Wednesday, 30 September 2009

McMillian Cancer Research - Coffee Morning

As many people across Britain would know last Friday was McMillian Cancer Research's Nationwide Coffee Morning, and our office took part. For those unaware of the scheme essentially people and places all over Britain hold a 'coffee morning' to raise money for cancer research. This can be a whole office (like us) making cakes to sell for (in our case) £1 for cake and a coffee, or even a street all meeting at someone's house for coffee and just making a donation each.
The effort from our little office was amazing and we raised nearly £300! I was so taken aback by the sheer volume of cake that people had baked, or bought, to give to the cause! I am definately caked out! I made an Orange Sponge with Orange Cream Cheese topping (pictured) but there was Clootie Dumping, Flapjacks, cupcakes, tea loaves, fruit loaves, crispy cakes, muffins and those little marshmallows with a smartie on the top (I call them TopHats) and so much more!
We also had a small book stall with 50p for a book and a raffle with donated prizes. It was a good day, not sure how much work got done but there was definately plenty cake eaten!!

Getting it Under Control...

Well, the holiday is truly over as we trek back into the world of what needs to be done to the farm. Especially since we now have a countdown!! Everything seems to be going well with the selling of our property though, no big discoveries or problems that are going to cause to much issue. We still have a 'For Sale' sign out the front but it did take us three weeks to get that so I guess we shouldn't hold our breath for the 'Sold' sign! I decided that a check list was in order to try and keep track of what was needing done and what had been done. When you start writing it out in a big long list it starts to look like a mammoth task.
So with the magic of technology I have created a nice little Check List to keep my mind straight and you guys in the loop of all the things that are needing to be done before we move in:

Remove and Replace window surrounds in both bedrooms
Remove and replace floorboards in both living areas
Fit new kitchen
Treat woodwork and roof space for woodworm
Have electrics re-wired (& add new sockets)
Order more fuel for central heating
Swap boiler for hot water from immersion to the combi boiler on the central heating
Plumb in new shower unit (and build shower unit)
Plumb in new white goods in the kitchen
Fit security lighting
Strip Wallpaper in Kitchen
Decorate Kitchen
Strip Wallpaper in Living Room
Decorate Living Room
Strip Wallpaper in Master Bedroom
Decorate Master Bedroom (as it is as current
Strip Wallpaper in Kitchen
Decorate Kitchen
Strip Wallpaper in Hall
Decorate Hall

Somewhat large isn't it! And this only includes the stuff that we need to do before we move in, not all the stuff that needs/should be done in the near future!

Well we have had several people round to give us quotes on the work that will require professional help ie. the woodworm treatment, damp proofing and electrics. We are still awaiting a quote from the electrician and a visit from the plumber to take a look at the work being done. We are happy with the woodworm guy's quote and so will be looking to get him started on the work, however it may not be until mid October before he can make a start, although he reckons it will only take a day to complete the work.

We are really wanting to get the electricians quote and are quite surprised that it has yet to arrive, there is a possiblility that the quote has ended up at the farm rather than our house. We want to get the electrician in as part of what he was going to be doing was making a hole in the ceiling, to get into the attic (at present there is only a tiny hole as we have ne attic space, if you put your head and shoulders through the hole your head would be inches from the apex of the roof!). The woodworm guy needs to get into the roof so he needs the hole made by the electrician. We also need the electrician to re-wire the kitchen before we can get working on fitting all the new units.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Some People Pay a Fortune...

Some people pay a fortune for a good steam bath but I have come up with my own replacement, and it'll help you get stuff done on your renovation at the same time!! Wallpaper Steaming! Yesterday saw us at the house stripping wallpaper and varnish. I was soon a dab hand at the wallpaper steamer (my new toy!) And the Master bedroom is now completely wallpaper free! It does however create a lot of steam and things get toasty near-by! But it certainly did wonders on the bedroom walls and they are now all prepared for... making holes in when the electrician gets started! We managed to fill 7 bin liners (as modelled by my mum here) of wallpaper although that did included the start we made on the hall.

We had originally intended to do as little decorating as possible to save time but having realised how many holes need to be made for all the various tradesmen who need to make amends the decor is going to be ruined anyway so we may as well get the wallpaper off and start a fresh. Means we can really make our own mark on the house as well, which will be great.

