11 October 2017

Collecting Seeds of Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)


Pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) were my favourite flowers this year. I do not remember where the seeds came from but I picked them myself and had them stored for a few years, yet they germinated perfectly. I primarily grew them for their leaves as food for Rocket (yes, tortoises can eat pot marigold, but not other marigolds, which might have the same English name but actually are not related to each other - English can be very confusing. It is always better to go by the scientific Latin name). They did not do very well until I moved them into direct sunlight. It is almost middle of October and they are still flowering.


When I was little and wasn't such a huge fan of creepy crawlies as I am now, the marigold seeds terrified me because they looked like a cluster of caterpillars. I'm sure you'll see what I mean when you look at the picture below.


I let the seeds dry on the plant and then cut the whole head off and let them dry thoroughly on a tray at home. Then I store them in a labelled paper envelope where they will rest until spring. With so many seeds already dried and many more forming, I will probably have more than enough for a nice flower border and more than enough tortoise food.


07 October 2017

Sempervivums in October


It is a bit hard to believe that October is already here. I guess I shouldn't really be surprised. Autumn is really letting us know that it's here, whether it is in the leaves changing colour, morning chill that makes me feel like I need to wear more layers or acorns that bombard me every single day as I wait for the bus home. Grey overcast days take priority over the warm and sunny ones and if the latter happen occasionally, they definitely get many mentions in the casual short over-the-cup-of-tea conversations in the staffroom.

The garden is becoming less busy. By now most of my plants have died down or been harvested. The only vegetables still going are runner beans and sweet potatoes. From ornamental plants nothing much survived apart from a few pansies which I grow as tortoise food and those will go as soon as the weather turns properly cold. However, one plant that I can always rely on is Sempervivum

I am not sure which variety I have, there are many, but these are offsets of the plants that my mother grows at our cottage. I brought five of them over last spring. Somehow that makes them have a sentimental value to me as well as aesthetic. They are hardy perennials with succulent leaves able to withstand direct sunlight and drought, but do not mind the abundant rainfall that we get either.They coped well throughout the last English winter and now they are even producing offsets themselves! One day I might separate them from the mother plant, but at the moment I m enjoying the slightly crowded look. And once I started taking pictures of them, I could not get enough.

Sempervivum offsets grow from the base of the original plant. When they touch the soil, they start developing
roots of their own.



23 September 2017

Savoury Saturday Scones (With Recipe)


I love Saturdays. They are the only day of the week that I don't set an alarm (I do tutoring on Sunday mornings, so I have to). I wake up whenever I feel like it (usually at the time when my bus to work would be leaving) and have a nice slow morning. Sometimes I knit and watch telly, sometimes I make a cup of coffee and catch up on emails on blog posts, but whatever it is that I choose to do, it is always non-forced andI do it because I want to, not because I have to.


Today my morning included, apart from doing the dishes and two loads of washing, making savoury strudels and cheese scones for today's  Macmillan Cancer Support Tea Party at my sister-in-law's - a part of "The world's biggest coffee morning" taking place later in the week. Its main purpose is to eat cake, drink coffee and collect money for a charity that heps support people with cancer and their families.


I find making scones incredibly easy. When I first moved to the UK and started working as a teaching assistant (because no school wanted to employ me as a teacher), Food Technology (now called Food and Nutrition) was one of my favourite subjects. Mostly because I got to put on an apron and get on with the cooking hands-on just like the students that I was supporting. I do not remember the teacher's name but I remember how encouraging and calm she was even though the class asn't exactlyideally behaved. It is her recipe that I wrote down have used ever since. Here it is.

INGREDIENTS:
  • 150 g of self-raising four
  • 50 g of butter (if you are making savoury scones, you can use salted butter)
  • 50g of sugar or any sweet or savoury ingredient you want to add
  • a couple of spoonfuls of milk
METHOD:
  1. Mix the flour and butter together by hand until crumbly (if you are making sweet version, add sugar now, if savoury, add the savoury ingredients)
  2. Add milk bit by bit and gently mix until the mixture joins together
  3. Flatten by hand and cut out shapes
  4. Bake on approx. 180°C until golden brown
I made mine with the most ordinary hard cheese I could find in the supermarket and grated it on a coarse grater, so the chunks of cheese are quite large and visible in the scones. They are delicious with a bit of butter and fresh chives. Enjoy!

