New friends…

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We have had a few changes around here in the past weeks. Firstly, one of our sweet guinea pigs “Bubble” died suddenly two days before my eldest daughter’s Birthday (he of the wonderful flowing hair on the left hand side of the photo). We had planned to take the guinea pigs into the house on Sunday but on Saturday night there were a lot of fireworks (we celebrate Guy Fawkes night here in the UK around the 5th November, with fireworks, bonfires and processions in some towns) and we can only imagine Bubble died of a heart attack after a loud bang 😦 Guinea pigs are so sensitive with weak hearts. 😦 We were so sad to lose him and so regretful that we had not brought the guinea pigs in earlier. This autumn has been so mild, there was no need to bring them in sooner (we usually bring them in mid-October) but we forgot to consider that folks could have firework displays in the week before the 5th. 😦

We had a little ceremony to commemorate our little friend and my youngest, whose pet he was, drew on his “gravestone”. Both my daughters made sure he had all his favourite foods in with him – sweet girls.

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He is now carefully tucked away under our angel where he will not be disturbed.

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We had heard that guinea pigs are sociable animals and can get very lonely, so we felt we needed to find “Pipkin” another friend. We went to the pet shop later that day (in the midst of birthday/party preparations…) and were advised that male guinea pigs don’t always take well to other younger males. They suggested we have two young ones so if ‘Pipkin’ decided he preferred to be alone, then they would have each other.

So, without further ado, meet our new friends ‘Pumpkin’ and ‘Cappuccino’ 🙂

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They are Texels and will have long soft curly hair. They are so soft and sweet. My daughters fell in love at first sight!

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We were told not to handle our new friends for the first day and to keep them in a separate cage from ‘Pipkin’, but after a couple of days of cuddles – they are soooo sweet and still small – it was time to introduce them to ‘Pipkin’ on neutral ground.

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So we built a play pen area for them in our family room and they slowly started to socialise. By the end of the first day they were eating from the same bowl
and not long after they were cosied up in the same tunnel.

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The little ones are always climbing over the much larger ‘Pipkin’, but he tolerates it well. Bubble was the dominant guinea pig so he is used to being climbed on! We put them in the same (two storey) cage at the weekend and they are doing really well. Phew!

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We still feel sadness at Bubble’s demise, but these sweet little ones have brought us much joy already.

Apart from our new friends, my husband has been working in the garden again as he had some time in between jobs.

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He has laid a new lawn and reshaped it so we have plenty of space for lots of lovely perennials and grasses. I love the shape of it. It feels so relaxing to look out to the garden now, after feeling rather haphazard for a long time. I feel so grateful that my husband is so clever and talented! 🙂

The view from our seating area to the pond is also lovely and relaxing – it will be even better once the plants are growing!! There are some spring bulbs to look forward to too 🙂 At the moment none of us are allowed to step on the lawn for three weeks, so there will be no trips up to the veg patch (most of the beds are ‘resting’ now anyway, except for some leeks, chard and parsley) or to the play house, but as the nights draw in, we find ourselves inside more so it is easier to be patient 🙂

These last weeks back home…

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I am half way through writing my next travel post, but as I was browsing through my photos today, I felt I wanted to write about our last couple of weeks at home instead.

The first week or so after getting back was very low key. Jet lag and general transitioning back to life at home kept us close to home. We slowly unpacked, did homely activities, played and took our time to land gently back into our life.

The garden was looking very wild after five weeks without attention, plus a lot of rain with sunny intervals (!)  Many of our vegetable plants had gone to seed, like this giant sunflower,

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or just shrivelled up, but despite the neglect, we still have quite a bit of fruit and veg to enjoy, including the yummy purple, yellow and green beans that my daughters like to pick and eat straight off the plant.

We have apples on a couple of our espalier trees for the first time which is lovely

and there are some tomatoes in the greenhouse (with more to come).

The courgettes are doing well, the beetroots are huge (!)  and there is plenty of chard for us and the hens 🙂 so we are feeling grateful.

Our flower/herb bed is wild but beautiful and we have been bringing flowers into the house regularly to enjoy.

