#Mumstylist

My daughter is blessed with the kind of lustrous locks that I can only dream about: long, thick, blonde and easily waved or curled. I’ve been combing (see what I did there) through Pinterest to find new styles for her. You can take a look at my board here.

Sometimes, hairstyling is a struggle. It is inevitably a rushed experience as we try to meet the 8.30 a.m. deadline on school days. Despite that, I think I do quite a god job. You might well ask why I bother with fancy styles but I want to enjoy her beautiful hair while she is still young enough to need me to be involved. I want her to look neat and tidy for school too and we often resort to a simple ponytail or plaits.

You can see my efforts on Instagram, via the hashtag #Mumstylist.

How do you style your daughters hair and do you enjoy the experience? Join in with the hashtag on Instagram if you want to. I’d love to see what other Mums do.

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The best and easiest ice cream ever

strawberry ice creamThis recipe came from my sister-in-law and like most of the recipes we use in this house, it is quick, easy and adaptable. For the basic ice cream you will need:

Half a pint of double cream

400g tin of condensed (sticky) milk

Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Be careful that you don’t over whip the cream as it can turn to butter in the blink of an eye. Fold the condensed milk into the cream and freeze.

That is it. No churning or mixing. Just freeze.

Now, the fun thing about this recipe is that you can flavour it in so many ways. My sister-in-law usually adds crushed crunchy bars to her ice cream so that was one of the first additions we tried. The combination of smooth ice cream and sweet, crispy, toasted sugar is delicious. Here are some of the other variations we have tried.

Chopped up After Eight mints (a bit like eating the mint Vienetta of my 80′s youth)

Chopped caramel bars (not so good – the caramel is too sticky).

Rum and raisin. The raisins were soaked in warm rum first and then folded in. Delicious.

Lemon curd. I think The Husband mixed some lemon curd right into the cream and he also  added some lemon ‘ripples’. Also delicious

Strawberry jam. As lemon, above and just as successful.

You can also adapt this recipe to use up excess fruit. For example, I’ve harvested over 15kg of strawberries in the last two weeks. We’ve been enjoying eating them on breakfast cereal, with clotted cream and scones and in smoothies but mainly, I’ve been making jam. However, one of my batches of jam never quite made it to the setting stage so I sieved it using my new/old vintage Kenwood mouli attachment and used it in a batch of ice cream. You could get a similar effect by using fresh strawberries. In fact, I used this recipe a few years ago and it was very good. It’s the same basic recipe as I got from my sister-in-law.

If I ever get around to picking the many gooseberries in our allotment I may try that variation too.

I hope you enjoy experimenting with this recipe. It’s not exactly healthy, but you only need a little bit of it for a very indulgent treat.

P.S. It’s too good for children.

 

Apple for the teacher

It’s  the time of year when people look for gifts for their children’s teacher. Normally I leave this to the last minute but this year, I’ve had a moment of inspiration since spotting this little brooch by JammyPudding on Instagram. You can buy it from her Etsy shop here

il_570xN.517506422_sh7vI was immediately reminded of an image of a crocheted washcloth I stuck on pinterest months (years?) ago.

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 15.43.49I can’t credit this image very well because when I click on the link in pinterest, it takes me to a dead end. If you want to investigate further, check my pinterest page, the link is here. Anyway, I thought that I could create something very similar so I set about making my own version. Mine is probably a tad smaller than the one above, which was intentional because I liked the idea of a brooch, rather than a wash cloth. This one is made with cotton double knit and measures approximately 7cm across.IMG_0693Since I made the first one, I have made an even smaller one using fine crochet cotton. It is much smaller, only about 3.5 cm across.

If you would like to make one of your own, here is the pattern. Everything is in UK crochet terms. From the second round onwards you need to put your hook into the top of the stitches from the previous round. Sometimes you need to put two stitches into the same place, sometimes only one. In the pattern, you can tell if you need to move your hook onto the next stitch place because there will be a comma so, for example, if you need to make a double crochet in one stitch from the previous round and then two trebles in the next stitch, and then a half treble in the next stitch, it’ll be written like this:

double crochet, 2 trebles, half treble

Round 1

Make a magic circle

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IMG_0657 Pull a loop through the circle to begin.

