Monday, 9 January 2012


By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Yesterday I posted my 1000th post on my blog. 1000 "essays" over the last 3.5 years about this journey. This downshifting, simplifying, greening, frugal journey. A journey which has seen me:

Give up paper products
Use reusable toilet cloth (as opposed to toilet paper)
Leave a corporate city job
Learn to cook
Give up tv
Begin shopping locally
Really commit to vegetarianism
Learn to reuse and/or refuse
Learn to knit
Use a vermicomposter
Move countries
Commit to cleaning without pesticides
Volunteer overseas
Become more passionate about Fairtrade
Learn to say no to things which don't reflect my/our values
Adopt two children

But honestly, it is more than all that. I could list 1000 things I've done since beginning this life, this new more simplified, frugal and green path. But here's the truth, the most important thing I've learned through the 1000 posts is to be still and to walk in grace, not only towards others, but towards myself too. That tender dance of stillness and grace means more than learning a frugal recipe or saving money on my utility bills. It is a dance that allows me to only see the beauty in a moment with my children, when other stresses and strains are hard to keep quiet. It is the dance which lets me know the importance of hope in a world where messages are often of doom.

1000 posts of journeying have led me to standing still. And from my still space on a very cold wintery morning, the frugal, simple and green life looks like a grand one, the world looks postively beautiful. The noise is shut out and the stillness is let in.

May we all journey well in 2012. May we all journey towards a place called simplicity. May be journey not as if in a race, but as if on a path with lots of forks, twists and turns, all leading you just where you need to be. All leading towards a quiet moment and a little sound whispering hush.

Five Simple Birthday Party Ideas

by Megan @ The Byron Life

We have just celebrated my middle daughter’s fifth birthday, which was a success of home-made crafty goodness, so I thought today I might share some simple children’s party ideas I’ve used over the years. Each is based on my preference for keeping it simple, handmade and frugal. Many of them are girly – as I have three girls – but could be adapted to suit boys, too.  I’d love to hear readers’ ideas for simple parties – my youngest are aged 2 and 5, so I’ve still quite a few parties to deliver over the next decade or so.

1.       1DIY Invites:

Making your own invitations by hand can be a fun exercise in craft and learning to write for children. Or, you can also easily create your own digitally and print them out at home, which is what we did for  Melli’s third birthday, using a favourite photo of her dressed up in her ballet costume.  Making your own invites personalises them and is only limited by your imagination.

2.       2. Get Crafty:

Having a craft activity at a party can keep little ones happily occupied for quite a while (depending on their age) and needn’t be elaborate or expensive. For Melli’s fifth party yesterday we had the girls decorate a simple line drawing to create their very own party girl picture. Materials: paper, pens, glue, fabric scraps and some glitter. Simple and fun and the little girls loved it.

3.       3. Home-made Decorations:

Why not be frugal and creative and make your own decorations using recycled materials? This bunting was created from a collection of thrifted vintage children’s handkerchiefs and sewn onto some bias-binding. It suited our crafty party theme and will be re-used in the girl’s room and their sand pit play area.

I also made up these simple “loot” bags for the kids a couple of years back using plain paper bags and a page from a thrifted children’s book as decoration.  Inside I place a few sweet treats and some art-making materials. These were a huge hit.

4.       4. Party in Nature:

My three girls are spring and summer babies, so the weather is usually perfect for beach and park parties. I much prefer these free outdoor spaces over expensive theme parks. The kids have fun just being in nature, making up their own games, running, swimming, climbing trees, playing on park equipment...  The backyard at home can be just as good. At our parties the structured activities have been limited, and I’ve let nature (and the child’s imagination) provide the fun.  Running around a local park is also a great way to burn off party-food energy!

5.       5. Inspire Their Imaginations: 

Creating a "special" atmosphere for a party can be as simple as having a dress-up theme or providing some imaginative play incentives such as face painting.  I don’t know many kids who don’t like to dress up or have their face painted, do you? The addition of a costume, or an element of a costume such as face paint, wings or mask, will trigger all kinds of imaginative games.


A few days ago I overheard my soon-to-be five year old daughter explaining to her two-year-old sister exactly what a birthday party was.  In her opinion a party was where you got together with your special friends and had special food and got to play whatever games you liked... I don’t know if my two-year-old fully grasped what her big sister was saying, or just picked up on the excited energy, but she squealed in delight anyway.  

Friends, food, play. 

That’s what a party is really all about – whether you are a five or 50.


Friday, 6 January 2012

Chicken Scratch Embroidery

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
An elderly friend, knowing I do hand-sewing and embroidery, asked me if I knew anything about Chicken Scratch embroidery. She'd inherited a half-finished set of quilt blocks, with the patterns, but couldn't figure out how to read them. I had to admit I'd never heard of Chicken Scratch, but told her I'd go online for her and see what I could find out.

I was fascinated. It's a very simple embroidery technique - composed of double-cross stitches (an "x" worked on top of a "+", making a little 8-pointed star), horizontal and vertical running stitches (called bars), plus circles and ovals formed by weaving the thread under the bar stitches - worked on the grid created by the base material, any color gingham (aka checkerboard plaid). Stitched with white thread - the stars on the darkest squares, the bars on the medium colored ones, and the circles around the white squares - it makes ordinary old picnic cloth look like it's been covered over with lace (hence another name for Chicken Scratch: Depression Lace, as in the Depression era).

I found and printed out this informational downloadable PDF file for my friend. It explains how to do it, how to read a pattern, and includes a free pattern. If you Google the term, you can find images of other chicken scratch handwork. It would be easy to design your own shapes, too, using graph paper. 