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One of our neighbours puts her windfall apples out on the street everyday, so we have been helping ourselves to those and using them to make apple sauce. I followed Brandy’s advice to just cut the apples in half or into big pieces (no peeling and coring as I usually do), place them in a big pot with some water, let them soften and then use a food mill (that I rediscovered in our garage – I bought it in a flea market years ago to make jam and totally forgot about it!) to remove the pips, peel etc. It worked a treat (thanks Brandy!). I added cinammon as we like it that way.

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I froze the bulk of it and left some in the fridge for the children to snack on.  Just when I thought I was on top of all the apples, my husband came back with a huge trug of apples for me!

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 what to do with them….apple cake, apple chutney, fruit leathers, more dried apple….hmmn..let’s see….:-)

We have also been trying out our new exciting dehydrator!  I have wanted one for years and thanks to a kind gift, we could finally treat ourselves to one. Hurrah!

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The girls were so excited to try dehydrated fruits and were very helpful in preparing them. We had a little production line going for the apples 🙂

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The fruit is going down really well as you can see! We are on our second batch 🙂 Bananas and pineapples are particularly decadent.

I have also had a go at drying herbs in the dehydrator on a very low temperature, but I do think hanging them up is easy enough and pretty and fragrant to boot  🙂

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My husband dried courgette slices with a bit of chilli too. They were delicious, but took a loooong time. We are still experimenting and enjoying exploring the possibilities. 🙂

The girls have had fun rediscovering their toys and played happily for hours. I think they are  glad to be back home. Here they are in a game of Pippi Longstocking 🙂

My husband worked in our garden for a few days when we got back to ease himself back to work. It was lovely to still have him around. He laid a patio under the new pergola.

We decided to add a few little sections of colour using these glass nuggets,  My husband raised the area with a mortar base. When that was dry he laid the nuggets on tile adhesive and filled it all in with grey grout the next day.  They will blend in better with time, but they already look so pretty and it adds a lovely element of colour and texture to the area. We are planning to do something similar with the risers of the steps leading up the garden when we get a chance, this time involving the children more.

He also laid some astroturf in the children’s play area.

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We had bark chip down, but the neighbourhood cats were using the area as a toilet and it was putting the children off, not to mention their shoes coming into the house covered in not so fragrant poo! 😦 So we bought a green ‘carpet’ for that area instead. Personally I wouldn’t use astroturf for a lawn, but for this area it is perfect. The girls are really enjoying using the area now.

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Here is my youngest giving her toys some fresh air 🙂

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By our second weekend, we felt ready to venture out. We spent a nice afternoon just the four of us at a favourite local National Trust place, playing pooh sticks,

running around and following a trail that also involved a bit of dressing up 🙂

That evening, there just happened to be a free firework display and fun fair a short walk from where we live, so we thought we would go along and have a look.

My eldest daughter is getting more adventurous with age and has never got dizzy (as a little one, she used to spin around looking at books or singing to herself for long swathes of time!) so she was very game to try a few rides. My youngest found it rather busy and noisy, but after watching her sister and daddy on the rides, she decided to be brave and have a go and she really loved it.

The firework display was too loud for her, so while my eldest and Daddy went forward to have a look, we had to move as far back as possible. She is very sensitive to outside impressions and noises (like her sister is in other ways).

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As we walked back home, we marvelled at the almost full moon reflecting on the water. A surprisingly fun spontaneous evening was had 🙂

We saw a few friends in the last couple of days before school began, including going on a blackberry picking trip. The original plan was to find elderberries, but the trees had been stripped bare already 😦 and besides the children were much more interested in the ripe and ready fruit on offer, eating it straight from the bush.:-)

We did manage to take a little punnetful home with some encouragement (!) We returned home with cuts on our hands and legs (from the brambles), purple stained lips and fingers and a healthy glow.  It was lovely to be out in nature with friends, enjoying nature’s gifts.

Going back to school was rather tricky as we hadn’t managed to wake up at 7am before then. I had tried to wake us up a little earlier every day, but 7am seemed too much of a shock to the system. I didn’t manage to take a first day back photo (as is our tradition) as we were rather late. Ho hum….

I am sure we will get in the rhythm again. It is difficult to let the longer, easy, more leisurely days of summertime go…..

On Friday we attended a party for one of my youngest daughter’s classmates. It was really enjoyable and they played some unusual games, including devising a box/invention to house an egg, so that it wouldn’t break when thrown from a considerable height! The children had such fun doing it and were really engaged. Amazingly only a few eggs broke. My eldest daughter didn’t go to the party, but wanted to have a go inventing something similar. She dug a few things out of our recycling and succeeded in making a cardboard contraption that protected the egg from breaking. Great Fun!