IMG_0658Chain three and put a stitch marker in the third chain (i.e. the one before the one that is on the hook). You can see that I used a bit of spare yarn or a safety pin for a stitch marker.

IMG_0660Make 14 trebles, crocheting over the tail end of the magic circle.

IMG_0661 IMG_0662 Pull on the tail of the magic circle to make the loop tighten up and you should have something like this.

IMG_0663 When you have completed this first round, join it with a slip stitch in the third chain you made at the start, the one with the stitch marker in.

IMG_0664You should have 15 stitches and something that looks like this.

IMG_0665Round 2

Once again, chain three and place a stitch marker as before. Make a treble in the same stitch.

IMG_0667 Continue to make two trebles into each stitch from the previous round until you have 30 stitches altogether (don’t look too closely at my picture – I can’t count 30 in there). Join the round with a slip stitch as before.

IMG_0669 Round 3 – shaping the bottom of the apple

In the next stitch make a double crochet and a treble, then into the next stitch make 2 trebles, make 1 treble in the next stitch *make 2 half trebles in the next stitch and 1 half treble in the on after that* repeat from * to * 10 more times putting a stitch marker in the 13 stitch that you have made.

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IMG_0732The reverse the stitches you made at the start of the round. Make 1 treble, 2 trebles, 1 treble 1 double crochet. Cast off by cutting the yarn leaving a tail long enough to thread through a needle and weave it in on the reverse side.

IMG_0735Round 4 – shaping the top

Start by inserting your hook where the stitch marker is placed. Make the following stitches: 1 slip stitch, 1 double crochet, 1 half treble, 2 trebles, 1 treble, 1 treble, 2 trebles, 1 treble 1 double crochet, slip stitch, slip stitch, slip stitch, double crochet 1 treble, 2 treble, 1 treble, 1 treble, 2 trebles, 1 half treble, 1 double crochet, 1 slip stitch

I haven’t shown pictures for every bit of this process.

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IMG_0697IMG_0698IMG_0699IMG_0700This is what you should have now.

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Making the green or red edge 

Starting at the bottom of the apple, insert your hook into the back loop only and draw a loop of green (or red) yarn through to make a slip stitch. Continue to do this all the way around the apple shape.

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Making the stalk and seeds

Cast on with some brown yarn in the centre top and chain 6.

IMG_0685Then, insert your hook into the 5th stitch that you made and make a slip stitch. Continue to slip stitch back down the the line of chains.

IMG_0686IMG_0689IMG_0688Cast off the brown yarn at the base of the stalk by weaving in the tail end on the reverse side.

With another piece of brown yarn, stitch the seeds. I think this is ‘lazy daisy’ stitch.

IMG_0691 IMG_0692 IMG_0693That is it!

I have lots of ideas about how to use these little apples. I would like to crochet two together and stuff them with some apple scented pot pouri to make a pomander for the wardrobe. I’d like to team it up with a pretty covered coat hanger decorated in similar colours.

I hope you enjoy making some too.IMG_0710

May in the garden of thrift

IMG_4828What a difference a month makes. The picture above was taken on the 21st of April. Don’t look at the weeds in the foreground.

IMG_0146Here is the same view almost exactly a month later. The perennial daisies are flowering and the plants behind, which are self seeded and may be hollyhocks have grown a foot or two. This is not a view of my allotment of which I am particularly proud. The tall, hollyhock like plants are in a bed which should really be for vegetables. Despite my best intentions, I have not got as much done as I would have liked. My resolution is that this autumn and winter I will get all the beds prepared in good time.

This year, I may have to resort to chemical attack in the war of the weeds. We’ve never used any chemicals on the allotment (apart from the odd slug pellet distributed by my mother) but this year I’ve used some glyphosate on a patch that has been out of control since we took ownership. We’ve had fruit trees, waiting in pots for about four years, ready to create a mini orchard on this particular part of the plot. Every year, the weeds take over and we let them. With limited time on our hands we try to concentrate on keeping the already cultivated areas as weed free as possible. Although I have now used the weedkiller and the plot is ready for digging and planting, the same dilemma is happening and I’m forced to stick to the areas where I have things growing already or will have soon.

