Wednesday 31 July 2019

A Rich Girls' Game?

The end of the month. Did you participate in Plastic Free July? I'm afraid I didn't, but I applaud the efforts of people like Kezzie and Bev who have tried incredibly hard to avoid all single use plastic, cut back on packaging and recycle other people's rubbish.
But I continue to be frustrated that it is jolly difficult to avoid single use plastic if you are also attempting to balance the budget. Since the children were tiny, even though our income then was very low, we believed it was right to buy Fairtrade foods, and free range eggs. It cost more, but justice and animal welfare were/are important issues. Similarly we opted for recycled paper products where we could.
But I'm so aware that it costs more to buy loose veg in many supermarkets. I may take my own box to the Waitrose deli and buy cheese for Bob - but the price per kg is considerably higher than the prepackaged stuff. We cannot all walk round the corner to a brilliant street market, where the cheerful trader will decant his cut price spuds straight into our cotton shopping bags. Fifteen years ago, I remember using a "weigh&save" store near Leicester Market, for dried goods. It did work out cheaper than the supermarkets. And in the last millennium we sometimes called in at a cooperative near Northampton which sold stuff cheaply and simply. But now so many similar stores are charging more for their goods. I guess that higher business rates etc make it harder for the retailers.
Furthermore I know that many hardworking low income families are short of time as well as cash, so pick up cheap fast food for their households - and that means more plastic, polystyrene and paper rubbish. 
What can I do? If I cannot avoid all the packaging, then I'm deliberately trying to re-use as much as possible. Plastic bread bags are taken outside, crumbs shaken out and then the bag is inverted and folded and put into a drawer to be used again. Foil bags from ground coffee go into the freezer, full of stock or homemade soup. Cardboard cereal packs are flattened for use in Crafting, and the inner bags go into the bread bag drawer for future use. Jars are washed out for storage. Rant: I'm saddened that nowadays so many glass jars with metal lids have to arrive with a nasty "tamperproof" plastic collar. 
But the whole "going plastic free" does feel like a rich girl's game sometimes. The BuyItOnce principle is all well and good - but you need money upfront to buy the better quality item. Farmers' Markets offer quality, locally produced loose veg - but at twice the price of the plastic bag of carrots in the supermarket. 
But it has been interesting reading the blogs this month and seeing how others have managed. I'd like HughFW to go back to his street and see how the residents are managing now. It has to be an ongoing change of mindset if it is to achieve anything. 
Crash diets may have a short term effect on weight and appearance - but all the experts agree it is longtime reformation of eating habits that keep people slim and healthy. Similarly we must all be more mindful of the perils of the Throwaway Society if our planet is to stay healthy. Much damage has been done - but we need to work together on this. Not just by remembering the 3Rs of reduce reuse recycle [now extended to 5,6,7...] but by trying to make it easier for everyone, whatever their income, to participate with us. There is no Planet B

Tuesday 30 July 2019

Temporary Interruption

All is well, please do not worry - but a lot has been happening and I'm just too tired to blog today! 

Monday 29 July 2019

Anyone For Cricket ?

No, not these guys. Well done to them though, after such a triumph. This is proving to be the summer of great sport isn't it? However, the cricket I am talking about is this chap
A new study has explored the potential benefits that could be obtained from eating insects. The study by a team of Italian researchers, discovered that grasshoppers, crickets and insects, feature a high amount of antioxidants. These chemicals play an essential role in the body’s effort to minimize the reactions which release free radicals. Free radicals are associated with cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
After the insects were ground and analyzed, the researchers discovered that they contain a considerably more significant amount of antioxidants in comparison with orange juice and olive oil, two of the foods which are often used to combat the release of free radicals.
Analysis shows that grasshoppers, silkworms, and mealworms feature up to five times the amount of antioxidants, when compared to fresh orange juice. Black ants, mealworms, and grasshoppers also feature the highest concentration of polyphenols. Fat-soluble extracts recovered from a giant cicada, African caterpillars and silkworms contain a double amount of antioxidants in comparison with olive oil. Some food scientists believe that more Western consumers will embrace the consumption of insects in the following decades.
Insects are eaten in many countries and were recently brought to the UK as food. Sainsbury’s underlined “growing interest in edible insects” as it launched a roasted cricket product in 250 shops last winter. Sainsbury’s cited evidence that insects use less land and water, and produce fewer emissions, when compared to traditional meat. So they are not only good for us, but also better for the planet.
Insects are also used as feed for livestock in some countries. It was announced only last week that the Canadian government is looking into this as the practice becomes more widespread. 
I know it a lot of my reticence is about mental perceptions - I can see that if these creatures are that good, it might be worth trying to include them in my diet. But I really enjoy my small glass of orange juice at breakfast time, and the glug of olive oil which dresses my salad. I am not so keen on crunching a cricket, or sucking a silkworm.
They used to tell us in Sunday School that John the Baptist ate "Locusts and Wild Honey" - and then they said it was probably a bad translation - he probably ate locust beans - i.e. the carob beans. I'm now beginning to wonder if John was just ahead of his time, and had adopted the insect-based diet 2000 years before Sainsburys and the Italian Scientists discovered the benefits.

Sunday 28 July 2019

It Will All Be OK

This post is particularly for all my friends who are about to embark on Holiday Bible Clubs, Vacation Bible Schools, and other Summer Youth & Children's Programmes. I know that you have been working so hard preparing crafts and videoclips and worksheets, and processing registration forms, and devising helpers' rotas and.... 
But just for a moment, stop and rest and trust. It's going to be OK...

Saturday 27 July 2019

HandMade's Tale

I'm still not sure what to make of Kirstie's latest programme - Kirstie's Celebrity Craft Masters. Some of the time, I was wondering "Who are these celebrities? I have never heard of them" and at other times I thought "Polly and Piyush [see below] are great judges- they are not afraid to say 'this is rubbish!'". Then there were the moments of watching and thinking - "this is a craft I've not heard of before - should I research this?" but most often I found myself thinking "The 'experts' who have been paired with the celebs may be experts in one craft, but they're pretty poor at the others"
The idea, if you haven't seen the show , is that two celebrities go head to head to find out which has the better crafting skills.
They are given two challenges [make a chandelier/mobile/concrete pot/soap etc] a 'recycling challenge' [items of their own choosing] and a 30 minute 'go-it-alone' activity [shaving foam marbling/cardmaking/cake decorating...]
I enjoyed watching Sharron Davies and Tanni Grey-Thompson. They were good fun, self-deprecating, and tried hard to do well. They encouraged each other and that one was a good programme.
But TGTs wall art was a disaster - even she said "Yes, it does look like a chicken has been massacred"
In her defence, when Piyush asked why she'd used such a dreadful mix of coloured paper, she said "Well that was what we had" - surely her expert should have considered the materials he was providing for her? One poor chap drilled a hole in his kitchen table after the expert told him to 'keep drilling' through his piece of wood. 
And as for the 'expert' who failed miserably at making a mould for a candle out of thin card...or the one who stapled fabric over a stool top, and left all the raw edges showing, no wonder their celebs did not win.
As for new crafts - I had not come across fauxidermy before. This is when you create an animal head to hang on the wall like a hunting trophy, but without using any dead animals, a sort of vegan taxidermy. Bob thought I said Folksy-Dermy [which sounds like Maddie Prior's Skin Care regime] 
Nor was I aware that those geodesic lampshades they sell in IKEA have a proper name -  himmeli. This way of making geodesic shapes with tubing is a recognised Scandi Craft. When I was at school, we made models of the Platonic Solids using drinking straws and thread. I really enjoyed the constructions.  I didn't know back then that it had a name.
But the oddest one was the injecting jelly to make flowers. It resulted in a beautiful finished product- but why would anyone do this? And would you want to eat it?
One final question, has anyone ever seen Dear Kirstie wearing anything other than a long sleeved shirtwaister frock? [not counting her outerwear, she has an awful lot of winter coats and warm hats...] All her dresses seem to be exactly the same style.

