Over the last couple of months Phil has been honing his furniture-making skills, and has completed two really beautiful oak pieces: a coffee table and a custom-made kitchen table to replace the garden table we've been temporarily borrowing from my parents. What's amazing is that this talent has remained hidden all this time, and now that it's coming out there seems to be no stopping it - maybe now I can finally retire, ha ha!
Phil has been really inspired by our South African friends at Sylvantutch (based at the Craft Centre in Corris - north of Machynlleth), who make really beautiful rustic furniture in a way which really brings out the best in the natural, organic forms of the pieces they work with. The coffee table was Phil's first effort, and it has a really nice solidity and chunkiness. The only issue with it is that the top surface is slightly contoured, so you have to be careful with your glass of wine (or use a mug!) - what could be more rustic? :D The oak itself was sourced from our field boundaries, being mostly old oak fence posts which are no longer used to support the fence. Phil spent a good deal of time looking for appropriate posts whilst going on walks with the cats, and then sanding them to miraculously turn these ugly rotting stumps into beautifully smooth, shimmering rods of gold... But, no, they really are lovely.
The kitchen table took a couple of days, and has fence post legs (some with their fencing staples still embedded!) and a surface of restored oak planks which we bought from North Shropshire Reclamation, just north of Shrewsbury. The planks looked pretty sad when we found them, they were all grey and splintery, with no sign of any promise. But at £10 each, and ten foot long, we figured that six or seven would make a reasonable table top, and so they have - look at this radiant, characterful finish! So we got to give the garden table back, and everyone's happy.
Yes, as getting about becomes more and more uncomfortable, I suppose the least I can do is blog about what my physically unencumbered man is doing... I may not be doing as much, but I can still observe and comment on what I see...!
Has anyone else heard of Baby Legs? Here's an example of a website which sells them. They're great! They cover baby's legs and look cute, and baby stays warm when you change his or her nappy, and did I mention that they look super-cute? I did? Oh. Well, they do. Another thing about them is that they're stupidly expensive for what they are: socks without feet. Oh wait! I've got some of those in my sock rug making bag. If I just sew another sock's elastic onto the bottom, they'll be perfect. First pair:
Oh look, there's enough of one of these socks left to make a quick hat! Ha ha. Second pair:
This week the postman brought packages of wonderful homemade gifts, bringing tears to my eyes :D
On Tuesday two - TWO! - packets arrived, each containing lush presents for Squiggles, and as I set about taking photos, my digital camera was so overwhelmed that it died right there on the spot, thus delaying this blog post. I have since researched and ordered a replacement camera online, which arrived this morning, so here goes...
The first parcel to be opened was from my lovely friend Kellee of The Yellow Lamp, and it contained two delicious crocheted items which I am now totally in love with. The first is a beautifully soft baby blanket in fresh stripes of white, blue and orange (Squiggles won't be chilly this winter!); the second is a Totoro - a Japanese wood spirit which came accompanied by a note which read: "I protect the trees and the grass and all of nature and I'd love to be your friend too!" I'm sure Squiggles will fall in love with both of these gorgeous items: lucky Squigs! Thank you, Kellee! :D
I'm afraid these pictures don't do much justice to the vibrant colours and textures, but alas, what can you do on a dull day?
Just look into those friendly eyes... :D
The second parcel came from she who is always making stuff: Hannah of Outpourings of the Hand, and contained a set of 12 bright, handmade washable wipes. I love stripes, and these wipes have plenty of those! The colours are cheery and warming, and the great thing about them is that you have the option of using the flannel side or the jersey side... I'm sure we'll get a lot of use out of them - not only are they handy, but they're lush to look at too! Thank you, Hannah! :D
Hannah is also pregnant, due in November, so I'm hoping to be able to make something for her little bundle before then! Maybe I'll have gotten to grips with my mum's sewing machine by then? Or have acquired my own? Who knows...
As if those gifts weren't enough, on Wednesday, a stiff A5 envelope arrived from London, containing an awesome original piece of artwork by Tammy of The Heartful Blogger, as well as two glossy postcards of more of her work. 'Lotus,' the original piece, is beautiful - I must get a a nice frame as soon as possible so that I can hang it in what will become Squiggles' room. When I opened the envelope and saw the contents it made me cry (in a good way!). I am a bit of an emotional wreck these days as you may already know. I had admired the Moon Tree online, so I'm dead chuffed to have a copy of it, and though I hadn't seen 'Secret Dreams' before, I felt like I could relate to it: somewhat reminiscent of an embryo in the womb, it can also mean so much more... Tammy, I love what you sent me, thank you! :D
This is a meaty post, so click away if you find meat in any way unappealing!
