Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Syrup, Jelly and a whole bunch of needles

So today was a busy day. I would tell it chronologically, but just because it's *chrono*logical, doesn't make it logical to tell, because I did a bit, did something else, went back to the first thing etc. This sounds disorganised, but it was the most logical order to actually *do* it, because I had to wait for things to get ready or get hold of stuff, so I'll miss out the bit where I went to the supermarket to buy the sugar for my preserves and tried to get hold of some glass bottles. So...

Elderberry Syrup

-A whole load of elderberries
-Some water
-Granulated Sugar
-Rind and juice of 1 lemon

First I dunked the elderberries in a deep pot of water. Any bugs and stuff rinsed off, then I picked over the berries discarding any old ones, but especially getting rid of any green or red tinged ones. If they're unripe then they contain cyanide and are totally poisonous. They need to be deep, dark purple - almost black.

Once this was done I used the tines of a dinner fork like a comb to remove the berries from the stems - excellent tip I found on a website somewhere. Made the whole thing very speedy.
I dumped the berries in a saucepan with enough water to cover them and the juice and rind of the lemon. Start boiling.

When the berries were nice and soft I mashed them up with a potato masher and put them through a sieve, using the back of a spoon to squish the juice out.

I poured the juice into a measuring jug to see how much sugar to add. It's a lb of sugar per pint of juice, so for 3/4 pt I needed to add 12oz sugar.

I put the juice and sugar into a saucepan, added the cloves (10 per pint, so I put in 7) and boiled up until the sugar had dissolved, then boiled a bit longer till the liquid had thickened a bit and coated the back of the spoon when I lifted it out. I poured the syrup into small sterilised glass bottles using a funnel (sorry, no pictures - bit too tricky as I needed an extra hand just to do the pouring, never mind take a pic!)I screwed on the lids and left the bottles to cool. Here's my first ever bottle of syrup! Apparently a Tbsp in a mug of hot water is the way to drink it. I apologise to hubby who got given a drink of rather more powerful proportions than this!
Crab Apple Jelly

-4lbs crab apples
-2 pts water
-juice of 1 lemon
-Granulated sugar
-4 cloves

Cut away any bruised bits of the crab apples, chop into quarters and put in a pan with the water, cloves and lemon juice. Cover and boil up at a low simmer until the crab apples are soft and pulpy. Strain into a clean bowl overnight (see two posts previous to witness my clever straining contraption). Do not squeeze or it'll get cloudy and gross looking.

If you need to you can chill the juice at this point for a day or two, or you can freeze it until you're ready for it. Be warned - the juice is very very bitter and sour at this point, so don't taste it - just enjoy the delicious appley aroma! Don't worry if the juice looks cloudy, it clears up when you heat it.

Now to the jellifying! Add in the sugar -- same again, 1lb sugar for every pint of juice. For the 1 1/2 pts I got, I added 1 1/2lb sugar. Let the sugar dissolve on a low heat, then bring up to a good rolling boil. The important thing is to skim the scum off the top thoroughly as you go. Unlike with soup this is quite easy, because the scum holds together. According to Katie Stewart one must be thorough to ensure a clear, sparkling jelly!

Here's how much scum I got off before it really got boiling.Hold it at a rolling boil (use a decent heavy-bottomed pan to stop it burning. I used my enamel Le Creuset casserole in the absence of a 'proper' jam pan) for 10 to 15 minutes, then start testing for a set on a cold plate. When a skin forms and wrinkles you're ready to put the jelly in pots.
Make sure the pots are clean and warmed from the oven, boil the lids and dry them, then ladle the jelly liquid into a clean jug and pour into the pots. Unfortunately, because I didn't get as much juice as I had thought or hoped I would, I only got 3 and 3/4 small jars out of this batch, but boy am I proud of them! Mulled cranberry jelly next time I think, or apple and rosehip? Depends how many rosehips I gather. Anyway - admire the sparkling amber colour of my jellies...!
It tastes damn good too. Hubby and I had scum on toast as a snack! Tart and sweet and very appley. Yum.

