Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Christmas everyone

I'm not a practising Catholic anymore and working on getting myself removed entirely from the church but I was raised that way and it feel normal to wish people happy christmas so I continue to do so. Hope everyone has a great time whatever way they choose to celebrate this time of year (or not).

Yesterday was solstice and my brother was supposed to be coming over for some mince pies. I didn't tell him I was also planning on cooking a nice dinner and getting him to fill out his bit of my Christmas book. I'll be in Florida with my little sister and her new hubby for Christmas and he'll be on his own for the first time. He's even less inclined to celebrate Christmas than I am and isn't bothered at all but I don't like to think of him being on his own. He's supposed to be spending the day with a friend so hopefully that'll work out. Yesterday, about the time he was supposed to be ringing me to tell me he was ready to be picked up, he rang and said he wasn't going to come over after all because he'd just been fired and was going to go and get shit-faced (his expression, not one of my favourite ones!). I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach when he told me. He was on the dole for about four years and only started working properly last September and it had really seemed to be working out well.

He ended up not going to a friend's house but to a pub near where we both live on his own so I called in there on my way home and kept him company for a while and then drove him home. He brought home a few cans of beer as well so at least I knew he was safe at home and could just fall into bed when he needed to. He had a huge argument with his boss and did think that if they could talk today they'd be able to sort it out. It sounds like it was something that blew up out of nothing because his boss was in a mood and my brother was tired after working early and doing a nine-hour shift with no break. Of course I don't know if there's been anything going on in the background but I also know I have to leave it up to him. It's one of my big problems that I try to look after everyone in my family when really they're all well able to look after themselves.

Anyway, I'm at the airport now, waiting to find out if my flight to Florida is delayed. Got up horribly early (for me) after staying up much too late (hadn't planned on not spending the evening at home so was up till after one packing and clearing up). Didn't realise how sleepy I was when I got up until I went to the toilet in the airport. I'm just finishing my period but decided since I'm travelling to take no chances and use a super size sanitary towel. It was one of the ones with wings and somehow I forgot to take off the little bit of paper on the wings and fold them over. I've done stupid things when sleep-deprived before but this is definitely a first. Didn't feel I thing either during the hour or so until I saw it. What a strange way to start my day!

Must go now. I'm using one of those internet kiosks where the screen is at head height standing and it feels like everyone must be reading this over my shoulder.

I'm looking forward to a week of little or no rain and lots of sunshine/light. Hopefully that'll keep me going through the next month or so of dark winter days here. I also booked cheap flights to Germany to visit a friend in January so that should help too. I was speaking to a friend's sister the other day and she has just moved into a new house and has a huge garden she wants to plant some trees in. So I'm going to buy some trees for her in the spring and consider that my contribution to offsetting my air travel. It feels good to have decided to do something.

Happy Christmas all. I hope 2007 brings you everything you wish for and need.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ecological footprint

Am very, very, very busy (along with lots of other people I suppose). What little time I've found to get online over the last week or so I've spent reading other blogs and discussion forums. Two more choir performances this week, a birthday party on Saturday night and gift wrapping for charity on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening next week are the only things left on my hectic list of appointments for December. Otherwise I just need to pack for Florida - yay!

I did my ecological footprint score before but don't think I wrote down the score I got. Have done it again today and my total footprint is 3.7 hectares. That's 1.2 for food, 0.3 for mobility (this seems low to me, maybe I got the litres petrol/100 km wrong - it was my best guess, will keep a diary for the next few months to check it), 1.1 for shelter and 1.1 for goods/services. The average in Ireland is apparently 5.3 per person so I'm doing pretty well. This makes me think I need to check my answers rather than feel like giving myself a slap on the back though! So, if everyone lived like me we would need 2.1 planets - and that's if everything I answered is definitely correct! I've set a reminder in my diary to retake this quiz in three months and will concentrate on having the correct date to hand then.

In other news my 3 little things and 5-a-day have fallen compeltely by the wayside over the last week but I hope by this Sunday I'll feel a bit more like time is my own and to catch up then. I've admittedly not been eating well at all so I also need a couple of hours in the kitchen to stock the freezer again. However I think I'll leave this until I return from Florida. I still have quite a lot of cereal left over from summer so I think I'll just eat lots of that over the next week to get rid of it as well. I got my sister those lovely GAA bowls from Kellogg's Cornflakes as a small wedding pressie (one for Dublin where she's from, one for Cork where he's from and one for Galway where they got married and plan to live - well I thought it was a cute idea) but since I was only able to get a couple of tokens from other people I ended up buying a gianourmous box of cornflakes which I'm still not even halfway through. To make up for all that processed food I'm going to make sure to buy some organic milk at the weekend!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

32 today

Inspired by something Liz from Pocket Farm did recently on her birthday, here's one fact about me for every year of my life so far:
1. I love to sing and am a member of two choirs
2. I eat too much and don't exercise enough (although trying to live locally and simply is slowly but surely changing this)
3. I like to wiggle my toes when I take off my shoes and socks when I get home from work
4 I make excellent tiramisu
5. I also make very good apple tart
6. I love Tupperware
7. I don't like working on my birthday and always take a day or two off work
8. I love to travel and have a hard time reconciling this with my wish to be eco-minded
9. Family is the most important thing to me (even a large, more than occasionally frustrating family like mine)
10. I consider many of my friends to be family too (my "urban family" if you like)
11. I try to follow the happiness manifesto at least in part every day:
12. I'm single and a romantic at heart who'd rather be that way than settle for Mr Almost-Right
13 I've recently started knitting (half a jumper when I was in school doesn't count)
14. I don't like olives (but wish I did)
15. I don't like peppers (but wish I did)
16. I've been an orphan for almost 10 years
17 I have eight nieces/nephews
18. My oldest nephew finished school last June which made me feel quite old
19. I don't like turnip either but don't wish I did
20. I recently applied to join WWOOF and hope spend a few weeks next year volunteering on organic farms in Germany and France
21. The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my all-time favourite books
22. The Parent Trap (esp. the Dennis Quaid, Lindsay Lohan version) always makes me cry!
23. I love happy endings
24. Pet peeve: people thinking they don't need to wash the outside of the saucepan they've been cooking with as well as the inside
25. Realisation: I'm getting too old and cranky to be sharing a house with other people
26. So far since I started knitting I have made 2 scarves and 2 hats
27. This weekend for the first time I drove through badly flooded roads, strange and a bit scary - I know now why they tell people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary
28. I am going to learn to use a sewing machine next weekend and have already bought gorgeous material and a pattern to make myself a sleeveless jacket
29. I speak German
30. I have long hair and love the feel of it even if it's the traditional Irish frizzy kind that doesn't look too good unless you spend hours and a fortune on it (neither of which I do)
31. I am a secretary
32. I am 32 years old today

Down the country

Have had a lovely couple of days out of Dublin although it's just like me to choose to go west during some of the worst storms for years. At least I now know what it's like to have to drive through a flood so it was a learning experience which is always good. Isn't it?

Unfortunately the storms also meant that the internet access in the hotel I was in got knocked out so all of the catching up on blogs I intended to do didn't happen. I have been keeping up with the 3 little things although I need to do enough this evening to make up for the last few days. 5-a-day hasn't gone so well although I did bring a bag of apples away with me to make sure that I had at least some fruit.

I brought some knitting with me and got the hat for my brother done. I have loads of wool left and am planning on doing hats for my nieces and nephew in France for Christmas. I also brought my music and choir rehearsal tape and did loads of practice so am feeling much more confident for the concert on Sunday.

From a money point of view I didn't do too badly. I had the money for the hotel and feeding myself while I was away put aside and overtime money from last month to pay for my massage and facial. Which were lovely. I bought a small milk jug as my souvenir but I only have one small jug so it is something I will use. I also took the opportunity, since I was down that way to stop into Fabrics Direct in Rooskey. Lovely shop and now that I've seen it I think I'd be more inclined to order stuff online from them. Ann, the owner, took ages to talk to me when I explained that I was only starting out and I decided to get a pattern and bought the material to make it as well. She went through loads of stuff on the pattern giving me hints and tips so I feel much more confident that I'll be able to do it now. And on the way home I stopped at Liffey Valley, a big shopping centre not too far away, and bought a top for my work Christmas party this Friday (am wearing the same skirt I wore last year) and one new shirt for work which was on sale. That's it though, will be on strict budget for the rest of the month as I want to have some money to bring to the States with me. I asked my sister how much I should bring and she said about $400 would probably be enough. Her husband said I'd need $800. I was hoping to only need about $200! At least the exchange rate is good at the moment and after talking to her I think I've convinced her that I really don't want to spend the day in Disneyland or any of those kind of places (I hate rollercoasters and rides like that anyway) and just want to chill out and hang around doing more or less nothing. I'm going over to visit her more than to visit Florida really.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

3 little things and 5-a-day

My 5-a-day was saved yesterday by me remembering that I had some frozen peas so a good handful of them went into the scrambled eggs I was having for dinner and then I mixed the whole lot with some rice I had leftover from Sunday. One of the nicest dinners I've had for a while, possibly because it took about five minutes to make and that makes the difference when you're rushing to something after work.

Not doing so well today, only a banana so far but I have some stewed apple with me for an afternoon snack and with either have pasta with a tomato and onion based sauce for dinner or a big stirfry. Might make it to 5 yet.