I'm warning you...
It was Phil's birthday yesterday, and my parents bought him a sight for the air rifle. We seem to have an unspoken policy involving gifts being handmade or "smallholding-centric." Though both kinds are great, the latter kind benefits all of us, so we all get to experience a bit of the excitement.
I didn't know that when you put a sight on a gun, it needs to be calibrated, so Phil did that this evening before going off to find us a rabbit for supper. It didn't take long, and he was soon back with the goods - one fine furry meal!
As he (the hunter) skinned and gutted it, I (the gatherer) went down to the vegetable garden and collected some broad beans and kale, stopping off outside our house for some tasty herbs (bay leaves, parsley and chives). Then I chopped up some chunky potatoes, carrots and parsnip, as well as the beans, kale and beetroot tops for the greens.
And now, at this very moment, I'm sitting at the kitchen table, listening to the sizzle of frying meat and onions, and feeling quite self-contained and excited about our (mostly) homegrown meal. I shall have to add a picture of the finished dish, if I remember (though I'm sure the most important thing on my mind will be tasting it, by then!)...
I was a vegetarian from the time I went to university until about four years ago, when I unexpectedly started fantasizing about roast chicken... I don't eat meat very often, but I remember explaining to someone that I was very careful that the meat I chose to eat was "quality" - ethically raised, from an animal which had enjoyed a free and healthy life. Somehow I described the animal as having to be either organic and free range, or roadkill - wild and free until the last moment. Now I can add "hunted by Phil" on the smallholding, which is as wild as you can get.
EDIT: Here's how the stew turned out: delicious! :D
Yes, I know, it's all a bit "baby this" and "baby that" with me these days, but with only 5 weeks to go, it feels good to be making preparations! Last night I gave in to the pull of the wool, and after dragging my stash out of the cupboard (and dumping it all over the floor to get a better look), I found the perfect yarn for a quick project: beautifully colourful and dead thick (requiring 20mm needles!), within a couple of hours I'd managed to knit up a blanket about 2 foot by 3 foot in size. Instead of straight stockinette stitch (knit on the front and purl on the reverse), I went for a pattern of squares - knitting 4, purling 4, etc., for three rows, then swapping over.
The great thing about this yarn is that it's so soft, so baby Squiggles cannot help but love it. The days have been getting cooler and wetter, and it's starting to feel a bit autumnal (I know, strange for the middle of July!) so perhaps that's why I felt the need to make something warm and comforting for the little one.
In total, the blanket took 4 balls to make. The yarn is called Rowan Biggy Print, and I just did a quick Google search and found prices ranging from £3.50 - £7.25 per ball! Luckily I got the wool very cheaply from the dogshop in Machynlleth some months ago, so it probably cost about £2 altogether. Or less... I know it was a real bargain, anyway!
Last night I made Squiggles a sock rabbit! And I'm really pleased with it, especially the blissful expression :D
It felt so satisfying to sit alone in my bedroom surrounded by bits of collected fabrics, bags of stripey socks, and tangled and colourful embroidery yarns. In total, I probably spent about 4 hours making this, but it was a very relaxed experience and I was watching my Nanna's favourite film 'On Golden Pond' with Kathryn Hepburn.
The rabbit is made from one pair of regular size women's socks. I'd made a trial run using an old pair of holey grey socks a couple of months ago (that one was shaped more like a cat than a rabbit) - so I was confident that my slightly dodgy, inexperienced "method" was going to work out!
I suppose it's a tradition (of sorts) to give a newborn a fluffy little creature when it arrives (perhaps not immediately, ha ha! You don't want to freak it out), a little comforting friend to grow up with. What was weird about this was that once I'd finished it, I got it into my head to measure its length (head to toe, not including ears), and discovered that it's exactly 42cm long, which is what Squigs should measure this week. Of course that lead to feelings of awe at the sheer size of Squiggles, and wonder that my belly could contain him/her at all!
I should let you know that the sock animal was partly inspired by the creations of my friend Citrusgirl (also pregnant! Due in November), who makes the most wonderful things completely instinctively and as naturally as breathing. Her blog can be found here, and you can see lots of the amazing things she has made, except, strangely, her sock animal... hmm. Think I'd better put in a special request! :D
We went to the birth centre this morning to have the regular check up, and were told that Squiggles' head is very nearly engaged. That explains the spiky, tweaky pains I was getting all of Monday night, and the feeling of being able to breathe a little easier since then. Apparently as the head starts to drop into the pelvis, you get these stretching pains as the head manoeuvres into position. It was weird that I started getting them on that particular night, as on Monday we'd been to the third of our ante-natal classes, which had been focusing on contractions and labour. They'd been talking about how, for some women, contractions start off feeling like period pains... When I started getting the pains I was genuinely worried that it might be the early signs of labour! Ha, nope.