 Soon after she decided to make a shower for her mouse 🙂

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We had a rather busy weekend for us. On Saturday we went to a local festival with friends (I left my camera at home). It was forest based, with arts and crafts, storytelling and various other activities. Unfortunately we got there rather late and it started raining, so we spent most of the time in the craft tent, making flower crowns and decorating little wooden figures with foam clay which was a nice idea and produced a good effect.

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On Sunday we hosted a party for friends who are going to travel the world for a year with their eight year old daughter and who have recently married. They have given up their home to be rented, so we offered to have a celebration and goodbye party at ours, inviting other friends from our craft group (which has evolved over time) and their families. It was a lovely gathering – really warm and supportive.

My daughters helped with the party preparations including putting these pretty fruit skewers together.

My husband was keen to do a bbq, despite the British weather (ie rain!) It’s only our second bbq this summer….

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The children had a fine time – there were nine in total ranging from 7 to 13 years – all sweet children – and they all seemed to get on well. They enjoyed playing outside, having adventures and lots of hide and seek went on too.

There was dressing up in the evening, music making and a very harmonious atmosphere.

After a couple of s’mores each (we had to toast the marshmallows in the oven due to the rain outside, but it worked just fine), the children (and adults!) had chocolate smeared faces and were slightly high on sugar! (it is rare moment in our family – I think my youngest was almost drunk on the stuff!)

They wound down with some quiet time with Daddy at the end of the evening on the sofa.

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So that’s the round up of our weeks. It’s been full and lovely to be back.

Goings on

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I haven’t visited this space for a little while as life has been rather busy and writing here is really an enjoyable luxury for me. The last week has been spent finalising our travel arrangements (in all manner of ways) and enjoying end of term plays, concerts and celebrations. The girls have been making teacher presents:

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my youngest brought home her first grade knitting project (modelled here by her sister)

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and my eldest brought home her own original design cross stitch project. I love it!

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The design is of a watercolour ‘splodge’ painting, where the children painted coloured splodges on one side of a piece of squared paper and folded it over to make a mirror image on the other side.

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This was then translated onto another piece of squared paper to create a clear design as shown below:

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I fancy having a go myself  – such a lovely idea. I love Waldorf education for all the handicrafts and beautiful paintings.

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What with  travel preparations and end of term busyness, I haven’t done much creating myself. I ordered myself some lovely purple yarn to make myself an adult version of the sweater I made my eldest a few weeks ago. I love the design and can almost fit hers, so I thought I would give it a go too. I also have yarn from my stash for making a shawl, so I should be fine for car knitting!

I have been putting together craft supplies for our holiday, including Fimo clay, which we are all addicted to at the moment!  The girls haven’t finished their doll quilts, so I have cut out the borders, batting and backing so they can continue their work while we are away and their dolls will be able to enjoy their new travel quilts 🙂

My daughter was off school last week as she was feeling unwell – she is suffering from quite a bit of anxiety about the flight and travel to the unknown and I felt a home day would be helpful. She spent the morning rolling yarn into little balls so the girls can make pom poms while we are away – possibly on the plane – so that we will have a garland of colourful pom poms to hang everywhere we go 🙂

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We will be changing accommodation every three days so it will be hard to feel settled, but small things like this can help us to feel more at home.

We will probably be making a few more things, no doubt, with craft supplies we find in the US, but for now, this is a start. My eldest is keen to do some tie dyeing after her eurhythmy (dance) teacher tie-dyed a green T-shirt for her. I hear that you can tie dye with Kool Aid, so I imagine we will be having a go with a few cheap T-shirts when we are on our holiday!

Apart from holiday craft plans, my eldest spent some of the morning threading beads onto long lengths of yarn to make a beaded curtain for their little house at the back of the garden. We have so so many beads, buttons and bells, all collected over the years of parties that they didn’t fit in the tin anymore!

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I have been thinking of ways to use them. Finally we have a plan! 🙂 So far we have emptied the bead tin by a third, making four beaded panels. Probably another four will do the trick. I think they will look nice and effective and the best bit of course is that they are homemade 🙂

We had dear friends over for the weekend. Usually we go camping with them every year in early August, but since we will be away for over five weeks, it won’t work out this year, so we had a “glamping” experience at ours 🙂 Everyone had a bed to sleep in, but we still spent lots of time outdoors, had a bbq, built a fire later on and toasted marshmallows. It was really relaxing and fun to have our friends over.

