Carrots

I’m trying to grow some carrots this year, which I’ve been told can be difficult. I thought that as I have two different varieties (because a. I got excited, and b. I don’t know what I’m doing), that I would try growing them in different ways. This isn’t going to help me determine which method works best, or which variety suits our climate best, because there are too many variables for this to be a proper experiment, but it will let me try out a load of different things – which is excellent (see points a & b, above).

So, method one… The lady at the seed library advised wetting a sheet of kitchen roll, spacing the seeds on it and then covering the sheet of kitchen roll with a very fine layer of compost (just enough to hold it down). I have tried this with some yellow carrot seeds which I got from the seed library but there’s no signs of life yet.

But I still have some left, so I thought I would also try….

Method two… Which is a lot more involved, but oddly, seems far simpler. I basically watched this turorial and decided to try pre-soaking the seeds, then suspending them in a cornflour gel for easy distribution in the raised bed. This method was extra-welcome, because it meant I could make excess cornflour gel and let my small tag-along play with this while I did garden work.

And just because ‘why not’, I thought I would try sowing my root parsley seeds in the same way too.

First of all, you soak the seeds in water until you see the tiniest tip of a root showing, then you drain the water off and suspend the lot in the cornflour gel (see tutorial link above for gel recipe).

As to where I’m planting – I decided to plant my carrots in the same bed as my onions because I’d read that planting the two together works really well, and I decided to put the root parsley with the chives and garlic. I read somewhere once (specific, I know!) that carrots and parsnips should be kept seperate and whilst I know root parsley isn’t parsnips, I didn’t want to risk it. Root parsley is one of the husband’s favourite vegetables and as we haven’t been able to buy it anywhere, growing it is the only option. I usually get the seeds from Real Seeds, but due to the Covid 19 outbreak, the daily buying window for the site is too short and I had to buy on eBay instead.

But I digress…

The gel was really easy to make, though I feel like I should reiterate that you need it to cool before using it. If you don’t, you risk cooking your seeds before you get them in the mud. And obviously, this method uses a plastic bag as a dispenser, but there’s nothing to say that you need to use a brand new freezer bag for this – reused packagaing works just as well, it transpires.

Above is a picture of the seeds supsended in the gel. It looks… snotty…

Out in the raised beds, I lay a bamboo cane on the soil and pushed it in so I would get a line to squish the gel into. As you can see, I’m planting the carrots with the onions. The onion on the bottom right is a shop-bought one that started sprouting in the cupboard so I thought I would put it in the mud to see what happened… technical stuff…

Over in the other bed, I did the same thing with the root parsley seeds.

The next few days have rain forecast, so hopefully I won’t have to do too much watering to keep these guys from drying out.

I will send an update when I have one! Cross fingers for me!

Soap from fryer oil

IMPORTANT: The contents of this post are NOT intended as a tutorial so do not contain a soap recipe. They are a record of my own experiences. I take no responsibility for any soap related mishaps readers might have after having read this post! 

I’m not going to lie – I love our deep fat fryer. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. Proper chips.

That said, it uses a lot of oil. Much as I half-heartedly justify the extravagence as preventing me from driving to pick up a take-away, I do feel bad about the quantity of oil it eats through. Being honest, we don’t actually use it that often, but I still can’t get over the 5 litre bottles we have to pour into it – bottles which would last us at least 6 months otherwise! And that’s with using oil as a butter replacement in pastry and cakes!

Anyway, with the local recycling centres closed due to Covid 19, I’ve been trying to come up with ideas for the used oil that’s currently in our house. We’d been meaning to take the bottle to the tip for ages, but never got around to doing it and now, for obvious reasons, we can’t.

I’ve read a lot of lovely posts about how to turn used cooking oil into candles, but as we have an enormous supply of these, inherited from my mother in law, it hardly seems like a useful way to employ this resource.

One thing I have done in the past, however, which needed a lot of oil/fat is soap making.

I’ve made soap from all sorts of different fats before now – lard, beef dripping, coconut oil, beeswax… All of them have been a success. As it’s a waste product I’m using anyway, all I have to lose is a little water and some caustic soda.

TLDR: We have a lot of waste sunflower oil. I’m going to use it for soap.

First of all, I filtered the oil.