In terms of thrift, I have a few things to share with you today. First of all I want to talk rot. Well, compost to be precise.

IMG_4827Most councils encourage composting because it helps cut down on waste going to landfill. This compost bin has been on the allotment for about six years. As far as I know it hasn’t been emptied until this spring. It has gobbled up all our compostable kitchen waste and an awful lot of grass clippings in that time. It has also been ‘fed’ with non-weedy waste from the allotment. Last month I decided that it was finally time to use some of the compost. I dug out all the good stuff from the bottom of the bin and put it in a wooden frame, ready for the time when my beds would be clear of weeds. The soil at the allotment has had no mulch or fertiliser for a long time so adding this compost should help both it’s structure and nutrient content. Although it’s been a long time coming, it’s great to know that by making this compost we’ve saved money on soil improver and also done our bit to reduce waste.

IMG_0137Some slightly unintentional thrift has also gone on on my plot.

At the weekend I finally got around to sowing the tender vegetables: courgettes, pumpkins and french beans. I limited myself to six courgettes and there were only eight seeds in the pumpkin packet anyway. I had help from The Middle Miss, who wrote the labels on more chopped up milk bottles. There were two seeds for each child and one for me and The Husband. Here is my pot with my ‘Mammy pumpkin’ label.

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Whilst doing this I realised that I didn’t have any runner bean seeds. Runner beans are a ‘must have’ on our allotment, partly for sentimental reasons as they remind me of my Dad and Great Aunt, and partly because they are easy to grow and are usually prolific. I had, however noticed that a few bean seedlings had already begun to sprout in the patch where they were grown last year. I decided that I would transplant these seedlings to a new patch and put up the canes to support them. I used some of the compost to bed them in as beans are known to like rich soil.

IMG_0143Then I decided to look in the old jam jars in the shed. This one must have been sitting on the shelf since 2009 because it has my late Father’s writing on the packet. Inside there were two distinct kinds of bean seed, one darker than the other.

IMG_0144I have no idea if the beans will still be viable but I decided to give them a try. There were plenty of seeds so I’ve planted two at each cane. Hopefully they will germinate, though of course I have no idea whether they will produce a good crop. I’ve never really saved seed much before so I really hope that this experiment works. The biologist in me is not really sure that it will. If it does it means free food!

IMG_0084The other plants that arrive for free are strawberries. In order to keep a strawberry patch vigorous it pays to take out plants that are three or more years old and plant some babies that have developed from runners. The new plants will probably crop best in their second year so you need to have three different areas in your patch. One for established plants, one for brand new plants and one for plants in their second year. We have quite a large strawberry patch so we often have spare baby plants to give away. These three went to a teacher at my son’s school who is an allotment addict.

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IMG_0065Of course, that’s not to say that there are no weeds on the plot. I couldn’t resist taking these pictures. Dandelions may be weeds but they are extremely cheerful weeds and a part of many childhoods whether you live in the country or the city. I certainly remember spending ages picking big bunches of them with my friends. Lately I’ve laughed to myself at Babykins trying to blow the seeds on the dandelion clock and count at the same time.

IMG_0066Behind the dandelions our gooseberry bushes are already bearing lots of fruit. It must be almost time for gooseberry ice cream, a wonderful, though time consuming annual treat.

IMG_0078The broad beans are flowering…

IMG_0069The onions are shooting up (all these cost £2)

IMG_0081and the artichokes are coming along too.

This is a time of waiting and hoping. It seems impossible that in just a few weeks I could be eating the first strawberries and beans of the season.

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Easter Holiday Traditions

A few years ago I heard Steve Biddulph, author of ‘Raising Boys’ speak about parenting. One of the things that struck me was how he talked about traditions. I hope I’m not misquoting him but I seem to remember his speech going along these lines “Children who have grown up in happy families look back on their youth and say ‘remember when…’ as parents we have to provide the traditions that our children will remember with fondness”. He talked about families that spent one night a week all ‘camping out’ on mattresses in the same bedroom to illustrate that traditions don’t have to be expensive, they just require the willing input of the family, particularly the parents.