10 September 2017

Summer Full of Turtles

Hello again. As you may have noticed, I was not around much this summer. The reason behind this awkward silence is the fact that I was gone for most of the summer, volunteering for Archelon,the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece which works incredibly hard to protect loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) and their nesting and foraging sites all around Greece. Great part of this work is done by an everchanging team of international volunteers. Ever since my acceptance just before Christmas, I have been getting ready for the trip on which I will have to work hands on with turtles, one of my favourite animals. 

So at the beginning of August, as I stood in the security line at Gatwick airport, clutching my boarding pass, I could not stop myself from thinking -what the hell are you doingI imagined having to work with many young, fit and beautiful gap year people who will put me to shame and I will become forever known as “that older lady who thought she could do it”, but instead found a nice small group of people roughly my age who were equally or even more enthusiastic about marine conservation than I was.


Loggerhead turtle just before release

From the fear of saying something scientifically inaccurate I will refrain from writing elaborate posts on loggerhead turtles, but I can say that those two weeks were a dream come true and an adventure to be remembered for the rest of my life. The photo above is a quick snapshot of a newly tagged and measured turtle just before it was released back into the sea. There really wasn't enough time to take arty pictures (but if you want to see some underwater ones, check out professional photos of sea turtles by Kostas Papafitsoros. I have been following his work for quite some time now).

Overall, the slaps, bruises and scratches were totally worth it and knowing that I have put my little bit into helping preserve this beautiful animal and the habitat it shares with so many other species fills me with content. Sadly, there are still many places where people disrespect rules that are in place to protect them and keep on carelessly endangering them by fast driving or even feeding them in front of tourists for money which can become fatal to them later. We even saw some turtle feeding tours advertised last year on out honeymoon in Zakynthos, which is a marine park! Unortunately the tourists that do go on these tours go because they like turtles and do not know how devastating the impact of it can be. Some examples of turtles and humans clashing (in some cases literally so) can be seen in the sea turtle rescue centre in Athens (below) which is open to visitors.



Loggerhead turtle at the rescue centre in Athens
As life changing as the experience was, it was also eye-opening. It made me realise that no matter how much I dream about it, I couldn't do conservation work full time. I am not the right type for it and I lack the enthusiasm and passion for data that you need to be a scientist. And also, I really and truly love teaching, bringing the science to the masses and helping them love and care for the world we live in. I like being comfy and cosy and organised in my classroom, having certain level of independence in how I do things and working with young people. It was nice to have some confirmation, now almost in my thirties, that I chose my career path well. 

I don't think I will volunteer again but I will always remember the sounds of loggerheads coming up for breath when the sea was calm and the boat engine was off.

04 September 2017

Garden Sludge Party - Organic Matter At Its Best


When we set up the nettle barrel the idea was to create a nettle fertiliser to help some of the more needy plants in our little garden. However, we made way too much of it and later we ended up just throwing any inconvenient weeds into it, particularly those that root well from cuttings, to rot down.


I added the fertiliser to water when watering to gradually supply nutrients and as the time went on, rain kept topping up the barrel, leaves fell in and decomposed, mosquito and hoverfly larvae happily lived and developed in, but it was becoming apparent that the contents itself are becoming very diluted and that there is way too much solid stuff still on the bottom.


It was my aim to empty it all before winter. Firstly I used most of the liquid when watering. As I got to the thicker sludgier bottom, I tried everything. Scooping, pouring, even shovelling it out. Eveuntually I tilted the entire barrel and used the shovel to pull the sludge out into a bucket and then distributed it around the garden, hoping to enrich the soil for the years to come and maybe help the plants a bit as they are approaching the end of growing season. The barrel is now free to be used again, maybe for more fertiliser, maybe as a sore of rainwater, we shall see.

