Thursday, 29 September 2011

Baking bonanza

Tomorrow morning, I am hosting the Macmillan coffee morning at chapel, so today I have been baking, baking, baking.....

Tonight, I have been over the border into Norfolk for a Local preachers' and worship leaders' meeting, which was my first experience of such things, and very eye-opening!

Given that I have to get up again quite early to get the coffee pot on in the morning, I am off to bed now! Apologies for the brevity of the post - love to all who are reading, and just keep your fingers crossed that lots of people come and donate for Macmillan!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Hafdy Birfday!

That is a weird title, but the EFG couldn't say "Happy Birthday" properly when she was little, so along with "epitephs" (elephants) that phrase has become one of our particular family words!

It's my birthday today - 39 at last! Must get that list of things to do before I am 40 sorted out as now I have just a year to do them...

I have had a cup of tea brought to me in bed, along with gifts (new oven glove, new hairbrush, bath items and a fancy telephone number flip up thingamy) and cards. Birthday wishes have also appeared on Facebook this morning from friends who get up earlier than I do!

I don't intend to do an awful lot this morning - I am going to go and let the chooks out, and then I may retire back to bed for an hour or two, read a new book I bought myself (well, you have to make sure you get the right one! The Lady of the Rivers by Phillipa Gregory) and then a bath..... School meetings this afternoon, so I am having the morning "off".

Have a good day, everyone - I intend to!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Do I have rights too?

I have heard about the BBC changing BC and AD in their programmes, and then I was reading in the Mail on Sunday about all the other things happening to Christians and it just gets worse. The UK is becoming so pc that it is unbelievable, and the powers that be are bending over backwards to accommodate all the other faiths and cultures that are making their homes here now that they risk alienating the Christians, but we don't seem to matter.

A Sikh bus driver often comes through the village at the wheel of a Norfolk Green bus - I know he is Sikh as he's wearing his turban. Muslim girls attend the college in a nearby town - I know they are Muslim because of the way they are dressed and their headcoverings....but how would anyone know that I am a Christian? I might choose to wear a cross on a chain at my neck, but hold on, I might get dismissed from my job if my employer decides that it is against the uniform code; I can't show silent DVDs of the Bible on my tv in my cafe in case they incite violence; if I am a Relate counsellor and say that I am unable to counsel gay couples because of my faith, I will be sacked; if I am a Registrar and refuse to officiate at civil partnerships because of my faith, I will lose my job. But if I am a Muslim and want to pray at work, they will provide me with a room to do so, and I am allowed to nip off at the appropriate time.

As Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has said, "No one wants to deny homosexual people rights, but can a way be found for Christians to have rights as well?" and I would add to that that I am perfectly happy for Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, humanists, atheists, etc etc to have their rights, but I don't see that they have to be at the cost of ours as Christians. I have also noted that whilst the Queen is "Defender of the Faith" as Head of the Church of England, I have heard that perhaps Prince Charles will choose to be "Defender of faiths" which is quite different. Things are changing...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Another Mary Berry cake, and busy days

Yesterday was UJ's birthday so when he came over for lunch club today, I made him a fruit cake to take home with him. I looked in Mary Berry's Baking Bible and found her "Quick Boiled Fruit Cake" - there's a link to it here but this person has added bicarbonate of soda and brandy, which aren't in the recipe in the book. It turned out well, and UJ and the FH thought that it would make a good Christmas cake. They had a taste with a cup of tea this afternoon and then I wrapped it up and he took it home to enjoy this week. The FH hopes I will make another one soon!

This week I have been investigating the A level options for the EFG. There are a limited number of places she can go that are accessible from here, and so I have been looking to find out when all the Open Evenings are in order to be able to take her along to get a flavour of each venue and the courses available. We have about 6 to go to already! Most are in November.

Yesterday evening she and I attended an Art GCSE evening at school to find out how she needs to progress her art - she is in line for a good grade, but the teachers invited all of the children along last night to look at work from last year to inspire and encourage them. It was a very useful and informative evening.

Today I have entered some of my chickens in to a sale of chooks at the Autumn Show at the East of England showground. We sold some there last year, and so we are hoping for a good day this time. We enjoy the show, and UJ is interested in coming along with us this time.