This all comes to mind now, as I look back on our recent Easter holidays. Traditions are becoming ingrained within my family and our friends family, who we share our break with. This year is the third year that we have spent time together at my Sister and Brother-in-law’s farm in Cumbria, in their simple holiday cottage. You can see posts from last year and the year before herehere and here. You may notice that I take pretty much the same photos every year, all that changes is the weather and the size of the children.

Every year our children look forward to helping out with activities on the farm. They herd the sheep, feed the lambs, look for eggs, fill up the hopper on the turnip masher (I’m sure there is a proper name for this bit of farming kit but I don’t know what it is), throw straw around in a vain attempt to put bedding down for the cows, feed and water the indoor sheep and venture up to the fell top to feed to the hardier sheep up there. Then there is playtime; they build straw bale castles with their cousins, splash stones in the stream, collect ‘crystals’ from out of the stream, kick a football and ride a bike. Together we have Easter egg hunts and walks over the fell, share meals and bedtime rituals. As each year passes, they have more things to look forward to as they remember the things they did the year before. Long may it last. We are already booked in for next year!IMG_4694 IMG_4699 IMG_4712 IMG_4755 IMG_4662 IMG_9752 IMG_4677 IMG_9758 IMG_9761 IMG_4681 IMG_9790 IMG_9836 IMG_4738 IMG_4746 IMG_4745IMG_4750IMG_9846IMG_9861IMG_9867IMG_9870IMG_9895IMG_9898IMG_9899

Little spring birdies

IMG_9456A few years ago we started decorating our home for spring. Actually, we originally called the decorations ‘Easter decorations’ but who am I kidding? We are often away at Easter so as with all our decorations, they come out early, at the first sign of new leaves coming into bud.

Our decorations are simple – a few polystyrene eggs that have been painted, glittered and held up with ribbon and pins; fluffy chicks and rabbits that have been sent to us over the years and a few crocheted chicks made from this pattern. They hang on some branches that the children found and The Husband whittled so that they fitted into the holes he drilled into a piece of old worktop.

A few weeks ago I felt the urge to do a little sewing and decided to make some birdie decorations, based on the crocheted ones I already had. They are very simple, requiring only the ability to sew on some beads and buttons and do a running stitch. They are also very easily adapted to the materials that you have to hand.

You will need:

A small amount of cotton fabric, this project is ideal for using up scrap bits and pieces, my birdie was 11cm in diameter so that’s the minimum size you need.

A small amount of felt for the wings and beak.

A few beads and buttons for embellishing and making eyes.

Thread to match your fabric and buttons. And a needle and scissors.

A crochet hook, size 3 to 4 will do.

A small amount of double knit yarn to make the legs. You could also use string but I’m guessing that if you own a crochet hook, you own yarn.

A small amount of toy stuffing. If your birdie is a one off, you aren’t going to wash it and you don’t want to buy a whole load of stuffing maybe you could use cotton wool?

Some ribbon to make a hanger. Again, you could use a simple loop of yarn or thread instead.

Pinking shears.

What to do:

IMG_9474Use a small pot or something similar and a pencil to draw a circle onto your fabric, approximately 11 cm in diameter. Cut out the the circle using pinking shears if you have them. Fold your circle of fabric in half and iron it so that you create a crease across the diameter.

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Now cut out a smaller circle from some felt. This will form the wings so choose your template accordingly. Ideally it should be around 5cm in diameter. Cut the felt circle in half to form two wings. Lay out your fabric circle with the wings on top, as shown below. Their straight edges parallel with the crease you made and about 1 cm below it. Fold your birdie in half to get an idea of where they look best, pin one on and then lay it out again and repeat on the other side. You can attach the wings as you see fit but I decided to sew them on in one place only, near the ‘beak end’, by attaching a few buttons or beads on top. If you hate sewing, you could do this step with a glue gun.

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As you can see in the picture, I have also stitched on the button eyes and ribbon hanger at this stage. If you don’t have appropriate buttons, you can stitch an eye with black thread and parallel stitches that form a circle.

