Saturday, September 29, 2007

Queen' s Day (including crochet tip!)

One great way of getting great cheap stuff is visiting one of the 'Freemarkets' held in most big cities (Amsterdam, Utrecht, Den Haag, Rotterdam among others) in Holland on the day we celebrate the birthday of our Queen, Beatrix. It's held on April 30, but that's not her actual birthday, but her mother's (Juliana). Beatrix' birthday is January 31, but we Dutch like outdoor parties, so when she ascended the throne in 1980, she decided not to change the date of our national celebration, simply because of the weather conditions.

There are all sorts of happenings all over the country, but the 'freemarkets' are traditionally the biggest attractions.

What happens? The centres of the cities change into one giant flea market, where anybody can sell whatever he wants, as long as it's not foods that could decay. It's our way of having a yard sale, only the whole country does it on the same day. Some people plan the whole year for it. Only commercial sellers have stalls or booths, private sellers who live nearby carry old tables out to the curb, others just display their stuff on a blanket or sheet.

The main park of Amsterdam (Vondelpark) is reserved for children only. See more pictures of Queensday in Amsterdam here. All US thriftshoppers who read this, believe me, you'd have the day of your life. I've come home with great buys and I've sat there myself and sold stuff too.

But I don't do either anymore. I can't stand the crowds nowadays and I don't have the energy anymore to get organized to sell. If it's a nice day, my BF and I go to our local park and sit there with friends and neighbours. But between five and six, when the market starts to close up, we go to the streets that are nearest to our neighbourhood to pick up stuff that sellers who have already closed up left behind. It sounds a bit unfair or just too stingy, doesn't it? But the thing is, a lot of sellers really don't care to take their unsold stuff back home. And at seven the city cleaners come to shove it all in the big trucks. So, here we come to rescue it...

It's usually a quick tour through only one and a half street that results in four big plastic bags full of books and clothing. I'm sitting here right now in a Kappa sweater that I got that way. For my BF we once found a brandnew black jeans jacket. And it's not that I just want free stuff. Two years ago a guy was just packing up, but understanding what we were doing told me I could take anything I wanted if I gave him two Euro's. He had some interesting yarn that was worth that alone, beautiful turquise mohair and thick strong cotton) but we also ended up with loads of books, a lamp, a fruit bowl and more. I haven't done anything with the lamp yet, but it turned out that there was a working energy saving bulb still in it. Those cost between four and ten Euro's!

This is what I made with some of the yarn I got that day. These potholders are for sale in my Etsy Shop if you're interested.

To end I want to reveal to you how I make these perfect flat rounds. It's maybe not a secret but I made some alterations to the patterns I found in books. Please read the whole thing before you start, as there are several options.

You start with a chain of 4 which you close with a ss.
First row 6 sc.
Second row double those to 12.
Third row a double sc in every second stitch. You get 18 stitches.

Then you keep adding 6 stitches every row, but to avoid getting a hexagonal shape, just must alternate the places where you put the doubles.
That means: forth row, a double in every third stitch, but you put the first double in the FIRST stitch.
Fifth row: a double in every fourth stich, as normal.
Sixth row, a double in every fifth stitch, but you start in the SECOND.

Seventh row, a double in every sixth stitch, as normal.
Eighth row, a double in every seventh stitch, but start in the THIRD.
Got it? And so on.
Of course if you do want a hexagonal form, put all the doubles on top of each other.
If you work in a spiral, make sure you have the starting point marked.
If you work in circles (which I do), here's a trick to make the seam less visible:
Closing the row, you normally make a ss sticking the needle under the chain stitch which started the row. Instead, stick your needle through the loop, not under it. This way you get a flat seam, otherwise it will lay on the work as a thick line. Don't forget to start every row with that cs if you want to work in closed circles.
If the work doesn't get flat enough to your liking and gets a slight cone shape, try starting with 9 stitches, which you then double at once to get 18. The rest is the same. Note that working in a spiral or not may make the difference to this, as the seam in fact adds one stitch to the row. My advice: spiral start with 9, circles start with 6.
But it also depends on the material you use and your personal 'handwriting', so it's a matter of trial and error.