My three little things yesterday nearly didn't happen as I slouched in front of the telly for forty minutes when I got home from choir and so it was nearly midnight when I went upstairs. Still, it counts as yesterday!

1. Christmas Yearbook - I bought this last year, a lovely idea (although a homemade version rather than the expensive one I bought in a shop would be even nicer!) where there are four pages for each Christmas, one for a photo of your Christmas day, one for writing what you ate, who cooked, what games you played, songs you sang, who's there etc. and the final two pages for each person present on Christmas day to write in about what they've done this year and what they plan for next. There are enough pages for ten years worth of Christmas and the idea is that you put it away with the rest of the decorations on 6 January and then don't take it out until next Christmas. Of course, I didn't get any photos of Christmas until February and then took it out during the summer to take out one of those photos for an album I made up for my sister's wedding. Still, even though I'll have the Christmas decorations out next week to put up, it has gone back into the box with them until then.

2. Hat and scarf - summer sun hat and a bandana have gone back into my scarf drawer.

3. A small plastic pouch I use for storing sanitary towels and cotton buds in when travelling. This has been well-used and is starting to crack but has gone back into my travel toiletries bag as it's not quite dead yet.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Have to stop finding blogs

I'm trying to keep the list of blogs I read from growing too long. For one I only have access to the internet in work at the moment and I don't want to end up spending all my evenings here making up for work I miss while surfing the net. I usually try to confine myself to lunchtime and before work starts. For another there seems to be little point in trying to live a simpler life, trying to spend more time enjoying "real" things and ending up just spending more time online!

This blog is interesting though and I think one of the reasons it particularly appeals to me is that it's relatively new, just like mine!

On the 5-a-day front today I've had homemade vegetable soup for lunch (1 - it was a fairly small bowlful), an apple (1), a banana (1) and a pear (1). However all fruit was from the platter we get every day in work so non-organic. The apple was French I think (but is Le Crunch a company or a type?), I assume the banana is from far away and I have no idea about the pear. I need to remember to bring fruit in with me tomorrow! So, that's four so far so need to have at least one more this evening. I'm rushing home now to go to choir and won't have much time though - maybe I'll have a hot lemon and honey drink before I go to bed, if I use the juice of a full lemon I might just about scrape by.

3 little things and 5-a-day

My three things from yesterday were a battery charger plus three packets of batteries (counting this as one item) - I bought these at the end of July 2005 and still have never used them. They were a special offer from Lidl and I thought they'd probably come in useful some time. I'm charging the batteries and have a space in my tools drawer for it afterwards. I also want to find a small container to keep the batteries in - the Tupperware I used to keep my make-up in is a good size for this I think.

2 cloth shopping bags - now placed with all the other bags I've found again, beside the door and convenient to grab on the way out.

1 length of gold ribbon - I think I swiped this from a friend who got a present with this wrapped around it and was going to just throw it out. It has now gone into the small bag of ribbons I use when wrapping pressies.

As for my 5-a-day - despite my efforts to eat well I do sometimes find it difficult to eat my minimum recommended 5 portions of fruit and veg a day. There are various reasons for this but I'm going to try and make sure over the next while that I do this properly. I have found the most successful way to lose weight is to do it in stages. For the last couple of months I've been cooking most of my own food. I've also made sure I fill a jug of water when I get into work so that I do drink plenty during the day. So now that those things are habit again I need to focus on making sure that of what I do make to eat, there are at least five portions of fruit and veg in it and building up to more.

So, yesterday's 5-a-day didn't go too well as I wasn't really prepared for it. I had a big apple (1) as a snack during work as well as two squares of Fruit n Nut (but am pretty sure the one almond and two raisins in that don't count as a portion!). I had a baked potato for lunch but two small sausage rolls for breakfast - all in all it wasn't a huge amount of food and by the time I got off the bus on the way home I was really hungry. I had struggled to convince myself not to stop and get a takeaway but compromised with myself and bought a Mars and a packet of Hula Hoops, which I practically inhaled on the walk from the bus stop home. Once there I got stuck in to some more tidying and recorded my choir rehearsal CD onto a tape so I can listen to it in the car. As my hunger had been abated somewhat I was able to get this done and then cook a dinner at my leisure. I made spaghetti (organic, Irish-made from Noodle House), a white sauce from a simple roux with a white wine ice cube thrown in for good measure and added a gently fried: half a big onion, one leek, four cloves of garlic, four tiny scallions I'd forgotten I had (all organic and Irish, exept for the garlic, which may be French) and a handful of fresh parsley (2). I'm giving myself 2 portions for that lot. So that means that I had 3 portions yesterday. Not great. I'm pretty sure the glass of wine I also had doesn't count as fruit either! Will try harder today. Have homemade vegetable soup with me for lunch so that'll help.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Excellent link on Low Mileage Food today - I'm very excited and will be looking into this to see if I can manage to do it next spring.

3 little things

I spent yesterday evening holepunching masses of paper to file. Most of the completely useless stuff has gone into the recycle bin but once I have everything filed it'll be time for a major cull. I'm a terrible hoarder and convinced I need to keep every little receipt I ever got. While I've worked on my hoard of "stuff", I need to pay some attention next year to papers. It's easy to convince myself that papers are important and need to be kept just in case. I've almost filed everything now. Just have one big pile of things like magazines and cards and notes people have sent me. Most of the magazines are from the AA and the Mountaineering Council of Ireland. Regular newsletters which I often don't even take out of the plastic cover. I'll flick through them and then see if a local doctor wants them for their waiting room. I joined the MCI about a month before I injured my foot and had to stop hillwalking. Typical. Still, I have five more months before renewal and my foot is almost better. If I'm not walking at least every second weekend by the time I need to renew I won't bother.

I finally dragged myself to bed at half-twelve last night (am feeling it this morning) but had to get three things out of my bits and bobs bag to deal with before I allowed myself to get into bed. I took three simple things which were near the top:

Book called Croch Suas E - from my one stint in the Gaeltacht when I was 14, it's a book full of lyrics for Irish songs and also full of signatures of people who were there that summer (none of whom I've ever kept in touch with). Space found on my shelves for it as it's not something I want to part with.

Book called something like the little text book of magic - amusing little book which is about a couple of inches big. It has gone on my shelves with other similar small books. It may still get passed on but that can wait for the Big Book Clear Out in January.

Tupperware oyster - this is a container I used to use for makeup but haven't for a while. It has gone into the dishwasher and will go onto my Tupperware shelf waiting to be used again.

I also gave two of the books from the weekend to my housemate and have brought the four still left into work. I will be meeting a freecycler to get my new alarm clock at lunchtime today (it turns out she works five minutes away from me) so can't make it to the second hand book shop but they are now on my desk in work and away from home. If I don't make it to the second hand book shop some lunchtime this week I will bring them to Blackrock Market on Saturday. I'm meeting my older sister, who for one reason and another I haven't seen for about a year, there for brunch - she wants to treat me for my birthday.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Decluttering and spicy food

I came across a blog recently called The Seven Things Project . The idea being that each week Earthchick is finding seven things to get rid of, without simply throwing everything away. It's interesting and a good incentive to me to try to do the same. After cleaning my room I have a neat stack of things which I've been meaning to get onto Freecycle for a couple of months now. Next week a friend is coming over with her digital camera to take photos and I'll hopefully get rid of them fairly quickly. I'm going to leave them on freecycle for a week and if they're not taken will find a local school who's having a sale of work before Christmas and donate them.

I also have a few books which I've read and know I do not want to read again. Two went to my brother yesterday and I'm waiting to see if my housemate wants any of the others before bringing them to a second-hand shop at lunchtime tomorrow. I think one may also belong to my ex-housemate, who's off in Australia for a year so need to wait to hear back from her before getting rid of it. My other task for this week and next is to take three things out of a bag of bits and bobs and either find a home for them or get rid of them. In January then I want to organise my book shelves properly and see if there's anything else I won't read again. I know I have quite a lot of books I bought at jumble sales purely because they were so cheap and I need to go through all of those especially and decide if I will actually read them.

Yesterday I cooked spicy lamb burgers based on a recipe for spicy lamb chops in Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries- . I had mince from Terryglass organics in the freezer, two red chilis I bought a few weeks ago and didn't know what to do with and all of the spices needed (leftover from some other time last year when I thought I'd get adventurous with food but never did). The only thing missing was a lime and some fresh tomatoes. I planned on using a tin of tomatoes but when I called to the market in Ranelagh to pick up a lime I gave in and bought seven lovely Italian organic vine tomatoes. I also bought some eggs while there and am glad now as my brother came over for dinner yesterday evening and ate more than I thought so I only had enough leftovers for one lunch - the eggs will give me two or three meals this week instead.The recipe as I adapted it is as follows:

Fry one teaspoon each of the following seeds (all whole) in a little oil (I used olive, which is what I had on hand) - mustard, coriander, fennel, cumin. After a minute or two add a chopped onion, one de-seeded and chopped chili and fresh grated ginger (from a piece about as big as a walnut in its shell). Allow to soften but not colour and then add six chopped tomatoes and some rock salt. In the original recipe he uses this as the basis for a marinade but I used it as a sauce instead. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile I mixed one egg in with the lamb mince and made small burgers which I fried for a minute on each side so they would keep their shape. I placed the burgers in an overproof dish. When the sauce was finished cooking it came off the heat and the juice of the lime was stirred in and then the sauce poured over the burgers. I left it to marinade for about an hour and once my brother had arrived for dinner, put it into the oven for 20 minutes at about 200c. I served it with some basmati rice.

