Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Washing up with soap.

The soap I made last week is just about ready and I'm almost out of washing up liquid. I would ideally leave the soap another week as it's a bit too alkali for my liking, but I'm not sure how much that will change over time. To be safe I used rubber gloves. I'm not sure how well this experiment will work really. I'm not using plastic bottles, but instead I need rubber gloves!!! To be fair though, I usually need rubber gloves anyway as I get excema on my hands from washing liquid!

So, here is the result. Very hot water with the soap rubbed on the sponge. The plates and cutlery were good and clean, some dishes needed soaking and the greasy pans needed a lot of soap and extra hot water. This will take a bit of getting used to and possibly the convenience of washing liquid may well tempt me back, especially as it's pretty cheap for a bottle compared to the hassle of getting the ingredients and making the soap. However, the soap is excellent for washing clothes and costs around 25p a bar. 
I'll see how I last through the week.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Coming together nicely.

It's been another full on week filled with hard work and organising.

Moomin helped me to clear out what was formerly the garage and is now our tack and tool room. This is the tool end, it was quite a mess as T and I both have lots of tools and gadgets. He has a good excuse, being a builder, but I just love DIY (even if I'm terrible at it!)
 We had a huge delivery of horse feed. It will save me a lot of time and money for fuel plus I like to know that the animals have food in case of emergencies. Being without a car for so long made me realise how much I rely on it to 'pop' to the shops. No more, I'm cutting back on that to once or twice a week.
 The tack has been organised and rugs hung up for the summer. We love those plastic buckets, but in time will go over to the reused car tyre trugs as they last forever which the platic ones don't. Merlin and Bo love to rip the handles off their coloured buckets when they play tug of war!!!
 My handy shelves are waiting to be filled with more homemade creams and insect gels. I've tested the stopitch cream I made on Merlin and not only did he accept it, but it didn't cause any skin reaction, so that will be made in a bigger batch.
 The front garden had become a wild jungle! We booked a builder to come and clear it and lay a proper driveway. Moomin and I took over an hour and 3 barrow loads just to clear this tiny space!
 This was my view from the kitchen the following morning as I cleared the breakfast things. This area to the side of the house was lawn and shrubs. There was no way any of us could have done this work by hand.
 The whole drive was cleared in less than an hour!
 The lawn and shrubs removed and best of all the root of an enormous laurel that I simply detested! It's not like me to dislike any plant, but laurel can be so poisonous and I just don't want anything toxic so close to the house.
 The new drive is finished and the cars are tucked away out of sight.
 The front of the house can now be enjoyed without any cars in the way. I've wanted a gravel garden for so long and I adore this one. The next jobs are, paint the house and build the gazeebo. It may seem like quite a luxury to spend good money on a posh new drive, but this is the first view people will get when they come for a holiday in our Gite and so I think it's a good investment.
We celebrated our new drive with a couple of loungers. These fold up a little too easily and have a habit of swallowing you whole if you move suddenly. I knew they were cheap for a reason, haha :D
The two faded red chairs were left here and have seen better days. I'd love a little French set in iron, but that's out of our price range for now, so I'll paint these and make do. The flower bed here has been cleared of weeds and planted up with the herbs we brought from England. It looks so sweet now and I have my morning coffee here. It's my favourite spot. Gigi likes it too <3
Just in front of the Gite is a sun trap for most of the day. It's shady but still warm in the evenings and a peaceful spot for a little knitting after a hard day. Moomin has been planting seeds like they're going out of fashion. I think I'll have a decent flower garden for once! I don't have much patience with flowers, as much as I love them, I tend to prefer vegetables!
It's a Bank Holiday here today and I intend to do nothing other than feed and play with the animals :D

Friday, 18 May 2018

Simple living.

I started blogging around 11 years ago, with a different blog and a totally different life. 
When I was a child, I loved watching The Good Life and it inspired a love of self sufficiency in me even at a young age. My Grandad always grew his own vegetables and I loved to spend time watching him work in his greenhouse.
I grew up and my priorities changed, I had a horse that I had to work to pay for and then later a family to care for. Before having the children, it made the best sense for me to be a stay at home mum. I wasn't a high earner and I could save us the equivalent of my wage by being frugal and providing in other ways. I started my vegetable garden. It seems so strange to me now, but at that time the World Wide Web was just beginning to really take off. Do I sound like I'm ancient? I think I must be!
Suddenly so many resources were available to me and I joined self sufficiency forums and found blogging. I just couldn't learn enough about changing my lifestyle.  One of my biggest new found inspirations was Rhonda Jean at Down to Earth I didn't realise that she was fairly new to blogging too, but this post was what gave me a huge lightbulb moment. I've been re-reading her blog to connect with my old self, to find again a sense of my ideals and goals. It's funny, but I find that I haven't really changed all that much. I'm older, carry a few more scars and a few more pounds but at my heart, I'm still trying to make a difference and to lead a life that I can be proud of.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

How many tomatoes?

