Saturday, 29 September 2012

A day in the life of my allotment

Last week I broke my spade trying to dig over my allotment, the ground was so hard but after a week of rain, I've managed to get almost three areas, weed free and ready for next season. There is always something that you need to be thinking about way in advance with an allotment or in fact growing anything. So with the autumn sun shimmering through the leaves of the trees, I picked a spot which is currently shaded by sunflowers but in the winter months will be in pretty much full sun and planted my daffodils ready for the spring.

Although I usually have my plot completely to myself apart from the birds and insects, over the past couple of days, I have being sharing my little spot of nature and sharing what I have learned. I think that it is my leeks that I am most proud of because there is not a single moment in the year that I don't have leeks on my plot in whatever stage of their life cycle they are in.

 I truly get a sense of pride when someone else digs up one of my leeks that have been grown from the seeds of leeks grown from the seeds of leeks that I grew. It really has been several generations of leek since anyone else got involved and these leeks could not be more mine.

I love leeks. You do need to dig them up because that network of white roots hold fast to the soil but once out of the ground they can be so easily cleaned up and smell delicious. I do feel quite the allotmenteer when I get to give them to friends.

Josie came to the allotment with me in the afternoon and was delighted to discover that despite the rain, the river was shallow enough for her to run around in. There has never been such a small amount of water in this river.

Anyone with children will know what a bizarre kettle of fish they can sometimes be. Josie has set her heart on reading Oliver Twist and despite my suggestions about Dickens being possibly a little challenging for a 9 year old, she stood there doing incredibly well with the complicated language, reading the first chapter whilst I weeded out the dandelions, couch grass and nettles.

She wanted  to go back in the river but during the time she had been reading to me, the river had once again filled with water and was practically raging compared to 15 minutes earlier.

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Friday, 28 September 2012

Jubilee WI Jam

I inherited a large patch of raspberry canes with a rotten old wooden frame around them that used to be a fruit cage when I got my first allotment a few years ago. This was followed by a whole barrage of advice from the old boys about what I should do with the plot.
"I could burn all that wood for you" said one, "Dig 'em all up and start again" said another and "I saw a rat the size of cat run through there the other day" (I don't think this was advice as much as a test to see whether I was really the kind of person to have an allotment). Like most advice that I have been given by this gang of boys with a wealth of knowledge, I have left them be. I chop them a bit in the spring, try my best to prevent them from becoming too over grown and have had more raspberries than I could ever pick every year. I let the birds help themselves, I drop plenty and today I even had a lovely grown up friend to help me (I tend to find my younger helpers eat as many as they pick) but we still left with pounds of fruit still hanging from the stems.

Now that I am a member of the Jubilee WI it would have been a crime against the Women's Institute to let these go to waste, especially when there are ladies out there who have never made jam. Jam making is pretty much second nature to me now. You boil fruit and sugar in a pan, job done. The amount of sugar and the size of the pan is always dependent on the amount of raspberries I have the time to pick.

Today my wonderful helper Michelle and I picked about 2 1/2 lbs in 30 minutes and then as a reward for coming to help, Michelle got to take her pick of other goodies to take home.

Sadly Michelle had to go before the jam making began but that didn't stop her from getting started on a crocheted jam jar covers.

The jam apprentices arrived from a busy morning of school runs and assembles so we had a spot of allotment soup before we got down to the serious jam making.

The very talented seamstress and knitting and stitching circle group leader was in charge of the possibly unnecessary but essentially excellent fun crushing of the raspberries with the sugar. (WI apron recommended).

And here it is the very first Jubilee WI Jam going into the jars. 

These are of course limited edition and incredibly special so we need a VIP jam taster. Not only was I lucky enough to have the president of our Jubilee WI as an apprentice but there was a teeny tiny tot, the future generation of WI jam makers, happy to get jammy chops and place her little sticky hand prints possibly too close to my husband's prized Blu-Ray player.

I hope that this little lady follows in the footsteps of her wonderful mother and continues the tradition of passing homemaking skills from one generation to the next and that in 80 years time she is standing in front of a room of young women saying..."I was 14 months old when I went to my first WI jam making lunch and I have never ever brought a jar of jam..."

Thank you for your help Michelle, Sophie, Claire and especially Jayne.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The Big Knit

As well as having a go at some website design, making changes to my blog and doing all the other day to day stuff, it suddenly occured to me that little hats for the big knit need to be in on October 1st which is Monday. After missing the opportunity last year, I really had very good intentions of making several rather lovely hats but totally forgot until earlier this week. I am hoping to have recruited some helpers in the form of the lovely ladies of our WI knitting and stitching circle which meets tonight. Hopefully we will make loads more to go with the two that I've done already. Please check back for pictures later in the week and click on the link or picture for details of how to get involved yourself.

