Clearing the decks.

The weather has taken a real turn here this week and we’ve made the most of it with gardening and outside busy-ness. This morning Miss C had a dentist’s appointment that saw us in our local town for 9 o’clock. We’re a twenty miles round journey from town and as I detest shopping it’s not often that we actually visit. Today as the sun shone and after a quick dental check-up we made the most of our time, buying some much needed spring clothing and visiting a friend, who runs an amazing wool shop on the high street, for a herbal tea and a catch up.

After a quick lunch and the fastest maths and English work Miss C has ever managed, she rushed off to meet a new home ed friend in the next village and I had the afternoon to myself.

I wandered for a while. Wondered about doing some pricking out in the summerhouse, but it was to hot. Wondered about painting the decking, it desperately needs it but still to hot! Eventually I allowed myself to just sit in the shade with a cup of coffee and this craft kit.

Following on from my room tidy I have found a number of kits that need finishing. This one had lost its packet and threads, but thanks to my huge collection of everything craft I was able to match all but one of the colours needed. A mistake in the pattern half way down needed a bit of twiddling to make it work and was probably the reason I had abandoned it before.

It’s part of a set I brought probably 20+ years ago. Some are already done but I seem to remember there were 6 so I’d better have a hunt around for the rest. That will keep me busy!

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A blast from the past.

Over the Easter weekend hubB took a few extra days of work. The idea was to put up a fence in the garden but as with all good plans the weather played against us. Plan B came to me in a flash. While refreshing Miss C’s room last year I had brought an extra tin of paint in a deal. I brought it specifically for the dressing room but, as we hadn’t preplanned it, it didn’t happen. It has sat on the shelf in the garage ever since and the rain looked like a good excuse to use it.

The room was lemon coloured before but as the ceiling was looking tired we gave the whole room a good coat of white as an undercoat. Three coats of blue ( and another trip to the local store for their last tin in the same colour) later we were fairly happy with the result.

The main wall looked a bit bland and a rummage through a box of old picture frames gave me a great idea.

I have a huge collection of cross stitch pictures stitched over the last 25 years. I gathered them together and banged in the hooks.

There’s no real finese involved. I just mixed and matched them. Collecting them from boxes and drawers all over the house. I liked the effect so much it inspired me to find a few I’ve finished but done nothing with

I finished one that only needed about 20 more stitches.

I’m almost ashamed to say that I found others that need a lot more work. Some I don’t even like enough to finish. Some that look so difficult I might never finish

This is a headless wizard it seems. I think I might know why I didn’t finish that one!

Today during hubB’s Formula One session I’ve spent 3 hours on this beauty. Can you guess what it is? And more importantly if I’ll ever finish it!

Treating mum.

It’s Mother’s Day today. I’ve had gifts, someone else cooked my breakfast, I’ve pottered in the garden, there’s been cake, family visiting and a country walk. It’s been a good day all round.

In the garden the sun has brought out some spring flowers.

In the polytunnel it has been almost tropical and the covers have come off all the pots

The bulbs I planted in January are coming into flower and some rather feeble hyacinths scent the air amazingly.

The summerhouse was 40 degrees when I first went in but in my rush to fetch the camera and take these photos, I left the door open and it dropped to a healthier 30

The seeds sown in there earlier in the week are not through yet but the onions and alliums are doing well.

In the house I have seedlings a plenty. Miss C is lucky enough to have her own bathroom with a lovely wide windowsill that she covers in collectables for the rest of the year. In the spring she has to move them all aside for the good of the garden.

The tomatoes I sowed last month have been pricked out into individual plugs along with French and African marigolds. This week they were joined by celery, chard, leek, melon and cucumber seeds. The peppers and chillies are also there but have been for a while and are not showing any sign of germinating yet. They are always a bit slow.

It’s still feeling warm at teatime and spring fever is kicking in. I can hardly wait to sow more things but as they all have to go into the unheated summerhouse I just have to be sensible and sociable. I won’t spend the evening on my own in the garden, I’m joining Miss C on the sofa and watching Dancing On Ice. It’s her favourite programme and she did sort of cook my breakfast, with a little help!

