Thursday, 15 February 2018

I'm on a Path to a Better Life

Many of you may think I have already achieved a better life. Compared to my previous incarnation in the world of work I certainly have, but there are no destinations, only journeys and it's how we travel that counts.

For years I worried about the overuse of detergents and what they would do to the environment. I started washing my clothes less frequently, wearing things longer and spot cleaning and airing rather than throwing lightly soiled items into the washing machine.  I never put more washing detergent into the machine than was necessary because in this instance the more you use does not mean that your wash is any cleaner.  I stopped using a softener altogether since it damages the clothes and inhibits towels from absorbing water.

I cut down on the number of washes I gave my hair - with very beneficial results for the health of my scalp I might add. I even showered less, having 'top and tail' washes on alternate days. Basically I returned almost to the hygiene practices of my youth. I started to feel like I was in control of my use of detergents and I was never swayed by Dove advertisements that featured women in the shower with mountains of foamy creamy shower gel all over their bodies. I suppose I felt a little smug - na na na-na na, you can't fool me 😋.

Or so I thought! Now it seems the real enemy is not the detergent I wash my clothes with but the actual clothes themselves! All those acrylic fleeces and easy care polyester shirts and dresses deposit thousands of micro filaments of plastic into the waste water systems that ultimately end up in the oceans where they have been found not only in the simplest marine life but all the way up to the fish we eat.

Plastic filaments of minute dimensions are all around us, in the air we breathe from our carpets, the tumble dryer, even coming off the painted lines in the road every time we drive over them. The health implications are unclear as scientists can't even begin to make studies because they can't find any uncontaminated people to use as a test group. This is serious stuff. The plastic problem is knocking Global warming into a cocked hat!

So. What can we do? Most of us care about the future of the planet and our legacy to future generations of humans but it's hard to see how we can, as individuals, do anything about it. I'm the sort of person that when a problem is identified I have to fix it - or make some kind of attempt at improving the situation. To me it's just a case of saying 'c'mon guys, get a grip'! if I ruled the world - and I mean dictatorship here 😂 global warming would be a thing of the past and we'd be well on the way to cleaning up the plastic crap too, but I digress!

In the past i have found that some of my good intentions can be stymied by laziness, so solutions have to be easy and not require too much effort if success is to be achieved. Bearing that in mind I have made the following declarations:

New clothes, either bought or made, must be of natural fibres or contain more than 50% natural fibres.

Existing synthetic materials will be relegated as much as possible to 'work wear' and almost never be washed (even though our waste water does not leave the finca).

A grand recycling of plastic plant pots from the finca is going to take place this weekend and all future plant pots purchased will be terracotta or stone.

Food shopping will be a challenge but if I can buy an equivalent item in a glass bottle or a tin I will choose that item over a plastic container. Meat will have to be purchased from the butcher where he wraps things in waxed paper rather than the supermarket preference for styrofoam trays and plastic wrap. Ditto cheese, the cheese man on the market wraps the cheese in waxed paper.  Although arguably if I recycle the plastic (and I always do) I shouldn't worry.. or should I? I know that not all plastic can be recycled and alot of what we put into the recycling bins ends up in landfill anyway.  But, I don't want to defeat myself before I've even begun. We will do what we can with what we have.

In reality the food issue is going to be the hardest.  Food shopping will take longer and require visits to different locations (butcher, weekly market, supermarket), changes in eating habits will take a bit of getting used to (less bottled drinks, less foreign cheeses, probably less of a lot of things, certainly less variety).  Although we cook most things from scratch already I do envisage meals requiring more forward planning and more time.

These aims tie in with my existing goal of one day having a hand made wardrobe and the limitations put on a food shop which contains less plastic will result in, as far as I can tell, a healthier diet. All this is good.   It's certainly worth a try.  And if I can achieve even half of this I would consider it a success.. well maybe on the road to success.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Now Here's an interesting Thing

As my regular readers will know I  have a passion for spinning fibres. Well I came across a startup project that piqued my interest. Check out to see for yourself.

Intrepid travellers are going to be producing Mongolian Yak, Cashmere and Camel wool for hand knitters.  I have a husband who, a few years ago now, trekked to Everest Base Camp and has ever since had a fondness for the curious beast that is the Yak. The under belly fibre of the Yak is famed worldwide for it's softness and so I decided to give 18$ to this start up in return for 100g Yak wool in September. I had plans to make the man a hat.

All well and good until I realised that the postage on 100g of wool was going to be 16$.  That makes my 100g ball of wool just too expensive.  So I have questions,  Postage from where? One assumes Mongolia? This has stopped me from participating in what I thought was a good thing. But is it a good thing?

Does this postage cost really reflect the cost of shipping a ball of wool from Mongolia? Is it so high because of the mileage and fuel involved? One assumes so. In that case I am forced to look closer to home for my fibres and knitting wool. Still trying to avoid huge commercial operations of course.

