Season's greetings and recycling resolutions

Merry Xmas and a Happy Recycling New Year

It has been a busy autumn and winter - sorry for not having posted much. I haven't been crafting as much as I'd like - between work, volunteering, the house move and childcare duties, it has been quite hectic. I also launched a new blog, which is following the (slow) renovation progress of our 1930s house. However, one 2011 resolution I kept is to recycle more. 

In January I posted about my Baglady's pledge and featured a few homemade items. I also reduced our spending by making use of old things. My daughter is very creative and we have been recycling paper for her artwork, using junk mail for collages, printouts on the white side, collecting scraps of paper that usually get thrown away for shopping lists, etc... In the garden, we have exchanged cuttings and seeds with other gardeners... And I found out from my father-in-law that old socks are very good for maturing tomatoes.

But before I sign off for this year, I'd like to introduce you to Recyclebank, an online platform that comes from the US and is getting quite popular in this country. Right now there is a good feature on having a Green Xmas, a subject I know only too well, having written about it in various guises (click here to download a pdf with lots of practical festive tips for parents). 

But back to Recyclebank, I got its press release in the autumn (apologies for the delay), so it features ideas aimed at parents of school children. I think most of these top tips are still viable now, or you can make a note and use them next year!

1.       Swap it out. Hold a clothing and school gear swap party with other families in the neighborhood. It's a great way for the kids to get “new” clothes and backpacks without hurting the planet, plus it saves money.

2.       Throw a closet-cleaning party. Clean out closets before going shopping to see what fits, what can be repurposed or what can be donated. Make it a fun activity for the whole family to do together—turn on some music, serve some snacks and have a fashion show!
3.       Put a new twist on something old. Pull out your sewing machine, material stockpile and accessories to re-invent hand-me-downs. It's a fun and creative activity for the family, saves money and encourages the kids to enjoy recycled clothing.
 4.       Extend the life of your crayons. Take crayons from the previous school year, melt them and pour them into molds to create different shaped crayons. Once cooled, you have cool “new” crayons.
 5.       Save on textbooks and conserve paper. Buy used text books from students who were previously in your kids’ grades. Students can buy a books from Amazon, then you can sell them back for gift cards to use towards next year’s books!
 6.       Plan a supply hunt. Organise a pen, pencil and notebook scavenger hunt around the house—you’d be amazed what you can find in drawers and bags. It’s a fun rainy day project for kids, and a great way to reuse the supplies you’ve already bought.
 7.       Give supplies a facelift. You can add some flair to old school supplies that are still useable. Fill an old binder with un-used pages from cast-off notebooks, recover them with sturdy fabric and then break open the craft drawer and let your kids go wild! Last year’s binder becomes a work of art.
 8.       Make it a game. Each morning, get out the stopwatch and have everyone race through the house to ensure all lights are off and appliances and electronics are unplugged. This helps save energy, and reduces your electricity bill and burns off excess energy!
 9.       Paint the classroom green. Encourage your child’s school administrators to have recycle bins in the schoolyard, classroom and hallways so kids develop the habit early. If your school doesn't have recycling, bring in your own bins and set up a collection schedule with other parents! If your town is a Recyclebank community, families can take turns collecting bins and share the coupons with the classroom. Many towns supply recycling bins to residents, but if yours doesn’t you can buy them
 10.   Form a club. If you have kids at school, ask your school if you can form a “Green Club.” Members can serve as green ambassadors in their respective classrooms, and help raise awareness and implement school-wide eco-friendly actions.
My last words: Make 2012 a greener year! It's good for the environment and your family finances!


I'm a garden ruffian - apparently!

Garden Projects for Ruffians by Phil Thane
It has been a crazy, sunny week, which meant doing some work in the garden (click here for a 1930s house update). I have a high-maintenance, mature (read overgrown) garden and so far I have managed to do a lot myself, with the occasional help of my partner who is taller and stronger than me. With the right kit, even a weakling like me can make some progress, the tools being a pickaxe, a metal gizmo to dig holes for bulbs (great for making holes for plants) and a spade. I planted pak choi and beetroots in the ground (I started them in the greenhouse, see here). Then I scarifyed/scratched my lawn with a rake and planted grass seeds to fill bare patches.

I am still learning about gardening - I'm a fan of Gardeners' World and read all articles I come across on DIY gardening. So it was a pleasure to receive a copy of Garden Projects for Ruffians by Phil Thane to review. I did enjoy reading about Phil's approach to gardening, which was championed on TV by previous Gardeners' World presenter Toby Buckland. I'm all for making the most of what you have got and cringe when TV gardeners blitz a perfectly nice garden, throw all the plants away and start from scratch. This is costly and wasteful (unwanted plants can be donated to friends and neighbours, freecycled, given to charity...).

Like me, Phil is a fan of the pickaxe and of using everything from the garden, including stones and bricks. Rubble is notoriously expensive to cart off (or time consuming/hard work if you are doing it yourself), so Phil's tips are very welcome. This handy book has a wealth of advice on practical matters, such as landscaping and planning, and there are sections on how to repair walls, how to choose the right paving for your budget... Of course many tips in this book are eco friendly too, and there is a whole chapter on water harvesting! You can dip in this book and pick what suit you, perhaps attempt a woodwork project without the need of a workshop?

I will be keeping Phil Thane's Garden Projects for Ruffians at hand for quick consultation and report on any project I might attempt, possibly later in the winter or next year. The summerhouse and shed need re-roofing - I will certainly consult this book about these essential repair jobs. I'm still not sure if we are keeping or disposing of the greenhouse, it is old and not safe, and with a young child around... I do hate the idea of throwing it away, hopefully we will use our local recycling centre. I was considering Freecycle but the glass panels are not well secured and I'm not sure it will survive dismantling.


Book giveaway: The Eco-Friendly Home, worth £14.99

Win The EcoFriendly Home!

Win The Eco-Friendly Home, worth £14.99!
I have a copy of this insightful book to give away to a lucky reader (you might want it for yourself or to give as a present). All you need to do is leave a comment using your blog name or online profile on my 1930s house blog (click here) Competition closes on 30 October 2011 and is open to UK mainland only. Only one entry per household please.

PS. If you are into DIY and female, there's a Haynes manual for us ladies... Tips on those niggling jobs and a few 'man' jokes thrown in! Click here for more info.


Frugal fruit cake - are we in retro recession?

Banana cupcakes

Some I made earlier this year: celebration cupcakes
I got an unusual press release this week, in honour of cupcake week. The press release contained yummy cupcake recipes using Philadelphia cheese (scroll to bottom of blog for my fave cupcake recipe), a frugal fruit cake recipe and an intriguing article on 2011 Trends, commissioned by Kenco Millicano. These trends are very much in the spirit of this blog and include:
  • Retro recession: a wobbly economy is pushing women to go for "new and meaningful experiences" with a zero price tag.
  • Personal vintage: family heirlooms, clothes kept in case they come back in fashion, raiding your parents' wardrobe... I'd add scouring charity shops for the antiques of tomorrow!
  • Smarter shopping: coupons, deals, special offers, you name it.
  • Made by hand, made with love. Crafts are getting more and more popular: sewing, knitting, embroidery... Sewing skills are very useful to acquire because you can then mend and make do (I once added a back panel to a shirt so it would fit me - my mum bought the wrong size but since it was a designer piece and non returnable). If you want to see some of my makes, visit the archive and you will find several projects, many using recycled materials.
Last but not least, here is the Frugal fruit cake and Chocolate orange cups recipes, the former was passed on to taste-setter Barbara by her mum.

This dark and sticky cake is a family favourite and gets even better if kept for a few days.

150 ml (¼pt water)
100g (4oz) sultanas
125g (5oz) caster sugar
113g (¼lb) butter
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
150g (6oz) plain flour
1 egg
1tsp baking powder

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
  2. First grease and line a 1lb loaf tin, then grease the paper.
  3. Take a large, thick-based saucepan and put in the water, sugar, sultanas, butter and bicarbonate of soda. Place pan on a medium heat, stir ingredients together and bring to the boil, then boil for 10 minutes exactly, but don’t go away – if the temperature isn’t controlled it may boil over.
  4. When the 10 minutes are up remove pan from the heat and allow mixture to cool. Then add the beaten egg, and the flour and baking powder, sifted together. Mix well then place in prepared tin and bake on the middle shelf for approx 1½  hours.


Chocolate Orange Cups

This is a rich indulgent dessert, so serve small portions in shot glasses.

275ml double cream
100g dark chocolate
Finely grated zest of half an orange
160g Philadelphia Light
30g icing sugar
1tbsp orange juice
1. Heat the cream in a saucepan until almost boiling. Remove from the heat.
2. Break the chocolate into pieces and stir into the cream until melted.
3. Pour the mixture into 8 small dessert glasses. Chill for about 2 hours or until set.
4. Meanwhile mix together the Philly, sugar, orange juice and zest until smooth. Spoon or pipe a layer of the Philly mixture over each chocolate dessert. Just before serving top with the grated chocolate.