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You can really see in the above picture just how much… material… there is in the unfiltered oil on the right. After filtering, there was still a slight pong of chips so I went up to the bathroom cabinet and selected some essentail oils. Usually the soap-making process does away with any of an oil’s natural scent – this was especially surprising when I used lard –  but just in case, I chose rose wood, cedar wood and grapefruit oils. I didn’t actually buy there specially for soap making – I use the cedar wood to keep moths out of my clothes, picked up the rose wood by mistake in an effort to buy cedar wood, and I use the grapefruit to scent my cleaning vinegar. If you don’t have any essentail oils to hand, you could hypothetically use a perfume, but only add these lovely smells at the end of the process – just before you’re due to pour the soap into a mould.

Anyway, where was I?

After I had filtered the oil and knew how much I had, I weighed it using the Husband’s coffee scales. To do so, I zeroed the scales with a bowl on them, then added the oil. It’s really important to be accurate when making soap – right down to the gram. Once I knew how much oil I had, I entered the quantity into SoapCalc. This is an absolutely incredible online resource which tells you how my lye (or caustic soda) you need to make soap from your chosen types and volumes of oil.

The method is fairly simple. Obviously, your recipe will be completely different to the one that this tutorial details, but the order in which you do things is exactly the same.

Personally, I don’t use plain water with my lye – I use a mixture of ice cubes and water so that it doesn’t take too long to cool down. Also, just to reiterate I ALWAYS ADD THE LYE TO THE WATER. I once did it wrong and nearly melted my kitchen, so take it from me – DON’T DO IT. I am also much too impatient to wait for the lye solution to cool so… yeah. It’s a pretty fast process when I do it…

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Anyway… moving swiftly on. When the soap mixture reached ‘trace’, I added my fragrance and poured the mixture into my mould. This isn’t technically a soap mould – it’s a square bit of polystyrene packaging which I really like to use because it insulates the soap in addition to shaping it. Win-win all round.

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After I’d done that, and simply because I could, I sprinkled a load of dried flower parts on top – some lavender, and some rose petals, as well as some tiny little white blossoms that I don’t know the name of…

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After this, as per the video, the soap needed keeping cosy, so I used an old selection box insert – left over from Christmas and which I sometimes use as a soap mould – as a lid and wrapped the whole thing in a towel to sit in my bathroom over night.

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Interestingly, the soap was still soft when I got up the next morning. I mean, it wasn’t liquid, but it wasn’t hard soap, either. I guess the best comparison would be the texture of warm toffee – pliable. I tried to cut into it and internally, it looked almost crystalised. I don’t know if this was because I used only one sort of fat (where usually I use a mixture) or because it was entirely oil based. People have said on various forums that olive-oil soap tends to take longer to set so I removed it from the mould and placed it on top of my freezer in the open air in an effort to dry it out somewhat…

A few days later and the soap remained the same ‘chewy’ consistency so I consulted a book about soap making. Apparently, the caustic soda I used in this batch wasn’t of a particularly high quality (not my usual brand on account of Covid 19) and leaving the soap around 3 weeks longer than usual – 9 weeks in total – will leave me with bars which have a higher fat content than those I’m used to. This is no bad thing – hopefully it’ll make the soap more moisturising for my youngest child’s somewhat fussy skin.

Despite the obvious setback, I’m really pleased with how this turned out. Obviously, in this instance, I didn’t use a lot of oil – around half a litre – , but I still got a lot of soap out of it (or will do, when it finally sets). Whilst I can use some of the fryer oil in this way going forward, it won’t be something I can do with all of the spent fat.

But oh-my-goodness it’s such a cheap way to get soap!

I’ll send you an update on how the soap is doing when it has finished ‘curing’ in 9 weeks’ time!

Do you have any suggestions for what I could do with the next batch of oil? I would absolutely love to hear them, either here, or on Twitter.

More garden adventures

Whilst out on one of his lockdown walks, Husband found some hollow logs.

We felt they were too unique to chop up and burn so Husband decided to turn them into planters. The plan is to fill them with herbs and keep them along the front wall of the house so that they’re close by when we need them.

I’m not going to do a tutorial because it’s unlikely many people have random hollow logs sitting around (and because it’s fairly self-evident how they’re made), but I did want to mention them because they’re beautiful, free(ish), and totally sustainable.