The midwife explained that it would be very unlikely that Squiggles would 'come back up' from the position (s)he's in, and yes, it would seem to be a little earlier than expected, but only by a week or two. I wondered if this implied that the baby was planning on coming out early, but she said it wouldn't necessarily be the case. We'll just have to wait and see what happens, but it's getting very exciting!
This is supposed to be what Squiggie looks like by now - 2.2kg in weight and 45cm in length!
The Vegetable Garden: We've started having a special meal every Tuesday night, consisting of only what we have grown ourselves or found growing on the smallholding... So far it's been a huge success! The meals have been simple, but incredibly tasty - the potatoes (although not hugely prolific) are amazing, the salad leaves fresh and flavoursome (especially with the addition of herbs such as basil, chives and parsley), the beetroots rich and sweet. I have started making fresh drinks from lemon balm, mint and elderflowers, which have gone down a treat. We now have 17 fully planted deep beds - the additions this month being: a bed of purple brussel sprouts and turnips; rainbow chard and celeriac; leeks; and a bed containing two spare squash plants and three cucumber seedlings.
The Orchard: The massive, old apple trees (which were here when we arrived) are laden with fruit, by now the apples are about one and a half inches in diameter. I don't yet know very much about fruit trees, but it would seem to me that these are all cooking apples rather than "eaters." I have winter pies in my mind, but Phil and my mum are getting very interested in the idea of making lots and lots of cider!
Pests: Still no major signs of slugs, partly I suppose because it's been so dry. There have been some mysterious scratchings and diggings in some of the beds though, which has resulted in the loss of several of the celeriac seedlings. I wondered if it might be our naughty toilet-making cats, but have been assured that "no poo has been found in the disturbed areas" so we still don't know who or what is the perpetrator.
The Polytunnel: The first red tomatoes have been eaten! I think we've had about seven or eight in total so far, so don't get too excited. The plants are heavy with bulging trusses, however, so we're ever-hopeful that we might at some point be overwhelmed with fruits... The cucumber plants have exploded in size and are climbing rapidly up their supports. Though they look healthy, the fruits have been turning to mush before they really start to develop, so we're not really sure what we're doing wrong. A quick look in The Vegetable and Herb Expert shows that this can be caused by over- or under-watering, so we are none the wiser. The courgette plants have also grown exponentially over the last month, and there are several mini golden courgettes waiting to be eaten in our special meal tonight, as well as a stripey green one.
Water: It's been so dry, we're starting to realise how lucky we are having our own water supply. If we were threatened with a hosepipe ban, our vegetables would certainly die. I have friends who have to carry all of their water up a steep hill to their vegetable plot, and there's not enough time in the day (or energy in the body!) to fully provide for the needs of the thirsty plants. In the house, I've started drinking water from the tap (water which comes from our borehole) as the sulphurous smell seems to have gone away - perhaps both houses making use of the water has cleared out the staleness in the collection tank, and allowed fresher water to enter the system. It's good water, and has none of the chemicals we had to put up with in town - it's a pleasure to drink :D
Plant Feed: The comfrey tea was great, but after a while we started to realise that some of the tomato leaves were curling up at the edges and looking rather ropey. When we investigated the causes of this, it turned out that comfrey is really great for root development, and what we hadn't noticed was the fact that the affected plants had developed ridiculously excessive roots. They had grown out of the bottom of the pots, and along the surface of the soil on the polytunnel floor, and were hating having nothing to cover them. We covered them up with more compost, and set about making a new nutrient tea, this time one full of nitrogen (good for leaves): one made out of poo.
Wild Food: The elderflowers are out, and elderflower cordial has been the flavour of the month! It's so easy and quick to make, yet I've not had time to get around to it these last few years, so it felt really good to be back on track, and enjoying seasonal delights.
Baby: At 34 weeks, I've finally got my head around what we have been given and what we still need. I spent a day researching washable nappies and their components (I have been given some Fuzzi Bunz pocket nappies, but nothing to go in the pockets!), and found a great list of what I'll need. My advert on the Machynlleth Swapshop brought loads of promises of nappy and baby bits, so I'm really pleased. I also spent a day (yes, it took a whole day!) going through all of the clothes we've been given, ordering them into sizes/ages and washing everything from 0-3 months. It felt really good to be getting everything in order, and so exciting to be holding these tiny and incredibly cute garments... I can't wait to put Squiggles in them! Here's how the bump is developing: