Early morning sun

My garden faces to the east, and there is a giant conifer at the end of it.  Although I refer to this as my tree, it’s actually on the railway embankment so I have no control over its management (I like it, but accept that one day Network Rail may get the urge to chop it down.  There’s no reasoning with Network Rail!).  This means that in the early morning most of the garden is in shadow, and often covered in dew.

I like having a stroll around the garden in this early morning light to see what is going on: which plants are growing, which look like they’re struggling.  I also check the bird feeders and make sure the cat hasn’t dug anything up during the night.

Morning sun

Shaded potatoes

The potatoes look lovely in the dappled early morning light.

Cucumber flower

This photo is unrelated, but I thought you’d like to see what a cucumber flower looks like.  I assume some of you won’t have seen one before.  Underneath the flower, you can also see two baby cucumbers starting to grow.  They grow behind the flower head, which withers and eventually falls off.  You can see the withered tuffs at the ends of the baby cucumbers.

Welcome to Lincolnshire

We grow things.

Wheat field

We also have nature reserves.  The photos below are all from a wildflower meadow.  You can get the names of plants by hovering over the photos.

Wildflower meadow 1

Wildflower meadow 2

Meadow brown butterfly

Common spotted orchid 1

Common spotted orchid 2

Buttercups in the skyWe didn’t stay at the meadow that long.  There were lots of horse flies and they can be nasty little critters.  It was also very hot without much shade.  But it was lovely!

Have a good day.

Buzzing and bees

Last week I stung by a bee.  On the tip of my finger.  Something landed on my neck when I was in the garden, and I brushed it off.  Unfortunately it was a bee and it panicked and stung me.  I’m going to preface this story by saying that I have been stung by bees before.  For one ill-advised moment in my childhood, my Father thought that keeping bees would be a good idea.  Stinging ensued, and the bees got taken away.  Anyway, in the UK our bees do not hurt much.  I’m not going to lie, it’s going to feel like you whacked whichever appendage is stung really hard with a hammer.  But when thousands of people die every year after being attacked by Africanised killerbees, and there’s a hornet out there that can dissolve human flesh (Giant Japanese hornet), we should think ourselves lucky in the UK.

No, the problem lay not with the sting, but with its location.  Your finger doesn’t really have anywhere to go when it swells.  The skin gets tight and feels like it might crack; your joints stiffen and the slightest movement can cause the itchy achey pain of swollen tissue.  Yep, for four glorious days my finger was basically a fat, stiff sausage (minds, people!).  Today, five days later, I’m finally able to start bending the finger and using it for typing, as long as I don’t touch the part where the sting is (that bit is still tingly).

The day before I was stung, I’d photographed a bee to share on here.  At the time I was feeling all compassionate towards bees (this feeling has gone for now!).  Bees are in decline worldwide, and I like to do my bit by supporting bee charities, planting wildflowers, etc.  Apparently the bee had not heard of the Aesop fable about the beekeeper and the bees:

A thief got into a beekeeper’s property when its owner was away and stole the honeycombs. When the owner came back and saw that the beehives were empty, he stood there puzzling over what had happened. The bees then came back from their pastures and when they found the beekeeper there, they attacked him fiercely with their stings. The beekeeper said to the bees, ‘You wretched creatures! You let the man who stole your honeycombs get away with impunity while you direct your rage at me, the very person who takes care of you!’

Bee on wildflower 1

Bee on wildflower 2

Baby blue tits and other photos

The birds are all flying the nest now, and we had a baby blue tit in the garden last week.  They’re so cute!

Baby blue tit in cherry tree

Baby blue tit on garden ornament

I also found this dunnock photo on my camera, and I don’t know if I ever shared it on here.

Dunnock in birdfeeder

Some of the flowers in the garden are looking beautiful at the moment.  I especially love Alliums.

Allium flower head

Red and cream rose

Finally, I found this weathered little snail shell hiding in one of my flower pots amongst the moss and soil, and I had to photograph it.  The photo isn’t staged, it was just lying like this.