For this one, Husband basically sank two elbow-shaped logs in the gravel, then lay the hollow log on top, before screwing slices of a different trunk to each end.

Because of the odd shape of the second hollow log, instead of screwing a disk on, he opted to cut a slice of wood and place it in the gap at the end of the chanel. This was simply a matter of measuring the circumference, finding a log that matched and then rotating it in place until it nestled snuggly.

I’m told that there are a few more potential log-planters, waiting to be had. If we build them, I think I’m going to fill those with salad leafs.

This has been a really nice exercise in using what’s on hand in the world around us. No wood was purchased for this – in fact, the only man-made materials used were the screws (though one could argue that the gravel counts too, given that it was used to level the logs on which the planters rest).

We have other ideas for how to utilise various wood we’ve found – everything from frames for climbing plants to the edging on yet more planting beds.

I will keep you updated as to how we get on!

Do you have planters in your garden? What are they made from, and what are you growing in them? I would love to hear about them – here, or on Twitter.

Broccoli soup

As I said in a previous post, this was written before the COVID19 outbreak but it seems even more pogniant now…
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One of the best things we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to be careful with the food we eat. One of the most wasted items of food – that I see, in any case – is the broccoli stem.

I’m not really sure why this is, to be honest. I mean, sure – if you boil it with the florettes, it ends up stringy, but there are loads of different ways to cook it.

Rather than throw it out, I collect mine in the freezer. When I have 4-5 stalks chopped up and in a bag, I buy a brand new florette and make broccoli soup. Admittedly, you can absolutely make it without the whole, new broccoli head, but it can look a little bit pale and anaemic.

Anyway, here’s what I usually do.

Ingredients:
3-4 broccoli stalks
1 whole head of broccoli
1 onion
1 stock cube (I use OXO chicken/beef as it’s plastic & palm oil free, but if you want vegetable stock, you can make your own too)
Water
A dairy product – optional (this is ideal for using up the ends of soured cream, for example, or cheese rinds).

Method:

  • Chop your onions and fry them off in a little oil. I tend to use the oil from sun-dried tomatoes for frying things off in as it adds a little flavour and uses up something you’d otherwise throw out.
  • After your onions have softened a little, add the chopped, frozen stalks to your pan, along with your stock and enough water to cover. (Some astute readers might note the asparagus ends and celery in the frozen veg below – I just tend to freeze odd scraps that are about to go off, so I can use them in soup . This lot ended up in with the broccoli.)
  • After these have softened a little, add your fresh broccoli.
  • When it’s soft enough, use the stick blender to mush the lot. Or, if your family likes to actually chew their food (unlike my youngest), blend until there are chunks of your preferred size in there. Afterwards, add any dairy that you’re going to add.
  • Serve, and enjoy.

In the interests of total disclosure, my kids like this more than my husband and I do. I feel like there’s a depth of flavour that’s lacking (which may or may not be improved by the use of ham stock…). That said, in terms of affordability and uses of food waste, this is definitely a winner. And it doesn’t taste bad. Not by any stretch of the imagination – it’s a warming, hearty soup. I’m just used to being thoroughly spoiled with what I get to eat. I married a wonderful cook.

Do you make use of your broccoli stems? I would love to hear what you do! As ever, contact me here, or on Twitter.

Remake

I’ve been spending an increasing amount of time on Twitter since the country ground to a halt. I’m not generally a sociable human, but not seeing anyone other than my family for the last few weeks has started to take its toll and I find myself actively seeking out contact outwith my bubble.

And I’m so glad that I happened to be online when @AmyTwiggerH posted one of her incredible remade knitted garments. Her #Reknitrevolution website is absolutely stashed full of tutorials for how you can turn unloved knitwear into something you might actually get some use out of.

In my case, I’d seen an old cricket jumper in a charity shop (about a year ago now) and snaffled it up instantly because of the 100% wool fibre it was made from. I thought that even if Husband or I didn’t want to wear it, I could always felt it and either make a nappy cover for my youngest (who is due to start school this year, so that shows you how far back I’m going!) or some slippers. Fast forward and it’s been in my cupboard for about half a decade doing nothing. Time to change all that!

You can’t really tell from this picture, but parts of it are in a sorry state. There are ladders and snags, and it’s just generally an unhappy thing.

Here’s the worst ladder…

And one of many snags…

Aaaand a hole in the cuff.