The smell in the house was beautiful and the dinner tasted lovely. It was very mild though and I was surprised as I'd been expecting to need to add some yoghurt to mine to cool it down a bit. I did only use one chili instead of two though and apparently not enough salt (but my brother always says that!). It was a departure for me to use these kinds of spices and I was pleased with the result. I will definitely do something similar again. I'm not a big fan of coriander or fennel but in this mixture neither flavour came out on its own, rather it was a taste greater than the sum of its parts, if you know what I mean.

How quickly time flies

It doesn't seem like two weeks since the last time I wrote but so it is. It has been a funny couple of weeks though and I have to attribute my lack of writing to a mixture of "time flies when you're having fun" and the sheer difficulty of getting things down on paper when you're not feeling too positive. Strange that I feel that both of those things, which are so opposite, have been going on for the last while. But I'm trying to think of life in a positive way, even to the extent of sometimes just saying under my breath "stop being negative, we need positive energy, positive energy".

On the negative side I have been down and I'm having difficulty adjusting to living with my new housemate (seemed like it would be okay at first and then she decided to change a whole load of things in the kitchen, she doesn't like it to be cluttered and everything has to be put away - although I'm slowly moving some things back as it's just not practical to not have things to hand and I use the kitchen far more than her anyway) as well as having been extremely busy in work and with choir taking up a good bit of time.

On the other hand, I've been trying to stay positive and at least keep going with some of my simple living pursuits. It is great to be able to read other people's blogs even if I'm not posting myself as it sort of keeps me focused. And even though I was upset when my kitchen got "tidied up" I didn't follow my first inclination (which was to head straight out to the cinema and watch at least two films in a row) but did do a bit more work on clearing and cleaning my bedroom. It had gotten to a really bad state and because I always try to not leave stuff lying around downstairs I sometimes end up with a very messy bedroom. So this time I didn't cut my nose off to spite my face and made some progress on my bedroom. That's a couple of weeks ago and I finally have nearly finished it this weekend. I do have a stack of stuff which needs to be freecycled and a few bags of vacuum packed duvets and spare bedclothes which need to go into storage. I'm making use of my sister's storage facility but won't be able to get there till next Saturday again.

I also need to finish a big pile of filing but most of this is sorted and just needs to actually be put onto files. I have one sports bag which had all the last little bits and pieces shoved into it and I plan to take three things out of this every day and either find them a home or get rid of them altogether. I rearranged the furniture in my room a bit and have my armchair positioned better to catch light from the window and have moved a tall boy in front of the non-functioning-but-sometimes-windy fireplace which will cut down on the draught. I didn't notice it last year but the last few weeks have been extremely windy and the room has felt a bit cold sometimes. If this doesn't work I'll cover the fireplace with newspaper as well.

I feel like I'm starting to ramble again and find myself feeling bad for writing such long posts. In the end I have to remind myself that while I love that some other people read this blog it is first and foremost for me and so I can be as longwinded as I feel the need to be. :-)

I finished knitting the scarf for my brother and I also knit a hat for my sister last week. I have to sew it up (note to self to buy darning needle or similar) but am very impressed with myself. While clearing out my room I also dug out a small bag I had with some material remnants - I started buying a few bits of material a few years ago (the last time I decided I wanted to learn how to sew) and they have just been sitting there since. I realised when I opened it that I had the programme from the last time I tried to start making things and went to the Knitting and Stitching Show for inspiration. 1997. If you'd asked me I would have said it was three or four years ago. Not nine! How and ever, I've started now and think this time I will keep it up. I'm about to start on a hat for my brother next. He is thrilled with his scarf. I found a booklet in my 1997 programme with knitting basics in it and finally decided that I need to pay attention to tension. The ribbed scarf I made didn't look like the one they had on display in the shop although I still think it looks good. I think it was because my tension was way off - I always start knitting and check the tension after a few rows. It's usually way off but since I've only done simple things like scarves and they've looked fine, I haven't bothered trying to correct it. I now know about knitting a sample swatch so will try that for next time. As a general guide I'd say I'll usually end up knitting with needles about two sizes smaller than what's given.

Well, that's another long post and I still have much to say. Thanks to Becky I'm going to the craft fair in the RDS the weekend after next and I'm really looking forward to it. I won't have much money to buy things but am eager to go and have a look and maybe chat to some of the exhibitors about what they do. I've promised Becky that the money I've saved on the ticket I'll spend on their stall and am really looking forward to choosing something beautiful that I hadn't planned on. This weekend I'm heading away for a couple of days for my birthday - I'll stay with a friend on Saturday and then am having two nights in a hotel. I've had the money put aside for months and it has been hard to hang onto it - that's enough for the hotel and meals. I'm getting paid this week as well and as I'll be getting paid for a few hours overtime I did I'm going to use the extra money to treat myself to a massage and facial. And oh, one more thing to make my Monday good - I just got a phone call from a freecycler to say I'll be getting a radio alarm clock tomorrow. This is fantastic as I'd been thinking of getting one for a while but kept putting off as an unnecessary expense. However, on Saturday in my cleaning frenzy I knocked over my old alarm clock (which I've had for almost twenty years) and it finally broke to pieces so it's brilliant that I'll be getting a freecycled one to replace it. And I read this post from Stonehead which made my heart feel warm. Not your typical Monday morning so far!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bits and pieces

I've added another two blogs to my sidebar list. I've been reading them for a while and really enjoying them as well. Emme from Simple Living has some good thoughts on the whole issue of enforced versus choice frugality. I think I'm closer to where she was a couple of years ago. I have huge debt and don't have much choice but to try and live as frugally as possible. But I also realised a couple of months ago that actually, given the choice i.e. even if I had plenty of money available to spend I would still want to live this kind of life. And so that kind of takes the pressure off because I don't feel quite so restricted.

Downshifting-path to simplicity is another blog I've been enjoying recently. I love some of the ideas I've found there, such as the conversation SockknittingMama had with her children at Halloween to discuss what they wanted winter to bring them. I think this is a lovely idea and plan to make a conversation like this part of my Halloween in future.

I also meant to mention in my last post that making the herb and barley broth at the weekend I decided to just go ahead and buy the fresh herbs needed from the supermarket. I got Irish parsley and an Irish bay plant which I'll try to keep alive and mayabe plant out next year. Basil for the butternut squash came from Israel. I can't remember where the sage was from though. Couldn't get any fresh thyme so used some dried. I really wanted to make this recipe though so decided it was okay to buy supermarket herbs as I could feel I would just end up pissed off if I didn't make this dish. I'm adding herbs to the list of things I want to grow next year - parsley and bay are certainly two things it should be possible to keep going. And only when I was actually making the dish did I realise I had just picked up the packet of organic barley in EcoLogic and not noticed it was from Ecuador. Another reminder that I need to pay more attention. So, my healing herb and barley broth was almost at least half non-local. It is very tasty though. I probably will make it again but will definitely use less goose fat. I should know by know that any recipe I have ever done which calls for oil or fat of any kind will probably use about twice the amount I would consider necessary.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Well, I'm still tired. And a bit head-achey but I'm trying to ignore that for the moment.
After the beginnings of yet another sore throat on Friday I had an early night and decided to sleep till I woke on Saturday. Ended up sleeping for about ten hours and then stayed in bed for another hour or two reading. Got up to have a glass of water and chatted to my new housemate for a while then went back to bed to read for another half an hour. A friend rang just as I got there and I ended up on the phone to him for just over two hours. Wasn't planned for (and boy was I glad he was paying) but was great to talk to someone I haven't seen much of for years (he lives in Belgium). Was tired after that though so ended up sleeping for an hour.

Finally got up and cooked as I'd taken mince out to defrost and had to cook it. It was probably a good thing because I would have been tempted to get a take away otherwise which I really couldn't afford. I made half of it into shepherds pie sauce which tasted delicious but got frozen straight away for lunches. The other half became meatballs which I put into a tomato sauce made from some tomatoes I had left which were starting to get a bit soft. Added shallots and red onions, garlic, basil, oregano, parsley, black pepper and a tin of tomatoes to bulk it out a bit. Once I'd fried the meatballs just enough to get them to hold their shape I added them to the sauce and left it on a really low heat for an hour or so. Spent twenty minutes on the phone to my sister in France and then almost an hour on the phone to my sister who's travelling and is now in Florida. I was paying this time though and I really shouldn't have. I'm going to get hit with a huge phone bill this time round and should know better. Next time I get paid I'm going to buy some of those international call cards so that I have them already there on days I end up feeling like chatting to people miles away. The meatballs in tomato sauce were delicious with some boiled potatoes and enough left over for a couple of lunches this week too.