03 September 2017

Back to School

I must admit, I do not want to go back. Not ever, just not yet.

If I recall the last year's me, I see a woman who'd rather get shredded than go back to work in September. Crying, I was clutching and clawing my husband's shoulder the night before the first INSET day, begging him not to make me go back. I remembered only too well the nights spent worrying, the long parents' evenings and the crippling feeling that it will never get better, ever, and I spent all these years studying for this and yet I cannot do it. I looked for other jobs, I got more and more depressed realising that they are far away or I am not qualified enough, more and more broken every single day. I hated it.

Until one day at the end of 2016 that I did suddenly realised that I no longer stay up until eleven just to finish the next day's presentations or get up early to mark the remaining few books that I just couldn't do the night before. Nor do I carry so many books home or spend all my weekend indoors closed in a room with textbooks and computer. Some of it was because I got a teeny bit relaxed and stopped worrying and micromanaging so much, but also because somehow the job has become less daunting and I had more free time but rather than resting or spending it doing things I loved, I spent it worrying. So I decided that I will stop - and that was somehow enough to make me do it. That simple shift in mindset.


So now I am actively making myself think about and appreciate what I have been through, what I will go through and what I definitely have coming, because - big revelation - teaching isn't easy. I won't go as far as saying it is one of the hardest jobs in the world because I really don't think it's true (surely mining sulphur at a semi active volcano somewhere in Indonesia is more demanding), but it is hard enough for us pampered first world types.

It means a lot of sitting down getting a nice carpal tunnel syndrome from using the red pen a lot, rushing around, caling the IT guy when the printer doesn't work and you're convinced that it hates you, saying 3-2-1 a lot and sometimes being cried to, being shouted at and having to carry out polite "arguments" with both parents and their offspring but it also involves the things I love most - helping young people learn how to be organised and focused, how the world works and introducing them to the wonders of Science. That's what I do, that's what we all do. So next time a school year comes close and threatens to smash me in the face, I say:"Just bring it on and get it over with. I am ready."

28 August 2017

Our Domestic Reptile Celebrates Her Second Birthday

Our little Rocket has turned two on 25th August. I could not believe that it has only been a year and a day since we brought her home.

We had a lot of fun in the past year – watching her „surf“ her food bowl every morning, run perimeter checks of her tortoise table, climb her house and rocket down to face plant into the substrate, growing her food and letting her explore the lawns in front of our building, introducing her to our little niece and of course worrying about her when something doesn´t look quite right, because she is our little baby.

I am also very proud and happy that she is growing, slowly but surely. At least once a month I weigh her on kitchen scales and use digital calipers to measure the straight length of her carapace (the top half of the shell).

As you can see in the picture above, the difference is not huge, but it is there! The box is a smallest one of a set from Paperchase and is added there for visual reference.
August 2016:    Weight: 94g
                          Straight length of carapace: 76.3mm

August 2017:    Weight: 151g
                          Straight length of carapace: 88.56 mm

01 August 2017

Shark Week Biscuits and Visit to the Aquarium


A while ago you could have seen a picture of my very messy kitchen worktop (below) on my Facebook page. It wasn't my intention to make Linzer biscuits in shape of little sharks straight away. I was baking birthday treats for someone else when the idea occured to me - and since it was Shark Week and I had some cookie cutters from the Natural History Museum shop, I gave it a go.


After baking (I promise to publish the recipe here soon) and cooling I joined them together with jam and decorated them with melted milk chocolate. So here they are. I guess they resemble blacktip reef sharks best, what do you think?


Later in the week I also had to visit London, which gave me the perfect excuse to check out the Sea Life. I sat in front of the massive tank for good twenty minutes, just watching these majestic creatures swim past me and then more time reading all the labels and displays, trying to soak up as much information as I could.














I know some things that happen during Shark Week have been criticised because they are controversial and don't have much to do with the original purpose of it - education and conservation of these beautiful marine predators. It is sad. However, I prefer to focus on the original message, thatour planet is a balanced system, full of magnificent creatures that need to be protected. We cannot protect them without understanding them and education is the first step towards gaining this understanding.