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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Make do and mend

The Women's Institute is turning out to be everything that I hoped it would be. The knitting and stitching circle is a twice monthly treat, I have met so many fascinating and incredible women, made new friends and last night Judi Knight kindly shared her wealth of knowledge with our Jubilee WI. Dressed in a pinny, with ritzy victory rolls, Judi was a master at the art of public speaking. She clearly had a passion for Make do and mend but there was no glamorization of the WW2 Home Front fashions. The thought provoking talk made me once again question why our world today has become such a 'throw away' society. I would not do well living in a time where food and clothing were rationed however I can't help wondering whether having whatever we like at our disposal makes us forget not only how truly lucky we are but stops us really appreciating what we do have. I am all for the War on Want and hope that my thrifty and make do and mend fascination is not part of a passing fad but an inherited genetic makeup bestowed upon me by my Grandmother.

 I loved my Grandmother dearly and had an enormous amount of admiration for her Make do and mend attitude. She is pictured above with her elder sister and was married at the start of the Second World War. Just as Judi Knight explained last night, fabric was scarce during the war and rationed, making it practically impossible to come by oodles of white finery to fashion into a traditional wedding dress. Instead many women choose to invest their clothing tokens on a well made and good quality skirt suit that could be worn well beyond that special day.

 I don't have a copy of the photo of my Grandma on her wedding day but I remember it clearly. It was a simple snapshot and my grandmother was wearing an incredibly stylish skirt suit. She was a seamstress by trade and I used to spend hour upon hour in her sewing room. She explained to me about the importance of quality fabric, tailoring and the cut of the clothing. When I was a growing up, she always wore a smart tailored skirt and made all of her own suits. She would be flabbergasted by the amount that today's bride spends on her wedding dress.

I remember my Grandma darning and patching linen for a local hotel. There was always a large pile of beautifully thick and luxurious sheets, pillowcases, tableclothes and napkins in her sewing room. I wonder if hotels still get the holes in their linen darned or whether worn sheets are just another casualty of the disposal world in which we now live. I'm very pleased to say that my own wedding dress was handmade by my mother and lined with an old linen tablecloth that she was given as a wedding present.

Thank you kindly to Judi Knight for her completely brilliant and fabulous talk. I adored the idea of fair isle knitting being a way to use up scraps of wool and will endeavor to give it a whirl. She has inspired me to move even further away from the high street and its relations with sweatshops and exploitation and closer to the handmade, thrifted and my favourite of all, Vintage!

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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The winds of change

 Here they come again! Along with the colder mornings and the slight chill in the air, the winds of change are whipping around my blog.

 Changes to be revealed and explained in full when I don't have a right proper headache.
I might even have a bit of a blog give away to celebrate, if I can find anything worthy.

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Sunday, 16 September 2012

There'll be blue skies over the white cliffs of Dover

My Dad had so many sayings, little phrases and automatic verbal responses that I often almost hear him saying them. I suppose that his memory is forever in my heart and his quirky words are etched into the way I see the world. Despite the weather, he would always say that if there were enough blue sky to make a pair of sailor's trousers then the weather would turn out fine. I remember him saying this most often as we huddled behind our windshield, under our sun umbrella and towels as a tropical storm blew across which ever beach we were braving.
"Get in the sea," he'd say, "there's enough blue sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers, the sun will be out in a minute". I would ask how he knew that there was enough to make a pair of trousers and his response was always the same. "How long is a piece of string?" I never knew the answer to that so conversation over.

The National Trust look after The White Cliffs Coastal Site and it is one of the most outstandingly beautiful spots along the chalky coast of the this part of Kent. It is however a bizarre mix of nature, concrete and steel remains, war relics and industrial port.

I don't believe that the Port of Dover has changed since I was a teenager and we used to travel to France for our annual family holiday. This photo was taken today but I think it would be exactly the same if it were taken in the 1980s.

I even think that Josie looks slightly retro here, with her star t-shirt and wind slept hair looking rather like she wouldn't be out of place in a Bon Jovi video.

My Dad would have been very pleased to have his theory proved correct, the clouds disappeared and there were clear blue skies over the white cliffs of Dover.

And yes, that is Charlie on the edge of the cliff top with a sheer drop inches away from his little tootsies and the wind whistling round his ears.

I wonder if my Dad would have been standing next to Charlie posing for photos at the edge of the cliffs or telling him to move back from the edge. The answer of course is neither of these options, he would have been taking the photos and as for keeping tiny children from falling off the edge of cliffs, that was my Mum's job.

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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Mini-makeover earrings

This really is a simple way to turn some cheap earrings into something much more special. They can be made in less than an hour to match a new outfit, would make a lovely present and totally support my reuse, reinvent, relove philosophy.

You will need:

A crochet hook
Some beautiful yarn
Cheap hoop earrings (I got mine in the TopShop sale for a very reasonable price)
A needle to sew in the ends of the yarn

The method is exactly the same as the method for the crochet bangles that I made here. I might even get my little film maker to help me make a quick video later.

Watch this space.

Anyhow back to the earrings and how they turned out because I forgot to take photos whilst I was making them because they really were that quick to make.

Catch a Glimpse Button

If you would like to buy these earrings, please check out the listing in my Shop
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Sunday, 9 September 2012


All gardeners have their enemies. The top spot of my list has always been taken by slugs and snails with their voracious appetite and ability to destroy a tray seedlings over night. They show no mercy and have cost me dearly. I wouldn't be able to count the endless hours I have spent wrestling with bind weed, untangling my precious plants from the strangling tendrils and trying in vain to remove those white roots from the soil. However as if these pests weren't enough, blight has really started to plague my potato and tomato growing efforts. I have actually stopped even bothering to grow potatoes after three disastrous years of failed crops. The potato plants grow well and the look fabulous until about June and then almost over night, blight sweeps through the allotment devastating every crop even those belonging to the old boys. Up until recently though, my tomatoes have not suffered too badly. Blight will have a go at tomatoes just as much as potatoes because they are part of the same family. I can't really complain too much because I have had a fair tomato crop but over the last few weeks my beautiful tomato plants have gone from lush green to insipid yellow, mottled with chocolate brown lesions and the soul crushing brown patches on the fruit.

Not a pretty sight

Fortunately very few of the actual tomatoes on this plant have got blight and it's just the plant that's suffering.

I did manage to pick loads of delicious tomatoes from this plant before it got blight and quite a few since.

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Friday, 7 September 2012

Raspberry jam

I had the most wonderful day. The sun was shining and I had the whole day to myself whilst the children were at school. I even enjoyed doing the mundane and trivial tasks like the laundry and cleaning. Most of all though I loved making a huge great vat of raspberry jam. My raspberry canes at the allotment are completely laden with fruit and despite spending a couple of hours up there this morning, there are still more than I had time to pick.

There is much debate about the ratio of fruit to sugar but today I decided to go with equal amounts, 4lbs of sugar with 4lbs of raspberries which looked like a massive amount.

And it seemed to take forever for the sugar to dissolve.

I do always tend to make rather a lot of mess when making jam so once I sterilized the jam jars in the oven at 100c for 15mins, I put them on the draining board to make the clearing up a little bit easily.

Jam is very sticky.

I managed to make 14 jars in all and I'm seriously thinking of selling some at the school Christmas fair, once I've made some fancy labels and possibly some crochet jam covers.


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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

What we did...Summer Holidays 2012 Final Day

It was the most gloriously sunny and rather warm day today, perfect for the end of the summer holidays. This is my second week back at work however I'm a part-timer and finish by 2.30pm on a Tuesday. We decided to head off to Tankerton Slopes for a barbecue. I grabbed my knitting, camera and the first issue of a new magazine called The Simple Things. It arrived yesterday in the post and I managed to sneak a peak this morning before I cycled to work. The snippet I read stuck in my mind all day. Simple things are always the best and this writing described someone's simple pleasure of enjoying their alone time with a coffee and the kitchen to themselves before anyone else is awake.

This is my simple thing. I loved sitting on the beach in the warm September, watching the children swim in the sea and reading a magazine.

We didn't bring swimming costumes so after a little persuasion, the children swam in the underwear.

This is Charlie's treasure that he found, a rusty piece of plastic which I thought was rather incredible. I wasn't really aware that plastic had the ability to rust!

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Monday, 3 September 2012

Cranbrook and the Kitsch and Stitch Fair

This weekend I had a real treat, I finally went to the Kitsch and Stitch Fair in Cranbrook. I got to go all by myself and peruse the lovely vintage and handmade goodies at my leisure. I could have quite easily bought numerous items, there were so many things that were almost too pretty for me to live without, but the stall I splashed out on was Simply Vintage Designs. I have been looking for the perfect cake stand without success, but the fabulous lady behind Simple Vintage Designs has a collection of very lovely plates and lets you put together your own two or three tier stand. What could be better?

 I have put it together and I totally love it, but I wrapped it back up again and have put it away. I didn't feel that I should take a photo until I have baked some delicious goodies to display on it.

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