My cousin turned up quite out of the blue this evening, in quite a distraught state. She had had to call in at a local bridalwear shop to cancel a fitting for a wedding dress as the wedding has been cancelled. It is a long story and not one to share, but needless to say it has come as a shock to her and of course, to us to a lesser degree - still a shock but much less impact on our lives, if you see what I mean.

Quite a few things to reflect upon this evening, and I have to take the service at chapel on Sunday, so I am thinking about that tomorrow too. Blogging has had to come second to real life at the moment, and I am sure that you will all understand!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Weekend plans

The weekends just aren't long enough to get over the weeks in between, it feels! We never get a lie-in as we have gym on Saturday mornings, and an early church service at 9.30am on Sundays, so we don't sleep till noon I should really be getting some sleep earlier in the evenings, and not be doing things until 11.30pm - note to self: go to bed earlier!!

The FH has been doing things in the garden - moving chicken fences around, and sorting out the garden shed to rehouse some chooks too. We have also stripped the greenhouse out pretty much, and are getting ready to replace the benches in there for the winter. A friend up the road has a polytunnel just installed, and I am quite envious of that, but I am not so keen on all the work involved in digging trenches around it to get the cover buried! She's welcome to all that!

There's a bit of a party going on at one of the neighbour's tonight - there are hordes of cars in the road, disco lights flashing in a marquee in the back garden, and people mooching about - but all is peaceful and I can't hear any music, so it is not bothering me. Hope they have a good party!

One of the FH's friends has been here for a cuppa this afternoon, chewing the fat - and he and the FH have been talking about a home made dehydrator - sounds good! I have been doing a bit of research on the internet tonight and found a few ideas for them to copy, so we could be looking for odd pieces of this and that to use to put one of these together; I'd love to be able to make some fruit leathers and dried apple or banana chips, for example. I could dry some of those chillies too!

Hope you are all well tonight - I'm off to do some more knitting as I want to get these wristwarmers finished soon....

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Faffing around

I've been playing with the stats page again, and a l0t of traffic seems to come to the blog to look at a picture on a gymnastics post from ages ago, so I've deleted the picture, just to be contrary and see what happens!! I think the ratings will fall...I may put it back again later!

Getting things done

Morning all!

Wednesday here already - we are well into the swing of the week now, and more things are happening today. The FH's lunch club meets today, the girls' Guides group resumes tonight (subs due for the term too, so have just been scrabbling around in the egg money box!), and the Governing Body AGM is tonight as well.

Last night gymnastics started up for the term again too - the first week is always stressful what with all the parents trying to pay their subs for the term, thrusting envelopes, cheques and wadges of cash at me to register their payment. Last night was worse because of the renovations which have been done in the sports centre which meant that all our equipment has to be stored in a slightly different way, and it is a challenging jigsaw to get it all back in the cupboards which have been built now - it took us a little longer than usual, but hopefully we will get used to it quite quickly. I did feel quite tired after it all last night, but I always do for the first few weeks!!

Blue skies this morning, so I am planning to get some more washing done. The wind has died down a little, so more gardening work can progress too. The FH went to the wood yard yesterday to buy more gravel boards to raise the sides of my vegetable beds, but somehow didn't buy enough wood, so will have to go back for more at some point! Our list of "outside" jobs grows longer as we think of them, but we are working through them all steadily - getting the chickens into their winter quarters is top of my list at the moment. Those chicks in the photo are partly sold off now, and some of them are in their winter home. Others may yet get sold, but a few are cockerels which may be destined for a casserole.

We are having a little knitting festival here at home at the moment - the EFG has joined me in knitting wristwarmers as she wanted a pink and green stripey pair, and now she is knitting at every opportunity! She is sitting here now in the minutes before she has to go for the bus, knitting away. I'm quite impressed with her stripes, and she is doing quite well. I have finished the initial pair bar the sewing up which is waiting for a needle to use, and have also completed the first of another pair in a plain denim blue wool. I am enjoying knitting them as they are practical items which I know we will use, and they are also relatively quick to complete.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Monday musings

Everyone up and at it this morning, and the girls off to school again - they are soon back into the rhythm of schooldays again. I wish I adapted as quickly, as these mornings are taking some getting used to. I still want to roll over and go back to sleep when the alarm goes off.