Free summer holiday fun in Cambridge

Michela at the Arc's music class
There are plenty of free events for kids in Cambridge this summer, both indoors and outdoors, so you can keep your little one entertained whatever the weather! The Arc children's centre and its parents forum run a free music class and there are play sessions too. Click here for more info. Waterstone's and Heffers offer free activities for kids too (click on the names to visit their websites). And the council has organised some great events and fun days. Click here for a programme. Don't forget to check the museums, they have fun sessions on too - handy if it rains!


Making a house into a home - on a tight budget

The 1930s house

You might well wonder what happened to me as I haven't updated my blog in a long while. I bought a property (quite a long, painful process this time round) and have started transforming it into a home. I have a small budget, which means doing a lot of work myself, with the help of my partner.

I'm hoping to apply what I learnt through the Eco homes project and showing my followers most of the stages of transformation, indoor and outdoors. There will be crafts, DIY and even garden projects...

If you are intrigued and want to follow my journey, visit The 1930s home blog. See you there!


Through the keyhole: Cambridge Open Eco Homes

Open Eco Homes
I haven't posted on this blog for a long while.... my excuse is that in the past month I had to juggle working inhouse (and at home), looking after Michela and doing voluntary work in the community. Among the good causes I championed is a green event happening this month called Open Eco Homes. I gave a hand with publicity and I'm hoping to visit one of the houses.

Here is the press release of this green event:
Fifteen homes in and around Cambridge are opening their doors on Saturday 18 and Sunday 26 June to show what can be done with solar panels, sedum green roofs, wood-burning stoves, ground source heat pumps, wall insulation, in-home electricity generation, and many other measures fitting a wide range of budgets ranging from DIY to professional installations. The homes include old and new, big and small, and are warm and comfortable while economical in energy use.  

Have you been thinking about low energy solutions or putting solar panels on your roof, for now or in the future? Home owners are enthusiastic about the changes they have made and are happy to share with you their experiences, ideas, costings and excitement. You can find out what worked and what didn’t, and about the reality of giving your home an energy makeover.  

You can see the homes at www.openecohomes.org and choose which ones you’d like to visit. To book your guided tours call the Energy Saving Trust on 0800 512 012. Lines are open 9-7 Monday to Friday and 9-12 Saturday.

Liz Knox, the Open Eco Homes Project Manager, says, “There is a growing community of home owners with an infectious enthusiasm for making these changes, and helping others make them too. What’s great about it is that it brings people together.”

We will be celebrating the Open Eco Homes with an exciting
Launch Event - Eco Renovation ‘Question Time’
comprising a panel of local experts; followed by wine, soft drinks, and a chance to browse stalls.

The launch is free and starts at 7.30pm on Friday 10th June
at St Luke’s Centre, Victoria Road, Cambridge CB4 3DZ

Visits to the Eco Homes will take place
in guided tours of small groups at scheduled times,
10.30am, 12 noon, 2pm and 3.30pm
on Saturday 18th and Sunday 26th June
(Suggested donation is £3 per person per home).

Open Eco Homes is organised by award-winning local charity Cambridge Carbon Footprint, in association with the Energy Saving Trust. It builds upon the success of last year’s initiative, with dozens of volunteers freely giving their time to make the event happen. Funding has been generously contributed by Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council and local businesses: Ridgeons, Midsummer Energy, Mole Architects and East Green Energy. Accessibility: Private homes have different levels of accessibility so please ask for details when you call.



Cycling in Cambridgeshire

King's College, Cambridge
My partner and I have taken up cycling in a big way since we moved to Cambridge. When cycling in London we felt we were taking our lives in our hands, except when touring the lush Epping Forest.

Cambridge is very bike friendly - you can get a cycle map from the Tourist Office (entrance in Peas Hill) off the market square, just metres away from where the photos were taken, or you can map your journey online thanks to the brilliant CycleStreets Journey Planner, which lets you save your journeys for future reference.

These photos were taken right in the heart of Cambridge, in front of King's College and in the already mentioned Market Square on two different days. We are using the same child bike seat (Britax Jockey), which is designed for mountain bikes.

Market Square: mountain bike with Britax Jockey
child bike seat with Vizzkids safety cover
The reason for these shots is that I'm writing a cycling feature - I will reveal more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, mark 18-26 June in your calendar - Bike Week is a national celebration of cycling with events for all levels, beginners included! Cambridge city organised some fab events last year, which boosted my cycling confidence to no end.

King's Parade, Cambridge

P.S. This is a later update... Read my feature on cycling in Cambs here.


Making do and mending


Find out more about the campaign here

In January I pledged (along with my daughter) to reuse and make do as much as we can. In the past nine years I renovated a couple of Victorian houses and I have done a lot of work myself, including soft furnishings and revamping junk shop furniture. 

