Saturday, August 23, 2008

Gunga Din

It rained the whole time in Ireland, but we had fun despite it. We went to the boat my dad keeps with his friend on Lough Derg. We went to Bunratty castle and folk park, we played a D&D game with the kids, and we invented our own board game and played that. I taught Steph to crochet granny squares and we started work on an afghan for dad. Dad read us poems by Robert Service, Rudyard Kipling and Banjo Patterson whilst we crocheted. I practiced a new bluegrass fingerpick I was learning on the guitar until I drove everyone crazy (but they all agreed I had improved by the end of the week).

The kids played in the Irish farmland surrounding dad's house come rain or shine. They shoveled up gravel from a heap and scattered it all across the yard; on the last day Steph and I spent an hour sweeping it back into a heap. The kids furnished a "den" in the hedgerow by the lane and spent a lot of time carrying stuff up there.

We watched a clutch of swallow chicks in dad's barn get bigger and bigger - before long they'll be ready to fly. We identified most of the wild flowers we found on dad's land (ragwort, greater plantain, ribbed plantain, welted thistle, creeping thistle, creeping buttercup, herb robert, yarrow, short-fruited willowherb, selfheal and others) and we identified all the birds (goldfinches, house sparrows, dunnocks, wrens, robins, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, greenfinches, jackdaws, hooded crows, wagtails, swallows, and others).

Tomorrow we're off on our travels again - to London this time with Ed (he didn't come to Ireland) for our main family holiday of the year. I'll resume normal regular blogging when I return.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Going to Ireland

dad waiting for us to arriveThe kids and I are going to Ireland to stay with my dad for almost two weeks. My two sisters will be there too, with my nephew and niece. Poor old Ed is staying at home, but we'll be having our family holiday together when we get back. I've lined up some blog posts to be published every day whilst I'm away. But my dad's Internet connection is absolutely abominable so I won't be able to respond to emails or comments until I get back.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hedgerow Wine

hedgerow wineHedgerow wine, 2007 vintage. A ripe blackberry nose with overtones of elderberry and haws leaving a damson finish on the palate with just a hint of sloes. This isn't nonsense wine-journo-speak, it's because it is made from blackberries, elderberries, haws, damson and sloes. Quaffable, and outstanding in its price bracket of about 20p/bottle.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sunday Funnies

Well, OK, he's not being very funny in this clip but he's bang on the money.
There can be no meaningful response to climate change without massive social change. Anything else is just decadent

Preach it, Rob.

Cartoon from Marc Roberts at Throbgoblins

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weed of the Week - Rosebay Willowherb

rosebay willowherbRosebay willowherb is also known as fireweed due to its habit of colonising areas devastated by fire. It also flourished on bombsites during the Blitz. It's not usually a problematic weed. You can easily pull it out when it pops up. If you take over a neglected patch of land there might be plenty of willowherb growing on it, but it's nothing like as troublesome as bindweed or couch grass or any of those difficult weeds. Do pull it up before it sets seed though, as it makes downy seeds which float up and spread everywhere.

I think it's a very handsome plant, and apparently it was introduced as an ornamental. I'm not at all surprised, and I don't know why we don't still grow it as a flowering garden plant. I think it looks a lot better than some of the things you can buy in the garden centre. I've seen some references that say you can eat it, but it doesn't seem to be a great delicacy. You can eat anything that isn't actually poisonous, but whether it's worth the effort is a different question.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Newspaper Mirror

My sister Stephanie and I have been on a real recycled mirror kick recently. Stephanie made this one from newspaper, thread, cardboard, and a piece of mirror tile. She rolled sheets of newspaper into tubes and flattened
them, then she stitched them onto a circle of corrugated cardboard. She cut out the hole in the centre and glued a piece of mirror behind. Then she backed the whole thing with a piece of thin card. Everything was recycled. I think it looks very effective, and it is hanging on my wall close to my computer.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Holiday, A Holiday

Cropredy 2008 posterWe're off to the Cropredy music festival today for four days. We've gone every year since we were teenagers. We love the camping, the music, the food, the shopping, the atmosphere, we love meeting up with our friends, we even love the weather. I've written some blog posts and saved them to be published automatically whilst we're away. But I won't be able to reply to emails or comments until I get back. And even then I'm only back for a couple of days before I head straight off to my dad's house in Ireland.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Make Do and Mend Challenge

make do and mend posterI recently had a generous offer from a skilled woodworker I know - he offered to repair any damaged guitars belonging to my young guitar students, without charge. The children usually buy a cheap instrument to learn on and I don't blame them. Most of them drop lessons after a few months and their parents don't want to invest in a quality instrument without being sure the child is committed. But these poor-quality instruments often end up breaking even without rough handling (although undoubtedly some of them do receive rough handling), and the cost of repairing them far outstrips the cost of replacing them.

I can do minor guitar surgery myself, and frequently do. But there were several instruments that were beyond my skills to repair. I took a variety of busted guitars to my friend's house, and he returned them all amazingly fast, and better than new. He wouldn't accept any payment, and said he enjoyed doing it. As well as a skilled craftsman he is also a keen musician - he has a beautiful tenor voice and I know he enjoys attending concerts as much as he enjoys performing music. So it gave him a buzz to help encourage a new generation of musicians. The children and their parents were delighted, too. And I was over the moon to see the new motivation my students had once their instruments were repaired - many of them had had their enthusiasm dented by having to use a damaged or borrowed instrument.

Repairing something is much better than replacing it, and not just for the obvious reasons of saving money and saving the planet's resources. When we repair things we start to see ourselves as competent and skilled. Consumerism takes that away from us. When we repair things we build up a relationship with the item we repair, it has a history for us and we respect it more than something we "just bought". When we have repaired a few things and we start to become good at it, we have a skill we can share with other people, whether for money or just for love and friendship. We can earn good will and respect from people by sharing our skill with them.