22 July 2017

Mean Summer Rain

 

The summer holidays have started. And they have started in a very traditional English way - with rain. Sneaky rain, though. Hot and warm morning that tricked me into a sleeveless top, skirt and sandals, only to turn into downpour whilst we were in the supermarket picking up food for the week to follow. In hope, we went to my in-laws, thinking it might stop, but after getting wet and trying to garden under a family-sized umprella (yeah, naah, not possible) I gave up and retreated into the house to read some gardening blogs instead - in the same summery clothing, only with the addition of fluffy socks and a warm cardigan. 


Even though I really wanted to do some gardening (my plan was to sow some green manure in the gaps where the plants died or I harvested them to enrich the soil with nitrogen), the rain was quite a pleasant visitor, I only wish it announced itself. A couple of days ago we received a leaflet from our local watter supplier stating that "After months of low rainfall, water resources are below average". Well, not in our garden. Both of the water butts are full of rain water (and flourishing colonies of mosquito larvae) and there is always enough water for the plants. I only wish we had rainwater supply at our flat, so that I didn't have to water my many plants with water from the tap. I am sure that if it becomes a big problem, we'll find a way around it though. 

So - how did your holiday start?

20 July 2017

Waiting List

Purple mangetout 'Shiraz' grown from seed in my current garden

I can barely contain my excitement today! After a short string of emails to various allotment societies I am now officially on a waiting list for an allotment! I spent most of my waking hours fantasising about a sunny spot of land with a little shed where I could grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables for us and food for Rocket, meet new people, drink hot tea from flask and enjoy being outdoors.

I love the place where I garden now, because it is where my husband works and where his parents live, but it is shaded by many trees and overgrown by their root which absorb a lot of the moisture and many plants don't do very well there. Having a little plot somewhere else would be a dream come true, even if it was just rented.

The waiting times for allotments vary but can be as long as two years - even so, all that time to prepare! My mind is buzzing with ideas for interesting crops to grow and ways to encourage wildlife to come and help with it.

How about you? Where do you garden? What do you grow? Do you have any experience with allotmenteering? Please share in the comments section.

01 July 2017

Legging It


This week Rocket has been proving that not only she doesn't need me on our walks outdoors, but also that if she wanted, she could disappear really easily. For some reason running was more important than eating and she kept on trying hard to get lost in the little neglected jungle of ivy, bindweed and brambles next to our building.

People imagine tortoises as these slow, heavy and stupid creatures, but they couldn't be further from the truth. A healthy tortoise is incredibly agile and can cover quite a distance before you realise it is missing.


As a child I had a Horsfield tortoise called Puťa. We used to take her to the cottage. My Gran has been watching her, but seeing that she was preoccupied by digging a hole next to a gazebo leg, she went in to do the dishes. Mistake! After fifteen minutes of frantic searching we finally found the tortoise - eating a fallen apple under a tree about twenty metres away (she had a sweet tooth)! Lesson learned : tortoises are fast!

Making a run for it.
Digging in.






25 June 2017

Mini Harvests - June


Pretty and edible nasturtium (Tropaeolum) flowers and some fascinating purple poded mangetout "Shiraz". These are some of the crops that make the garden colourful and interesting.

June has been incredibly warm. This week was probably the warmest one of year so far. Even though the garden is only about eight minutes uphill from our place, I don't go there much, except for the weekends. When I do it is just to check that everything is ok, fill up the bird feeder and give the plants a thorough watering. 

Ours is a small-scale garden, it doesn't feed us much except for potatoes but it keeps me entertained and outdoors and I am thankful for it. Occasionally I get to pick something that wasn't eaten by birds or slugs and I do a bit of jumping around with joy and then a bit of eating :)

My first actual harvest of gooseberries! They are ripe and sweetly tart as they should be. My last year's crop got eaten by birds. I believe this year's one survived because of my neglect - the bush was overgrown with weeds and nettles and not so visible to the hungry birdies. I bought the bush from Poundland just to give it a try and it worked out!