Weathered shell in soil

Have a lovely day.

Laptop stands

I’ve noticed that my Mac runs a lot hotter than my old Samsung laptop – has anyone else noticed this with Macs?  This is my first Mac, so I don’t know if it’s normal.  Anyway, as a result of this, I’m thinking about getting a stand for my laptop.  I mostly use my laptop on my lap, usually sat on bed, so having such a hot machine is a considerable nuisance.  It makes it uncomfortable on my lap and I’m concerned about it overheating.

Have any of you got a laptop stand, or fashioned one for yourself?  I’d like to know your thoughts on them please.  I’ve had a browse on the web and there are a couple of sensible designs.  Storage is my main issue (and cost!) as when I’m not using it I need to be able to put it away easily.

I like this design by Gutav, and it’s fully customisable: you can choose whether your mouse is on the left or right side (or if you even have one).  I don’t have a mouse, but I like the idea of the additional space for a notebook, and I love the phone slot.  Plus, the stand is flat so you can slide it easily away after use.  It is expensive though, and ships from Turkey.

Gutav Wooden Mobile Laptop Stand

This website that makes mobility products for old people do an excellent adjustable one, but the mouse mat does appear to be on the right hand side and not moveable.  It’s cheaper than the Gutav one and ships from the UK though.

bedtray-2-2

Argos do a plain folding tray in pine (the photo is rubbish so I’m not including it here).  It’s cheap and plain, but will do the job.

I’ve only shared wooden designs here as I’d prefer to avoid plastic if I can.  The final option is to try and fashion something myself from some wood.  This isn’t a bad idea as I do have some craft skills and I have the right equipment, but I don’t know if it will be cheaper (I’ll have to source the wood) and it might not do the job as well as one of the above designs as it won’t have legs!  (Also, it would probably be made of plywood, which I hate!)

If you have any thoughts on this, please share them!

Lettuce and garlic

We’ve had a problem with our allotment, and as a result we may not be able to go much any more.  As most of you probably know, we share our allotment with friends.  Because of schedules, we’re usually not at the allotment at the same time, and we just pop down when we have time and the inclination.

Our allotment is council-owned, and the council in all their wisdom has decided to install an electronic gate.  They have issued one key fob per plot for access.  As such, we no longer have a key to the site because we’re now having to share, which limits our access.  I’m very annoyed with the decision.  Some of the old men at our allotment site have an obsession with “youths” loitering on site and trespassing (N.B I have never seen teenagers on site except those who are gardening with parents!).  I suspect the council have installed the electronic gate to stop the complaints about “illegal access”.  However, the plan will backfire because the old men always need something to complain about, and now that access has been restricted for lots of people like us, the plots will get more weeds than usual and the old men will start complaining about that (they’ve done it before).  SO, that is the little gardening drama in my life!

The lettuce seeds have finally germinated in our pots, on the third or fourth try.  I think the birds were helping themselves.  The rain pushed all the seeds to one side of the main pot though, as only one side has germinated!

Lettuce seedlings

A couple of our garlics have bolted, so I’ve pulled them up and started drying them.  They smell lovely, but it’s not obvious if they’re fully developed (it doesn’t look like it).  The rest will stay in the ground until later in the year.

Bolted garlic bulbs

We got our first cucumber of the year on Sunday, and it was delicious!

First cucumber June 2014

The beans have flowered, but I didn’t think to get a photo of the black and white flowers for you until after they’d gone past their best, so I can’t share that with you.  Likewise with the potatoes.  Everything else is just plodding along!

The never-ending book pile

To read pile

My pile of books to read never goes down.  I’ve moved it to a more visible place so that I notice it and make an effort to read the books in it, but it only ever grows larger (it’s actually grown since I took this photo, and currently has 14 books in it).  The problem is that I mostly read on my Kindle nowadays, and there are lots of unread books on there.  When I want to start a new book I usually start a Kindle book, so the pile of paperback books never shrinks.