Snow day.

This week has seen the country covered in layers of snow. We have been advised not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary and the news channels have had a grand time reporting the ‘Beast from the East’ stories.

Now in our village it’s been bitingly cold but quite honestly I think we must be the only place in the country with virtually no snow. Until today. Just as they tell us it’s all over we woke up to a white out, and very pretty it was as well.

I had already intended visiting the bees and a bike ride in the snow even appealled to Miss C, who in general stays at home while we check them.

They are in the copse of trees at the top of this picture and although the track is used by dog walkers today we were the only people around. Miss C loved leading the way!

In places the snow was deep enough to come almost to the top of my wellies. HubB and Miss C took great delight in sliding and skidding through the drifts but my old bones needed more careful treatment and I ended up walking and puffing for a lot of the way.

The bees were fine when we arrived. I took the chance of quickly looking under the lids to check they still had some fondant left. This is their winter feed as a supplement to their own honey stores. Some hives use it, some don’t, but I always make it available to them. This year the bigger hive is on its second 250g block, the smallest still has most of its first left and the middle one is on its third. There is no rhyme or reason to it as all are still heavy with stores and I can see from the one with a removable floor screen that they are also uncapping those stores. A removable floor is a great way of checking, as the wax cappings fall directly below the bees cluster, letting you know exactly where in the hive they are. It is not so easy to tell on the large hive as due to damp problems I have removed the board and left the floor open to the elements. It’s a first year experiment but so far, so good. On today’s visit I expected the bees to be in torpor but the two open mesh floored hives where both up and eating. My smallest hive is still on a solid floor as a test hive and seems to be acting much more traditionally with little activity on my visits.

HubB took this picture of the snow under the trees. They stand 8 rows deep and make the copse a little micro climate within hundreds of acres of open farmland. It’s an interesting spot and I am looking forward to seeing it in spring immensely.

Hazelnut spread.

While checking the hives this week I noticed the catkins on the hazel trees. It reminded me of all the nuts I picked last autumn. Each time I visited the bees I brought home a pocket full and now we had 2 1/2 jars that were still sitting in the pantry. I didn’t want to leave then there much longer for fear of them either drying out or being forgotten ( and drying out!) Either way I could see them being wasted which is never a good thing. Miss C patiently spent an hour shelling them all. Shells flew in all directions, she took a direct hit in the eye which she wasn’t best pleased about, and the kitchen surface was covered. In the end a bowl full of shells equalled 2 cups of nuts. Miss C felt the exchange rate seemed high and was not impressed. She brightened up no end when I took a block of chocolate from the cupboard and suggested she diced that while I roasted the nuts in a hot oven for 10 minutes or so and then gave them a good rub in a clean tea towel to remove some of the skins. It was more difficult than it sounds and we made do with just some coming off. We dropped the nuts in the food processor and blitzed them for 5 or 6 minutes, knocking them down from the sides regularly. The smell was divine. Although they got very moist they weren’t buttery so I added a tiny drop of olive oil before dropping in the 1/2 cup of chocolate. Blitzing it in in stages. It soon looked amazing.

When it looked fairly smooth we poured it into a bowl. The chocolate has melted and although it’s quite runny at the minute I think it will thicken a bit once it cools down.

Miss C tells me it tastes even better than the shop brought equivalent but as I’ve never tried that I can’t comment. I just know it’s pretty good and smells delicious. Less preservatives is an added advantage.

As I never like to miss an opportunity, I’m wondering what to do with all those shells. I wonder if they would keep the slugs away from something in the veggie garden this spring. Another blog offering later on perhaps??

I do love a bargain. 

Last autumn I had the idea of picking up a bag of bulbs each week with my shopping. After 2 weeks I abandoned the idea, as I hadn’t planted the first ones, and the bags got left on the side in the utility where there were promptly forgotten. It’s now January and to late for them to go in the soil so I persuaded hubB that a trip to the garden centre to buy compost was needed.

As the compost is stacked up outside the store, I just pay for what I want at the end of my visit and take the car over to put it straight in. As we walked into the store for a coffee I happily told B we didn’t need a trolley. I could carry anything we brought. Famous last words!! 