I also went for a lovely walk earlier and, taking the advice of the very good friend who originally directed me to the Down To Earth blog which set me back on this path, I had a look in a charity shop for some knitting needles. I asked the nice old lady behind the counter and she got down this enormous bundle of needles and stitch markers from a shelf in the back.
"That'lll be a pound, chick."
"It's just not worth our time sorting through them all, so we sell them as they come to us."

So yes - I got this collection for one little pound - probably some old lady who died :-( Still, at least her needles will be put to use... only one problem - they're all in 'old money' as it were - needle sizes instead of mm measurements. Oh well, I'm sure I'll figure it out!

A successful day I'm sure you'll agree. Oh, and check this mega 5kg bag of sugar I bought!
It cost me £4.30 ish I think... I suppose I ought to work out how much each jar of jelly cost me to make... The jars and crab apples were free, ditto the water ;-) well, free-ish. Cloves were negligible and the lemon cost 65p for 4, so about 16p? So 4p per jar for the lemon and if anyone wants to do the maths for the sugar and let me know...

OK, OK. 24oz = .68kg.

If 5000g of sugar cost 430pence then 100g = 8.6p then
680g = 59p

and for almost 4 pots that's 59 divided by 4 = 15p

So 19p per pot? Hurrah! 1 nil for cheap homemade vs. commercial!

Am I organised or over-stockpiling?

I was looking through my cupboards to figure out which ingredient I will need to buy to make the Christmas pudding. I am so well stocked in dried baking goods that all I have to buy is the chopped mixed peel - everything else I have!
Brandy, carrots, nutmeg, raisins, currants, sultanas, suet - the lot!
Oh well, saves me money now...

Crab Apple Jelly, Phase Two

OK, So today is Phase Two of the crab apple jelly making. The pulp has been straining through the bag all night and I have to say, I'm a little disappointed in the amount of juice I've managed to collect, plus it seems to be a bit cloudy, which I don't understand, because I didn't touch it once, let alone squeeze the bag as all the recipes instructed me not to.

Still, I've done the work, I've got some juice, I'm going to make jelly from what I've got and try and figure out what's gone wrong, because there is no way that 1 1/2 pints of juice will make the promised 5lbs of jelly.

Perhaps I didn;t cook the fruit enough. It said soft and pulpy, but perhaps it needed to be actual mush. Also, even though the juice has made the whole house smell deliciously sweet and appley it tastes as sour and bitter as aloes - I really hope that adding the sugar makes the difference...
Would it be worth adding more water and boiling up the pulp again to see if more juice can be made?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Exciting Day!

So I made my first foray into jelly making today - very exciting, especially as I've only ever made jams with my mum and we never ventured into the wonderful world of jellies, so doing this on my own was... well, scary, but I'm looking forward to seeing the results.

Right now the pulp is in a jelly bag straining through into a large bowl and tomorrow - the jellifying!

I used the recipe from this amazing cook book that my mum always used for *everything* - The Times Cookery Book by Katie Stewart. When I first moved in with my (now) husband I was determined: I needed that book. It wasn't in print any more, so I went to a second hand book shop and asked them about it. Apparently it was very in demand and they didn;t have any copies available, so they took my number and said they'd call me back. A year later they finally did and for only £30 (THIRTY WHOLE POUNDS) a copy was mine! Hurrah! It tells you everything, from roasts to pies, jams to tarts, puddings to bread - essential.

In other news - hubby and I had our usual strange effect on the natural world and got chosen as rescuers for an animal in trouble. A wee hedgehog was sitting right in the middle of our front lawn today. Every time there was a loud noise it curled in a ball, so we had to do something. Hubby gave it some cat food and put it in a box while I called four different people (whose names I found on a website) to see if there was someone in our area who could take him in. Eventually I contacted Sonya, five minutes away, who was happy to have the little chap. This isn't the first time some lost or broken animal in distress has landed on our doorstep (no mean feat considering that up until 2 months ago we lived up three flights of stairs!). I wonder why the universe keeps choosing us,m it can;t just be coincidence...