We have done quite a bit of work in the garden in the last week or so – my husband mainly! The little play house is finally painted:

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my husband has excavated an area for a pond:

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which the girls could not resist using as a pool during the hot weather we have been having – they have had a lot fun,  including a massive water fight at the weekend with our friends!

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Eventually we are going to put plants and a pump in and hopefully attract lots of lovely wildlife and hopefully have some fish in there too. Water is so soothing in the garden.

My super talented husband has also built us a new seating area right in the middle of the garden, where the sun still shines until late.

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It was so lovely to sit there on Saturday night. We didn’t feel we were disturbing the neighbours at either side or the back with the smoke, so we could relax. This is always an issue in built up areas, so we are pleased we now have a solution. Am fantasising about fires in the winter too 🙂

Our back garden is starting to take shape. My husband has lots of lovely ideas, being a Garden Designer. Our front garden is very magical at this time of the year with all the tall perennials creating a secret garden feel.

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My husband is planning to do much of the same in the back garden in September, which will be lovely. He is so talented and clever – we are very lucky to have him!

The veg garden is coming along. We are enjoying copious amounts of cut and come again salad and some sweet tender peas. The cherries are almost over – I do believe my eldest daughter ate almost all of them (!) and the first yellow courgettes are on their way. We won’t be around to enjoy the abundance until the end of August, but I have encouraged our pet sitter to take all that she would like for herself and for our pets, and of course she can enjoy two freshly laid eggs daily. She has agreed to water the garden daily in dry spells, so hopefully things will keep growing and we will have juicy ripe tomatoes to look forward to 🙂

I am harvesting the chamomile flowers daily to dry for chamomile tea

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and we have a herb bed – volunteer herbs mainly, with lots of dill, chamomile and fennel and we have now added lemon balm and calendula.

I haven’t put my heart and soul into the garden this year, but it is still thriving somehow. Everything wants to grow – the life force is always there.

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I will stop now as we will be travelling later today. Here are my daughters playing  Panda airways 🙂

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I expect I may write a weekly update on our travels as a record of what we will be getting up to. I hope you are all having a lovely summer so far.

Warmest Wishes, Anna

 

 

This past week

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We are back in the school routine now, since yesterday. My daughters were fine going back, although I am sure they would much rather be at home playing! We had a lovely week pottering about the house and seeing a few more friends. I try to be very child centred in the holidays and love to spend time with my daughters. I sometimes hear parents complain that the holidays are too long, but I enjoy having my children at home with me and having fun and adventuring together. I feel very fortunate to be a stay-at-home parent and homemaker and to spend this time with my children. There are sacrifices in this life too, but it is a life I choose willingly.

This week:

*   We made these cheese biscuits, which we quite like. I purchased some bunny cutters  before Easter so we could make Easter biscuits and then proceeded to mislay them! 😦 Getting set up for Easter with our two nature table boxes and all the paraphenalia we like to scatter about the place (!),  returning from holiday and an accumulation of paperwork (that always tends to go on the backburner in the holidays), not to mention all the craft materials squirrelled here and there inbetween activities – make it difficult to locate things!  I found them a couple of days after Easter (!) so we finally made shortbread biscuits (albeit parmesan shortbread..)

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*   We finally made some balms using the calendula, chickweek and plantain oils that we created last summer and that have been lurking at the back of the fridge for rather a long time!! I have been promising my daughters we would make the balms  for ages, every time they had a scratch, itch or bite – I really don’t know what took me so long – it is so easy to do!!

I mixed the three oils together as this trio soothe all manner of skin ailments.  I think I will mix comfrey oil into it next time to really cover everything!

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Calendula is a great all round skin soother. It can be used on cuts, mild burns, insect bites and dry, chapped skin, including the lips. It can also help soothe rashes (including nappy rash) and chickenpox scabs, to mention a few.

Plantain (plantago) helps to treat cuts and skin irritations such as nappy rash, sunburn, nettle stings, insect bites and bee stings. It is anti-inflammatory.