My favourite decorative border is a sc worked from left to right. Literally translated from Dutch it would be the 'lobsterstitch'. If anyone knows the proper name for it in English, please let me know! To finish the potholders off I make a loop from 10 cs, with 16-18 sc worked around it.

sc: single crochet, ss: slip stitch, cs: chain stitch

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Cat Carrier

There is a downside to everything and the reason why a lot of people are horrified with the idea of trash picking is the possibility of coming across yucky or creepy things. Experienced pickers can't be put off by that of course, they just share their story on HGTV, have a laugh afterwards and get on with business as usual. But I warn you, if you have a weak stomach don't read this thread.

The truth is, I believe these accounts are the exceptions, and I had only one smelly experience a few months ago myself in all these years. And to be honest I still smile when I think of it.

Neighbours and friends of ours are stray cat feeders. They live 5th floor a few blocks away from us, but one of their furry groups live right on the footpath behind my yard. Earlier this summer the lady, Ganny, called me and told me they had to break down the wooden shelter her man, Freek (pronounce Frake, not Freak) had built in the backyard of my next door neighbour, Harry. The police had decided it was too visible and Harry had already a bad name for holding chickens and not keeping his yard too clean. There was fear of other neighbours thinking the cat shelter might attract critters and such. It was total nonsense of course, because I know my friends take extremely good care of their stray cats, bring them to the vet if necessary and certainly kept that shelter clean. Besides, Harry got rid of his chickens last year (and I miss them, I liked having chickens running around my yard).

This is Miene. She was born stray and she's over seven years old already. Can you see these cats are well taken care of?

Anyway, Ganny got permission from the cops to place smaller shelters hidden in the bushes between the yards and the path (behind that hedge you see on the picture) and they thought about using cast away litter boxes and pet carriers for it, so she asked me to look out for those on our trash round. My BF happened to have one old litter box on his balcony, recently replaced by a better find. So we were glad to get rid of that for such a good cause.

Once there I immediately ran to the bathroom, put on my rubber gloves, scooped out the pooh, flushed it in the toilet and thoroughly scrubbed the whole thing (and my scoop) with bleach. Then I took a closer look: I had a brand new, bar code sticker of the shop still on it, unscratched, complete, hardly ever used (except once for a human toilet) cat carrier in a highly fashionable lime green colour!

The next morning I presented a grateful Freek with the two pieces when he passed by. I told him I had to get rid of some 'dirt' from the carrier but that I disinfected it thoroughly and they didn't have to worry about it. I also said that I wouldn't be surprised if they kept it for their own cats, giving their own old carrier to the strays instead and in fact I believe they did!

Apart from a little bit of the bad smell I have no bad memories of this experience. The only thing that puzzles me is how the pooh ended up there. I can imagine one thing: maybe a small child used the carrier as a potty, putting it on its back and using the door as a hole. But what kind of parents are too disgusted to clean up their own kid's pooh and instead throw away a brand new cat carrier? The curb is full of stories and I never grow tired of them.

But on top the same evening towards the end of our twice a week stroll I found a plastic cat carrier, close to the model up here. It looked pretty good and clean, only the door was missing. Well, we didn't need that for our purpose, but still I looked inside to see if it was there after all. It was, but there was something else too: an enormous turd! It was about ten times to big to be of a cat, but it also didn't have the sharp penetrating smell of dog shit. I could have sworn it was human! Before asking myself how on earth that ended up where it was, I faced a difficult decision. My eagerness to help my friends and the cats was struggling with my disgust. Well you can guess, my love for the cats won. I know that little group and Miene is such a darling. After all the outside and the handle of the carrier were clean and it's easy to disinfect plastic. I quickly walked home, hoping passers by wouldn't smell anything. Lucky it was dark!

Sunday, September 09, 2007


It's been ages since Jenn T shared her Rockin' Girls Award with me. And I've been procrastinating for so long to share it in my turn, that I received another before I got to it: The Nice Matters Award by Sher. So it was about time to start thinking.

All blogs I've chosen are somehow 'green', but they all share an aspect of uniqueness. This can be overall quality, a point of view, a theme, an experience or just one idea that I haven't seen in other blogs so far and that's why I keep reading them.

My Rockin' Girls nominations (in random order) are for:
Debbie for 2Times Upon A Time
. She lived out the ultimate t-2-t dream: completely furnishing and decorating her new home from scratch with second hands and gifts. And what a 'Cozy Cottage' she created indeed!
Krista shows (among other things) reconstructed clothing at Random Blogger
. It's something I've done since my teens and a great way to renew your wardrobe for next to nothing. Though I found a webshop that sells redesigned jeanswear, Krista's the first I've found so far who shares her ideas for free on a blog.
Dora Renee' Wilkerson came up with an age old, but great idea on Y-2K Hippie
. Making your own casein plastic, as she calls it, instead of using polymer clay. Although it doesn't fit the category recycling, I feel this eco-friendly idea deserves attention.
Barbara Mathieson at The Earth Is Not A Trash Can
is so offended by careless people littering the environment that she takes photo's of it and shows them on her blog. Of course it's a well known problem, but it's good to have someone rubbing it in once more.
Malin from Sweden records her experiment in growing vegetables indoors in a flat on Indoor Gardener
. Apart from that, I like to read her accounts of other green things going on in Sweden because my brother lives there (Göteborg).

The Nice Matters I want to share with three more blogs that also 'rock' for me, but unfortunately aren't written by only girls. But I find these 'nicely' different:
Wind-It-Up, recycling tips from a young Australian computer geek.
Green Is The New Black, very short no-nonsense posts, great simple green tips. Readability 10+.
Arnold The Methodical, a Brit living 'green' in France, or in his own words: A light hearted look at downshifting and self sufficiency and perhaps lifestyle changes. I love his light entertaining style.

About the numbers: Browsing around I've found people sharing their awards with different numbers of people (from only two up to seven). So I didn't feel necessarily obliged to stick to the respective five and seven of Jenn and Sher, although by chance I did find five 'Rockin' Girls'. Of course there are so many more to choose from, but after eight I was tired of the decision-making. To make it easier for them to make their own decision about this or to whom to pass them on, I've added the links of the initiators of the awards (first paragraph).

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Indoor Plants II, Garden Plants III

Hope I’m not getting boring, but here’s yet another one about free and found plants. I promise it will be the last, at least for this summer.

First the found. It turns out to be a good idea to check your local flower shop’s trash, especially when they’re about to close up for vacation. Ours is about two minutes walking from home. One night we had already ‘done’ a complete block in the other direction without seeing anything interesting, when the BF suddenly ‘remembered’ he had seen something that afternoon. So I followed him to the corner where the shop is. Next to the underground ‘dumpsters’ were five or six trays with small pots of two kinds of plants. Other people had apparently already made their choice, because not all were full. I wanted to do the same and take 2-3 of each, but the BF went: You want those? And picked up a complete tray and walked off before I could answer. So I thought why not and took the fullest tray of the other plant.

At home I counted 24 plants. What to do with all of them? The red flower is obviously an indoor plant. My windowsills were still empty, so I put them in rows of six, all in (found) white pots, which looks quite chic. Unfortunately the flowers are turning brown now, so it’s too late to take pics. Hopefully they’ll grow back next year.

The other one looked more like an outdoor plant to me, so I put them in pots all over the garden. Then after a couple of weeks they surprised me with the cutest violet flowers!

Two more free plants I didn’t show yet, because they had no flowers yet:

Geraniums are really too easy to grow from cuts. Just cut off a 10-15 cm branch from your mum’s, aunt’s, neighbour’s or friend’s plant and stick it into the ground. Keep it fairly wet for the first few weeks and voila: They grow quickly.

An enthusiastic for the plant spread Alcea Rosea (Hollyhock) through the neighbourhood years ago and they’re even all over town now. They grow in window gardens and even around trees. I just had to take some seeds to have my own. This colour was a surprise. I hope to get more colours and other varieties next year.

Look at this webpage:
All these varieties can be found in the streets around my house. It’s a pretty sight in summer here.
These were taken by an amateur photographer in the streets of the centre of Amsterdam: