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….. Making pretty things
….. Simple living
….. Growing a family

Three children (17, 15, 13)*** Two parents *** one dog *** Country loving *** Cottage dwelling in the South-West of the UK. That’s us!

We’ve been blogging since January 2010, about everyday happenings that bring us joy.

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“A moment spent in wonder is worth a lifetime spent in awe.”


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becoming a greener me

Saving the piano stool

A while back, I picked up a prinker ink stained, piano stool. I found it through Freegle, which is our local free site to save items from the land fill. Someone from the village, had been storing it in her attic and she no longer wanted it. The stool is nothing special. Made purely for function. Unfortunately, the printer ink had made it totally unusable.

The ink had soaked into the seat and every time I moved or even touched it, I’d end up covered in fresh ink. Don’t be fooled by that seemingly small area of black on the seat in the photo. If all that ink came from one cartridge, then I would be a monkey’s uncle. There was so much of it. The cushion part was thoroughly soaked and could not be saved, or reused.

Once the cushion had been removed, the remaining stool was sanded down.

Next, I decoupaged it in an old world map. I like maps. I could spend ages looking at maps. Tearing this one into pieces, had the added advantage that I could spend even more time examining it.

Regular readers may remember the old frame I decorated with a map. I used the same method, and even the same map, for the piano stool.

Final part was to sort out the new cushion. I bought a thick piece of foam and cut it to size. Choosing the fabric was more difficult. I tried denim for a while, but then shifted to a soft, fleece fabric, which had been in my stash for years.

I’ve not fixed the fabric properly yet, as I wanted to see how it worked, but I think I will go with it. Anything that keeps the children sitting and practising their musical instruments for longer, has to be an advantage and I think this fabric does. The cushion is thick enough to be squishy comfortable, when you sit on it.

The piano stool is being used as a piano stool once more.

It works perfectly for anyone playing the keyboard and also stows away perfectly underneath it. Also it’s the right height for my daughter playing her harp. They can store their music books in the seat too. No more “Where is my music book?” as they rush out for a lesson.

The irony is that it will probably be replaced soon, as Middle Teen really wants to get a piano, which more than likely will come with a stool of its own.

I’m sure I’ll find a place for this stool, when the time comes. I spent too long with sticky fingers, arranging tiny pieces of map, to even dream of parting with this stool yet.

Maybe I could have a map room one day. Once the children leave home, of course.

(Footnote: I really like using Freegle. I passed on most of my baby stuff, including cloth nappies and maternity wear through it. We found someone who wanted an old caravan awning we had.  It saves items from being thrown away when they could have a new use.This time I was on the receiving side. I always think that systems like this work best if you can be a giver and a receiver.)

Spring Green

There comes a point, as you forcefully cram yet another food wrapper into the bin, when you can’t help wondering where you’re going wrong. Not the method of putting it in the bin. No worries there. I seem to be well practised at squeezing the maximum number of plastic bags into my bin. It’s all in the folding. I’d be a worthy contender for the World Record, I’m sure. I’m more thinking along the lines of why. Why have I got so many in the first place? How has it crept up?
I could hand them back when I next order food from the supermarket, but that feels like passing the buck. Better to reduce the number in the first place. Plus, everytime I question the delivery people about the bags’ final resting place, I usually end up with a “I’m not sure. It goes in the recycling crate”, which fails to fill me with confidence and happy feelings.
The buck has to stop here. I really need to focus on “reduce” rather than “recycle”.

I’ve been reviewing my list of green-living blog posts recently. Just short of doing an impression of a heating engineer looking at the boiler before dishing out the happy news about how much the new, very necessary part is going to cost, I can see some obvious eco friendly areas where I’ve fallen silently off the wagon.

Without more ado, I’ve come up with five kitchen projects to focus on. I could list more, but I’m taking one elephant bite at a time. It is revisiting, if I’m honest. Mainly inspired by the contents of last week’s bin contents. I know this works for me. Last year, I stopped buying mini juice cartons for my son’s packed lunches. No more plastic straws. Instead, I bought a flask and added a drink of his choice. It takes very little extra effort to wash and fill. We’ve been using it for six months now and it has not leaked.

So which projects did I chose?


This is an easy one. Back to making my own. I add powered milk to make it thicker, fruit to flavour it and portion it out into small jam jars. When someone asks for a snack, I point them in the direction of the fridge and a jar. Easy peasy.

I know why I stop. Given time, the family will go through stages of not wanting yoghurt, so my starter culture is lost/eaten, as we take a break. A few weeks later, I end up buying a big pot of strawberry yoghurt and then another. Wrong habit. Next time it will be a small pot of natural yoghurt, so I can make more.

Salad and vegetables

The bulk of my plastic wrapping arrives in the kitchen with the salad and vegetable. Both frozen and fresh. During the summer and autumn months, the plastic all but disappears, as I grow as much as I can in the garden. I need to improve my preserving technique, to make it last longer.

(last year’s tomatoes)

When I run out, I plan to order a local veg box again, rather than buying from the supermarket. The veg box comes in a box, with minimum packaging. Realistically, a farmers market is too far to visit on a regular basis, and I’d soon stop, so a veg box is the safest bet. We used to have a grocery van than stopped outside, but he retired years ago.


Same situation as the yoghurt. I go through stages of making it. Then I run out of yeast, and the bread buying habit begins. My solution this time is to start a sour dough starter. Maybe batch baking and freezing loaves and rolls.

I also plan to make a few bread bags to prolong the life of my loaves.