Had another early night on Saturday and slept nearly twelve hours. I have to watch this. I need to sleep a bit extra because I'm obviously run-down and keep getting sick and was trying to forestall that sore throat getting worse. However it's a very fine line between looking after yourself and getting lost in the kind of lethargy that results in/comes from depression. Especially in the winter, it's too tempting to just roll over and stay in bed all day. I did get up and have a shower and made a start on cleaning my room by putting away all the laundry that had built up over the last month or so. This involved moving all the stuff (mainly spare duvets and bedclothes) which was blocking my wardrobe so yesterday evening I also managed to get most of that stuff sorted out and it now just needs me to move the tallboy blocking the cupboard to put them away. It's all quite complicated but this is what happens when you live in a small rented house and have some of your own furniture. I have a tallboy which I don't want to part with and which I do use but it sits in front of a built-in cupboard in my room. I only use that cupboard for storing stuff that isn't used very often but sometimes I end up with a mess because I'm waiting for one thing to happen so that something else can happen, which means something else can happen and so on and so forth. And while waiting for all those things to happen (all of which are waiting for me to do them!) everywhere becomes messier and messier and more difficult to deal with. Anyway, I've made a good start on it and will hopefully finish it up next weekend, including scrubbing the newly found surfaces till they sparkle.

I did go out yesterday and ventured to Blackrock Market where I had a nice chat with the woman in This Is Knit and bought some wool to start on a scarf for my brother. I also started on that yesterday evening but since it's my first time doing a rib it took me four attempts before I got the hang of it and didn't end up with four or five extra stiches each row. Doesn't look quite as good as the one they had in the shop but I'm pretty impressed with myself regardless.

Yesterday I finally made the healing herb and barley broth I've wanted to make for ages. Very delicious although I may have left it in a bit long as there's not much "broth" left in the pot. Still, tastes good and is very filling. I also finally cooked the butternut squash I bought weeks ago and have decided I'm still undecided about whether I like it or not. I cooked the recipe which was on River Cottage Treatment last week, roasting the halves with butter and garlic in the hole and then mashing the squash with some feta and shredded basil and putting the whole lot back in the skins and roasting for another 15 minutes. It was nice but I found it a bit sweet or something. I'd probably cook it again if I found local squash but I don't think I'd go out of my way for it. Glad I tried it though. If anyone wants the proper recipe it's in the Sieved Tomatoes thread on the River Cottage website:

Booked my car in to get the brakes done next week. Might need to leave the car in over the weekend so am psyching myself up to live without the car for the weekend. Really, unless I'm going away for the weekend I could manage without it fairly easily. I'm going to phone a few contacts and try and book some Tupperware parties this week but if I don't manage to do that I have to seriously consider whether to keep the car or not. Other than for the handiness of it that is!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Still busy

This week has just flown by and I am exhausted. I ended up going for a drink with some friends (who I hadn't seen since summer) after the performance on Wednesday and although it was just one drink we stayed till closing time and I didn't get home till midnight. I was still on a high after singing though and couldn't sleep. It was after half-one before I did I'd say and yesterday and today I have been shattered. Heading home from work now (my boss was out all day and let's just say I haven't exactly been productive despite my best intentions) and will probably be in bed before eight because I can barely keep my eyes open as it is. But want to wait till about then so there's a chance of me sleeping through the night.

I called to EcoLogic yesterday and picked up some meat from the farm who I normally buy from at Marlay Park Market on Saturdays [update: finally remembered it's called Terryglass Organics]. Bought enough for the rest of the month and it'll save me a trip there tomorrow. I'm going to head to Blackrock Market instead. I haven't been there for ages and want to visit This Is Knit ( who I saw at the Knitting and Stitching Show last week. I had a look at their website earlier and this really strikes me as the kind of place I'd like to give my custom to. Blackrock Market doesn't usually have any food stalls but it would be great if it did as I could do with buying some fruit. Otherwise I'm going to have a week or two of just eating what I already have on hand - I think I have more than enough for a decent variety and I have a good bit of tinned fruit as well if I don't see any at the market.

I'm going to try and start building up a stock of scrap bits of material to use for quilting the way I learned last week. I'd like to just lay into it and start making those little squares and then wait for a while to decide exactly what I want to make. This may not be the correct way to go about planning a quilting project but I know myself and if I don't just get stuck in and start doing it I'll never get back to it. There are a few steps involved. Cutting the circles and squares of material and batting is first up and even if I can start on this and build up a supply then it'll make it easier to just pick it up some evenings and just sew a little bit at a time. I definitely need to buy a decent scissors though and hope it won't prove too difficult. I'm left-handed and do have one left-handed scissors my uncle gave me about 20 years ago but it's not good enough for proper cutting of material really. Will have to check on prices and it may need to wait till I get paid at the end of the month. I'm not managing my money well this month at all and really only have enough left for basics for the rest of the month.

While at EcoLogic last night I aslo bought some lentils (something I have eaten and enoyed before but never cooked myself), some barley (want to cook the barely broth to bring you to health from Nigel Slaters cookbook) and some Irish-made organic pasta. Am very excited to have found this even though he only had the spaghetti and I don't really like stringy type pasta (due to being traumatised by my sister as a very young child who told me I was eating worms and the red sauce was their blood!). If I like the taste though I'll get him to get in other shapes as well. I was able to find out online that they do use local free-range eggs but am not sure if the organic flour they use is Irish. However I'm not sure there is any Irish organic flour around so this is probably the closest to fully Irish organic pasta I'm going to get. It's produced in Sligo by two Germans who moved there ten years ago or so and set up the Noodle House Pasta Company. I don't think I'll end up staying in Ireland but if I do I think I would move to the north west - it looks like there's a very healhty eco-conscious, organic community up around there.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Busy times

While nature is slowing down (and my nature really wants to as well!) life seems to be getting busier and busier. I sing with a couple of choirs and am on the committee of one. Between organising and rehearsing for an early December concert with that one and rehearsals for a concert this week with the other choir (a much larger, well-established choir - we're singing in the National Concert Hall and I'm still quite intimidated and nervous about that) as well as three performances of Messiah in December a lot more of my time is being taken up with choir related stuff than I thought would be the case.

Work has also been hectic the last few weeks with a possible big change in the works over the next few months.

To top it all off I got hit with another bad cold two weeks ago which I am still trying to get over. That's two colds in about five weeks. This happened to me last winter as well although didn't start as early. It's so frustrating that it's happening even though I've been making such a huge effort to eat properly and well. Still, only four weeks left and I will have a long weekend away and then a few weeks after that I'll be off to Florida for Christmas. I booked those flights in early summer before I started to seriously think about things like my ecological footprint. It's probably a good thing I'm so broke as I think airline travel is one of the things I'll always find most difficult to have given up. If I had the money I'd love to go and visit friends in Germany, France, Belgium etc. for the weekend - I've done it before and it can work out well. But it's definitely very wasteful to be flying somewhere just to spend a day and a half. At the moment I don't have money to be booking flights anywhere so it's not an issue I need to trouble myself with too much. It's probably one reason why I'll eventually move back to mainland Europe though.

My sister (who I'll be visiting in Florida) and her husband are both big into skydiving. I keep promising I'll do a jump (actually had wanted to do one for years before she did, just one more of those things I haven't gotten around to doing) but do want to lose some more weight first. I'm just about at the limit of what's allowed and would feel much safer knowing I'm not pushing the boundaries on that. But in a way I'm hesitant to do a jump as I don't want to end up loving it. It must surely be one of the worst hobbies from an ecological point of view.

One hobby I may take up is quilting. I was at the Knitting and Stitching Show in the RDS yesterday. Managed to resist buying stacks of wool just because it said "special offer" as the prices really weren't all that special. I did talk to the guy from the Wool Shop in Bray to find out exactly where it is and opening hours. And spoke to a couple of lovely ladies who run a website business and also have a stall at the market in Blackrock every weekend. It's handy to know there are a few more options for buying wool around. And on weekends too.

While I was there I signed up for the Japanese Folded Patchwork workshop. They said in the leaflet the workshops were for every level from complete beginner up. Well, I'd say I was the only beginner they had. The woman looked a bit dumbfounded when I asked her what she meant when she told us to sew with the material right side up. I don't think she was entirely prepared for a complete beginner. Although I was able to thread the needle all by myself. Finishing the project, which involved quilting a four inch square, took me the full hour and I didn't get to do the last bit of decorative stitching and beading but I ended up with something that's almost a perfect square (I thought it was a perfect square but when I took it out last night to look at it again realised it's a bit pointy in one corner). Am feeling very pleased with myself. It's not perfect by any means but I think it's pretty damn good for a first effort. Must borrow a digital camera from someone and post a picture here. I think this is something that I will be able to do although I can see it being a very slow process. I do like the idea of creating something over a long period of time though and have thoughts of having an entire double bed size throw by...well...maybe by my birthday in 2008.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Soap pods

I've been spending some time recently thinking about soap pods, which I've been using happily for a couple of years now. The whole issue of them having to travel a long distance has been bothering me lately as well as some bits and pieces I've read on the internet recently about how the increase in popularity of soap pods (also called soap nuts) has led to some exploitation of this resource and those who produce it. With this in mind and considering I've nearly finished what I have I emailed EcoLogic, the organic mini-market in Dundrum where I buy them from. I was delighted to see they have a website up and running and even more delighted when I had an answer to my email first thing the next morning. Here is what John (the owner) had to say:

"In relation to air miles and Soapods yes they do travel a distance - from Nepal and North India. Our supplier advertises the fact that they are derived from sustainable plantations paying proper wages. That said they do not carry a Fair Trade stamp but we know the people bringing them in and we would trust them.

The alternatives are E-cover which is manufactured in Belgium and Lillies which is manufactured down in Cork. The ingredients for both products may travel a distance I don't honestly know but I will endeavour to find out.

Though the soapods travel I would think that their overall environmental impact is less and they also help sustain people in less advantaged areas of our planet. They use no energy in the production or disposal process for the product or the packaging. If not the soapods then our next suggestion would be Lillie's Laundry cleaner made in Cork, and though it is packaged in plastic containers we do offer refils.