To make the legs, crochet a chain of about 30 stitches (or chain until it is twice as long as you want the legs to be). Make sure you leave a tail at either end. Trim the tail ends to about 1.5cm long and tease out the fibres to create the effect of feet. Stitch the middle of the chain to the inside of your fabric circle, close to the edge, so that when you fold it up again, the legs dangle down about halfway between the ‘beak’ and ‘tail’ end of your bird.

Cut a triangle from felt to form the beak of your bird. You can often squeeze this shape out of the offcuts from the wings. Fold your triangle in half, lining up the fold in the triangle beak with the crease in the body. Stitch the beak in place. Almost finished. Continue the stitching from the beak in a simple running stitch along the curved edge of the body. Leave a gap at the end so you can put the stuffing in. You should have something that looks like this.

IMG_9485IMG_9486When the stuffing is in, finish off the stitching up, right to the ‘tail end’. Tie the hanging ribbon in a knot (or stitch it). Your birdie is done. Now you just need somewhere twigs and maybe a few friends for it to hang around with.

IMG_9518If you have a lavender plant, you could harvest the dried seed heads and put some inside these birds to make scented lavender bags.

Recycled paper pots for growing seeds

I am flattered to have been asked to be the School of Thrift’s resident gardening expert. However, I think it would be more than a bit untruthful to describe myself as an expert. I would suggest ‘enthusiast’ is probably a better description. So, in the name of enthusiasm, here is a little post about a thrifty way to grow seeds.

Have you ever seen one of these?

IMG_9408The wooden pieces on the right are a little device used to make paper pots for seeds. I like the idea of starting seeds off in individual pots but I don’t like the idea of transplanting them. I’m not sure that the seedlings like it much either. It can’t be nice, having their delicate roots disturbed. Lots of gardening gurus recommend using small coir pots (made of coconut husks) that simply decompose when the seedling is eventually planted into the ground. These little paper pots do the same thing but you can make them for free and recycle your newspaper at the same time. Unfortunately I can’t tell you how effective they are because this is the first time I’ve tried them.

paperpotsYou simply roll a strip of newspaper around the cylinder part (not too tight) then starting at the seam, fold the bottom over. I found that three folds were enough to neatly close the gap. Next you press the bottom of your pot into the other part of the wooden former and twist. Finally, remove the pot from the wooden cylinder (this is sometimes a bit tricky and requires a bit of wriggling) and hey presto, you have a pot. Call me sad but I found making these little pots really addictive.

IMG_9511The next problem is how to store the pots once you have planted them up. Their very nature means that they are a bit floppy, especially after they have been watered. They also become slightly mouldy after a while, which is probably a good thing and all part of the decomposing process. I hunted around our shed for a suitable tray to put them in but all the proper seed trays had holes in the bottom. Not ideal for keeping leaky pots on a clean windowsill. Fortunately for me we had several old ice cream tubs out in our garage, waiting to be re-used. They turned out to be the perfect size for 12 little paper pots. Very satisfying.

My mind also skipped back to an image I had seen on Pinterest (you can take a look at my gardening board here) of a drinks carton being used as a plant pot. Rooting around in the recycling bag I found two empty cartons and chopped off one of the larger sides of each.

IMG_9510Bingo – just the right size for 8 little pots and the cartons themselves sit together on a windowsill or greenhouse shelf in a pleasingly snug sort of way.

So far I have sown sunflowers, leeks, sweetcorn, sweet peas, oregano and rosemary in these little pots and they are all germinating (well, except the rosemary, but that takes a notoriously long time).

Have you noticed my plant labels? I have been making these for a long time. I cut up old plastic containers, anything from margarine tubs to milk cartons and use them. They are probably not as durable as shop bought ones but they are free and I *think* the plastic in milk cartons is biodegradable.

Now, what I’d really like to see is someone ingenious enough to create a paper pot maker from recycled materials. Surely all you would need is a pipe to wrap the paper around and, erm, hmm, something to form the base. And that is where my creativity ends. Happy seed sowing everyone.