Buying bread probably produces the least number of plastic bags out of the five projects. My ulterior motive here is that I can make interesting breads which will be alternatives to other plastic wrapped sweet snacks.

Breakfast Cereal

Breakfast cereal is an issue. For speed, we tend to have boxed cereal on a weekday morning.

At weekends, there is time for porridge or pancakes. I can buy oats in cardboard boxes, but the other cereals all come with inner plastic bags. These ones probably bug me the most. I’m not even sure the children’s cereal makes the best start to the day. I’m keen to give this one up for so many reasons.

I have a plan to make more granola. Also my bread making should provide toast as an option.

Freezer bags

I freeze batch cooking, leftovers and garden produce in bags. I try to wash and re-use the bags, but inevitably I end up buying more. I’ve been researching other option, including jam jars, which I usually avoid putting in the freezer due to their reputation of breaking. It seems if I leave room for expansion, which I knew, and use a wide necked jar, I could use jam jars. With berries, I can freeze on a tray and then transfer to jars, instead of my usual bags.

Fortunately, I do collect a lot of jam jars. I’m also going to invest in a few more pyrex dishes with lids, which are perfect for batch cooking lasagne and cottage pies. I will still need some bags, but hopefully I can cut back.


That makes five reduce projects. Hopefully, once I’ve established those five, I can add another batch of projects. Realistically, I’m not going to eliminate all new plastic bags, but I’m happily anticipating reducing the number.

It turned out to be a useful exercise reviewing my list. A bit of a spring green, so to speak. Fingers crossed. My bins should be a little less plastic filled in the coming months and we should be eating a little bit more healthily. I’m so lazy. I’m hoping I can put my bins out less frequently. One of my least favourite jobs.

Would love to know if you have a favourite way to avoid putting plastic in your bin.

Make your own chocolate advent calendar

Now I admit, I probably didn’t approach the issue in the best way. I should have known. It’s not as if I’m particularly new to this parenting lark. I know the rules. Parenting Rule number 537 states that a short sharp, direct approach, out of the blue, will not seamlessly shift offspring on to the next stage of development. Too quick. Too sudden.

No. It requires carefully placed, crafted hints being casually dropped for weeks beforehand. Like a trail of breadcrumbs leading them to their own discovery of the need to move up a level. Preparing the ground. I knew that. I’m not a rookie.

Not that that stopped me. When I look back, I made the classic mistake and I was doomed to fail from the moment I drew breath to speak.

All three offspring were in the kitchen. I seized the moment. I announced, in a nonchalent manner, that everyone was too old for chocolate advent calendars this year. My follow up argument about single use plastic would have won them over, but I played it too late. I felt some of them sway. Alas, by then, the battle had already been lost. Apparently, and this is the moment I knew I was defeated, I was on route to ruining their childhoods forever. (again)

I wonder which page of the childhood manual that gem is printed on.

Anyway, this partly explains why I ended up in the kitchen with my 13 year old, one evening, making chocolate.

I compromised. Yes, they could have a chocolate advent calendar, if and only if they helped make it, and as little new plastic as possible should be involved.

Fortunately, I am part womble. I have a habit of keeping useful things that other sane people would throw away. “Surely this will be useful one day“, is my motto. I had three plastic inset trays from a previous year’s chocolate advent calendars, squirrelled away in a cupboard. Empty and clean, of course, and ready to use. They had the cutest, Christmas shaped indents, which is why I kept them in the first place.

Before you think that this was a smart move on my part and how it must have saved me a packet by not buying new, it did not. True, the chocolate cost less than buying all three of children a calendar each, with the added bonus of being really nice chocolate. A definite win.

I then threw cost effective out of the window and hiked up the cost by buying a chocolate thermometer. I was now even. I was making for more, or less, the same price as buying three new, deluxe chocolate calendars.

My theory is that I can use the thermometer again. It also ensures that the chocolate will, not only shine and snap correctly, but can be kept at room temperature without a melting issue. No need to make room in my overcrowded fridge for three glitter covered calendars, between the milk and the brandy butter, while showering the uncooked turkey with seasonal cheer.

(I’ll just pause there for a moment so you can imagine the complications of doing this in the run up to Christmas)

The next part the children did pretty much between themselves, as work and the lurgy kept me otherwise occupied. They flattened cereal boxes and marked out holes for the window, which lined up with the chocolates in the trays. Fortunately, the 13 year old is a dab hand at using a craft knife to cut out the windows.

Next they painted and decorated the cardboard, which, once dry, was sticky-taped to the plastic tray.

I’m told that the chocolates easily pop out of the old inset tray, each morning, and are delicious. Success. This craft project is worth doing again.

So just three questions left:

Will the insets survive for another year? I think so. They are thin, but there are no cracks, so they should be good.

Next question. Did I cut down on single-use plastic? Hmm. The chocolate came in a smallish plastic bag and I should have given them thread or string instead of the sticky-tape.

The thermometer was packaged in a moulded plastic case, which went out in the recycling bin and hopefully can be made into something else. Not wonderful, but over time, I should cut down on more plastic by using my thermometer to make treats rather than buying little bags filled with sugar yummies.

Final question. Why are there only two calendars? Darn you spotted that. Simple answer. Eldest teen is in the throws of her exam mocks, at the moment. I agreed to finish her one. Hmm. Yes. I’m getting there. I really am.

Project complete and a success. Finding a craft activity to do with older children is always more challenging, but this one worked. I had a great time making the chocolate with my daughter. Decorating the calendar fronts was a fun craft activity in its own right. Will we do it again? Yes. Although, I know with a heavy heart, that there is always a chance that they may be just too old for chocolate calendars next year.



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