Photos below are of my ingenious jelly-straining apparatus (on a table so the cats are less likely to stick their noses in) and a close-up of the apple pulp. The photo on the right is of Sonic the hedgehog (yes, hubby chose the name).

Jam & Jelly making

Here's a useful snippet of info. If you have the metal lid for the jar then you don't need the wax discs and cellophane square. Just make sure you've thoroughly washed both lid and jar and warmed them gently in the oven before putting in the hot preserves and lidding immediately.

Et Voila - money saving tips from Milla

Harvest updates

eek - 3lbs of rosehips and I haven't even moved on to my next picking patch! Can you freeze rosehips? I hope so. I just spent an hour picking over them and getting them clean. Perhaps if I had them all prepared and ready to go?

As for crab apples, well, I still need to cut away any bruised bits, but at the moment I have 4lbs of them, that'll probably be more like 3 or 3.5lbs once I've processed them, but I doubt I have that many empty jars.... eek. What do I do? Shall I boil them up, strain them, then freeze the juice and jellify it once I have more jars or will the freezing change their nature so they don't jell? (or gel?)


Foraging Kit Essentials

What you don't know you need with you till you've done it:
- Wet wipes or a damp cloth to remove sticky berry juice, sap and cobwebs
- scissors to snip off those hard to snap stems
- a grabber, so you can reach that juicy clump of berries just out of your reach (or pick up those windfalls in the middle of the nettle patch...)
- anti-septic cream to daub on the mangled mess the brambles made of your arm
- tweezers to remove splinters, rose thorns and other stickers embedded in your flesh
- A number of different sized bags and boxes for your goodies
- A Dock leaf if you come across one on your travels, just to neutralise those nettle stings
- A watch, so you don't lose track of time and spend your whole day thinking - "just a few more..."

Monday, 28 September 2009


I doubt very much that I'm alone, as a woman, when it comes to my passionate relationship with lists. Planning a party? Write a list. Going travelling? Write a list. Christmas coming? Write a list. Feel like your brain is turning to soup with all the things you have to remember? Write a list.

I even have an item on my current list: make shopping list. That's right, I put 'making lists' on my lists. I adore them. They organise me, they keep me sane, they give me a sense of achievement and satisfaction even when I've done very little. On bad days I put 'get dressed' 'put on makeup' 'feed cats' on my list, just so I can tick them off (or cross them out, depending on my mood) and feel like I'm getting somewhere.

Today I've done several things from my list, including more than a few of those 'filler' items, but writing on ym blog wasn't actually one of them, so I'd better either stop wasting time and get on with some more of the things, or go write it on my list, so I can cross it off ;-)

That's right: I'm in a crossing off mood today!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Tonight's Dinner

Easy Peasy Spicy BBQ Chicken Pizza with Green Peppers

1x ready made frozen cheese and tomato pizza (mine was homemade, but that recipe another time)
3 Tbsp Spicy BBQ sauce
1x handful cold cooked chicken
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 onion

Stick it all on the pizza and cook as normal ;-)

To make the BBQ Sauce
4 Tbsp tomato Ketchup
3 drops hot pepper sauce
1 tsp sweet chilli sauce
1/2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp Soft brown sugar (light or dark)

Stir together, taste and alter to your taste. If you don't want it hot at all then leave out both the hot sauces, if you just want it a little spicy leave out the hot pepper sauce. If you're gonna use it as a marinade for grilling, BBQ-ing or oven baking then you'll need to add 2 or 3 Tbsp of a light cooking oil, too (eg - sunflower oil).



The derive was first mooted by the loopy bunch of eejits know as the Situationists. In situationist texts, a Dérive is an attempt at analysis of the totality of everyday life, through the passive movement through space. It is translated as drift.[according to wikipedia]. Basically you go for a wander wherever the will takes you, with no set path or direction.