Friday 26 July 2019


When I was doing my Post Grad Teacher Training at Oxford, I bought myself a lovely Ceramic Wedgwood Russell Hobbs Coffee Percolator. I'd load it up and spend the evening typing essays or preparing lessons- and constantly refilling my mug. Except friends often dropped round, and they too would share in my coffee. 
And then a few years later, along came my favourite Belgian, who declared he hated percolated coffee ["as bad as instant"] My Perc certainly brought out the worst in one coffee snob!
So The Perc was relegated to the back of the cupboard, and only ever comes out at Christmas, when I use it to make Wassail [recipe here]
But a recent audit of our coffee making equipment [here, Cornerstones and in Bob's Office at Church] has revealed a surfeit of kit for producing a variety of brews - cafetieres, electric machines, and a stovetop espresso maker. So this one has to go. I've just put it on eBay hoping there's a retro fanatic out there somewhere. Next Christmas the Wassail will be made in a saucepan.

I will let you know if it sells...
How do you make your coffee?

Thursday 25 July 2019

A Cautionary Tale

In last Sunday's sermon, Bob was talking about the value of practising things - that we need to practise what we believe. He mentioned actors learning their lines. Over coffee later, my good friend Ali said "I had to learn Matilda for a concert once" I think the younger ones thought she meant Roald Dahl's character, but I knew she meant Hilaire Belloc's mischievous child. Ali and I began reciting in unison "Matilda told such dreadful lies..." and had to stop after a while as we were laughing, and everyone else thought we were slightly mad. But it is a great poem, and for all its humour, it certainly reminds us that truthfulness is an important virtue. Listen to it here...

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies, 
it made one Gasp and Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
Attempted to believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not she
Discovered this Infirmity.
For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone, went tiptoe to the telephone
And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London’s Nobel Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs and Bow,
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow
They galloped, roaring though the Town,
"Matilda’s House is Burning Down"
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,
Until Matilda’s Aunt succeeded in showing them they were not needed
And even then she had to pay to get the Men to go away! . . . . .
It happened that a few Weeks later
Here aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray."
She had refused to take her Niece to hear this Entertaining Piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise to Punish her for Telling Lies.
That Night a Fire did break out-
You should have heard Matilda Shout!
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street-
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain Their confidence)-but it was all in vain!
For every time she shouted "Fire!", they only answered "Little Liar!"
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were burned.

We should value those whose honesty and integrity is a key part of their character, and be wary of those who make a joke of truth. Just saying...

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Please Don't Tell The WI

The other Sunday afternoon, when Bob was watching the Grand Prix, and others were engrossed in Tennis or Cricket, I went into the kitchen and baked a cake. I decided on a simple Victoria Sandwich. I looked through a few of my cookbooks - and came across a recipe I had not used before. Nigella's VS recipe involved slinging everything in the food processor and pressing the button [forget creaming, and folding in the flour etc etc]
I was tired, it looked manageable - and I had some strawberries and creme fraiche in the fridge.
And it worked! If you chill your beaters and a metal bowl in the fridge, you can quite successfully whip creme fraiche to a satisfyingly floppy stage which works in this cake.
We celebrated all the sporting victories with tea and cake. Then I portioned and froze the rest before we were tempted to eat the lot.
All the cooks have their own versions of this classic [see here] Some insist you need to have the same weight of flour, sugar and butter as your eggs. Mary Berry has suggested margarine is better [but she's not consistent on that in her recipe books] On The Hairy Bikers programme, the WI lady said no vanilla and only raspberry jam. 
I liked this sponge, although it was a little 'softer' than usual [Nigella says that is because of the cornflour] Here's the recipe...

For the cake
225g unsalted butter, very soft
225g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
25g cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3-4 tablespoons milk
For the filling
2-4 tablespoons raspberry or other jam, depending on the berries
1 punnet raspberries or berries of choice
125ml double cream
For the topping
1-2 tablespoons caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C / gas mark 4. Take two 20cm sandwich tins (about 5cm deep), and buttered them. If the tins are loose-bottomed, you don't need to line them, otherwise do. [yes you DO, I discovered after they were baked]
To make this basic sponge cake in the food processor: put all the ingredients except the milk in the food processor and process till you've got a smooth batter. Then pulse, pouring the milk gradually through the funnel till your cake mixture's a soft, drooping consistency. 
To make it the traditional way (which is what I did): Cream the butter and sugar, add the vanilla and the eggs, one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour between each. Fold in the rest of the flour and the cornflour, adding no baking powder, and when all incorporated, add a little milk as you need.
Pour and scrape the batter into the tins and bake for about 25 minutes, until the cakes are beginning to come away at the edges, are springy to the touch on top and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave the cakes in their tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out and leaving to cool completely. 
When you're ready to eat the cake, put one layer on a plate, right-way up, spread with jam and scatter fruit on top. Whip the cream till it's thickened but still soft and spread over the jammy fruit. Sit the other cake on top, and sprinkle over a tablespoon or so of caster sugar.

Perhaps, when we retire to Norfolk, and I have more free time, I should join the local WI. Do you think they'd have me?

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Making Memories

Do you know about Memory Bears? The idea is that you make a teddy bear from fabrics which all relate to a person, in order to make a special memory. 

The two most popular reasons for this are to mark a birth, or the death of a loved one. So you can take the first clothes worn by a baby, and make a bear as a keepsake for the child who is growing up [see blue bear top right, with name an ddate embroidered on the feet]
Or maybe, a family will make someone's passing by taking some of their suit or shirt fabrics [or for a woman, favourite dresses] and make a bear from that.
Jenny mentioned that her recently widowed friend Jill wanted to make a bear from some of her husband's shirts, and asked if I could help with this project when she came to visit. 
I already had the free bear pattern and tutorial from "How Joyful" printed out - but I realised that if three of us were going to do this, we needed to be super-organised. Also using multiple fabrics would mean cutting out the pieces very carefully.
I printed out the pattern pieces on four different pastel papers, so we could get it right - and carefully marked the right side - many pieces were mirror images, and I didn't want a bear with two left feet.
I arrived at Jenny's at 9 -Jill had brought about 7 pieces of shirt fabric- we selected the best four, and began to pin and cut out. Just in case the exercise was going to be repeated, we took lots of photos as we worked.
It took quite a while to pin and cut, then I did the machining - whilst J&J clipped curves, turned seams and pressed the fabrics.

I will not pretend it was easy! By midday we were doing well, but the attaching of the arms was proving difficult. There was much sewing and unpicking and resewing.
We worked from 9 till 1, then we stopped for ham rolls [made by Jenny's husband Peter] I dashed home because Bob and I had an afternoon appointment - but I returned at 3.
After much discussion, we decided to recut the arm pieces from spare fabric, this time making the front sections a little bigger.
This worked!
At around 5.15, the bear was all sewn and turned inside out ready for stuffing.
Armed with a big bag of polyester and a chopstick, we set to. Jenny passed me handfuls of stuffing, which  I packed firmly into the legs and arms and tum and bum and head...
It was very satisfying to realise we were 'on the home straight' after almost 7 hours of work.
All was done, Jill had already fixed eyes, and stitched the nose and mouth whilst I was working on the arms - so all that was left was closing the neck, and tying a bow.
Peter gave me - plus sewing machine and other gear] - a lift home.
All in all a lovely day together. Thanks Jenny and Peter for making it possible. It was good to help Jill create a keepsake in memory of her dearly loved and much missed husband. 

Monday 22 July 2019

Malaphors, Mondegreens and Eggcorns

I found this clever little clip on the BBC website and it amused me.