In a nice little bit of serendipity, not long after I'd done all this I came across a couple of chicken scratch pillowcases in my favorite thrift store. After New Year's, I like to change my decor over to a red and white theme. It makes my home feel bright and cheery, warm and cozy during these short and cold winter days. Now that I've got some indoor craft time available, I'm going to cut those two pillowcases apart, duplicate the stitchery pattern on the two back pieces, and make a set of four placemats for my kitchen. The center diamonds are worked in a combination of dark red and white threads. Although I prefer the look of the all-white ones, I'll go ahead and match what's there. It would look better, though, if the dark double-x's were worked on the white squares. And I'm already thinking about playing around some more with the technique - maybe a white heart worked on the bib of a yellow (light blue? hmmm) gingham apron, just in time for Spring?

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The green and simple life - as it actually is in a small urban house, with small children

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I have to admit, I am at a bit of a loss as to what to write about this week.

It isn't that we haven't been doing anything. I have baked bread, I have started two batches of wine, a batch of from-grain beer. We have further  decluttered and redecorated the house, celebrated Halloween and Christmas, cooked almost every day from scratch. Nappies have been washed, laundry gloop made. But my own blog has been silent for two months now, because the wherewithal to coordinate doing something worthy of writing about with having a charged camera battery, time to sit at the computer and compose something and the brain capacity to write acceptable English more often than not fails me.

The reason? A six month old teething baby. The beautiful routine we had begun to get into? Gone out of the window, replaced by fractiousness, separation anxiety and broken nights. Broken nights for everyone, because her three year old brother in the next room often wakes with a jump at the onset of a midnight screaming session. We are not a well rested household.

Herein lies a problem. The main attraction of a simple life is to be more rested than those panicking to climb the material and social ladder. I feel not rested, I feel overstretched for the first time in many months. A steady diet of doctors appointments, preschool sessions, vet appointments, scheduled activities,work and study commitments on top of all our day to day frugal activities is interfering with a previously plodding, calm schedule. Life does not feel simple and deliberate. It feels slapdash.

The reason I tell you this? I have been reading a few too many beautiful blogs of families with small children where everything is rosy and beautifully staged and calm and organized and tidy - and this has been bad for my mental health. It is, I realise now, no different to looking at adverts for expensive cars and anti-aging creams and feeling angry and inadequate for those things that are beyond your reach. I know that many bloggers actively admit they show the very best of their days, their blogs are a medium for them to focus on the things they are most grateful for and this is not a dig at them. I may have been guilty of this on my own blog. It is a dig at myself for falling into the trap of comparing our life unfairly with those edited blog lives.

I have neglected to keep up with a few of those delightful blogs that unfortunately I cannot help comparing myself too at the moment. My own blog has fallen by the wayside a little and instead I schedule my fortnightly appointment here and look forward to it. Our allotment is still awaiting its autumn tidy up, the garlic and broad beans have not been sown. Dishes sometimes stack up on the side. The hoover sometimes doesn't come out for a few days. Knitting gets left out in the rush and unravelled by a passing three year old. The cat knocks a house plant onto the floor and I shout and use choice words that I would never dream of typing. The dining table piles up and we eat on a rug in the living room. I raise my voice sometimes and lose my patience and sometimes I just scream into a pillow, cry and feel sorry for myself. Mindfulness escapes me to be replaced by racing thoughts and deep seated feelings of inadequacy.

I have nothing practical to share with you at the moment; I can't share with you tips for soothing a teething baby, as none of the things that worked with the first of my children is working with the second; I cannot get my brain (and camera) together enough to write the wine tutorial I have been planning for most of 2011. Instead I just want to say go easy on yourself and enjoy the start of this new year. If you are struggling to keep your head above water right now, because of overtired small children or for other reasons, then let something go and do what you can with the material or spiritual reserves you have. Keep on keeping on. I'm off to find my camera battery.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Quince Paste

Written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese.

Any Cheese maker worth his salt should be able to whip up a few accompaniments for their cheese, so I gave it a go.  I stumbled upon a quince tree on a nature strip when walking around a country Victorian town called Talbot.  I asked the owner if I could take some, and he said "Take as many as you like mate".  Nice man.

I read somewhere that Quince paste was a really good complimentary flavour that goes with most cheeses.  Having never tried it before, it was a bit of a gamble, but one that paid off in the end.  The flavour is sensational, and I would recommend this fruit paste to anyone who is wondering what to do with a few spare quinces.

I found a recipe from and followed it exactly.  It worked fine, except that I added a full cup of water at the start because it looked like it was going to boil dry!  Pretty easy process.  Peel, core, chop, then stew.  After the chopped up quinces turned to mush, I blended them in the food processs whilst hot and then returned the fruit to the pot and added the sugar.

So that I could capture the long 3.5 hour process, I took photos at 15 minute intervals.

Quince Paste 091 Quince Paste 092
Quince Paste 093 Quince Paste 094
Quince Paste 095 Quince Paste 096
Quince Paste 097 Quince Paste 099
Quince Paste 100 Quince Paste 101

I just love the way it changes colour during the cooking process.

Then I lined 6 ramekins with plastic wrap and ladled in the paste, and when it cooled a little, we folded over the wrap to protect it as it set.

I left them on the kitchen counter overnight and we had some for lunch with a piece of ash coated brie and castello white cheese.  Unfortunately, these are not my creations, but tasted nice just the same.

The taste was great and it really brought out the flavour of the cheese.  A great accompaniments indeed.  I have found that it can be stored in the fridge, in the freezer or in a cold place as long as it is sealed like jam.

When it is quince season again (winter) then I will definitely be on the lookout for more backyard quince trees!