This morning I spent a couple of hours outside, moving things around. I put the three little Barred Plymouth Rock chicks into a new house, where they promptly sat and sunbathed in a very sheltered corner, absolutely loving the sunshine. Lots of plastic growing modules and plant pots have been evicted from the potting shed as it needs to be made over into a chicken shed, so the pots have to be relocated to the verandah. We also dismantled a chicken house which has another infestation, and put up the newer one which has had its infestation cleared out. The chickens are quite happy with the new house and laid eggs in it already this afternoon, so it is christened in that respect. I managed to get a load of towels dry on the outside line without any of them blowing away!

This afternoon has been paperwork and phonecalls, and then this evening I have had to sew up the EFG's trousers and do some knitting. I am a little bit annoyed about the trousers as I bought two new pairs for her this year, and paid the shop £5 to have both pairs turned up. She wore one of the pairs for a couple of days last week and already both hems on that pair are down. On closer inspection of the sewing, it is awful! I will not be using that alteration service again.

The weather hasn't been too bad here today - there has been plenty of wind, but it has also been beautifully sunny too, and I have enjoyed being outside. I am hoping that no one has been badly affected, but I have heard in the news this evening that someone has been killed by a tree falling on a car, so I know that there will be sadness for the people who knew that person tonight.

Frugally speaking, I have had a NSD (No Spend Day) today, and indeed have acquired several pounds through the sales of 3 dozen eggs - all regular customers who all chose today to request a dozen eggs each. I hope to have more days like today! The bank accounts need building up again, and I am glad that I am not going on holiday this October - as lovely as it was to go to Scotland last year, I am not sure that the bank balances could take that bashing again this year! I need to save close to £1000 to meet my savings target for the year, and I am not sure that it is going to be achieved, but I will do my best!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

World Peace

At chapel this morning, the preacher was talking about racial justice and world peace; he gave us all a handout, with a list of "20 ways to build world peace". Although I don't know where he got this list from in order to be able to credit someone or an organisation with the idea, I am still going to share the list with you so that you can think about it too:

  • Take your share of responsibility for the world
  • Send letters and emails
  • Welcome strangers
  • Be a good friend
  • Don't make others wrong
  • Smile at others when you walk
  • Live simply so that others can simply live
  • Don't fight, forgive
  • Learn new ways
  • Stand up against bullying
  • Help those in need
  • Be peaceful inside yourself
  • Be tolerant
  • Join in
  • Talk about peace
  • Share what you have
  • Care for your environment
  • Aim so everyone wins
  • Be open minded
  • Listen well

That's quite a list, and a big wadge of ideas to take on board. I know that most of us do some of these things, but could we all do more? I am sure that some of these things come as second nature for people but others would be more of a challenge. I am thinking, as the preacher asked us to, about three of these things to really work on this week.

Today has been a good day, and I feel like I have got quite a bit done but in a relaxed and comfortable way. The School Washing is done and ironed, the homework has been checked and the children are upstairs, and have been nagged to within an inch of their lives in order to get them to bed before 10pm. The target was 9.30pm but there was a scrum for the shower with them both declaring at 9.15 that they were going for a shower, so more planning is needed in that area! We will have in under control soon :-)

We have battened down some of the hatches in preparation for the 25 mph winds which are due to hit us here tomorrow - that is nothing compared to the 70 mph gusts which I know are forecast for other areas, so we are fortunate that we should escape the worst of the winds here, but I shall be thinking of all my more northerly friends and thinking of you.

I have been thinking about those people I know who have been affected by the 9/11 events and remembrances today, and watching the tv coverage on the news with tears in my eyes. It is heartbreaking to watch those children reading out their late parent's names in the lists of people who died.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Friday fun!

We made it to the end of the week - I thought that getting used to the early starts again was going to finish us off yesterday, and we did struggle a little this morning...there was much muttering along the, "Just five more minutes!" lines, but they got to school on time!

I made a Mary Berry sponge this morning after I made the breakfasts so that I could take it with me to the Knit and Natter session this morning at chapel. One or two ladies were saying that it was even more delicious because they knew how fresh it was as it was still warm! It went down well, anyway. I sat and knitted for about an hour with the ladies, having finished the first set of wristwarmers so I started on another pair as the EFG has laid claim to the first ones. I must get the side seams sown up and then she can have them.

This afternoon I had my first meeting at school with the new Head; it went well and I get the impression that we are on the same wavelength and will get along well. We face a heavy workload this year as we are on the up, and there is still a lot to do, but I can be confident that there will be significant improvements made by the end of the year. The village will soon have a school to be proud of!

After that, I nipped off to the town to meet the girls who had walked round to the Head Coach's house. We have to move the gym equipment back to our "home" gym tomorrow and there were some preparations to do for that - taking the legs off the beams and things like that. We are meeting a man with a van there in the morning for a couple of hours' work, and then the new term begins again for gym on Tuesday.

Tonight the FH has gone out with his friend to a beekeepers' meeting. I don't know how late they will be back, but I think that it will be good for him to go out and re-connect with some of the people he knew at the club 20 years ago when he was last a member before he came to Scotland. The girls are upstairs, doing things - the YFG is on the computer, and the EFG has a friend on the phone who has just called up about some homework. I had thought of calling my sister tonight but this girl talks for England so I have no chance!

And with the return to school comes the return of the School Washing - the chore that involves getting the school uniforms and PE kits washed and ready to go again over the weekend, and typically means I am ironing shirts on Sunday evenings. I am going to do and put the dark load in now so that they are ready to hang out before I go out in the morning.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

A day of numbers today

One front lawn cut, and edges strimmed, probably for the last time of the season. Nice and stripey!

Two computers picked up from the chap who has fixed them! Very cheap as well. But they work.

Three loads of washing hung out and dried - I might catch up with the family one day.

Four cupboards inventoried today - lots of stores for the months ahead.

Five (or so) miles to go to fetch the girls from school and then to take the YFG to piano lesson

Six more jars of Sweet Chilli Jam made tonight, now warm and in the jars.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


The new neighbours appear to be a man and his son, whom we think is about 16 or 17 - the girls have seen him around at school and believe that he was in the year above the EFG, so he may be at 6th form this year, or he may not...there is a dog of the Border Collie variety...and that is all we know.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Gentle Otter

There is a blog I read about tonight, which has moved me to tears of shame and frustration, and to a wealth of admiration for a very determined lady.

It moved me to write an email to the First Minister of Scotland, the MSP for the area, and the MP for the Perth & Kinross area. I wonder if they will reply.

"Dear Sirs

I have recently been reading about a farmer in rural Perthshire whose home is threatened with a demolition order because the landlord hasn't effected sufficient repairs to keep it in a habitable condition. The farmer and his family are living in appalling conditions, with no electricity and no safe, clean running water at the moment, as their supply has been contaminated with eColi through no fault of their own.

Read for yourselves here

and if you have the stomach for it, go back through this poor lady's writing and read of the terrible things that they have had to endure in the past year. I read it and wept for her situation and for my shame at not knowing that people still live like this in the UK.

I lived in the neighbouring county of Fife for 10 years, and had no idea that this sort of Third-world existence could be allowed to happen in Scotland. I am ashamed that the powers that be in the UK can allow this sort of thing to continue - to allow the landlords so much power over their tenants, so much control over their circumstances and be allowed to get away with such paucity of responsibility.

I want to join the others who must have been in touch with all of you over Gentle Otter's situation in calling for support for her and her family in this abysmal situation - and look at the tenancy laws of Scotland and England/Wales with the intention of reforming them in the not too distant future.

Although Gentle Otter is a blog name, you can contact her through her blog and I am sure she would be delighted to hear of any support and advice you can offer to her. Please stand up and be counted and let her know that these countries of ours are not going to let the laws continue to allow people to be treated like this - she and her husband depend on that farm for their livelihood, and their home, and she is determined not to be forced out of a home that her husband's family have tenanted for over a century.

