500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

Who knew that that was a thing?


We are clearly such amateurs.
At the start of the winter two red hens defected to next door. I am unable to retrieve them as I can’t distinguish them from the neighbour’s birds – and I’m not one hundred percent certain they’re there – for their sakes I hope so. I went out to feed the remaining six hens one sunny afternoon last week – with the bucket of tasty leftovers from the kitchen. When I called to them I was a little irritated that they didn’t run out to greet me – not one of them. Annoyance swiftly turned to alarm when I saw a mass of feathers by the door of the hen house… too many for the bird to have survived the attack.
It was one of the models – Avie, Ariela, Erin – maybe even Sarah – I don’t know – I could never tell those models apart. Our poor, poor hens – after surviving nearly the whole winter. They’d been got. That much was clear, but by what?
There were no obvious tracks around. It was broad daylight – and all had been well a couple of hours before. Foxes attack at night – not in broad daylight – and they don’t leave the body behind.
I went into the hen house and found three of our ladies cowering under the laying boxes – I was so happy to see them, but they are traumatised and have not ventured outside since that fateful day.
Hynek – our neighbour – says it was a bird of prey which attacked them. One of those magnificent specimens that I often spot from the bus on my journey to work. I had no idea that they were something we should protect our birds from. In the spring I will plant some hazel around the hen house to give them some cover.
Apparently, one of the models made her way over to our neighbour’s hen house somehow – so she was at least safe. So, in total now we have just four birds. We made use of the remains of the bird which was attacked as no internal organs were damaged. Rest in peace Chicken – a la King.

Keeping out the cold


Travelling around the Czech countryside at night can be a voyeuristic experience. Between here and Tabor there is just one other house that has anything other than net curtains. I’m confused – why have net curtains for privacy in the day, but not proper curtains for privacy at night? Is this some communist legacy I’m yet to figure out? And in a country where night time temperatures frequently dip to double figures below freezing. People have so much faith in their new PVC double glazing. Curtains are clearly out of fashion.
When we first arrived at Nový Mlýn every room had net curtains on the windows – but as is the style in the Czech Republic, nothing more insulating than that. Coming from a country where fuel prices are so high that subsidies have been introduced to stop old people freezing to death in the winter – this seemed to miss a trick. Each window has two layers of glass separated by a large gap – however despite this insulating air the temperature of the glass is much lower than that of the walls – hence this is where any condensation forms if the room is damp. To address this, in 2009 I put up the most inexpensive quilts from Ikea as an insulating layer under decorative curtains in each room.
The evidence of effectiveness is only anecdotal – I’d need to build a house inside to test the method robustly – however several times ice formed on the inside of the window behind the curtains (yes – this means the air is damp – a job to be added to the list), despite the room temperature being a comfortable 18 degrees centigrade. They certainly hold warmth in the room.
One drawback of the Ikea quilts has been that they appear to be covered in a material that degrades in sunlight – literally turning to dust – a far from ideal property for curtains, so in 2010 I purchased 50 metres of calico cotton to recover them – it took time, but the result looks sooo much better than they did before. If we’d bought more expensive quilts to use in the windows, they would have looked like quilts in the windows – whereas the calico hangs properly as a curtain. I’ll take them down after the last frost anyway.
In the mean time, I need to make sure that we don’t leave any seedlings on the windowsills behind the curtains over night until there is no danger of the poor things freezing dead.

Nový Mlýn Sustainable Housekeeping


I have been thinking about how to record what we are learning at Nový Mlýn.  It would be really useful to have a written guide of how the house operates through the seasons; jobs that happen once a year or every day. At present, this repetitive work occupies a great deal of my time – taking time away from all the ongoing projects – things that would make a quantifiable improvement in our standard of living. This indicates that I need to improve my management skills. As visitors are with us for sometimes as little as a week, Joann suggested that I need to have more information written down.

Housekeeping is a shared task at Nový Mlýn, and every visitor currently chooses one task each day. We have a rota for housekeeping and meal preparation as we discovered that without a rota things just didn’t happen. “We’ll just make it up as we go along” = one person will have to do all jobs nobody else thinks about.  I need to become better organised at training people housework skills, and I need to become stricter at ensuring these jobs are then done.  If I am unable to take this role within the household, things fall apart pretty rapidly – as we’ve discovered times I’ve been ill or away.  For Nový Mlýn to be sustainable – it should operate with or without me.

Rain Lights – wet days converted into light.