But look how old! Look at that phone number! All things considered, it’s doing alright…

So, first step – repair the bits which need repairing. 

I started with the big, obvious ladder and used a crochet hook to do this. Excuse my manky nails in these pictures – I do wash, especially at the moment, but I’d just finished potting up some lettuces and apparently was lazy with the nail brush…

Anyways. What you’re seeing here is me sticking the hook through the loop closest to the body of intact knitting. Once I’ve done that, I’m going to grab the nearest ‘rung’ on the ladder and pull it through this loop….

Like so…

It’s really hard to photograph and descrbe, but if you do a quick search, you can find all sorts of better tutorials out there for how to do this.

I basically repeated these steps along every rung of the ladder until I reached the edge of the knitting.

When I got to this point, I sort of bodged it all by passing some of the cut ends through the last loop, securing them with a knot and then working the tails into the knitting.

Again, hard to describe, but this is the result.

Far from perfect, but it’s not going to unravel any time soon.

Next, I fixed the hole in the sleeve, and pulled the loop of the snag back to the inside of the sweater.

After this, I opened up the collar. It was a strip of garter stich sewn onto a strip of stocking stitch. These were joined in the centre, so I unjoined them.

Then, for ease of the cadiganising process (detailed here), I cut out the central cable. This could technically have been cut in half directly (and that’s actually what Amy recommended I did), but on trying on the sweater, it was a bit bigger than I would have liked, so with the added cardigan front it would have been even wider. This gave me the chance to get a better fit.

But here’s where I ran into difficulty. The yarn that I’d chosen to match the sweater…

… had been nibbled by moths. I bought it secondhand so I’m really hoping that the moths from it haven’t devoured any more from my stash. In any case – the yarn took a trip into the freezer to kill any residual moth eggs.

Meanwhile, I got out my good, sharp scissors and did some surgery…

In order to get a good, neat line right down the edge of the stips, I turned the sweater inside out and followed the single column of stitches between cable and stocking-stitch panel.

When the wool came out of the freezer, I started the process of picking up the stitches… This was oddly more terrifying than the cutting because it felt like the whole thing would disintegrate if I moved it around too much. Amy’s instructional videos are really reassuring, but honestly, I’ve dropped too many stitches and wrecked too many garments ot be complacent.

Anyway, onwards.

It would be entirely redundant of me to detail the next section of work as there is literally a video linked to above (where it says ‘instructional videos’) which shows you how to do the next steps.

Just to prove I did it though, here are some pictures of the cricket sweater.

Here, you can see me joining the two sides of the sandwich together and casting off at the same time with three needles…

It’s not as complicated as that makes it sound.

Anyway.

Fast forward again and you have this lovely little jacket for your cut edge. Suddenly, it’s nice and neat and tucked away inside where it can’t unravel.

On the other edge I did the same, but instead of casting off as I went along, I switched to a 3×2 rib and put in button holes. I sort of eye-balled this and sort of mathed it (‘Hey, Husband – which numbers go into 79 ish?’)

At this point, I realised I needed to make a decision about the collar. The issue I had was the fact that I’d unpicked too much of the neckline when I cut the front. I’d presumed I’d be chopping these bits off so I wasn’t careful about damaging the knit as I undid it. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

So, I sewed the blue and the garter stitch back into place. It looked like a total mess.

At this point, I was ready to cut my losses, but the sense that I couldn’t wreck this any more than I had done drove me to try and crochet along the joining edge between the blue and garter stitch.

At first, it looked crap. But again, I just kept going…

When I reached the other edge of the neckline, I still wasn’t happy with how it was looking. But again, I didn’t feel as if I could hurt this sweater any more by experimenting so I crocheted my way back along.

And it looked neat. The messy edge was nicely enclosed. I was so glad I kept working it to the end.

After that little hiccup was dealt with, I picked out some buttons from my mother-in-law’s stash. Like any box of buttons, the number of matching sets is limited so I picked out some cute little red ones.

After I’d sewn them on, I was ready to try it on.

Unfortunately, I can’t take a photo of myself wearing it, but I did snap a few shots of it on my manequin.

I don’t think it’s especially flattering in the picture, but in real life it ticks all the boxes for what I feel a squishy cardigan should look like. I really love it – really love it.