Yesterday I did some potting up of the seedlings. The tiny greenhouse (incident tent!) needs more shelves, so I improvised. As our house was left furnished, we ended up filling the gite barn with everything we didn't want. I had a rummage around and found an old laundry basket the perfect height for a little table. A cupboard door became the top and I can put all my little pots inside when I've finished planting out the seeds.

 In total, I potted up 47 tomato plants!  I'm toying with the idea of selling some with an honesty box!
 The beans are coming along, despite being planted late, I have about four varieties and 20 plants in total.
 These are the woad babies. They've been the easiest of the dye plants to grow and they're nice and healthy too :D
(my favourtie gardening gloves from my dear friend, BB <3 )

Somehow, during everything I was doing yesterday, I hurt my right shoulder! Today will be a sewing day, I think!

Friday, 11 May 2018

Making soap (and a cake)

I suppose I wasn't really surprised that my lovely T said no to me using our good bathroom soap for the dishes! I bought some really cheap ingredients from the supermarket and thought I would have a go at making soap cheaper than washing up liquid.

The ingredients are:
Solid fat 200g  I used lard at just under a euro for 250g
Liquid fat 300g   I bought a bottle of sunflower oil at 1.30euros
Lye   70g   A very large box of borax is 9 euros. I had some from England in the cupboard and used that.
Distilled water  190g  less than a euro for 5 litres. Distilled water is best as minerals in different types of water can affect the finished soap.
Gather your utensils together. A glass jug for mixing the lye. Always add lye to water, not the other way round as it may splash and it can burn! A plastic pot for weighing the lye, scales a pot or mixing bowl and something to pour your soap into. I use washed out cartons.

Gently melt the fats in a pot. It's a good idea to turn the heat off just before the solid fat has melted as sometimes it takes too long to cool to the right temperature. You want the lye solution at around 100f and the same for the fats. The lye heats itself, so all you have to do is wait for it to cool.
When the fat and lye are at about the same temperature, within 5degrees of 100F, pour the lye into the fat and at this point add any fragrances that you might like, I used tea tree, then mix with a stick blender (above). Usually it takes only a couple of minutes for the soap to reach trace, when you can see the shape of ribbons in the mix.  I think this took much longer to set because I used soft lard and thin oil. I quickly looked up online if this was ok, and was reassured that it was.
I poured the mixture into the carton and waited for it to cool. This also took much longer but after 24hours it was getting firmer.  There are so many good recipes online that I would recommend looking at and doing lots of research before having a go. It's nothing to be frightened of and so long as you wait a couple of weeks for the soap to reach full saponification then it should all be safe. To be sure, I bought a little packet of PH strips to test the alkalinity of my soaps. So far, they've all been perfectly PH neutral :D  Rhonda Jean has some great soap recipes here :D

After all that work, I made a banana and walnut loaf using some of the walnuts I vacuum packed after last years harvest. It was soooo good <3

Thursday, 10 May 2018


Some routines are very hard to break. When we first moved in, the winter was on our heels and even though we enjoyed good weather for a long time, the mornings were dark and we were tired from the stresses of the move. We got into the habit of taking a cup of tea back to bed, to sip in the darkness until the sky eventually lightened.
Through the winter, I struggled with the fibro and T would make the tea and bring it up to me. It's been a lovely routine but with the start of the bright mornings it seems a little indolent to lie in bed while the animals are all busy outside.
So I've made some small changes. I get up early, put the kettle on to boil then let the chickens out and top up their food bowl. Next I give Jerry and Toffee a pack of haylage (Toffee has been ill again and Jerry is still so thin so they're in a paddock together) and then I divide another pack of haylage between the other ponies. We've stopped buying hay as it just gets wasted, next year we should have enough grass!  By this time the kettle is boiled and I let the tea brew while I feed the cats, they just have a tin and a big bowl of biscuits between them as too much meat encourages the flies. Then, the tea is taking up to bed where I do some research and blogging on my laptop and T goes through his French lessons. It's still a relaxed start to the day, but doesn't feel like a waste of time.

Today the sun is high in a gorgeous sky and I have mulching to do and then wool to clean, so I won't be hanging around too long :D

 This is number 8 cat, he thinks he's moving in with us, but I don't think we need any more! Dexter agrees with me.
 Unfortunately, no.8 has formed an attachment to Gigi and she seems quite happy with that, so he's often skulking around the place. He has lovely blue eyes and is quite sweet, but we don't need another mouth to feed!

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Making big changes, little steps at a time.