This year, I wanted to make a sizeable dent in my to-read list, which currently has (at the time of writing, it might have changed by the time you click on the link!) 237 books on it.  I buy books that aren’t on the list sometimes, and as a result the list doesn’t shrink much, hence my desire to focus on it this year.  However, even as I type this I know that I’ve just got two books from my local e-library that aren’t on the list…

So far this year (again, at the time of writing), I’ve read 22 books of the 70 book goal I gave myself.  According to my GoodReads tracker, this means I am eight books behind schedule.  Reading mostly isn’t a chore for me (unless it’s a very boring book), so getting behind on my “homework” like this doesn’t bother me.  I’d like to catch up though.  My ultimate goal is to have finished my to-read list and be one of those people who can start reading a book the day she buys it, and hopefully be reading it at the same time as everyone else!  It’d be nice to be able to talk about popular books when everyone else is talking about them too!

Do you keep a long list of books to read?

Product review: bamboo toothbrush

Bamboo toothbrush 3

This has to be one of my more random reviews, up there with soapnuts and pineapple paper.

This blog isn’t really an eco lifestyle blog as I don’t want to scare anyone away, but if you’ve read it for any period of time you’ve probably noticed by now that I’m a bit of a crazy hippy.  So, if anyone was going to experiment with bamboo toothbrushes, it would be me.

Bamboo toothbrush 2

I’ve been trying to cut down on the plastic in my bathroom for ages now, and one problem I’ve had is toothbrushes.  Everything on the market is designed to be thrown away, and it’s a real conundrum if you’re trying to cut down on waste.

I can’t remember where I came across the idea of bamboo toothbrushes, but I bought a pack of six from Save our Green (and got a free coconut scrubber for the kitchen at the same time).  You can try the brushes with either standard nylon bristles, or bamboo bristles.  I bought bamboo bristles given that I was testing a green alternative.

Bamboo toothbrush 4

The toothbrushes come in one size and hardness.  This doesn’t bother me because I hate the amount of choice in toothbrush shopping anyway (I just want to clean my teeth – why is it so complicated?!), but I guess if you like to have this choice it might annoy you.

I haven’t really noticed any difference between these toothbrushes and regular plastic ones.  They clean my teeth just the same, and I’ve been using the brush for about a month now without any signs of wear on the bristles.  I mostly use them with Lush Toothy Tabs and Sensodyne (I have a filling that’s sensitive – P.S. Sensodyne doesn’t really help with this!).  The only weird thing is when you’re brushing you have the feel of wood against your lips instead of plastic.  It’s an odd sensation after X number of years brushing with plastic, but it’s not unpleasant.

Bamboo toothbrush

I’m not a dentist (I assume I should put some kind of legal jargon here!), but unless you have special teeth needs I’d recommend trying out these toothbrushes.  They can go a little way to easing your ecological footprint without huge inconvenience, and you can buy the brushes in multipacks for the whole family (you can buy a pack of 12 for £30).  If you have a hot compost, you can stick these in your composter when you’re finished.  Or just recycle it with your other wood waste.  Yey!

Lego Moleskine week 21 & 22

2014 Moleskine week 21

Week 21

This was my holiday week.  It feels like a long time ago now!  The picture on the right came from Landscape magazine.  I love the photos in it.

2014 Moleskine week 22

Week 22

This week looks really empty.  Probably because the last few weeks have had magazine cuttings in them.  I got a new fire steel, which is one of those scratch metal things that create fire.  This is very exciting!  Also, I ate two pizzas on the Tuesday and felt really ill for two days afterwards from eating too much!  Not doing that again.  I am old now…

May reads (2014)

Another month where I’ve reached my reading goal.  Good news!  I’m still behind on my 2014 reading challenge, but I’m not doing badly after my bad February and March!

Snuff – Terry Pratchett

Every time I get up to date with the Discworld series, Terry Pratchett releases another book.  This is the 39th Discworld novel, and now he’s gone and written number 40: Raising Steam.  I own the whole series in paperback, so I’ll buy number 40 sometime.  Anyway, Snuff was good because it was a Commander Vimes novel, and they’re always good!  The City Watch novels are my favourite.  There’s no point in reading this unless you’re a Discworld fan though, and if you’re a Discworld fan it’s probably already on your list!

The Farm – Richard Benson

This was a sad book.  It is a biography about being a farmer in northern England during the last few decades.  It is a fascinating insight into the decline of farming traditions, but it is a bit sad as the family lose their farm in the end to the banks, as has happened repeatedly over the last few decades with small farms.  However, it’s worth a read if you’re interested in that sort of thing as you’ll learn a lot.

The Self Illusion – Bruce Hood

This book has taken me months to finish.  It was hard-going in places.  It’s a psychology book that looks at the illusion of the self, and explains why the self is just an illusion with the help of lots of psychology and neuroscience studies.  It was an interesting read, but it took me ages to finish and I’m getting to the point now where I’ve read so many popular psychology books that when they start to reference studies I know which ones they are talking about because everyone references them.  Still, psychology is one of my hobbies so I will continue to read them!  (I’m reading another book at the moment in fact!)  I don’t really care if the self is an illusion (it is!) – I am quite happy with my illusion self. Haha.

When a crocodile eats the sun – Peter Godwin

I read a lot of diverse books this month.  I didn’t really realise until I set them all down like this. This is a biography on white life in Zimbabwe since the end of Apartheid.  Peter Godwin is a National Geographic journalist and grew up in Zimbabwe.  This book is an eye-opener.  I can’t emphasise that enough!  I knew nothing about Zimbabwe and the end of Apartheid other than that it was a good thing (that it ended), so this book was fascinating for me.

In the last couple of decades, there has been a huge increase violence against white farmers and a huge increase in poverty in the country, largely as a result of President Mugabe’s dictatorship (he fixed the last few elections so although he’s calling it a democracy it isn’t in any sense of the word any more).  To hide his corruption, he has demonised the white population (which was actually very a small percentage of the country).

The country was actually stable and happy at the end of Apartheid and there was no lingering bad will between the two communities, but Mugabe put an end to that decades later with the singling out of the whites as the cause of the country’s ills.  It’s really quite shocking.  Farmers were attacked in their own homes by mobs, and their families tortured before being killed.  These white farmers largely have nowhere to go, as they are Zimbabwe-born (Mugabe wants them to “go home”, but they are home).

Many have fled to other countries such as South Africa and Australia, but they are farmers so as they fled from or were killed by the violence Zimbabwe’s farming declined and as a result there is no food for the population.  The people who took the farms took them over as trophies, and have no farming skills.  The country has been run into the ground by one man’s greed.  I can’t believe all this has happened in the time that I’ve been alive and yet our Governments have done nothing!

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

This is the book that everyone was talking about a few months ago, but I waited until it was cheap to read it!  A fascinating psychology book on the science of introverts and extroverts, and how to get the best out of both types of people.  A good read.

Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince – J.K Rowling

I’m slowly making my way through the series.  Almost there now!  The Half-blood Prince is book 6 in the series, and is a sad one.  I’m still enjoying the books though.  I’d forgotten how good they are.  My sister went to Harry Potter World last week and I am super-jealous.

Cradle to cradle – Michael Braungart and William McDonough

I’ve had this book on my reading list for a long time now, but I found it a bit disappointing.  It was hard-going and a little depressing.  It’s about how our current industrial principles have been designed around a cradle-to-grave system, where we use something then chuck it away.  It causes no end of waste and pollution, and is really bad (lots of emphasis on this).  The authors are proponents of a cradle-to-cradle system, where products can be stripped down to their constituent parts and re-used.  It’s an excellent idea and one wonders why we haven’t already switched to this system (greed and laziness is the answer).  However, it’s a book for industry, designers and manufacturers, rather than the general public.  I don’t think we have the power to change these manufacturing practices as consumers – it’s for the companies to do.  All the world’s CEOs and directors should read this book and sort their businesses out.

Did you read any good books this month?