Thanks to the amazing tutorial from @AmyTwiggerH, I’ve taken an unwanted, unloved garment and turned it into something that I’ll wear almost daily. I’m super grateful for the guidance and the idea.

I think, as well, that this has changed how I’m going to knit, going forward. I’ve been working cardigans by turning the work, but this opens up the option to knit in the round – significantly quicker – and then cut the work to create the cardigan. It’s something I’ll definitely be experimenting with.

Have you tried altering knitwear? I’d love to see some examples. As ever, contact me here or on Twitter.

 

The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide by Jen Gale

Before I start reviewing this book, I’ve got to confess that I’m already a massive fan of Jen’s. I’ve been following her work since she began blogging about buying nothing new for a year, and while I was still on Facebook, hers was one of my absolute favourite groups.

Sustainable(ish) Living Guide: Everything you need to know ...

This book was exactly as good as I’d hoped it would be. It was full of Jen’s humour, and her gentle acknowledgement that we’re all trying our best and that no one is perfect.

At the beginning, she does say that if you’re already doing the usual, basic things to limit your waste production ( i.e. the ‘buyerarchy of needs‘, ‘refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot’ etc.) then you’re probably not going to get a great deal from the book… but I would debate that. I’ve read a lot of books in this area over the past ten years and I didn’t get bored reading this. On the contrary – the tone was lovely and warm, and even though a lot of the information wasn’t new, I just enjoyed the prose.

I managed to pick up some tips on mending – I feel like I’m late to the Sugru party! – and a few other things beside. To my shame, even though I’ve been hankering for a wormery to help dispose of my dog’s poop for years, it never occurred to me to investigate a DIY wormery!  I will be looking into that as soon as I possibly can.

And I thought I was doing really well on the kitchen and bathroom, but I found myself sticking post-it notes in every second page in the chapters which covered these rooms.  I also find it so reassuring to see – in black and white from someone who’s been paid to write about this sort of thing – that Jen still buys plastic wrapped crisps and yogurt. Like, I know we shouldn’t be celebrating the fact that we still need to do this, if we want to eat these things, but I am all over celebrating the fact that someone is being honest when talking about it.

Another thing I really like about this book is that it doesn’t focus solely on plastic. The last few reviews I’ve done have felt very plastic heavy, when actually, that’s been one of the easiest elements of my life to change. What I’d love to hear more about is fuel efficiency, cheaper ways of insulating my home, how to keep microplastics out of my wash… there are so many other things to be tackled which are so often forgotten about when people start talking plastic.

And as discussed before, I’ve got a real Thing about good citations and this book has lots of them, which is lovely. It’s nice to have an idea as to what I can go on to read next (beyond my gardening books which are quickly looking very worse for wear as I get to grips with my outdoor space!).

All in all, this book really does have something for everyone in it. I’m really glad that this is one of the books I’ve got with me at the moment because I can take my time to look at the various links which are offered up, and I can properly look through the publications it draws from.

If you’re interested in Jen’s work, why not check her out on Twitter, or on her website?

Drawstring bag tutorial

Following a Tweet from Nikki at Thrifty Green Blogger, I thought I might make a tutorial for drawstring bags.

You can find instructions on how to make these all over the internet, from Pinterest to YouTube, but I want to throw my own hat into the ring. It’s not that I don’t think these others are any good, but I want to showcase really easy, really lazy, really quick methods. What’s wrong with doing a proper neat job, I hear you cry? Absolutely nothing at all. But honestly I’m too lazy to do one, and I think it’s better to have a go at making something quick and simple from recycled material, then using it at the supermarket, than it is having the intention to Make A Proper Job Out of It and then never getting round to doing it.

Things to consider: You’re going to want to wash these. They come into direct contact with food. In the interests of keeping microfibres at bay, you’re best to select a natural material. If you plan to use them for loose grocery items (carrots, onions etc.) or dried goods from a refillery then you want to make them as light as possible so as not to needlessly increase your shopping bill. I made mine from the cotton lining of an old dress, but old sheets are fine and if you can’t find anything else then cotton quiling fabric will do. If you want to use them for the likes of loose breads then the weight doesn’t matter – most of these things are chargd by the item. This is where you can make use of old denim, old tea-towels, and heavier weaves. For these, it’s often best to put the string along the long edge as it allows the cashier to open the bag with greater ease in order to count how many croissants etc you have.