Well, I went for one of these today. Originally I just intended to take a walk around the block. We've only been living here about a month and I wanted to explore a little and see if a green space we drove past the other day really was a park. Anyhow, I walked that way and it turned out to be a churchyard, but at the end of the church yard was a recreation ground (or rec) with a fenced off border. Ho hum, thought I, wonder if there are any of nature's fruits closer to hand than I originally thought. So saying I set off around the perimeter to find, within moments, a clump of ripe and juicy blackberries, not yet grown old and withered. These were shortly followed by a cluster of branches adorned with rosehips, then a tree burdened with what looked like a sort of crab apple. I picked up a windfall and went on a little further only to be confronted with what may be elderberries and a number of knarly old trees absolutely laden with Victoria plums. Oh my. I'm going back tomorrow with boxes and a rucksack!

On my way round the rec I spied an alley way leading out of it**. Thinking it might be a shortcut back to my original location I set off down it, only to find myself in an area I didn;t recognise at all. Nothing daunted, considering it was bright, balmy daylight and a harmless looking bit of suburbia, I decided to follow it through and headed in the rough direction I needed to go. I took a half hour detour, but eventually ended up in a bit I recognised, then found myself walking past the local community centre.

Now, I had seen this advertised in the supermarket as being a charity in need of support, so I stuck my head in to see what was what. Well, they have a knitting club, keep fit classes, dance classes and apparently they offer adult education courses run through the local library. I got directions to the library and walked home with a smile on my face and a skip in my step. This is a route to integrating into the community (something I'm eager to do) and I've found a library (one of my favourite places in the world) plus I could further my CV and employability through a course or two - all is right with the world!

** This alley went past the back garden of someone who had at least three trees absolutely lifting in damsons. If there was any way I could pick them from the alleyway then I would, but I wouldn;t be able to reach. It's such a waste knowing there's all that fruit and that it's unlikely anyone will pick it :-(

Friday, 25 September 2009

Turning Seasons

I love this time of year. Spring and Autumn both make my fingers and soul tingle with possibilities and excitement. I think that I would hate to live somewhere where the seasons remain the same. I have grandparents who live in Arizona where the temperature moves from hot to hotter and back again and, whilst lovely to visit, living there would be a purgatory to me.

I love the anticipation of a new season, knowing the leaves and flowers will all change, the landscape will alter so that it becomes unknown again, new celebrations and festivities are approaching. At this time of year it is the obvious ones: Halloween/Samhain with it's dark mysteries, excited children and wonderful seasonal food and sweets, Guy Fawke's Night with it's fireworks and bonfires and the coming of Christmas/Yule, with it's merrymaking and festivities, carols and Christmas songs, food and drinks, gifts and laughter, my husband all to myself for two weeks.

But there's the little things, too, like the clocks going back, when it gets dark at 4pm and you come back to a warm, bright home that feels like a little oasis of saftey in the dark night, the weather turning chill, with frosts crunching under your feet and rain and wet winds blowing, when you put an extra duvet on the bed, warm your toes on your husband's warm legs and snuggle in together, talking in whispers under the covers like at a sleepover, giggling when the cats walk over you, or try to get in under the covers where it's warm.

I love the new range of foods that become available and how it's appropriate to make stews, soups, pies, casseroles and big roast dinners after the summer's diet of salads and sandwiches. I love winter walks and wrapping up warm in a scarf and hat. I love how much sexier winter underwear is - for city living, anyway. Skirts with stockings and heels instead of hot-weather bare legs and sandals, then the equal joy of ugly thermal undies that make you giggle and look away from the mirror but keep you oh-so-warm.

I love when the leaves blow off the trees and you can kick through them like a big kid and watch them flutter back to the earth. I still get pleasure from seeing the horse chestnut trees develop their fruit, watch the spiny globes turn brown and crispy, then split open to reveal their creamy flesh and the glossy conker kernel within. Even better this year - I get to make something useful with them and try out a recipe for a horse chestnut tincture and (maybe) gel: meant to be good for varicose veins... not sure I know anyone who'd be flattered by a gift like that, mind, so perhaps I won't make the effort just yet, not when there's so much else to harvest.

I love this early part of Autumn when all the bushes are laden with rich berries and as my knowledge grows, so does my pleasure. This year I'm going to use them to nourish myself and my family. When those fruits are harvested and gone, leaves will fall, leaving skeletons behind that sculpt the landscape with twitching fingers, silhouetted against early sunsets.