I've had my eyes opened by an article I found while searching online for 'no dig gardens'! It's an amazing article by a lady called Ruth Stout. What a wonderful woman she was, I'd love to track down one of her books. You can read the full article here.  It's totally changed the way I view my garden and suddenly no longer feel overwhelmed by the tasks ahead. I already had a small knowledge of the no-dig system and started the current veg beds with cardboard and some mulch, but clearly, I've not been using enough. We have plenty of spoiled hay due to the extensive rain and fussy ponies, plus I have the modest compost heap, so with the help of my son, I'm going to get going later.

I've also been looking at Rhonda Jeans posts about dishwashing. Is it possible to wash dishes with bar soap? I'm running out of shop bought washing liquid and my supplies haven't yet been delivered for the liquid soap. I need Potassium Hydroxide for liquid soap as the Sodium Hydroxide I bought for bar soap doesn't work the same way. I've discovered a bottle of caustic soda that I bought in England and it contains Sodium Hydroxide, well, who knew??? It was so much cheaper than the 'proper' stuff. I may give it a go later and see what the soap turns out like.

But for today, I may pinch a little of the lemon and mint soap that T made on our
course. I'm sure he won't mind and I can always make more :D 

Monday, 7 May 2018

Not very self reliant.

Not yet at least! Our aim is to spend less money on food and produce more of what we need here at home.
A few months back T and I went on a soap making course so that we can provide good quality soap that we can afford and that doesn't aggravate my skin. Since then, I've learnt to make fly and tick repellents for the animals (shame I didn't use any on myself!) and we have the ingredients to make many more household products. This is to cut down on plastic and waste packaging as well as hopefully saving money in the long run.

A couple of weeks ago, we bought our chickens. After a quick wing trim, they were let out in their new run.
 Moomin and her brother in the orchard garden. This is the start of the vegetable area and it needs a lot of work.
 This little fruit tree has settled well and is today about to blossom. This picture shows the size of the orchard garden. We can't use it all as the Fosseptic goes through part of it and we don't fancy eating from that area! It's fine for growing my dye plants and an area for chickens and later goats though.
I took the Oessant fleece out of the suint bath a few days ago and now that it's dry it's wonderfully soft. There is a little scurf, but because it's not been hot washed, the scurf is still soft and easy to get rid of. I'll take some pictures later if I'm up to it.
We're supposed to be going to the market today, but my foot is still painful and now I have a stiff neck, yeeesh! I'm a mess!!!

Laid up.

So here I am, in bed with a big fat foot! I thought I may have twisted it while gardening yesterday but the Dr I saw today thinks it's from an insect bite! There is no evidence of a bite, but the foot is very hot. I still think it's something linked to the fibro and overdoing things, but I'll probably never find out for sure! I'm just lucky that I already had the appointment booked to discuss general meds etc...

I'm a bit peeved that I can't spin, especially as I've been playing with dyes over the weekend.

This was another batch of avocado. I thought it was too pale, so I threw in some onion skin juice and a couple of tablespoons of henna indigo!
 This was the result and I really liked it, only the indigo faded as it dried leaving a mostly brown wool :(
 The was the same indigo, minus the onion skins, on some Southdowns fleece. Again the indigo faded, so another disappointment.
I finally made the indigo into a paste (as if for dyeing hair) and used it on some of the Angora goat wool. I noticed that the part of the pot in contact with the sun was turning purple so I put the angora into a large coffee jar and had a go at solar dyeing. It was a nice surprise and I like the effect. The colour hasn't faded either!
I'll share that picture later. For now I'm going to have a snooze as the tablets have made me sleepy and my foot is throbbing.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

New directions.

I've been thinking about how much my life has changed over the last few years and of course, the last 12 months have seen the most dramatic changes. I find it so interesting that all I wanted to do was paint and sculpt but since being in France I've only worked with my wool.  Maybe it's because all of my painting supplies are in boxes and my wool has kept me sane during the move but also, I think, I'm changing yet again into a different version of me.

However, last week I was reminded that the old me is still there, just put aside while I learn new skills. Flash (below) was being a silly numpty and had got out onto the newly seeded paddock. He was not going to be caught, well, not by T at least! Somehow I managed to join up with him and he had a lightbulb moment and decided that he had to be with me! This caused it's own problems as I've joined up with several of T's horses and my darling Bo doesn't like any other horse or pony near me! It got me thinking though about all the years I'd spent learning Natural Horsemanship. I have these lovely animals here and I need to be doing something with them!
I'm not sure where the horses fit in, but they're such an integral part of our lives that I know I'll find a way to slot them into my future plans. I really want to paint Flash too, he's just too gorgeous not to.
The weather has broken and we're back to wind and rain. That's fine though, I have lots of wool to wash and dye :D