Ever played frugal swingball?  It's great fun!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Me and the blog get to go out for the night! (And you could come along too!)

Blogging has brought connections far and wide. There are the wonderful commenters I've 'met' from very, very far afield and there have also been the very, very local connections. Not only have I discovered other local bloggers (Frugal Living, Veg Plotting, Views from the Bike Shed, Knee-High Tales, Spindles and Sprockets) but we got involved with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Slim Your Bin project, and through that, have hooked up with the local Transition Towns' group, Transcoco.

And then there's the Potterne Springs WI! They're a not long formed, funky WI group based in Potterne, near Devizes, on a mission to be part of a modern Women's Institute. Their strapline? "It's not all jam and Jerusalem you know!"

Reducing waste is the theme for this month's WI meeting, and Jen Gale (from My Make Do and Mend Year), Emma Croft (Wiltshire Wildlife Trust) and I are going along to talk and run some 'hands on' activities.

Bath bomb making rehearsal for Monday's Wi event!

My part of the evening will offer the ladies (and gentlemen) the chance to make some eco cleaning/toiletry products, and to 'upcycle' satsuma/onion bags into washing up scourers, and of course to talk about reducing food waste. 

If this doesn't sound thrilling enough (and I have to say that when I invited some of my younger male satsuma bag collecting colleagues to the event, they weren't exactly left speechless by the idea of scourer making!), fortunately Jen's got an even more exciting upcycling project involving T shirts and sewing machines, and Emma will be talking about the work of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. 

AND there's a 'give and take' table. 

AND there's tea and cakes (the best bit). 

AND it's all FREE! 

AND you can come along too. Visitors are most welcome.  
The meeting is on Monday 8 July, 8 - 10pm, at the Wiltshire Scout Centre, Potterne Wick, Wiltshire, SN10 5QT

AND you'll all get to come along virtually anyway, whether you like it or not, because of course I'll post some pics here next week!