So, the issue of micro generation has been at the back of my mind for some time. The standard arguments about it are that if you are going to have a home generator of some description –  solar cells (ridiculously expensive at present), wind turbine or water turbine, you end up with a lot of maintenance and a payback time which is uneconomic (ie the amount of embedded energy needed to create the system will take too long to be made up by the equipment during it’s lifetime).  Dedicated enthusiasts and those who have serious amounts of money to invest can create their own personal electricity supply. Read the rest of this entry »

Deliciously Moorish Vodka Cherry Chocolates


What to do with the vast quantities of cherries sitting around the place in vodka… well, as you’d expect, I’ve been experimenting… and perfecting the technique has involved eating rather a lot of cherries dipped in chocolate.

After experimenting with several types of chocolate, I prefer to use a 35% cocoa chocolate from a Papua New Guinea plantation (bought in Lidl) because there was no sugar on the cherries and they really need the sweetness of the chocolate to balance the flavour.

If you plan to post the cherries, it’s best to remove the stems because these will cause the chocolate to crack in transit. Otherwise, just remove the pit using a hooked bit of wire or a (new) hair pin with the plastic stripped off.

You can prepare these vodka cherry chocolates a couple of days in advance of a dinner party and serve them with coffee after the meal.

To make vodka cherry chocolates you will need:

  • 80 pitted cherries which have been pickled without sugar in neat vodka
  • 125 grams of good quality chocolate
  • some cocktail sticks
  • A metal bowl
  • Grease proof paper

Float the metal bowl in a saucepan of boiling water which has been removed from the heat.

Break the chocolate into the bowl and stir until it has melted.

Add 10 cherries at a time and stir them into the melted chocolate.

Remove one cherry at a time and place on the grease proof paper to dry using the cocktail sticks.

Repeat until all of the cherries are used up. You can use a little of the left over cherry vodka to make a chocolate sauce by using it to ‘clean’ the metal bowl.

Leave the cherries in a cool place overnight to set. These will keep as the cherries are preserved by the vodka, but it’s unlikely that they will get the chance as they are rather delicious.

On the radio…


At 3.05 pm yesterday our radio interview was aired. It was really quite the strangest thing… hearing your own voice like that. They asked me to speak really slowly, so I’m really quite embarrassed about the way I sounded, but luckily the sound was dubbed over by a translator relatively quickly. I hope that our story was interesting for those who listened to it. The recording is available on the Internet at this address:

Sand znamená písek
Příběh Angličanky Nikol Robinsonové a jejího dědečka, kterým Češi za druhé světové války zachránili život. Cesky Rozhlas 2

I phoned my grandfather to let him know that it went out, starting with ‘the ballad of high noon’ in English, and ending with the Czech version of the same song. He’ll be delighted!

Strange weather


Speeding our way through January we’ve seen a wealth of different weather conditions over the last month. The year started with snow and ice… specifically ice which we skated on as the Jordan reservoir froze solid, providing us with a vast area to practice on in our new skates. We also tried snowboarding for the first time, there being just enough snow in the nearby mountains. All perfectly in line with our expectations of a winter season in Central Europe… however since then it’s been strange. The temperature has increased dramatically, up to 10 degrees c on Sunday evening… so the snow has all but disappeared, and the temperature at Nový Mlýn has really thawed. Can I permit myself to be happy about this?

A tree in the snow

Read the rest of this entry »

Engineer cap knitting pattern perfected


This pattern is knit in one piece, including the visor or brim. There is a flap and button on the band, which can be positioned to fit the wearer exactly.   I knitted the first version of this hat as a Christmas present for my friend Vladka.  When I finished the second version, my husband asked me to knit him one (I’m pleased because he’s never asked me to knit him something… he must really like it – and it’s a more masculine design than the baker’s boy cap).

So, tonight I will go through my instructions to double check them, then list the pattern on payloadz, etsy and ebay.

Growls in 2008


Welcome 2008! – which began with a resounding fizzle. The sound of my melting lap top.

So… gone is so much work from 2007. At least I have a clean slate with the Novy Mlyn project plan again.  Redoing my accounts for tax return was no fun. It really isn’t the sort of job you should have to do twice.  Maybe next year I will have an accountant.

With the temperatures hovering around minus 5 degrees c (daytime), there have been all sorts of good reasons to knit rather than undertake any arduous DIY (like the paint doesn’t work at such levels of cold). Knitting by the fire has been more on the cards. I think that having spent 12 months living (as much as we can) at the house will give us a good perspective on our priorities for the reconstruction.

I am praying for inspiration, and motivation to get through the next year. It’s been a tough few months with many disappointments… but soon it will be spring.