What you will need:
Natural fibre fabric (as discussed above)
Thread
Some kind of string
Scissors
A needle/sewing machine

For ease of writing, I’m going to relate the super-easy ‘made from old jeans’ method first….

From an old trouser leg

First of all, cut away a section of trouser leg. I usually cut off the bottom hem when I do this because my hems are always manky, but if you’re a clean person, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t leave it on.

Next, turn your section of leg inside out and sew along the bottom – either with the machine or by hand. If you’re doing it by hand, you might want to try backstitch as this is slightly stronger, but the choice is totally yours.

Fold the top of the bag over to create the chanel for the draw string. I like to fold twice so that the raw edge is tucked away, but each to their own. Once that’s done, sew along the bottom of the fold as illustrated (above). This is essentially your drawstring chanel made.

Snip a tin hole through the first layer of fabric on your chanel. This is the hole through which the string will pass. Thread your string through by attaching it to a safety pin and pushing this through the chanel. Turn the bag inside out and you’re finished!

If you’ve been working with a sewing machine, this is a stupidly quick project – two lines of sewing and you’ve got a completed article. And a trouser leg will make 3-4 bags, depending on the size you need. These bags – if made from cotton such as denim – can be washed at high temperature, ironed, frozen, and reused until they rot. Perfect. Plus, you’ve managed to divert some old trousers from landfill. Winning.

You can, of course, make these from sweater sleeves, t-shirt bodies, old pillow-cases… basically any tubular fabric (though I can’t imagine socks being appealling!) . If you don’t have a pre-made tube, or if you want to use the feather-light fabric needed for items sold based on weight, you can add in the following steps at the beginning. Excuse the difference in pen – my black ink ran out…

Cut your fabric twice the width you’d like your bag to be.

Instead of just sewing across the bottom like you would with a length of trouser leg, sew up the side too in order to make an L-shape.

And that’s all there is to it, really.

Do you have any tips for make super-simple drawstring bags? Or for other ways to carry your groceries home? I would love to hear about them – here, or on Twitter.

 

Working from home – with children – in relation to Covid 19 (and the climate crisis).

Husband has been working from home as a translator since our eldest was a year old. That was 8 years ago, and last year, I joined him as a proof-reader. We originally made the rather terrifying decision for him to go self-employed because – primarily – of the commute. When working in an office, Husband would get up before the baby woke, drive to work, do a day in the office, and arrive back after I finished the bedtime routine. Weekends were spent trying to form a connection with our child which would then feel undone in the following week of absence.

Changing the way we worked to avoid the commute gave us more time as a family, allowed us to cut back to one car, saved us a small fortune on fuel, and reduced our food spending too – an unexpected bonus of not having to worry about lunch away from home. One might also argue that our eating the previous night’s leftovers for lunch also helped reduce food waste, but I feel that would be reaching.

Of course, our decision to begin working this way is very different to those people being forced into remote working due to Covid 19, and it is important to acknowledge that.

I have, however, had multiple requests for advice regarding how we work – with children at home. And going forward, doing away with unnecessary travel is a great way to keep emissions low. If this works for you, and your employer is on board, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t continue working remotely in the aftermath of the pandemic – even if just for a few days a week.

What follows are strategies which have been successful in our family. They may not work in yours. As they’re based on experience, I can’t speak for single-parents, or homes in which earning is shared equally between partners, but if that is your situation, I hope there are at least parts of the following which you find useful. I’m also coming from a household in which there are various additional needs present – these require certain concessions such as extreme continuity, routine, black and white boundaries etc. – so you might find a more fluid, flexible approach easier than the one I detail here.

Again, our choices were made in a different time, for different reasons. Please take whatever good you can from what follows. 