I didn't realise about being buck [not butt] naked - however it is not a phrase I use very often. The common errors that make me wince are...
  • She did it off her own back
  • I'm speaking pacifically
  • He's had a problem with his prostrate
  • Good tidings we bring to you and your King
Are there any phrases which you frequently encounter being mis-spoken?
And do you have any favourite family words/phrases which you know are incorrect but continue to use anyway? [like Rosie and her Mango Chupney]

Sunday 21 July 2019

Remembering Apollo 11, July 1969

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

The colours of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, saying "how do you do"
They're really saying I love you

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow
They'll learn much more than I'll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

Saturday 20 July 2019

Love You To The Moon And Back

This is a phrase you often hear nowadays  - between couples, between children and their appears on greetings cards, coffee mugs, and is the title of a children's book [pub 2015] 
Many people will first have encountered the expression in Sam McBratney's book [pub 1994] "Guess how much I love you?"
As far as I can tell, the expression 'to the moon and back' has been around for decades - and NASA used it in the 1960s to describe their space program. The first use of a similar phrase incorporating 'love' seems to be in a play called "Nuts" from 1979 by US Playwright Tom Toper.

"When I was a little girl, I used to say to her, ‘I love you to the moon and down again and around the world and back again.’ And she used to say to me, ‘I love you to the sun and down again and around the stars and back again.’”
It started appearing on twitter about 10 years ago, and in 2014 Dolly Parton released a song entitled To The Moon And Back.
There will be loads of stuff in the media this weekend about it being half a century since the first moon-landing. And rightly so - it was an amazing achievement. 
I remember on the Sunday evening, after church, the youth group went to someone's home for coffee and chat - and we all stood out in the back garden and looked up and wondered. The next day [my Mum's 45th birthday] we heard that it had happened - two men had walked on the moon. 
Friends, I have to tell you that I too went to the moon and back the other Friday evening! There was a moon landing in Dorset!
The Dorset Moon Experience came to Bournemouth
Click on the link above to read more -but we visited this amazing inflatable lunar recreation in St Peter's Church one warm Friday evening.
Each centimetre of the internally lit sphere represents 5km of the lunar surface, a scale of 1:500,000. The free exhibition is travelling round the world [Northern Ireland next week, Mags!]
It was quite spectacular to see it shining brightly, suspended at the far end of the nave, as we walked into the church. Awesome...
As you can imagine, there were a lot of people taking photographs! Holding up the moon seemed to be one of the most popular pose.
And in case you are wondering, this is what the darkl side of the moon looks like...

As King David said in Psalm 8-
When I look at the sky, which you have made, at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places—what are human beings, that you think of them?

Friday 19 July 2019

The Eagle Has Landed [In Norfolk]

Did you see the lunar eclipse on Tuesday? I was absolutely enthralled by the light, shadows and colours, there was a beautiful view from my bedroom window here in Dorset. This amazing picture was taken in nearby Mudeford [PAMedia/BBC] 
This is definitely a week for remembering the moon landing, and all that happened fifty years ago.
Earlier on Tuesday, I was in Norfolk - we'd made an overnight visit to Cornerstones in order to deliver a sofa and a bicycle, distribute invites to our Ruby Wedding Event, sort out The Patio Saga, and complete a few other tasks. Plus we got to go out for a meal on Monday evening with Adrian and Marion [Prezzo, Dereham - food very good, but service rather slow]
Someone in Swanton Morley obviously felt that the village needed reminding of the lunar celebrations - a tableau of Steven Spielberg filming Neil Armstrong had been set up on the roadside verge...
Against a green screen with earth and a couple of stars, Armstrong is stepping out towards the director. 
Clapperboard and megaphone to hand, with his knees knotted in a most uncomfortable way, the director is staring into the sunlight.
Armstrong [who appears to be pregnant and balancing precariously on a football] stretches out his hand as he steps onto the silvery lunar surface.
This is, as they say, quite "Normal for Norfolk"!

Thursday 18 July 2019

Pasta For The Pastor?