The store had all autumn bulbs at 50p a bag. 50p! They also had all Christmas stock at 70 percent off. B took one look, turned around and went for a trolley, he knows me well. 

By the time we reached the coffee shop I had this little load.

While we ate our breakfast rolls and drank slightly dodgy coffee B rang his dad to tell him about the sale ( he’s a keen gardener) and took another order. Luckily Miss C was at horse riding as she would not have been impressed to have to go back and shop again. I on the other hand rose to the occasion and picked even more stock. 

Today has been spent happily potting up the 444 bulbs. I feel pretty smug that I was able to lay my hands on washed and sorted pots and labels. Standing in my new summerhouse out of the wind and placing the pots straight into my recently tidied polytunnel. Sometimes I’m so organised I amaze myself and it feels good! 

If I’m honest the 75 litres of compost wasn’t enough and I ended up lasagne planting lots of the bulbs in one big pot. I also didn’t need the extra 160 onion sets I now have in plug trays. 

But look at the savings. I’m one happy gardener today. 

Happy 2018

Can you believe that another year has begun? In just a few days I will be another year older. I remember, as a child, a lesson on the millennium and a task to work out how old we would be on that date. I started enthusiastically enough but when I realised it was more years than I had fingers I declared ‘ I’ll be so old I’ll be dead by then’ and stopped counting. Now we’re 18 years past that event and I can remember it like it was yesterday. Well to be honest yesterday is often forgotten to me but then I’m getting older! 

Our family tradition is to spend New Years Day at the coast. Hunstanton is fairly close to us and as the weather was fine we set off. 

It was already busier  than it often is in the summer and by the time we left, the queue into the town was a good few miles long. I’m glad we’d started earlier than most this morning! 

The beach was busy with windsurfing and a few hardy souls were even sitting and digging in the sand. We contented ourselves with a very brisk walk from one end to the other. Walking into the sun meant facing the wind and it was bracing to say the least. 

Heading back to the car we had the wind and the sun on our backs and the promise of a good lunch to haste our way. 

As we pulled into the drive, back home,  I noticed this rather lovely rose growing on the front wall. It inspired me to find some other treasures.
There’s a rather nice geranium still flowering in the summerhouse.

There’s a very brave Hebe outside the back door and a rather bedraggled marigold out the front. Nothing else has survived the almost constant frosty mornings and warm days of the last month. 

If I’m making one new year promise this year it’s to be more organised. I won’t keep it, I never do, but wouldn’t it be nice. I could start planning now but I have a good book, it was a Christmas present and it would be churlish not to read it while it’s still new. 

Happy 2018 to you all. 

How to determine a successful Christmas.

Well the big day we’d all been looking forward to and working towards has been and gone. We’ve had a typical family Christmas, great food, good presents and family disagreement. 

From my point I’m thinking that maybe I’m getting an image for myself. I think it’s a good one, well in my eyes anyway! 

It started with my mum’s present. Now every year of my life mum has brought me a calendar. A cutesy fluffy animal one. More recently I’ve donated said calendar to Miss C who fills it with very important news (toof fell out, got new shoos)  and buy myself a plain, lots of space family one. This year mums calendar has garden ideas and came with a pair of gloves. Very useful.  As was the toothpaste she also got me but I’m still considering the meaning of that!

The rest of my family also exceeded my expectations. 

Father in law brought me hand cream and a garden thermometer. Exactly what I needed. My brother and sister  in law brought me a hedgehog house ( hubB had a hand in that I believe!)

HubB excelled himself as always and I received a very handy bird feeder. I presently hang food from the trees and summerhouse but the killer cat has too much cover there for his attacks. This means I can feed in the middle of the lawn where the attacks can hopefully be pre-empted. 

He also found me a jam funnel that strains and some jam labels that dissolve in water. Both problems I have muttered about regularly over the past year. 

His treat of a pair of felco secateurs and a holster went down well. I will spend happy hours chopping things down with them. 

My biggest surprise was this wildlife camera. The copse that my bee hives are in has a number of tracks through the grass and hopefully, if I can hide it from theft, I will now be able to see what makes them. I was high hopes of badgers and deer but who knows! 