More mangetout Shiraz. The youg flay pods can be eaten raw or steamed or it can be shelled and eaten like normal peas. I think the mature seeds will go purple as well, because the original dried seeds from the packet wee very dark. 

More nasturtium and mangetout. You can never have enough (especially if they are this tiny :)) Both of these ended up in my afternoon salad.

The lavender bush is gradually producing more and more flwoers. I dried a small batch for our living room but kept the rest for the bees.

18 June 2017

Simplifying

For the past couple of months I have been realising more and more that life is somehow unnecessarily complicated. There was too much stuff, actual physical items (the books I have read and will never do again, the "hobbies" that I have abandoned yet the clutter remained, the still unpacked things that I brought with me when moving but never really found place for) and also the thoughts in my head, the feeling like I want to take better care of me, my family, my surroundings and want to live in a place that promotes joy and happy thought and is comfortable and where I could do my work without thinking "oh, I must do the dishes" or "that corner really needs sorting out".

So I decided to start simplifying by changing a few small things.

  • I have closed down my Etsy shop. Occasionally someone would buy something and it would make my day but overall financially and time-wise it wasn't worth it. And I hated the thought that I am making my hypothetical living by creating items nobody really needs and using up resources and then the finished projects just sit in a box and wait for someone to buy them. With the rules changing so often I am a bit hazy on what they are at the moment and then the email saying that if I want to keep my status as a seller, I have to update my payment method to direct checkout/Etsy payments otherwise my account will be suspended, the best thing to do was to just let it go. It didn't make me feel unhappy at all, which means it wasn't really important to me.
Knitting a blanket for my friends' baby. Knowing that I am making it for someone seems more purposeful.

  • Changing the way I blog. It can be so time consuming! Especially editing all the photos (which believe it or not I was still doing in paint). I decided to watermark my photos (I am using free software called uMark which allows you to watermark photos in batches) rather than add the border and signature by copying and pasting. It is much faster and hopefully will encourage me to blog more often because it makes it so simple. And who knows, I might start experimenting with some simple collage apps in the future and make the most of what is available out there. That way blogging will not be cutting into my personal time.
Sorting out yarn bits. Turns out takeaway containers are great for this!

  • Having a massive sortout. I have a whole board on Pinterest called "Organising and De-cluttering" where I have collected ideas for a cleaner and more organised home and office. I have already organised my craft supplies, seeds and electronics (chargers, memory sticks, headphones) in 9 litre Really Useful Boxes that I got from Hobbycraft and used a shoe organiser (which already came with useful hooks) to put our cleaning products into order. Some of these have been here when we moved in and really need using up. This way they are all in one place and we know exactly what and how much of it we have.I also organised my work resources in a similar way and it is amazing how much space it freed up - not only in my classroom but also in my head.
The much needed organising.

  • Gardening without getting frustrated. Our garden has it's own life. Not everything grows and the things that do vary in harvest from year to year. It is shady and full of weeds, slugs and voluntary plants. Last years tiny forgotten potato tubers are now growing - through the nasturtiums, through the peas, amongst tomatoes and broad beans... You know what? I gave up fighting it and I embraced it. It gives the place a rather permacultural mixed-up vibe. I also like the fact that you have to be there and interact with the garden in order to get to know it. I garden because I love it - so what's the point of getting frustrated? 
The nasturtiums while they were still on the windowsill. Now they are growing
in the garden, winding their way around some potato plants.

  • Mindfully enjoying the little things. They are what makes life so great! Whether it is a cup of tea, good book, cool breeze in the middle of the day, sun shining in through the window in the morning, having a short chat with a neighbour or a new leaf growing on a pot plant, they are all worth being happy about. Discarding them as too small and unimportant makes days gloomy. Little things can bring a lot of joy.
Homemade bundt cake made with eggs from my friend's chickens and a cup of hot coffee. Isn't it joyful?

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