Great to see people thinking things through. Looking forward to seeing you at the shop where we source Irish wherever possible and if not Irish as close to Ireland as possible."

Although I have shopped a good few times at Eco Logic I haven't been there since the beginning of summer and a lot of the changes in my thinking around the whole area of local and organic etc. have happened since then. I suspected that their policy would be local first but it's nice to have this confirmed. If you're in the area please do try and support this great shop - they also have stalls at some of the farmers' markets on the weekend see for details.

I've decided to continue using soappods for now.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Nearly done

Well, after spending a couple of hours in work yesterday afternoon I realised that instead of the rain I thought had been forecast, not only was it still dry, it was sunny. So home I went and attacked the hole with renewed vigour. I finally got one side in and then the other. Not quite straight as the back is slightly wider than the front but close enough. It was nearly getting dark by the time I'd finished but I also managed to cut the grass (hopefully for the last time this year) and then actually put all the stuff in my new composter that I had. Some dead clematis and other climbing plants which were cut down about a month ago made a nice woody base which should allow some drainage. Then the grass cuttings. Some shredded newspaper. Then I emptied all the containers I grew courgettes and lettuce in this summer. I covered it all with a layer of newspaper which I soaked to keep in place. And finally even though it was full dark at this stage I swept the pavements and tidied up all the now empty pots. Such a great feeling to have done all those last little things I've been meaning to do for weeks.

I still need a back and a front for my composter. I intended our back wall to be the back of it but unfortunately couldn't dig down that close to the wall without destroying what I assume is the foundation of said wall. So there is a two or three inch gap at the back. Then I need something to cover the front and the top as well. If it were just me I'd probably leave it open but as it's a rented house in suburbia I need to have it looking neat and tidy looking for the landlord and minimise the chance of any critters (local cats included) getting at it.

One of my nephews recently finished school but hasn't yet decided what to do with his life. I know he loved woodwork in school so am thinking of asking him to build me something simple for the back, front and top. I'm sure he'd appreciate a bit of cash and while I'd love to do it by using bits of other people's rubbish I know I'd take ages more to get it finished that way. Will have to think a bit more about it. There are a few skips on the roads near me at the moment, I might see what I can scrounge from them first.

I'm a bit stiff today after all that but not too bad. Have some ironing to do this evening to keep me in work clothes for the rest of the week so hopefully that might loosen up anything that's still stiff by the end of the day. All in all I'm very pleased with my Sunday this week.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

hard work

I know that, logically, I will have to do a lot more physical work than I am used to in order to live this lifestyle. But knowing that and getting there are two different things. I feel somehow that I should be well able to just go out and dig a hole in the garden if I need to with no bother at all. But of course that isn't the case and I'm still trying to get my composter built. Admittedly it hasn't been helped by many rainy weekend days, shorter days meaning that I can no longer get anything done during the week as it's dark by seven o'clock (when I get home from work) but still, I know in my heart and soul that I'm also being put off by the sheer physical labour and I really need to get over that.

First of all I dug out a trench which was much too narrow (must remember to keep that adage about measure, measure and measure again in mind) to fit an upended pallet into. Then I hadn't dug it level. Then I realised it was much too shallow. At that stage it could have done, but I don't want to risk the whole thing collapsing and would really like to do it a bit better. So, this morning I've been out digging again. Of course because I'm getting further down into the ground it's far more solid and difficult to dig. I was at it for 30 minutes and had to stop. I've been doing something else since but hope to get back out soon and finish it but my arms are already sore. Still, I got the rest of the space along the back garden wall covered in cardboard and newspaper and shovelled some soil from my digging on top of it. I'll have to get some manure and some more soil for it but at least it's a start on killing off all the moss and weeds. I think I just have a problem with wanting to be able to do it all and forgetting I'll need lots of time to learn as well as lots of time to get physically fit enough to do more. As well as a problem with estimating the amount of time it'll take to do something correctly. I figured I'd need about an hour or so to get this composter together and have spent a good bit longer than that already!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Great start to the weekend

Two, no, three wonderful things to start my weekend off well:

1. I was able to drive to work today as I could borrow someone's parking space (and I need the car for after work so it has taken a lot of time pressure off me) and the traffic was relatively light so I was in work half an hour early.

2. I read the article on ...slowly she turned which talks about volunteering on organic farms and am so totally enthused by this idea I've used up that half an hour I saved on travel time earlier in reading about wwoof (see for details) and signing up for it.

3. The Kenny Rogers concert last night was excellent. He's a funny guy, still a great singer and fantastically laid back.

All in all, I'm on a bit of a high! Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Kenny Rogers

I'm going to see Kenny Rogers in concert tonight - I'm so excited! He was always one of my favourites when I was growing up and as a teenager I continued to wear my mum's records out. I just love the timbre of his voice and I have to admit I've always had a bit of a thing for men with beards :-)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Freezer's full now

Didn't get much done over the weekend except realise that once you start eating proper food your stomach might not appreciate being given a weekend full of takeaways.

I had a chicken to cook so roasted that on Sunday evening - just put some cloves of garlic into a few slits in the meat which gives a really lovely garlicy taste throughout the bird when it's cooked. Have all that chicken waiting to be used up now - think it'll be a stir-fry tomorrow and a chicken pie for the freezer.

Not that I have any space left in the freezer or any Tupperware left to use either! A friend gave me a whole load of apples last week so I finally got around to making loads of stewed apple yesterday. Spent about four hours peeling and chopping. I meant to weigh the apples before I started but forgot. I got about five litres of stewed apple though. Most of it has gone into the freezer but I still have two litres in the fridge because I ran out of freezer containers and space. As I didn't make it to the market this week (except for long enough to pick up my chicken) I have no apples to eat so this will do just as well. I thought I'd have to throw out more of the windfall apples than I did - only about two were too bruised/rotten to use. Feels like I have enough to be eating Irish apple for a couple of months anyway.

I also made stock from the chicken bones yesterday which turned out really well so I'll be able to make a lovely vegetable soup as well - should have done it at the weekend too but it was just one of those weekends. Made me realise that I really need to be more organised so that when busy weekends turn up unexpectedly I'm better able to fit proper eating in around everything else.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

River Cottage

Many of my views on simple living were solidified a few years ago after channel-surfing one evening and happening on Tales from River Cottage (see if you don't know about River Cottage already). I saw an episode where he was working in a local brewery for a day in return for a half-sack of barley. I tried to watch Tales from River Cottage whenever I remembered it was on and a couple of months later saw the River Cottage Cookbook for sale from the Book People. I bought it for myself as a Christmas present (and even put it away for the two months till Christmas!) - what a fantastic book. The most important message I think I took from my first reading of it was - just do it! You can waste a lot of time in thinking and worrying and wondering but in the end you have to just get up and out in the garden if you want to grow something.

Of course my brother borrowed that book from me a few weeks later and I've never managed to get it back from him since!

I've only recently realised that there is a website to go with it all which includes discussion forums. Can see this taking up a lot of my time so will have to try hard to limit my time on the web. I thought this comment (from this discussion was worth sharing though:
"The butcher that we use will sell quarters or halves of any animal and a deepfreez is a life saver. Comming up with 600 for a side of beef isnt easy but it lasts the year and as its from his own herd its great. We have a jar in the freezer that we put in whatever the shop price would be for whatever meat we take out for dinner that day. When the freezer is ready for restocking the money is there."

I think this is a great idea and one to keep in mind for when I eventually have a place of my own big enough to have a really big freezer. The idea could probably be adapted to some other areas of my life right now so I'm going to have to think about that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

quick update on sesame sticks

Found Ecoshop's website ( and discovered they started a discussion forum this summer. I've posted the following there rather than sending them an email. Hopefully I'll get a reply. I've never really written this kind of request before so I hope I achieved the right tone and don't just annoy them so much they've no interest in replying.

Hi there

I was in the shop last Sunday (haven't been there for about two years, it's looking fantastic and it's great to see you expanding). As I was looking around though I became aware that a large proportion of products, particularly food, were not Irish made. While I believe it is important to buy eco-products and organic products I also believe it is very important to buy local, again particularly when it comes to food. Can you explain what your policy is on trying to source local products, please?

I have one other issue I wanted to ask you about. I decided to treat myself to some sesame sticks and bought the Ecoshop pack. Later I decided to look in more detail at the label and see that they were packed by Munster Wholefoods in Kerry. Not so local, although still in Ireland, probably didn't involve any air miles at least. Then I see that the origin is UK. So it feels like this product has been around the houses a bit. Can you tell me where and by whom it was actually produced, please? I'd like to know in part because I'd also like to find out what is in them and the list of ingredients leaves something to be desired: what spices? what herbs? what "natural flavourings"? what kind of vegetable oil? I can see nothing about this product which is organic or eco-friendly and it overall leaves me wondering about your policies for buying products. It'd be a great help to me if you could explain a bit about it.

I was looking up your website to find an email address but thought perhaps this might be a more suitable forum to ask. I've only recently started actually paying attention to labels and so on and so am really trying hard to find out a bit more about where I am buying and what I am buying.

Thanks for any help you can give.


Ecoshop report

I went to the Ecoshop at the back of the garden centre in Glen of the Downs last Sunday. It has expanded to at least three times the size it was last time I was there (which is about two years ago). Great, I thought, business must be good, more choice for me so.