Yours sincerely

(I signed it)"

Knowing that I lived within about an hour's drive of the area where Gentle Otter lives, I am ashamed that I didn't know that people still lived like that in 2011. I'm not completely naive, but I did think that clean water was pretty much a given, but GO doesn't even have that most of the time, and the house is now under a demolition order, as I said in the letter, so she is facing a pretty dire situation. She is being very decent and refusing to publicly name her landlord on the blog, but I have my suspicions, having lived in that area and knowing a tiny bit about some of the landed estates.

If you are so minded, please add your voice to the others contacting the powers that be to ask them to help her and other tenant farmers in Scotland (and England/Wales, as the tenancy laws are weighted in favour of the landlords everywhere, it would seem). Email addresses are available at the Scottish Parliament website, for the First Minister, and her local MSP, Richard Lochhead.

Tonight I am giving thanks for a dry house, clean running water and showers that work without a second thought, a washing machine that cranks to life whenever I need it, and the simple fact that this house is ours, and I don't rely on a landlord. I am very fortunate. And I don't work even half as hard as this brave lady.

Sweet chilli jam

I had a little disappointment this week in that I thought I was growing peppers on two plants I bought from the local nursery, but I discovered that they are in fact chillies! So I had to look around and find out what to do with them, as I have never used them in cooking as I don't like hot and spicy food to that extent.

Both plants are well covered in chillies, and I picked about 15 of them last night. There are still more to come!

I found this recipe on the BBC Good Food website for Sweet Chilli Jam and the FH highly recommends it - says it is lovely! I have tasted a tiny spoonful and the taste starts off very sweet in your mouth but then the chilli kicks in and you taste the "bite" of the spice, and it is quite OK even for me. For the FH, who loves more spicy stuff, he says it is "Just right" so if you like spicy stuff, I'd say, "Have a go". The only downside to this recipe is that it calls for 8 red peppers, and at 70p each, that outlay was quite extravagant for 4 small jars of sauce/jam. If I can find a cheaper source of the peppers, I may make some more...

The house next door

It's quite a normal looking house, but people don't stay there long!

We moved into our house in June of 2004 and the first couple moved into the house next door in the September. They were quiet, very quiet, and very much kept themselves to themselves. Then they decided to sell up, but the time wasn't right, so they ended up renting it out instead, and a lovely family moved in; they were coming back to England from Portugal, and were a couple - English woman and Portuguese man, she didn't work at first whilst they settled their son into the village school but he works for Tesco. Then they were told that the house had sold, so they had to move out, which unfortunately co-incided with them splitting up, so she and the son went west and the man went east.

The new owners were another couple, but older this time. A very nice couple, quite reserved but very pleasant company and we get along very well. But they have decided to leave, and they are moving out right now. The new owners take possession at noon, and we are sitting waiting like the nosy neighbours we probably are, to see what they look like, whether they are another couple or a family; the girls are interested to see whether there will be children; I am hoping that there isn't a dog (nothing against dogs in particular but we are surrounded by a particularly noisy bunch of dogs here!).

Of course, we are hoping that they don't mind chickens, that they won't be making remarks about the state of our working garden, etc! We are one of the families in the estate which actually uses the land we have, rather than looking at it as many do as a piece of grass to be admired! In between the veg beds, chicken runs, driveway and sheds/greenhouse, there isn't much grass in our garden and our plot gets a bit, shall we say, "untidy" at times?!

So, we wait...and hope!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Storecupboards and pantries

One of the two wardrobes we have moved into the garage for pantry storage. The FH has re-jigged it since I took this picture, but it gives you an idea of what we are doing. Lots of Branston beans bought on the buy-one-get-two-free offer at Tesco recently, UHT milk, etc.
This is a work in progress and I will add more up to date photos when we are nearer completion.

Do you shop often or are you a once a month kind of person? Do you live near a supermarket, or perhaps you have to travel miles to a shop? Have you tried supermarket home delivery, or maybe they won't even deliver to your postcode? And do you menu-plan or fly by the seat of your pants?

All these things might affect your attitude to keeping stocks of food in the house, and your economic circumstances probably affect it more than anything.