So, it's back to the local wool that I process myself. Because the local fleece is not the softest stuff perhaps I can source something more luxurious when I travel to Scotland next month - without even knowing it beforehand it turns out I shall be in Edinburgh at the same time as the Edinburgh Knitfest is occurring. Serendipity indeed!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Rock Steady!

This is the proposed new cotton patch.

Steve has marked it out, borrowed a rotavator and was poised to begin, when...

One rather large boulder emerged.  He started digging down thinking it could possibly be released and levered out but alas no, it, like an iceberg, is mostly below the surface.  The solution is to plant around it. This makes using the rotavator a bit tricky. But we are careful and we only rotavate once, ever. Well that's not strictly true. I am not a fan of the rotavator and after the initial breaking up of the soil I prefer to use a spade for subsequent years. Steve likes his gadgets and would happily rotavate any chance he gets. We don't fall out about it.

We are used to rocks here. They are part of the reason why we fell in love with the place in the first instance.  They make wonderful natural looking walls and add architectural interest to the flow of the landscape.

Meanwhile the weather has been very cold. A biting wind has made blue skies and bright sunshiny days most unpleasant. But spring has definitely begun here. This was taken on a walk back from the village just yesterday.

I always preferred autumn when I lived in the UK but the spring flowers here have made me a huge fan of this time of year. It starts with one colour dominating then as spring progresses other colours and varieties come to the fore.

In other news the children from the primary school came to visit the art exhibition and learn about how wool is turned into yarn. They were so open to the whole thing and really enjoyed seeing the exhibits, looking and seeing in a way the adults don't.

Later the teacher posted some photos of our morning and a parent commented that it was nice to see the 'traditions and trades of yore'. Well, blimey if I didn't feel like a relic before I certainly do now. I had not quite realised how irrelevant the spinning and knitting seems to be these days. When I asked the children if their mothers knitted no one put their hand up, so I asked if their grandmothers knitted and about half said yes, but only one child said she had an article of clothing made by hand.

I guess I am a bit of a curiosity after all. It would appear that while knitting and crochet is on the rise among young people in the UK and USA it hasn't quite filtered through to Spain. Unless they are keeping these old fashioned skills well hidden, a bit like the rock in my cotton patch!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Dry January

No we didn't over-indulge during Yule and we are not staying sober in January. I am referring to the lack of rain so far this winter. It has rained a bit and the ground did get very wet but dig more than 4 inches or so and it's dry as a bone. Our stream is also dry, this is the first year we haven't had water in it at all. We are not overly worried. Extremadura is famed for its underground water and although we don't know how much exactly is down there, our borehole goes 150 metres down and taps into what we assume is a prehistoric watercourse.

Our last lot of Volunteers babysat the finca so we could visit with our grandchildren on the coast in Andalucia. It was lovely to see them but we came back with colds and flu bad enough to warrant a couple of pyjama days. This is what happens when you mix with children!

While we were away our finca sitters cleared the Triffid like succulents from the casita BBQ area. I am thrilled about this, it was a job I was dreading.

Now to plan some nice friendly, less spikey plants for the future. I will be trialing some green cotton but only about ten plants. Hopefully they will be as successful as the white has been.

We have plans for expanding the area put to white cotton since I had such a bumper crop last year. I have only just got around to spinning some and although it is taking alot of concentration, it's turning out lovely. So much spinning for pleasure has been pushed aside while I demonstrated for the village as part of my commitment to the art thing. I've agreed to run a workshop in button making as well as demonstrate for the 8 year olds at the local school.

All together it's been a very hectic start to the year.  Spring is beginning here. The birds have started their nest building and the first of the spring flowers are up. The lack of rain has meant the grass has stayed fairly short and the finca is looking particularly good.

We are poised to receive our first family of Volunteers. Parents travelling with two homeschooled children aged 10 and 8.  We have no intention of putting the children to work, but it will be nice to see the finca enjoyed in a way that only children can.  I hope the weather holds out for them but I also hope it rains and rains! If it does rain it's very hard to find jobs for them to do, there is stuff indoors but alot of indoor tasks take a certain amount of skill.

I have a long list of stuff I want to do over the next couple of months:

Finca - more fruit trees planted, more almond trees planted, cotton field marked out, rotavated and manured, duck pond, duck house and enclosure built, more veg planting.

Crafts - finish spinning the cotton, spin the bought braids of fibre from my stash, wash and prepare the rest of last year's fleece, practice working with colours i.e. fairisle knitting, several sewing projects need finishing.

House - spring clean, repot veranda plants, replace some with new, make chutney, use the canner to make 'ready meals', use the bread oven more.

It's alot to achieve in just 8 weeks so perhaps I should set the end of April as the finish line. These are just my jobs - Steve has a whole list to himself! Roll on the next lot of Volunteers.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

No Crystal Ball

Looking back on my prediction for a lean harvest due to lack of water, heavy pruning last year and just the inexplicable whim of mother nature - well, how wrong was I?!