They now have a lot of fair trade household and gift items and more organic cotton clothes - mainly t-shirts, socks and underwear although there was a baby section I didn't go near as well. In general there seemed to be a good range of organic and fair trade products and they seem to sell everything from toothpaste to chocolate, twine to tofu, clipboards made from reused circuit boards to ostrich feather dusters. There was a good selection of books and magazines as well and I picked up the current issue of the Ecologist as well as the Irish "Local Planet".

I needed pasta anyway so decided to buy one packet there - of three different ranges, none were Irish. I don't know if it's a case that not much pasta is made in Ireland or not. I looked at a lot of other products too and there were actually very few Irish products. Unfortunately the girl who served me has only worked there a month or so and didn't seem too interested in engaging in much of a conversation. Maybe if I were able to get there during the week (especially at a time when it's less busy) I might have more luck.

I decided to treat myself to a couple of things and bought some trail mix, sesame sticks and chocolate raisins as well as a couple of samples of Irish made chocolate (I'm going to try the mint and the ginger ones) from a new, family-run business and some German organic, fair trade chocolate. There were quite a lot of German products there overall. I think most of the clothes were also made in Germany. As visiting during the week isn't possible for nine-to-five me I need to find an email address and will see if they can let me know their policy on buying Irish and how much effort they put into sourcing Irish products. I read the label of the sesame sticks as I was eating them. They have an Ecoshop label, were packed by Munster Wholefoods in Kerry and the origin is given as the UK. I also realised that the list of ingredients contains that awfully ambiguous "natural flavourings" as well as simply saying herbs, spices. I really wish they'd tell us what they're putting in our food! I can't even go and try and find it on the website of the company who made them because I have no idea where (beyond "UK") they were made.
Will update on any reply I receive from Ecoshop about buying local and the origin of my sesame sticks.

As far as buying local goes I think my choices will have to be:

Organic Irish
Non-organic Irish (and as close to Dublin as possible)
Organic EU
Organic/fair trade from other parts of the world while reducing the amount of these products (chocolate for example) I consume.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Well, my last post wasn't very uplifting at all. I really hate to read back on things like that (one of the main reasons I've always been so bad at keeping a diary) but I've determined that I will not delete posts unless I really, really have to.

This weekend wasn't so bad. I have a real problem with procrastination (I blame it on doing Hamlet for my Leaving Cert - the theme of procrastination was very important to our teacher and she went on and on and on about it) but although I spent a good part of the weekend telling myself "I'll do that later" I actually did things as I was busy working out in my head how I'd manage to get everything done later. Simple things like getting some clothes washed, washing my hair, doing the dishes, cooking instead of getting a take-away, got to the recycle depot - but all things that would be too much to get done in an hour before work this morning!

I went to a different market on Saturday morning as I was in town anyway and have wanted to check out the Temple Bar farmers' market. This used to be a French food market with a few stalls of quite expensive stuff. It's now a wonderfully busy real farmers' market with a few different fruit and veg stalls. I found one stall which is a family-run certified organic farm in north county Dublin - I probably will not find much more local than that and the prices were very reasonable. I bought a bag of fresh mint for making tea with as well as some potatoes, carrots and a huge courgette (really a marrow at that size I think). On another stall I bought three Irish cheeses for €10 - good value and actually produced on the farm who were running the stall. I got a small brie, some nicely aged gouda and some raclette. Haven't tried the raclette yet but will do that next weekend I think. I also got some nice Irish apples which aren't too tart so all in all I was happy. So now I have a dilemma of sorts - this market is about the same distance away as the Marley Park one I usually go to. I can get more local veg and cheese in Temple Bar but the farmer in Marley Park who sells meat (Jens Krumpe) is really excellent. I suppose I'll try alternating between the two - I may try and get an email address out of Jens so that even if I'm not there one week I can order something for the next week. You need to be there fairly early if you haven't ordered. A lot of the other stalls were at both markets and I suppose one other advantage of Temple Bar is that it's more accessible by public transport so I wouldn't have to use the car as much.

Otherwise over the weekend I made some delicious stewed apple and managed to freeze two Tupperware ice-cube trays full. I've a promise of more cooking apples from a friend next week or the week after so will make some more of this to use during winter. I must learn how to make custard from scratch rather than using powder.

I covered over the flowerbed in my front garden (which I had weeded a couple of weeks ago anyway so it didn't look too bad) with newspaper, some leftover compost I had and lots of lovely topsoil which I got from a freecycler. It rained lots yesterday so I didn't need to do anything else. I hope to grow something there next year - will have to find something shade loving. In the meantime it looks wonderfully tidy with all the weeds covered up. While I was out in the garden I even cut the grass and swept the front driveway and path at the side of the house.

Didn't get any more work done on the composter as it lashed rain all day yesterday and I'd only gotten the spade then. Will try and do a bit this evening if I get home before dark.

The main reason I did manage to end up cooking is that I really wanted to try my new Tupperware slicer - I had a very shaky first go (turns out I was doing it backwards which as a leftie I'm more used to doing than you might think). So for dinner I had some sausages on a bed of thinly sliced apple all topped with some thinly sliced potatoes and with some stock poured over to cook it all in. Shoved it in the oven for 30 minutes and instead of sitting down and relaxing (as originally planned) I emptied the dishwasher and whizzed around the downstairs of the house cleaning the floors. Added some cheese to the top of the roasting dish for the last five minutes and it was yum! Only problem is I used too much stock so the apple dissolved into practically nothing.

This dish was loosely based around something my oldest sister told me about another sister doing one time and has lots of potential. I think next time I'd just use pork and cook it for longer on a lower heat with a lot more apples and adding potatoes at a later stage. And much less stock or maybe a combination of stock and cider.

I made garlic potato gratin yesterday for dinner. I am finally getting the hang of my slicer and I LOVE it. I can see a lot of thinly sliced things in my future.

And I finished knitting the scarf for my sister's birthday - it's not perfect but it's oh so warm - I hope she likes it.

I'll post about my visit to the Ecoshop in Glen of the Downs later. I really need to get the hang of shorter posting.

But here's a joke to finish for now:
What's orange and sounds like a parrot?

A carrot.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Difficult times

I was depressed yesterday. Really, really, out of the blue, didn't want to get out of bed depressed. I feel a bit better today but I hate it when days like that strike for seemingly no reason at all. I nearly feel that I should give in and start taking medication to help get me through the day when I have a day like that. It doesn't happen that often but there have been too many days like that over the last few months. There was a lot of coming and going and busy times over the summer (with my sister's wedding, family home from abroad, packing up her house when she went off travelling and so on and so forth). It was all good really but just that level of activity stresses me out and also, because there was so much going on I missed a few appointments with my therapist.

I've been seeing him for just over two years now. Have struggled with depression and a serious weight problem for years and I was stuck in a job I hated (had been trying to get a new job for over a year but kept messing up the interviews, something that had never happened to me before) and seemed to be just spending more and more money with nothing to show for it so I finally bit the bullet and started to go for counselling. I can honestly say that it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself and has changed my life. Despite the fact that I was having so many problems with money I'm actually very sensible and practical so the first thing I had to do was keep properly to a budget so that I'd have money to pay for counselling. Once I had done up that budget I knew that I was going to have to be very careful all the time if I was going to be able to afford it and with a few bad months I've pretty much kept to it. But within a couple of months of starting I had a gotten a new job (where I still am and still enjoying it) and was starting to get back on track with losing weight. I'm still struggling with my weight but have dealt with many other issues so overall I'm in a far better place now. Once I'd started my new job I had to stop going every week and only see him every second week (I'd taken a pay cut to move into that job and couldn't afford every week anymore). The point of all this rambling though is that during this summer one of the very things which is hard to cope with i.e. my family was also the thing which stopped me being able to see my therapist and I missed three or four appointments. It's only in the last month or so things are getting back to normal and I think when you get through a tough time and back to normal it can all catch up on you a bit and that's what's happening to me now.

I feel bad to a certain extent talking about the summer and the wedding as being a tough and stressful time. Don't get me wrong, this summer I also had some of the best times I can remember from recent years. A lot of connections were forged again with family I hadn't had much contact with for years which is good too. But overall a lot of it was very emotional (I'm a terribly emotional and sometimes overly sensitive soul).

It's not helping I suppose that it's starting to get dark and cold again now. We had an incredibly mild September and it's only in the last week I've started wearing a jacket outside. I have to make a big effort now to get outside during lunchtime so that I'm getting some daylight at least.

I hope that the changes I've made in my life over the last few months when it comes to simple living will help me get through the winter a bit easier. I know that lots of people use anti-depressants for short periods of time and it can be a great help to them in getting thought it. Several of my sisters however have used different kinds and levels of medication and two of them ended up using way too much (in my opinion) and spending much of their time doped up to the eyeballs and not doing more than going through the motions and I'm very nervous of that happening to me. Addictive personalities definitely run in our family. One sister is using medication for a while now and has never had any problems with it so I have seen both sides, I suppose. Luckily I have an excellent GP who accepted that I had some qualms about using medication and is happy to monitor my situation while I see a psychologist and so far I haven't needed to use any.