There are various blogs and websites which take opposing views on this - you just have to google "stockpiling" and you will easily find hundreds of pictures of vast pantries and piles of tins and packets. There are similarly websites which advocate buying only what you need each week. I really like this blog at Grocery Cart Challenge where Gayle attempts to feed her family of 6 on only $60 a week at the grocery stores. She gives lots of recipes and thrifty ideas, as well as a weekly menu plan and pictures of what she buys. I like to check out her menu plans now and again for new ideas!

I stand somewhere between the two extremes, although as we are heading towards winter, I am veering over to the stockpiling side. As I said in an earlier post, I really hate driving in snow, so if I think there will be any, I'm staying home until the cold snap passes, and we live on what we have in the house - so I want to be sure that we have some decent stocks in hand.

On the other hand, regular and long time readers will know that I have done Challenges where I spend £100 in a month on essentials and use up what we have in stock - this is going over to the other side of the coin.

There are definitely pros and cons to each method, and I do like the pros of the stockpiling! It means that when things that we use weekly are on sale, I can stock up, knowing that the items will get used because they are part of our regular shopping. Things that will bear long term storage are best for this - tins, bottled and dry goods, for example. Just make sure you rotate the stocks so that the oldest stuff is used first!

The biggest benefit to the other method is money in the bank! It allows me to save for something I need by not shopping. When we wanted to buy the woodburner a year or two back, we simply stopped shopping for anything other than what was essential - and we soon had the money we needed, because we had the stocks put aside of what we needed. Most of what I bought those months was fresh fruit and veg and dairy products.

Amy Daczczyn in her Tightwad Gazette books (I have all three - bought at the beginning of our frugal life and well worth it!) talks about a Pantry Principle. Instead of menu planning and then shopping for what you need to make those items for the week, you go shopping and buy only what is on sale, keeping a price book so that you know you are getting the best deal on most stuff. You then plan your meals from what you have in stock. It does work out cheaper in the long run, I believe, but it also means that some items may be absent from your diet until they come on sale again! If you can manage with that, it works.

There is an Australian website called Simple Savings whose owners have written a book, the $21 challenge in which they give chapter and verse on how to do a challenge week, now and again, to use up what you have in stock, and spend only $21 to supplement your stores. There are some great recipes in this book, and I am going to be trying some of them out soon. This idea is similar to my £100 month challenges.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The week that was

I can't believe how fast this week has gone past!

Yesterday I did manage to take the girls and our two friends, S and K, to Wimpole Hall and Home Farm. Despite the weather forecasters predicting grey cloud for the day, the sun shone bright and clear and there was hardly a cloud in the sky all day - it was fantastic weather for the summer we haven't had!

We started off at Wimpole in the house, and had a good wander around there for about 90 minutes, enjoying all the old things and historical atmosphere. It was S and K's first visit, and they both said how much they liked it. It was interesting to see how much had changed since we were last there in 2008.

After that, we walked up to the Farm, a good ten minutes' walk away. The girls loved the Adventure playground and the Hay Bale maze, enjoyed seeing all the animals, and were very keen on the ice creams!! There was a quick stop off in the National Trust shop before we left where we gathered a couple of small souvenirs of the day. A thoroughly good day was had by all and we were all tired out by the time we got home.

Today we have had a bit of an up and down day - the FH has been out a couple of times, the girls have both been chatting with friends, the weather has been great again and I got a couple of loads of washing dry, but the down sides have been me having an upset stomach for a while, and the YFG having a bit of a moan this afternoon!! She's better now and happier, thank goodness.

I have discovered a new-to-me author, whose name now escapes me, but his first name is Nicolas, and I devoured a book in two days - and there are lots more by him for me to enjoy, so I will be looking out for them in the library soon.

Now I am going to see if I can sort out some photos and edit them into some of these posts! Don't hold your breath, though...

Just a quick edit to say that I have managed to get some photos in there of the wardrobe, some pickle and some fab cake made to Mary Berry's recipe, so it may be worth a quick flick through some of the older entries to catch up on the photos - although there is one of my sore foot you may want to avoid if you are foot-phobic!!