  • It might be helpful, if you’re able, to sit down as a family before remote working is due to begin in order to discuss with the children what’s going to happen. In my experience, it helps to be as clear and concrete as possible. i.e. “Adult A will endeavour to work between X o’clock and Y o’clock with lunch breaks at Z. Adult B will be your immediate responder until after Y o’clock, when Adult A becomes your go-to human and Adult B starts work.”
    If your children are too young for specified times, buzzers can help. i.e. ‘Adult A is only contactable after the buzzer has gone.”
  • It might be useful to explain why you’re working, or if your children are older, to reiterate why it’s important. It seems like an obvious thing to us, but for the longest time, my children thought we just preferred working to other activities! Talk about the things you need in order to live (a home, food, heating etc.) and explain that money is required to buy these things, and that jobs pay money. If applicable, you might want to frame working as an act of love – in my experience, it changes prioritising your job from possibly invoking feelings of mild rejection to being an active act of affection.
  • It is hard, but it will help if the person working can be consistent regarding boundaries. If your children come to you while you’re busy, it can be so difficult to say, ‘No, not right now, go find Adult B’ – every single time. You love your babies, you want to meet their needs, but in our case, doing so fostered the expectation that Husband would drop everything to respond and this isn’t always possible. If you’re working, you’re working. If you’re not, then you’re not. Having these really clear blocks of time and sticking to them can mean the difference between getting interrupted every five minutes and being left to really buckle down for two hours, undisturbed and thus, potentially, finishing work early.
  • Consistency in space might be useful. We never had a dedicated room for an office, but we’ve found it incredibly helpful to carve out a corner of the dining room from which Husband can work. It’s a physical representation of what he’s doing – a very concrete boundary. If he’s in the chair by his desk, leave him be. In contrast, I sit by the fire with the dog and use my laptop on my knee. This is exactly how I sit when I’m playing video games. It’s not fair to expect the children to be able to instantly tell if I’m working or not, whereas it’s really easy for them to see if Husband is. Result: he’s left alone to get on with things and I get interrupted.
  • When you’re present, be present. I spoke above about having unambiguous blocks of time i.e. if you’re working, you’re working. But this goes both ways. You can’t expect children to just leave you alone entirely throughout the day. They still need us.
    Some might need your help with their remote schooling, or they might be frightened and looking for connection. They might be bored without their classmates. Setting aside time specifically for them, in which they get to select an activity to do with you can make all the difference. Obviously, this might not be possible – your job might not be one which allows it, or you might not be used to managing your workload yet (a real issue for freelancers – the temptation is to take whatever work there is when you can get it and worry later about how you’re going to manage to get it done in time). Just do your best. Again, I wrote about consistent workspaces above, but if all you can commit to at the moment is putting a film on and sitting beside your child as they watch it while you work, then that’s all you can manage. Don’t feel bad about it. We’re all just doing the best we can.
  • I find it helps to keep an ace or two up my sleeve when I’m the one not working… By this I mean things my children only generally get to do as a treat. In my house, this includes-but-is-not-limited-to watching the TV, playing a video game, having some sweeties, (at the moment) going for a walk, getting out a huge roll of paper and paints. When my youngest is really struggling with the fact that my eldest child is doing school work and can’t play, the hierarchy of distraction goes;
    1. Use favourite toys – build a track, or draw a picture… something I can fade out of if my child’s invested enough in the activity.
    2. Provide lunch/snack food. Sometimes the pestering is a manifestation of hunger and not boredom.
    3. Pull out one of the special activities.
  • Be kind to yourself in every free minute you have. None of us know what we’re doing. We’re just trying to keep things as usual as we can. Stick to a routine you know works as much as possible, and make sure to include lots of self-care – you can’t pour from an empty cup.

Covid specific advice.
You’re not a teacher (unless you are!), and no one expects you to be. You’re not meant to home-educate your children unless you were doing that already – you’re not duty bound to be setting a curriculum, or introducing new concepts. If your school is sending work home, it’s work they believe your child can do. Teachers are amazing, incredible humans who have managed to reinvent the education system with 48 hours’ notice whilst still working within the confines of the national curriculum. They’re setting tasks designed with your community in mind, and around resources they can either provide digitally, or which they’re relatively certain most families will have. If you are struggling, talk to your child’s teacher and explain the confines of your situation. There is every chance that they’ll be able to either alter the task, provide an alternative, or reassure you that when schools return to normal, they can support any catching up that’s necessary. The main aim of every teacher I’ve spoken to at this time is that the children they work with are as happy as the situation allows.

Additional: I hope this has been useful to you. If there’s anything in particular that you’d like to know, please feel free to comment either below or on Twitter, then if it’s helpful I can do a follow-up post addressing any queries. If you know me in the real world, I’d ask that you make any question that relates to my children as anonymous as possible – I go to great lengths to keep my language around their descriptions as neutral as I can, and I would appreciate your doing the same. They didn’t ask to be included in this, and I endeavour to only mention them in passing if at all possible.