I'm feeling much better today (so far) but now have a pile of work to get through as yesterday was not my most productive day in work ever. I managed to spend a quiet night at home though and did some more knitting which was nice and relaxing. I watched Ladette to Lady for the second week (think I'll need to make sure I'm home on Thursdays for the next few weeks) and then Grey's Anatomy but because I was knitting while watching telly it didn't feel like I'd had a complete waste of an evening plonked in front of the TV. Ladette to Lady is great - I always wanted to go to a finishing school when I was younger and watching it now, I'm sort of feeling like it would still be a great idea. I'd love to have a bit more social polish. Not to mention meeting all those eligible bachelors!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Weekend review

I had a lovely weekend. I'm starting to feel like I'm making some progress so just need to keep it up now.

I went to the farmers' market and got my pork chops. The farmer, (I have got to find out the name of his farm, I keep forgetting to make a note of it) told me two weeks ago that his pigs would be slaughtered the following Wednesday but would then need to hang for at least a week before being butchered. So, this Saturday they had pork chops which were absolutely delicious. They also had a special offer on beef so I got two bags of mince and one of diced beef and made the best stew I've made for a long time on Sunday night which is my lunches for part of this week.

My stew:

Organic beef pieces (Irish)
Organic carrots (Irish)
Organic onion (Irish)
Red onion (has been in the cupboard for a while, can't remember if it's organic but I think so)
Organic beans (not sure what type, bought them at market, they are Irish though)
Bisto granules
Worchestershire sauce
Olive oil (about 2 teaspoons)

Browned meat in the olive oil then transferred to casserole pot. Cooked onions until softened in the remaining oil/meat juices and transferred to pot. Made up a mug of bisto and added, then added about three mugs more of water and a good splash of worchestershire sauce and a small amount of freshly ground black pepper. Threw in chopped carrots, onions and beans, brought to boil for about 15 minutes then left simmering on lowest heat for an hour or so, then left in pot with lid on for another couple of hours. The meat was sooooo tender. Yumm.

The last three items are not organic or local but I have them in my cupboard and will only replace them as they run out. They are things I will have to make a decision about whether to keep using or not as they really are not produced locally.

I also boiled up some potatoes (non-organic but Irish) to have with it.

And I made soup as well which is making up some lunches this week too. I was having a good cooking weekend - the soup turned out really well too although a bit salty for my taste as I used a new organic vegan bouillion instead of my own chicken stock and it was very salty. My brother however said it was just perfect and he's normally giving out because I haven't used enough salt and pepper.

In other news this weekend I found a wool shop and bought some wool (well, it's 85% wool, 15% viscose - made in Italy, I must do some research on Irish wool) and needles and started knitting. I couldn't think of what to do to get started but wanted something simple, preferably with no pattern to follow. It's my sister's birthday next week so I decided to just make a scarf for her because that also gives me a deadline and forced me to get started straightaway rather than staring at the wool for months! I found once I had the needles in my hands it did sort of come back to me and I was able to cast on okay. (I have to admit I realised I'd forgotten how to cash off though and had to google it.) I knit ten lines and then switched to knit one row, purl one row. I've only mixed up the sides twice and each time realised before I'd finished a whole line so didn't have too much to undo. I haven't dropped any stiches as far as I know because I've counted every few lines and almost always had the same amount. Twice I'd managed to gather an extra stitch but I remember how to decrease so just fixed it at the end of the line. I do still have three unexplained holes though - it looks just like I dropped a stitch but I still have enough stitches so I don't know what happened. I'm just going to keep on thinkg that it adds to the charm of it. I made it probably a bit wider than necessary so now I'll have to go back and buy more wool on Saturday to finish it to a reasonable length - I'm using size 9 needles and 50 stitches across - I have no idea how many lines it'll end up being but will finish it with ten lines knit. I bought five 50g balls and have just started knitting the fifth one. My brother has seen it and already requested that I do one for him next.

Apart from cleaning the house (always feels good when I do a good job on that) I was also able to get out into the garden and make a start on my composter finally. I forked out the area I'll be using but need to borrow a spade to dig a hole deep enough to wedge the pallets securely into. I also got some chicken wire and cut it (I now own a wire cutters and feel very handyman-like) and nailed it to the inside of the pallets as a precaution against any large rodents. Have never had a problem before but better safe than sorry. I also bought a honeysuckle (an almost dead one but had one healthy looking branch and was only .15c, how could I resist) and planted it out. Hopefully it'll settle in and grow up a spare piece of trellis on the shed next year.

So all in all I had a nice relaxing but productive weekend. And ended up with enough food prepared that I don't need to be stressing about it during the week while trying to get to work/choir/Tupperware meeting etc. etc.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

and, oh my goodness...

...isn't it hard to stop writing sometimes when you start?


I've been reading a new (to me) blog over the last week or so - ...slowly she turned - reading through the archives I've just come across a post from January 2006 which is called soup with bacon, taters, cabbage, and corn (among other stuff) and the first line is Mmm, boy! You'll never go back to Campbell's soup again.

This really resonates with me because for years I've used Campbell's chicken soup as a base for making sauce for chicken pie. Mixed with mayonaise (for the fat version) or some yoghurt and/or milk (for the healthier version) I didn't think you could ever beat it. I hadn't made a chicken pie for over a year and a while ago I bought a whole chicken and was determined to use the entire thing. I roasted it but unfortunately I forgot to put some of the meat into the freezer and had left it in the fridge. Having seen a post somewhere from someone who'd made a pie I suddenly remember I hadn't done one for a long time and it seemed like a great idea. My sister, who recently left to travel the world, had given me some food she had in her cupboards. I passed most of it on to my brother but the one thing I kept was a tin of Campbell's chicken soup. Serendipity I thought and proceeded to make up some pastry one evening after work. The pie was good although I don't think I'll use grapes next time (seemed like a good idea at the time, I was experimenting based on a recipe I've recently learned for chicken veronique). But I could really taste the "artificialness" of the soup in it. The next day I had some in work for lunch. After finishing lunch I was asked to do something straightaway so it was an hour or so before I was able to bring my plate into the kitchen to wash. But at that stage I just had to because the smell of the soup/sauce was just too much. It was strange because I'm sure a year ago I would have thought it was lovely. I think I've finally started to get used to what food is supposed to smell like.

Anyway, it was another nail in the coffin as far as I'm concerned for me buying very processed foods.

My brother has also started reading a lot about similar issues recently - for example, we both started reading Fast Food Nation in the last couple of weeks without realising the other was reading it - we've both intended to read it for so long that it was funny to be reading it together. I told him that I'd started a blog but I'd like to keep this a bit anonymous for a while so told him he'd have to just come across it as I don't want to let people I know know that I'm doing this for now. I enjoy the freedom of most people not knowing exactly who I am. It's partly to do with being Irish I suppose. This country is just too small and you can't do anything without someone knowing about it. Or so it feels sometimes!

And then I realised that I'd sent my sister a link to ...slowly she turned (as I think she's got a lot in common with Laurie). And this morning I left a comment there mentioning Ireland. So if my sister reads the comments there's a good chance people I know might be finding me sooner than I had intended. But, oh well, it's not the end of the world I suppose.

Was also reading about Buy Nothing Day on Laurie's blog. I remember this happening (but not really happening) last year. I think I'll make a conscious effort to participate this year and, perhaps more importantly as I don't have enough money to shop much anyway, encourage friends and family to do so as well. I think I may add my own little spin to it such as to aim to not shop on Sundays anymore.

It's so handy to pop down to the supermarket on a Sunday but it's a habit that just a little bit of organisation would take care of. I'm agnostic (although was raised as a Catholic) but I do think it is a good idea to have a day that's just for a time-out for want of a better word. It's a good thing to aim for in my opinion. To make Sunday a day where you stay at home but aren't stressing about cleaning the house or working, only work if it's doing something you love (cooking, pottering in the garden), maybe invite friends over for a relaxing afternoon, maybe go to a friend's house for a relaxing afternoon.

I used to start each Sunday morning by getting up as soon as I woke up (usually about 8), throwing some clothes on and leaving the house within a few minutes of waking up, driving up to a spot in the mountains and walking for an hour or so. This was something my therapist recommended I do and it is good advice for anyone who gets depressed and may have a tendency to simply keep turning over and ending up spending the entire day in bed. Just get out of bed, throw a tracksuit on and leave the house - don't stop for anything more than going to the toilet, not even to have a cup of tea or coffee just stop somewhere en route if you really need caffeine, just get out of the house before you have time to realise what you're doing.

Unfortunately I injured my foot at the beginning of summer and have not been able to do that anymore. I still try to get up as soon as I wake up though and have taken to trying to arrange to be meeting someone, driving my brother to work, having people over for lunch and so on just so that I absolutely have to get up. My foot has greatly improved over the last couple of weeks and I've slowly started walking again. I'm aiming for a 30-40 minute walk three times a week for the next month or so and will see how it goes then. Everybody, please appreciate your feet now. You don't know how important they are until they're not working properly anymore. I will never take mine for granted again. Mind you, you could probably say the same thing for any part of your body!

It'll be nice to get back my Sunday morning strolls in the mountains. It's a very spiritual thing to do and a fantastic start to the day.

Random quote of the day
Something I read once, which Ghandi said and which I really like: "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Posting more than once in a day...

... am I becoming addicted already? Well, a bit maybe but mostly I'm very busy and don't have much time to be online but there are just these couple of things I wanted to get down. As well as the useful (albeit also enjoyable) skills I mentioned below there are a few others I'd like to learn just for fun:

Dancing - I have no rhythm but would still like to be able to dance "properly" - waltz, foxtrot, etc., etc.