Firstly I wanted it all done and dusted by the 21st - our Yule celebration, that didn't happen. Then I said we should finish by Christmas day, that didn't happen. Then I declared longer working hours and finishing by New Year... There's a trend here. Yes you are quite right, that isn't going to happen.  So now I've predicted another weeks worth of  work but I suspect that if we don't really pull out all the stops we may still have olives on the trees after that.

Clearly I am no gypsy fortune teller.  This is probably about as hard as we work on the finca. It's usually only 2 -3 weeks intensive back breaking slog and it's done. This year is different. We had help to start with but because I was doing arty stuff and cooking that meant there was still only 2 people doing the olives. We should really only take couples for harvest time. We are now well into the third week and still no where near finished. Necks ache, backs are groaning, arms are sore, the dishes mount up by the sink, there are about three wash-loads of clothes waiting to be done. The house hasn't been hoovered for a fortnight and the freezer has come into its own with all those autumnal soups (many of which I thought were just taking up space and that we wouldn't eat them) providing quick and easy sustenance for too tired to cook people.

My brother listened to me complain about my aching limbs and then launched into a lecture about being retired and taking time out for ourselves and not being stressed. I realised that I have been giving the wrong impression. There is this aura that surrounds the word 'work'. It implies something that we don't enjoy or an onerous task. The olives are certainly not that. They are just something that we do at this time of year. Something that requires a real physical work out. It's hard and it is work and at this point we want it to be finished but we don't hate it.

There is beauty. Even when it's damp and misty. It can be cold but thermal underwear and waterproof trousers help enormously.

It's an opportunity to get really close to the trees. I can't stop photographing them from different angles, they can be so striking, and well, magical.

There are funny moments like the rabbit disturbed by one of the cats that bounced around the nets several times totally confused before bouncing off out of sight leaving us and the cat open mouthed in surprise.  Or the giant cricket that flew up into my face in an effort to escape the olive net.

There's the way the lichen grows on the rocks that I am unable to quite catch the beauty of with the limited capability of my phone.

Our feline companions who don't understand what we are doing but think chasing cascading olives is a good game.

And our faithful supervisor who is too spoiled to sit on the ground and must have his own chair and blanket in case of early morning chills.

And then there is the two of us. Best of friends, reminiscing about the past, planning for the future. Discussing a film or book we've recently seen or read. And when we wend our weary way home we feel like we've had a good healthy workout at the gym and our aches and pains have a purpose and a satisfaction to them.

Oh yes. This is an exhausting time of year but the best bit is still to come, the finish is in sight and the speculation about the price for the olives is running wild.  Some of our olive money is earmarked for spending on wood for the next couple of winters but if it's a good price we shall have a surplus. Ooooooh what to spend it on???? And what could be more exciting than that!?

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Olive Harvest and Yule Celebrations

We stopped the harvest mid way to enjoy some Yule festivities on the shortest day of the year. It was great fun, good food, good company and good weather too. A day to be thankful for our many blessings.

Our olive harvest volunteer was here for ten days but had to leave before the celebrations to meet with family in Madrid. He helped enormously and was great fun too.

We finished the lower finca today and took the afternoon off before we start on the upper finca tomorrow. We had initially decided to ditch Christmas since we don't have visitors and there are still so many trees to do but now we think we shall take the day off as our children will likely want to Skype on the day.

I took a short bit of film of the olive drop off point at the Co-op. The noise is the machinery. We are in the queue to offload our trailer-full but I couldn't film us since I am needed to help when it's our turn. I dislike this part of the process, too much testosterone for my comfort levels, and too many people staring at me like I have two heads! But it's a fascinating machine.  The olives are tipped down through the grills where they are weighed - the leaves and debris being sorted out on conveyor belts that jump and shimmy the olives about. The olives end up in a big hopper (which I managed to miss off the film) and the debris goes into a lorry which when full carts the twigs off for shredding and composting.

We have gathered 1,224 kgs so far. I usually like to be done by Christmas day but this year the goal is New Year. We have new Volunteers arriving in January and it will be nice to begin the year with a new project: the clearing of the old succulents from the Casita BBQ area so that planting can begin in the spring. Of course things don't always go to plan, and that's ok, it's just if we don't plan we don't get as much done!

So before we begin again with the olives and while I have these few moments of peace and quiet I'd like to wish all my family, friends and followers of the blog a very merry festive season and a new year filled with hope and expectations! See you in 2018!

Art Art Art

It would appear to have been a success. However I don't think I will do it again. It taxed my Spanish to the limit and was just too subtle as far as any kind of statement or message was concerned. But there we go. I did it and am pleased that I did. Now I am very much looking forward to making something for me. Something colourful perhaps.. mmmmmmmm. I am going to enjoy thinking more on this. Planning is often a very enjoyable part of the process.. it was certainly the most enjoyable part of the art exhibition!