When I was out the other day collecting berries I saw a holly bush *laden* with berries - I've never seen anything like it before. If folklore and old wives tales hold true then a hard winter is coming with lots of snow. That's a bad thing for many people, but I relish it - we had our first taste of heavy snow fall this February just gone and it was magical for me. Hubby got snowed off from school and we cuddle up on the sofa drinking hot ribena and watching crappy daytime TV, occasionally venturing outside to go sledging.

But right now I have to go finish my qualification so I can get a job, so I can buy the glass bottles to put things in that I make and make sure hubby is relaxed enough about finances that we can enjoy ourselves! So enough wurbling and nose back to the grindstone.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Work Clothes

I don't know if I'm the only one who does this, but I find that most days I get the majority of my household chores done whilst in my nightclothes. There's something satisfying about it, perhaps because then, by the time you wash, dress and start your 'real' day, you've already done the chores and can get on with the rest of the day afresh. I don't know, but I found myself doing it again today.

I woke up nice and early, pootled downstairs to let the cats out (even though the little sods prefer the indoor loo anyway) then decided to do something about the berries I harvested yesterday. I rinsed off the blackberries, patted them dry and put them in an old ice cream tub to freeze them.

Then I had a go at processing the haw berries. I took a tip from a website I found and rolled handfuls of the berries, still attached to their stalks and leaves, between the palms of my hands. Well - it worked a treat, the berries just dropped off into the container and I was left with a handful of shredded leaves - far easier than picking over them individually.

Gave those a rinse, put them in an old ice cream tub and put them to join their compatriots in the freezer. Next it was the rosehips. Removed stalks, woody tufts, rinse under the tap, ice cream tub, freezer. Job done. An hour gone. Eek. Still, they're all ready to go for when I have the time or other ingredients to make something with them.

Now I better go and get on with my course exercises so I can get my qualification (hopefully) and get a lovely lovely job and some even more lovely lovely money :-)

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Hedgerow Harvesting

Well today wasn't a great day. I went to the bank and discovered that the private savings account I had stored away for a rainy day didn't have anything like the money in it that I expected. In fact it had none in whatsoever. Clerical cock-up or forgetful me, I don;t know yet, but bursting into tears in the middle of a bank is always embarrassing.

For once, though, I managed to curtail my drama queen tendencies and, instead of driving home to lie down on the floor and sob piteously (as I really wanted to), I took a detour home via my favourite place to walk and forage - the campus of my old Uni. Unfortunately the height of the blackberry season was over, guess I should have made more than one trip at the beginning of September when the bushes were laden with luscious purple fruit. Note to self for future: blackberries are best in the Midlands around about 5th September.

I had a bit of a pick and got a few handfuls, but they're not as plentiful or perfect as the ones I picked a fortnight ago. I took a look at the rosehips, but I don't think they're quite ripe yet. Apparently you want them with a slight wrinkle to their flesh and most of the ones on the bushes were still taut-skinned and firm. I'll have to check back in another week. I'm determined not to waste all those hips this year, not like the blackberries. I also picked a few haws off the hawthorn bushes. they looked dark red and glorious, but I'm not sure if they're edible or not. If not I'll just have to chuck them in the garden and let the birdies gobble them up. [PHOTO: Haws at the top, LEFT: possibly unripe hip, RIGHT: possibly ripe hip, dirty, blackberry stained fingers on far left]

In other news the sloes look amazing and I think I'm going to have a go at doing something with those, also. Apparently they need a good frost to ripen properly. Their dark blue skins have a couldy bloom on them at present and apparently you want them dark and shiny and ripe enough that a good shake will dislodge them. They're still cloudy now, though and tough to pick, so I guess I'll have to wait a while. I'm very excited about being a hedgerow harvester though - so cool.