Piano - had lessons as a kid and would love to have a piano someday to play a little bit. I'll never be good but it's fun and I could probably manage to play the music I learned then (still have most of the books)

Singing - I sing with a couple of choirs but I'd love to have singing lessons some day to really hone this skill.

oh, and forestry too

Yes, as well as carpentry I think I'll need to know a bit about forestry. I'd like to be able to grow trees to use the wood for a woodstove or range of some kind. Wouldn't have thought of it myself probably but read about coppicing etc. on The Good Life blog (link at the side) and it seems like a good idea.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Trying not to get overwhelmed

It's tough sometimes to not become completely overwhelmed with life. Even the sheer amount of stuff I need to learn in order to achieve my goal of living more sustainably and simply is a bit intimidating. However, I try to remember that I have five years to try and gather some of the skills I think I will need in order to become more (if not totally) self-sufficient.

My cooking needs to improve to start me eating a wider variety of foods which will make the whole task of eating locally and seasonally a bit easier. I'm quite a picky eater really although not half as bad as I was before I went to college - potatoes, meat, bread, apples, bananas, crisps and sweets were pretty much all I liked although I was forced as a teenager to eat vegetables (which was a huge contributing factor to my problems with food but that's a whole other story). During my college years I spent some holidays and a semester living in Germany and having to cook for myself and experience a different country as well as visiting my sister in France quite a bit really spread my food horizons - pasta, tomatoes, cheese, rice, onions was just the beginning! At any rate I still have a long way to go to get past just using the "traditional" vegetables.

Preserving/canning is something I would like to be able to do. One major consideration though is space. In my shared, rented house there isn't much of it so although I could probably make room to fit in a big boiler canner yoke (which I've seen pictures of on other blogs), I wouldn't really have anywhere to store anything I bottled up. Hmmm. It would still be good to learn the basics so that eventually when I have a bigger garden I can use, giving me lots of lovely fresh produce, I will know what to do with any extras.

I need to learn how to darn. Where does one learn stuff like that? No idea. I must check out evening classes in the area and see if basic sewing is done anywhere. Sewing is also something I need to learn anyway. My sister and I bought a sewing machine last year - she took it home with her and now she has gone travelling and I have it. Have at least a year before she comes back so would like to have the basics mastered before then. Would love to make my own clothes but will settle for being able to make curtains, pillow covers and minor repairs.

I did learn how to knit when I was a kid but never got much past knit one, purl one. I think I remember how to decrease and increase but that's about it. I only ever finished one thing (a stuffed toy for my then new niece) but one of my sisters helped me on that and did the complicated turning bits. I think I'll take a trip into town soon and buy some needles and wool though. Maybe a scarf would be a good project to start with. I'm pretty sure I have the "My First Knitting Book" I got when I was 9 at home somewhere (yes, I'm a hoarder, something else I'm working on!).

Gardening/growing vegetables - I've been reading around this subject over the last few weeks and of course this year I did actually grow my own courgettes and almost some lettuce. I think a mixture of reading and actually just doing is what's needed with more doing than reading. There is (or was) a community garden a few miles from where I live. It was some waste land beside a factory that a group got together and cleared up. I think it'd be good to get involved with something like that so must try and find a contact.

Keeping animals is also something I would like to do - at least a few chickens or hens and perhaps eventually some pigs. However, I'm still not sure I'd like to live right out in the country so this will be subject to some change before I ever can decide. I think living in a small country town or village might suit me better as otherwise I could end up in a situation where I go days without seeing anyone else. I think this is something I'll need to just wait and see how I feel about when the time comes. A lot can happen in five years, maybe I'll even be part of a couple by then which would change a lot. At any rate I need to learn at least about keeping poultry. I've been reading John Seymour's The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency - I think this book is going to be very useful to me.

Building/basic mechanics/learning how to cobble things together into functioning items. This is something I'm at a bit of a loss on. They do say that necessity is the mother of invention so there's no saying what I might be able to do in a pinch. In the meantime I do feel that it would be a good idea to learn basic mechanics, a bit about electrics, a bit about carpentry and so on. Actually, perhaps just making friends with mechanics, electricians and carpenters would be a better idea! Building a composter is my first project in this direction - a very simple thing to do (considering two sides of it are going to be old pallets) but has been on hold for the last couple of weekends due to the horrible cold and chest infection I've had. Hopefully I'll get a bit done on it this weekend.

That's a lot already and I'm sure there are other things I'd like to be able to do that would help me to get along without having to pay someone every time I need something done. I'll get there one day.

I've also been thinking recently that in some ways I'm lucky to live in Ireland. I've been reading Fast Food Nation and also read this excellent article by Michael Pollan a few weeks ago:
Having read that article I asked the following week at the farmer's market if the beef was grass-fed or grain-fed. It seems that grain feeding is fairly rare in Ireland and most cattle here are raised in a fairly natural way. I need to do more research on this. It's probably going to be one of the biggest things to deal with when I eventually leave Ireland (which I'm fairly sure I will do). I know it's generally easier to get local produce in Germany and France. But against that I'll be starting from scratch with the questions of what is normal practice, how do you grow that, how do you raise cattle etc. etc. etc. And if I do move to France I'll be needing to spend time becoming more fluent fist so that I can even ask those kind of questions! As I said above it's all a bit overwhelming. I suppose it's time enough to be worrying about that when I'm experiencing it! For now, I'll try to remember - one day at a time and in the meantime, Carpe Diem!

Monday, September 25, 2006

More lists...

I need to get down on paper things I use which are definitely not the eco and/or local choice. Some of these items are ones I'm not prepared to do without but I feel that if I write it all down, it'll focus my attention a bit more and perhaps lead me to changing these choices too.

Chemical cleaning products at home - I decided when I wanted to switch to eco products that it would not be a good idea to simply flush away the products I already had and am still trying to use them up (a year later! I was always a sucker for special offers, didn't realise how much I of a stock I had built up). At this stage I think I'll try and give them away.

Shower gel/body lotions etc. - as above, I've been using up what I had. Nearly finished.

Deodorant - tough one this. May use some holiday time to experiment with eco products - it took me years to find a "conventional" one that works for me.

Toothpaste - need to replace soon and will try Kingfisher or similar brand.

Make-up - I don't wear much so will stick with what I already have and think more about it if/when I need new stuff.

Face wipes - so convenient. Have been reducing use but can't quite give them up yet.

Sanitary towels - have used organic ones before and they're okay, need to try and get them more often but they are more expensive.

Petrol - until I can afford a hybrid/runs on vegetable oil type car the only thing I can do about this is minimise my use of the car. Already use bus for to and from work. Must get fit enough to use bike.

Philadelphia light - a Weight Watcher's necessity. I have a serious weight problem but eating more fresh food and less processed food will help a lot. There are certain products that are very useful in making low-fat meals and this is one of them.

Colour catchers - can't afford to keep buying new white underwear.

Clothes - don't buy many and because of my size don't have much choice anyway. When I lose weight I would also like to start looking at buying more organically.

I'm sure I had a dozen more to add but can't think of them now - will have to come back to this list later.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Blogging etiquette

I'm sure there is a page somewhere to find out about acceptable behaviour when it comes to blogging. For example, I've added a list at the side of my blog now of some of the blogs I read. Should I mention to the people who own those blogs that I've done so? Seems only like good manners. I'll have to find the time to contact them all or leave comments for them or something like that.

In other news, there is no other news. Have been laid up with a bad cold (it's much too early in the year for that kind of nonsense!) so got very little achieved over the weekend. Did make it to the market though and stocked up on some delicious sweetcorn which I've blanched and frozen so that I'll have some over the next month or so.

Very big freezer is one thing that needs to be added to my list of things I'll need when I eventually have my own place and want to start really living locally. There's such a short growing season in Ireland really that it'll be important to learn how to preserve stuff properly as well as freezing. Liz from Pocket Farm and Katie from Simple Katie both talk about canning stuff (although I think that's an American term for preserving as their photos are always of jars of stuff rather than cans. Or maybe it's called canning over here too and I just know nothing about the subject!) and I think that's something to aim for so that fruit and veg are available in winter as well. There's not much point in trying so hard to eat locally during the summer and then falling back on flown for miles food in winter.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


I love lists. To start me off here's one of things I would like to achieve in the garden by next summer. I think this was a good time of year to start off on this adventure as nature is winding down a bit for the winter and so I should have some time to read and research and hopefully get prepared for planting next spring.

Tidy up garden - weed existing beds, sweep concrete

Clear out shed and hopefully make room for barbeque rather than leaving it out to rust for another year!

Build composter - I have a couple of pallets already (thanks to Freecycle), just need to check out the plans I had before for building a composter and amend to take account of using pallets instead of building from scratch. Need to buy chicken wire or similar to line it and also find something to use at the front as a "gate".

Empty pots and dead courgette plants (my small start this summer) into new composter. Leave pots ready for use next spring.

Source organic seeds if possible (and not too pricey).

Aim to grow: courgettes, tomatoes, oakleaf lettuce, lamb's lettuce, bay tree - these will mostly need to be grown in pots or growbags. I'm going to try the lettuce at the end of the garden as I was told this year they don't like the sun much and it's a very shady spot down there.

Build/buy a water butt to use for watering plants.

Source organic compost (if mine not ready) and topsoil for containers.