I have written a few articles about this, they are not glamorous makeovers, more budget ones where I did a lot of the work myself, only employing builders and other trades when necessary. 

Here are a few photos of my earliest projects - more recent crafty solutions are in the pipeline, so watch this space. In the meantime, have a look at the below and leave a comment if you wish!

1980s MDF chest of drawers with plastic handles before I transformed it. See the final result and read how I have done it by clicking here.

Avocado bathroom suite and fake-wood panelling, see the transformation by clicking here.

A leanto conservatory I had built bespoke using wood and breeze blocks. I finished off the shell with the help of Mark. Click here to see the final result.

Victorian cast-iron fireplace before I restored it, the article is looking for a home - will post the link as soon as I have found a place to publish it.


Knitting boobies

Breastfeeding support aid or breast prostethic?
This is my March make: a woolly breast. I knitted this in mixed colours so it would be multi-ethnic (unlike the pink ones you see at breastfeeding drop-ins). You can find instructions on how to make this set on the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain's website (www.lcgb.org) and if you feel charitable, you can make some for your hospital or local health clinic, if they need any.

I got the idea for the baby's mouth from Alison Blenkinsop, author of Fit to Bust - a Comic Treasure Chest. For instructions, visit www.linkable.biz and click on the button 'the breastfeeding enabler's toolchest'.

While looking for a pattern I also discovered that woolly boobies are made for cancer sufferers as they are nicer than prosthetic breasts.

Knitted breasts are used to teach mums how to achieve a good latch (hence the baby's mouth made with as lemonade bottle and a scrap of pink fabric secured with an elastic band). I filled it with torn pieces from old babygrows I machine washed beforehand.

I can definitely tick the creative recycling box with this make - the wool comes from odds purchased from my local charity shop.

But here are my favourite woolly breasts, sourced through a google search:
Feel free to add your favourites but keep it clean!

UPDATE: there is a knitting tits challenge here for Breast Cancer Day 2011, click here...


Reuse and recycle: breast milk

Breast milk... what can you do with the excess?

I know this might sound strange for some, but what can you do with excess breast milk? If you want to do a good deed, you can donate it, our hospital in Cambridge is desperate for donors and there are various milk banks in the UK.

In the past few years I have heard other weird and wonderful ways to use excess expressed breast milk, such making baby porridge or rice (wonderful), making smoothies (wonderful), selling it to sick people or strange men (weird) and now even commercial ice cream (weird and wonderful). It's just a pity I don't live in London, but perhaps I can make my own, although my supply is not what it used to be... (partner shaking his head while I read my post).

Reuse and recycle: knitting

Knitted squares joined with a needle and yarn with a crocheted border
I have started knitting again on a regularish basis. If you go back a few posts, you can spot toddler mittens, a hat - then you have to go back a long while to find my older projects, such as the blanket above. 

I used to knit a lot in the 1980s, mostly jumpers with complicated patterns, then I had less time on my hands and knitting became an occasional craft. The blanket above reignited my interest but it took me two years to make (it's a generous double bed size). 

When I bought my first home in 2002 I started to craft again, basically soft furnishings and curtains. Prior to this, it was mostly a vicarious pleasure as I freelanced for Prima, which has craft pages and supplements. Buying a house made me realise I could save money using my crafting skills. This practical outlook continued in my second house and in my two rented abodes (no doubt it will become stronger when I buy house number three). The projects became more personalised - I didn't want to make curtains for a house I was renting for a short period!

I'm now knitting a maxi cardi for my daughter. I find magazine patterns puzzling so I tend to make my own, besides I couldn't find the design I wanted. I'm using yarn in various colours because I'm using leftover yarn and odd bits and bobs from charity shops. However I've recently bought 'proper' yarn for future projects and was given some too! I have three bags of white, salmon and greeny blue yarns. I'm not sure what I am going to do with them - I like using 5mm needles so I will need to double the yarn up, which means more yarn to make anything.... It's a sign of how busy life is when I can't face using smaller knitting needles....

Knitted Online

I have chanced upon a site called Knitted Online, whose statement is:
Knitted Online makes custom knitwear for you at high street prices. Create a design from scratch or browse items from fellow users. If one of your designs is purchased we'll pay you a 5% comission. Have a look around and if you're feeling inspired, start knitting online.

Basically you can buy knitted items, commission them or sell your own. I think you must be quite fast as a knitter if you want to make a gain, so it's not really for me but it could suit nimbler fingers... Or you can buy something special for a unique present. Let's say it, a lot of high-street knits are pretty dull....