Chickweek (stellaria) can be used on cuts, bruises, sores and dry, chapped skin and is also good for rashes (when I was pregnant with my eldest, I had an allotment and the caterpillars there gave everyone an allergic rash. I had it all over my belly and legs and used chickweed ointment to alleviate the itch. Very effective, I found).

We found the recipe in our herb fairies magazine, but something very similar is also in the wonderful resource Medicinal Herbs – a Beginners Guide by Rosemary Gladstar.

Here’s how to make our “triple action” soothing balm:

You will need:

1 cup of herb oil – single oils or a combination of your favourite ones
1/4 cup beeswax
2 Vitamin E gel capsules ( if you have them)

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Measure out a third of a cup of each oil ( or one cup if you are only using one oil).

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Heat gently in a bainmarie (glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water in our case).

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Add a quarter of a cup of grated beeswax.

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Once the beeswax is melted, test the consistency of the balm, by either putting a small amount on a plate and placing it in the freezer for a minute, or put a small amount on a teaspoon and see how it sets.

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If the consistency is as desired then you are ready to decant the liquid. If it is too soft,  add a little more beeswax to make it firmer or if it is too hard, add a little more oil.  Ours is lovely and soft and easy to apply. If you have them, add two Vitamin E capsules. Pierce them with a pin and squeeze them into your cooling liquid.

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Decant the liquid into your containers using a ladle. It will be hot, so make sure they are on the surface where they will cool.

Add the essential oil of your choice or leave it ‘au naturel’. I looked up essential oils for dry skin and rose and geranium seemed popular, so the girls decided on rose. I made one with rose and geranium for my husband and rose and jasmine for me as they are favourite scents of mine.

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It feels like a lovely treat applying it and my daughters, who dislike being doctored by me, can doctor themselves with these soothing balms. They are using it for everything and it is very gentle on their sensitive skins. I have eczema on one of my hands – due to all the washing up, garden duties, hand washing etc and it has already made a difference, so I would highly recommend making your own herbal oils and balms. They cost very little and are a wonderful way to conserve natures medicines. I believe they last up to a year in a cool place. I don’t think they will last so long here!!

And one last step, just because… label your jars beautifully. My motto is:  whatever you do, make it beautiful  🙂

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*   We finally started work in our vegetable garden. As we were away over the Easter break, we didn’t want to start beforehand as it was too dry and there was no one to water the plants in the greenhouse.

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I try to follow the Biodynamic Calendar for our planting and sowing:

On Easter Monday afternoon we sowed our fruiting plant seeds in pots, eg: tomatoes, squash, sweetcorn, courgettes, peas and beans.

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This past Sunday afternoon we put our leafy veg seeds in the beds eg: spinach, chard, celery, salads, leaf herbs, leeks, cabbages etc.

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We will sow our root veg seeds on Friday eg: carrots, parsnips, onion, garlic, potatoes.

I learnt this method from an older chap that I used to talk to at my allotment many years ago, who was a great admirer of Rudolf Steiner’s work and it has stood me in good stead (this was years before I had children and discovered Waldorf education).

We were rather late getting our crops in last year, but everything grew well, so we are hopeful. We certainly grew enough to feed our chickens and guinea pigs and had a glut of tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries and a few other goodies.

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I have covered the sown beds with washed and crushed egg shells (that I have been saving all winter) to try to deter snails and slugs and will be ordering some nematodes soon as too many of our little seedlings were dessimated last year. I have also heard that covering the beds with holly helps ,so i may go out and see what I can find in my local park 🙂 Fingers crossed!

*    I am still working on my purple sweater. It has mainly been knitted on car journeys and whilst watching episodes of Fawlty Towers on Netflix (a politically incorrect but hilarious comedy show about a English hotel, set in the 1970’s). It reaches past my waist now and I only have one skein left to knit up, so hopefully it won’t take too long. I am really enjoying the colour so it keeps me interested!

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Next I need to start thinking about making birthday presents for my youngest who will be eight at the end of May and my eldest has put in a request for short sleeved version of this cardigan designed by the very talented Laura . I would like to make it for her before she goes on her school camp in June.

*    Another little crafting achievement this week is this “Piggywig” my eldest daughter needlefelted for a game 🙂

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I love it. She is thinking of making more to sell at the Christmas Fayre at our school in December.  It is always good to make plans 🙂

What are you enjoying making/creating this week?

Joining Nicole at Crafting On