Repair something this month, and tell me how it makes you feel differently about your belongings and the world around you. Don't forget to vote in the poll in the right-hand-sidebar when you've done it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Put a Plug in it Challenge Results

Put a Plug in it Challenge pie chartJuly's challenge was to put a plug in the bath whilst you shower to see how much less water you use in a shower compared to a bath. It only really applied to people like me who have a shower unit over their bathtub. So I was really surprised to see that it got a good response. 58 people took part in the poll and the results were as follows:

  • I put the plug in the bath when I showered! 30 votes (51%)
  • I don't want to put the plug in the bath when I shower! 7 votes (12%)
  • I haven't got a shower over my bath! 21 votes (35%)
It's so easy to tell ourselves that it doesn't really make much of a difference what we do, whether we try to be "green" or not, whether we have a bath or a shower, so I liked this simple way of seeing directly just how much of a difference it does make. I'm not the only one; TopVeg commented:
I much prefer a bath - & have been telling myself for months that it really does not use much more water. So, I felt quite bad when I took up your challenge, put the plug in & had a shower. The water did not get above my ankles! A converted showerer..

Some commenters shared the inspiring ways they recycle their bath and shower water. Carol Hague keeps a bucket in the bathroom and uses bathwater to flush the loo. Linz uses a bucket to take it to the garden, and Wulf also uses it in the garden via a droughtplug. Yellow washes her whole family of four in a single bath (I think they take turns rather than all go in at the same time) and Amy likes to get in and out quickly. Rob isn't satisfied with taking just one green challenge, but he has done a whole bunch of them and wrote a roundup of the challenges he has taken in the last few months.

There will be a new challenge for August coming soon.

Monday, August 04, 2008


roosting batsBats are among my favourite regular garden visitors. Other people may listen for the first cuckoo of spring, or look out for the returning swallows, but for me the first bat flying past my bedroom window marks the beginning of the warm season, and their disappearance tells me winter is on the way.

I sleep with my bedroom curtains open. My bedroom backs on to open fields and is not overlooked at all so I don't worry about privacy. I love to look at the stars or simply the clouds, although the moon is never visible from my bedroom window which is a bit sad. I like to be woken by the sunrise and in particular I like to watch the bats. I wish I could show you a photograph but they're incredibly fast and almost impossible to photograph on the wing, and I don't know where they roost so I can't show you a photograph of them resting. The (rather fuzzy) photo I have included is of some bats we saw roosting in a souterrain in Craggaunowen in Ireland last year.

I don't know what species they are. There are 17 species of bat in Britain, which is about a quarter of all our mammal species. The most common is the common pipistrelle, which is also the smallest at less than 2 inches long. The rarest is the greater mouse-eared bat which was thought to be extinct in this country but was recently discovered living in the south of England. The largest British bat is the noctule, but even this is only about 3 inches long and weighs less than 1 1/2 oz (40g). British bats are diddy, although their wingspans make them look bigger than that.

Sadly, like much of our native wildlife, British bats are in trouble. A combination of loss of habitat and insecticides wiping out their prey has caused their numbers to decline sharply. Now all British bats are protected by law. It is illegal to harm them or disturb them, or muck about with their roosting sites.

I've recently discovered you can get bat detectors - electronic devices which can hear the bats' sonar sounds and can identify the bat from the frequency of its squeak. They're not cheap, but maybe my local bat conservation group or wildlife trust can lend me one to identify my bats. I'll be looking into that and I'll tell you how I get on.

If you want to find out more about British bats, visit the Bat Conservation Trust.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

My Sister Visited

collage of photos from Stephanie's visitMy sister Stephanie went back home to Sunderland on Friday. She had been with us for two weeks. Whilst she was here we went to three farmer's markets, a National Trust property, we had a picnic in Calderstones park Liverpool, we went to the Liverpool Tate art gallery with our five kids (that was fun), we restored and painted some beehives, we made recycled mirrors, we met up with our other sister Lindsey three times, we bottled some honey, we made waffles, cookies, cheese scones, we went to a barbecue at my neighbour's house, we went to an agricultural show, we played Scrabble and Risk and we watched the first season of The Sopranos on DVD, we did some sewing, some drawing, some painting, some pyrography, some decoupage. We had a great time.

I went to the farmer's market again today and all the stallholders asked me "Where is your sister? Where is her baby?" It's still fun going to the farmer's market without her, but it's not as much fun.

I'll be seeing her again in only ten days' time when all the family are gathering at my dad's house in the west of Ireland. I'm looking forward to that, but in the mean time the house seems unnaturally quiet.

Cartoon by the talented and uncannily sexy Marc Roberts of Throbgoblins. He's recently published a great cartoon about allotments, but it has too many panels to fit neatly on a Bean Sprouts blog entry.

Marc Roberts cartoon panel 1

Marc Roberts cartoon panel 2

Friday, August 01, 2008

Recycled Mirror

recycled mirrorMy very talented and arty sister Stephanie made me a beautiful mirror decorated with recycled drinks cans. She cut the cans into small squares then folded the corners of the squares to form smaller squares with safe edges. Each small square was nailed onto an old wooden picture frame with a tack in each corner.

The picture frame used to be white and contained a picture of Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. All our children are too old for Elmer now, so she remirror detailmoved the print and painted the frame with some blue and purple emulsion paint we found in the shed, before nailing the pieces of drinks can onto it.

Then Steph cut an old piece of mirror glass to fit the frame (we saved the mirror from an old wardrobe, it's been in the shed for years). And that was it, a beautiful new recycled mirror.

I was utterly delighted with it - until I found that she had cut up several drinks cans with my best dressmaking scissors.