Miss C bought the present that gave me the biggest smile. She picked it totally herself but had some trouble at the checkout when she had to call for her dad. It turned out she’s not as grown up as she thought she was and still needs help to buy a dangerous item. 

I had other presents. Chocolates and books were well received. The three scarves (one of which I’m wearing as I write), two pairs of gloves and thermal socks show how cold blooded ( some might say cold hearted) I am and will be put to good use. 

So with great gifts, good food and lots of Christmas music and games, I feel it’s been a lovely Christmas. 

I hope everyone has had as good and peaceful a season.

Christmas has started. 

I love the idea of Christmas and always get sucked into buying a Christmas magazine in October and making lots of lists at the same time. By November I totally can’t wait but once December arrives, and the work has to start in earnest, I just don’t feel up to the job. 

This year hubB has been home from work ill, the weather has been wet and cold, any number of excuses have been found and my procastination has known no bounds. Most of my lists are not only uncompleted but lost to boot! 

With only a week to go we decided to join friends at a Christmas church celebration. Now I’m not at all religious and having attended another friends baptism only last month I’ve already been more this year than I usually look to. 

My friend was attending the 9.15 service and as the church in question is in our nearest city, it meant an early start. The weather was cold and frosty and at the last minute my friend texted to say her whole family were down with some horrible lurgy. We were on our own!

The first clue that the service was different came when we pulled off the main road to be met by traffic cones and attendants to control the traffic. This was no village church or small scale service, this had all the hallmarks of a full scale event. 

The entrance was full of friendly smiling people greeting us with Christmas cheer. The quantity of people wouldn’t have looked out of place at a concert. 

The hall was no less than an auditorium and it was full by the time the service started. 

Miss C was very taken by the jokes on the main screen. HubB was impressed by the full choir and live band. The mixing booth with spot lights, countdown and full crew impressed me. 

We sang our hearts out, as did everyone else there. We clapped and cheered. The sermon was more a sales pitch for Jesus than a Bible reading. The live entertainment and screen production may have been members of the congregation but they could easily have been professionals. It was like no other church service I’ve ever been to. 

I may not be taking up nightly Bible reading anytime soon but I certainly feel much more christmassy and excited for the whole season now.

I’m so in the Christmas spirit I used some of my mincemeat to make a few mince pies. 6 dozen to be correct. I’m Christmas ready! 

Mincemeat. 

Many years ago when I was just a teenager, and newly left home, I brought the first ever issue of a new magazine called Prima. At the time it was probably aimed at ladies with families but I brought it for the patterns and recipes that gave me a glimpse of that other world, frequented by real grown ups, who baked and stitched. Over those first years I never missed a copy and made lots of things from its pages. Many of those pages still exist inbetween the pages of various recipe books or in a box file in my home. 

Prima is still in print but I no longer buy it. It’s now to glossy and  grown up for me! 

Every Christmas without fail for the last 25+ years I have made a batch of mincemeat from one of those first issues. Almost every year we all enjoy it so much I make a second batch. This year I just doubled the recipe from the start!

I used my largest bowl. It was my grandmothers and is very special to me.

In went

  • 12oz currants
  • 1lb each of sultanas, raisins and light brown sugar
  • 8oz each dried apricots, mxd peel and glace cherries. All chopped. 
  • 4oz chopped blanched almonds.
  • 4tsp each, ground cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • 2tsp each allspice and ground ginger. 
  • Zest and juice 3 oranges
  • 8oz melted butter.

The whole lot is then stirred well and soaked with 1/2 pint each of brandy and sherry. 

It smells more than lovely and it’s really difficult to not get tipsy on the fumes or the constant taste testing. 

After leaving it to soak over night I treat it like jam and jar it in warm sterilised jars. The recipe says it keeps for up to 2 months but this year I deliberately left one from last Christmas and it was still perfect. 

This batch was a bit wet when I went back to it so I added extra fruit. There’s no science involved, I just poured and stirred until it looked even better.

 I tried it again to be sure. Twice in fact. This stuff is good!