Old Flame

Something strange is happening to me. I feel like I'm regressing, kind of, and my interest in old hobbies has been fired up. Was a time when all I could think about was herbs, alternative ways of living, a more paganistic approach to life. Somewhere along the line things changed a little, those interested faded into the background (although they never entirely left me) and new ones came to the fore. I got more into my writing and my photography and I stopped trying to search out new information on herbs and simple living, focusing instead on the thoughts inside my head and the images I could see.

Now it's all coming back to me and, whilst I regret a little all those years I 'wasted', not learning new things about herbs and plants, I can see that coming back to it a little older and wiser has refreshed my excitement and I'm ready to go at it full tilt. It makes me long for some kind of mentor again: someone more experienced who can show me how to start out with some basics and where I can head from there on. This sort of path is so very very complex when you're doing it on your own. If I could I honestly would try and find some sort of commune to live in with other, like-minded people and a few goats. As it is I'll have to do the best I can slogging on alone with the internet and a few books for information. The modern world isn't all advantages -- what I wouldn't give for a wise old village witch to learn from ;-)

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Moment

I just received a salutory lesson in living in the moment. The basic premise of this concept is to be entirely focused on the current moment - not lost in the past, not absorbed by planning for the future, but utterly present in the present.

My lesson was learnt because I was heating up my leftover Spaghetti Bolognaise for dinner and instead of paying attention and making sure I had put it down safely on the counter before removing the lid and letting the steam escape, I was thinking about how good it was going to taste, took the lid off too soon, burnt myself and dropped the entire thing on the floor. No recovery.

Result: messy floor, no dinner, burnt arm. All because I wasn't present in the moment. I wonder how much else goes wrong in life simply because one has one's focus in the wrong place.

Soapmaking equipment - beg, borrow... cadge?

OK, so I need:
- a wooden spoon of some kind, well I think I have a cheapo spatula that will do.
- digital scales - borrow from the in-laws?
- a glass jug dedicated to mixing lye? Will look in charity shops, but failing that will have to buy new.
- a stainless steel or ceramic/glass mixing bowl big enough to mix the oils and lye in... perhaps a large saucepan will do? Charity shops again?
- a 'stick blender', or handheld blender. We used to have one, but I may have thrown it out when decluttering pre-housemoving. Eurk. Need to look in cupboards. Item not entirely essential, but I like labour-saving gadgets.
- a mould of some kind - think I might go for old milk cartons, or possibly a juice carton. I like the chunky look of soap cut into slices or blocks.

Am I missing anything? Check Rhonda's soapmaking page ...

Yikes - thermometer. Hrm... May have to buy that new as I'm fairly sure I won't find one in a charity shop.

Right, well Jane says on her page about cold pressed soapmaking that sturdy plastic buckets or bowls could be used - I'm bound to find something like that in a charity shop. As for safety equipment well, believe it or not, I have all that. Hubby is a hobby-car-mechanic and has goggles, gloves and overalls which I can borrow, so once I've got the list below, I'm all set.

- Two large, sturdy plastic or stainless steel bowls
- milk/sugar thermometer
- Check for wooden spatula/handheld blender
- borrow digital scales.
- plus newspapers and old towels <-- have plenty of those, but need to locate them!

New Beginnings

I know there are a lot of blogs out there about living more frugally, or more green-ly, or getting back to nature, or basics or grassroots. I know this because, over the past few months, I've been reading several of them, most specifically that well known blog of Rhonda's called Down To Earth.

I don;t want to step on their toes, I'm not trying to compete. I can't offer any useful advice to others on how to live their lives, let's face it, I'm still figuring it out myself. What I want to do is to keep an online journal as a means of motivating myself to achieve what it is that I want to achieve. If I happen to inspire someone else then that's a great bonus, I'd love to be an inspiration, but it's not my intention.

Please leave me comments - encouragement, advice, helpful links - anything! That's thwe======= <-- Barley the kitten just walked across my keyboard, allow me to start again: That's the reason I am making this journal a public affair, rather than just scribbling something in a book or saving files on my desktop - I need to feel that I'm not alone, that others are trying the same things and have maybe seen what I'm doing. So... what am I trying to do? Well let me tell you a little about myself and what my aims are. I'm newly married - we just celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary - and in my mid-twenties. My husband and I have got two small cats, Barley and Bramble, who we got from the Cats' Protection. We've had them three weeks now and they have added immeasurable joy, laughter and love to our lives.