 

Seed Library

THE EVENTS DETAILED IN THIS POST HAPPENED BEFORE THE CLOSURE OF SCHOOLS. THE MARKET IN QUESTION OCCURRED ON MARCH 7TH 2020, PRIOR TO MORE STRINGENT MEASURES TO CONTAIN THE COVID 19 VIRUS. PLEASE KEEP THIS IN MIND.

Once a month, our little town hosts a market in the square.

I would love it if it could be weekly so I could do the bulk of my shopping there – stalls include local cheese makers, fish mongers, apiarists, pasta-makers, game butchers, vegetable growers and bakers. It’s everything a shopping experience should be – meeting neighbours and friends for a chat amongst the stalls, fresh air, local produce…

The absolutely incredible people from Deveron Projects were there too, on this occasion. And they were setting up a community seed library! The basic premise is thus; if you take seeds from the library, you have a go at growing them and then nom all the lovely food. And you return the same number of seed packets as you put in. It doesn’t have to be the same seeds – so, for example, if your crop of peas failed spectacularly because you got over excited and planted them out too early, you would be fine to send back an envelope of something else. Like rocket… just as an example…

Anyway, deeply enthused, I took home some ‘Dazzling Blue’ Kale and some ‘Jaune Obtuse De Doubs’ yellow carrots – both by Real Seeds – as well as some fine curled chervil, donated by a local.

In addition to the seed library, the group also run a community orchard and have operatd a swap shop for the past few years. But Deveron Projects isn’t the only wonderful initiative running in the town. There is also a community owned bookshop which is manned entirely by volunteers. And I could talk for hours about the Community Support Agriculture (CSA) project that is Tap O’ Noth farm, so don’t even get me started on the amazing work by Ellie and Martyn at the Ethical Gift Shop.

When I look at the amazing work that’s going on around me, I can’t help but feel hope for what’s coming next. If all of this is happening in the tiny town of Huntly, the thought of what’s afoot in the rest of the country helps to remind me that there are good people doing good work in spite of a system designed to favour consumerism.

Do you know of any amazing community centred ideas in your area? Are you a part of any? I would absolutely love to hear about your adventures! As ever, get in touch here, or on Twitter.

Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles

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Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles describes itself as ‘Simple zero-waste steps to a joyful and clutter free life’.

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More of a lifestyle book than a waste reduction handbook, it reads rather like Marie Kondo’s famous ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’. In fact, I would go so far as to call it a waste-conscious appendix to other anti-clutter books, rather than something specifically advocating zero-waste.

Whilst it’s a great book, and a fabulous resource, I don’t feel that it goes far beyond saying ‘dispose of your clutter responsibly’. The later part of the book does go into detail about how to do so, but this is only around a third of the page-count and in terms of proportions, I would far rather have read something where the possible means of discarding objects made up the main body of work. As it is, the process of deciding what to let go occupies two thirds of the book.

That said, not everyone is at the same point as we are – when we moved to Scotland, I purged many, many unnecessary items so that we were able to transport our belongings north in two transit vans and a Polo. I did this with the Marie Kondo book. This being the case, there isn’t nearly as much clutter as in many homes. As a companion guide for someone looking to undertake the KonMarie method, or as a complete work for someone who wants to try a different approach to decluttering, this book is absolutely ideal.

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The artwork is lovely – simple line drawings and bright colours. The spacious layout and magazine-column style texts make it a really easy, quick read.

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I especially like the sections at the start of each chapter. These are a brief description of what’s coming, which makes the book easier to navigate as a workbook when you’re undertaking the clearing out itself.

My copy of this book isn’t actually due back to the library for a good long while yet, so I’m going to actually try and follow the outlined method of clearing out to see what happens. I’ll compare it to the previous attempt to declutter and let you know how I get on. I don’t think there’s much to get rid of (we’re not big shoppers and it’s only been five years since we moved) but as I need to make space for a second-hand piano that my husband has bought, something really has to give and this is as good a way as any to go about that.

Have you tried decluttering with a handbook as a guide? Has your house ever got to the point where you need to declutter, or do you feel as though living simply has saved you from Too Many Things? As always, I would really love to hear your thoughts – here, or on Twitter.