I entered an online competition to win a trip for two to Tuscany. I went to Florence about 18 years ago with Steph when she was doing art A Level. It was fantastic, I loved it - the art, the food, the people... I thought it would be good to take Bob. But sadly I didn't win - however I was a runner-up. The company emailed me to ask for my address. 
A parcel came, addressed to Mrs Almond Angela
Inside was a note saying this was my prize, and I'd won a selection of foods to introduce me to the produce of Fattoria la Vialla. FLV is a group of family run farms in Tuscany
There was a catalogue of the products, full of lovely photos. Wines, cheeses, olives and oils, pastas... All organic, grown using traditional methods. 
No plastic - just card, paper, straw and natural string
There was a packet of spaghetti, a small jar of tomato sauce, a little bottle of oil, another of white wine and a small corkscrew. Enough to make a meal for one. 

There was also a DVD about a year on the Farm - with a note apologising for the "amateur quality". Yes it was clunky in parts, but it was sunny and cheerful [and rather long, after an hour I wondered if it had been made in real time] The family are clearly very proud of their produce.  I checked out their websiteit is equally enthusiastic.
What a lovely surprise - thank you FLV for my prize!

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Saving The Planet Through Crafting!

That is the motto of the Dorset Scrapstore- a charity which is 20 years old this year.
Notice the R-R-R, for "reduce, re-use, recycle" in their logo.
This place is truly an Aladdin's Cave.
We have a Church Membership card, and in recent weeks I have visited twice to pick up materials for our children's activities [once with Bob, and once with my friend Alison who runs a craft&coffee group at UCF]
The store is only a few miles up the road, in Poole. Members can fill a carrier bag for £4 or a binbag for £10, from the bins and  the 'freebie' shelves. There are other individually priced items [fabric on a roll, to buy by the metre - from as little as £1] Everything is beautifully laid out, and it is easy to look round.
Local companies donate unwanted stuff - so there were lots of brightly printed 'Lush' cardboard boxes available. I picked up some jingle bells and some 'DIY Xmas Crackers' [I know it is July, but they won't be there next week]  I got some fabric to make a cover for the PA box in the church hall, coloured card, pingpong balls, and a few other bits and pieces. Bob collected some lighting gel, and Alison chose some textured lino [she has an idea about embossing with it] I needed a few more shoelaces for my snakes- and ended up with a bag of100 lilac ribbons with aglet ends.
The staff are incredibly cheerful and seem ridiculously pleased when they can supply the item you need,or something similar. If you are in the Dorset area, you should check them out [schools, church groups, individuals can all apply for a membership card]
I just love the idea that things which otherwise would go to waste are being used for positive craft purposes.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Weights And Measures

The kids at school always love studying the Egyptians- especially all the stuff surrounding death. The bit where they pull your brain out through your nose** before you can be mummified, and that your heart is weighed against the feather of truth to see if you are worthy of the afterlife. [** I apologise if your child came home from school believing that they used a bent paperclip, cos that was what the Supply Teacher told them]
As our Kids' Club this year is all about Moses, we have a lot of Egyptian stuff going on. I've realised that my scales are very useful timesavers as I prepare and collate all the craft materials.
All the bottle tops had to be washed in the bath before Chris drilled them.
I needed to sort them into groups of approximately 300. I weighed 10, then 20 - and established that 300 bottle tops weigh around  1lb/450gm. It is much quicker to weigh them than count them individually.
I applied the same idea to the various cut-out shapes - and was very satisfied with the amount of time I saved. 

Last summer, I spotted an idea for a craft on the internet which I thought I could modify.
We are going to make Grumpy Pharaohs using a wooden fork, wool, pipecleaners  and coffee filters [most of supplies I had already in the Great Stash]
But it appears that Pixar have got there first with Forky in Toy Story 4 [I haven't seen it yet, so no spoilers please]
Oh well - the children who have seen the film will be used to the idea of a fork character.  and we are using wooden, not plastic forks here, so that seems to be a win-win situation.