My husband works as a teacher, but has only just started, so we're living off a credit card until his first paycheck comes in (I hate hate *hate* this) and I am recovering from a long-term illness and just thinking about trying to get into employment for the first time. Easier said than done in this current climate with no work experience to back me up. Money is incredibly tight and it won;t get any easier until next April. Until that time I need to be what Rhonda keeps calling an old-fashioned home-maker - make a budget, stick to it and look after my family's welfare and finances.

Today I went through my wardrobe to find something to wear whilst my jeans were in the wash and realised that I had no casual trousers to wear other than my 'daytime pyjamas' (aka - tracksuit bottoms) which aren't really appropriate to wear outside the confines of the home. OK, thought I, time to go shopping and buy some new trousers. Nothing exciting, just something comfortable and wearable. Wait a second. We have no money. At least, nothing that can be spent on anything except food. For the first time in my thrifty but comfortable existence I really cannot afford to just go and buy new everyday clothes when I need to. That's when I realised I needed to change my priorities.

I have a pair of very well-fitting, very comfortable jeans that I hardly ever wear because they're my 'smart' jeans. They're longer than my everyday jeans and I can only wear them with heels, but how often does that happen? I have smart trousers that can only ever be smart trousers, but these jeans could be shortened and used as everyday jeans - even better, the zip on these ones doesn't shred my T-shirts like the other one does (more on that in a moment). Time to put my preciousness aside and get the sewing machine out. Whilst it's out I'm also going to customise some of my poor old T-shirts, many of which are perfectly good, except for matching holes at waist level where the zip on my jeans has shredded them. I reckon if I manufacture some applique flowers or butterflies - or heck - even just random squiggles - I can sew them over the holes and up one side and make these t-shirts good for another year or so.

And that brings me onto something else. I have a massive advantage over a lot of women my age. I am a proficient seamstress (not excellent, but capable). I have a sewing machine. I can crochet and knit (not well, but I have enough of the basics that I can get started doing a bit more without having to completely learn a new skill) and I am an excellent cook and baker. As a matter of fact I bake when I'm stressed - nothing is more reassuring than beating the hell out of some butter and sugar when you're anxious or upset and knowing that it will magically turn into something delicious smelling and tasting that will soothe your spirit and delight your senses as well and impress your friends and family with your Domestic Goddess-ness!

So here are my aims and goals laid out in bullet-point form, because every domestic goddess loves a list:
- To restrict spending to essentials until finances are more secure
- To make all Christmas presents this year except for the one hubby and I will get together for ourselves.
- To buy no new clothes this winter if it's possible to fix, alter or diet to make the old ones 'do'.
- To make my own soap (for fun, use and presents).
- To learn to use more pulses and beans in my cooking instead of (expensive) meat products.
- To pay off the credit card and get the savings building up again.
- To sell some of my paintings and photographs.
- To use up some of my yarns and fabrics before I buy any more.
- To finish the patchwork quilt I started in 2003
- To take advantage of 'free' food more.
- To really get the hang of the recycling and composting routine I've set up.
- To finish my correspondance course and get a job - even if it's a volunteer one initially!

And here are the things I'm already doing:

- I've started a recycling and composting routine
- I make all my food from scratch myself
- I try to find and pick 'free' food where I can - just Blackberries so far, but it's a start and the rosehips are about to ripen.
- I can sew and am going to hem those jeans today!
- I have a bunch of fabric scraps and yarns already stockpiled.
- Our house is incredibly well-insulated, so we should be able to minimise the heating we use this winter.
- I use natural products as skincare mostly already - bicarb as shampoo, vinegar to condition, coconut oil with lavender to moisturise, tea tree for spots - just need to make some handcream and soap and I'm set!

I'll add more things if I think of them, but that's a good start and that's what I need today. A good start. So now I need to go dry my hair and do an exercise, then I'll pick some more blackberries, freeze them and take my jeans up. I can do this!