Talking of things that are great, we got the kitchen designed and ordered on Saturday and we should be getting it soon. We went for 'no fitting' figuring that with enough people we should be able to work out how to get it put together. We went to B&Q (DIY Store) and got their "20% off kitchens" deal and then as it was a 'promotion' weekend got a further 10% off when we came to buy it! So as it was a decent saving we decided to spend a bit more on the washing machine and tumble dryer for it and get slightly better models. So there we go.. hurray for sales!
The washing machine and dryer are getting delivered direct from Hotpoint so should arrive on Thursday.
It was a tiring weekend but we really feel we have achieved, we are stepping up the pace at the moment just to try and get as much done as we can before the tradesmen start, so it has been invaluable that my dad has been on site pretty much 100% of the time, living in his little caravan!

We now also have a security light and have found the door bell, it was in a drawer! And it sounds terrible!! But I tink I have an idea....

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Anyone See A House For Sale?

Nope, me neither!

For everyone that was wondering what happened with the people who came to look at our house while it was in a total state, you know, the ones from this post CLICK HERE.

Well, the day before we were leaving for our holiday in Florida we had just dropped our cats off at the cattery for their holiday when we found a message on our battery power lacking mobile, from the solicitor asking us to give us a call. We dreaded what this might be, we were going on holiday tomorrow and didn't need any problems.

But we were to be very, very plesantly surprised. That couple, the one and only viewers to the house who stayed all of 10 minutes had put in an offer over the offers-over price! We said 'Yes, yes, yipppeeee yes!'

We were obviously going away for two weeks but we found that the buyers were quite happy to wait. This means that the deadline for everything at the farm is now 13th November, or as we worked out, the weekend before (as we can't get time off on that week to do the final move).

This makes things very exciting and was a great start to our hoilday!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Harvest Time Down on the Farm

While we were away on holiday we had the field cut and sold. We didn't do to badly price-wise even though we were late for the harvest. Dad managed to catch a few snaps of the field just after it had been cut. We are thinking that next year we may rent the field out to a local farmer to put calves on. He has shown interest in this prospect but we have yet to really talk it through with him.

There has certainly been a lot of work going on outside at the farm with large areas being cleared in readiness and the gardens prepared for the work to be done. We are considering that the pond may have to be moved from where we had originally planned to the otherside of the path.

It does feel a bit, one step forward two steps back at times but we are slowly moving forward, even if that path is sometimes getting longer!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Florida Trip

Well, we are back from the Florida Trip and what a trip it was. This was our first trip into America and we were most looking forward to it!

We were on International Drive for one week and then one week in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We had great weather for the two weeks with only a couple of days with only a couple of days of rain.

We did the Universal Studios and Sea World in the first week as well as a good roaming around International Drive.

We tried out a Dinner show in the first weeks and I was one of the 'chosen' ones who got dragged up to participate. I was dressed as a pirate and had to march around with either a treasure test or a lamp!

We were very impressed with Sea World and spent one day and an evening there. Favourite show had to be the one with the pets. Goats, dogs, cats, pigs, rats... the list goes on, all running around the stage doing fun little tricks. Very clever and very funny!!

The second week we were in the Animal Kingdom Lodge which was extremely beautiful. Our room overlooked the 'Savannah' and in the evenings we could sit on the balcony and watch the giraffes and zebra.

We managed to do all of the parks in the second week. We had no problems in queues, longest wait was for about 20 minutes. In fact over the holiday we spent more time waiting for buses than we did for rides.

I think the favourite park would have to be Animal Kingdom although it was cut a bit short as we didn't notice that it closed early. We still managed to make the most of it and got all the rides we wanted and even the parade. Think I preferred the Animal Kingdom Parade to the Magic Kingdom ones!

We certainly had a great time and will probably go back but not sure when. There are other things that I wish we could've gone to, the Space Centre or some of the Gator spotting trips but there is always another time.

Now, where are we going next year...

Friday, 18 September 2009

I'm Back


Apologies, apologies to all about the dodgy links. I will have them fixed so you can find the recipes!!

I have been away on holiday, in extremely sunny Florida for the past two weeks! It was amazing! First time in America and am now completely Mickey-ed out!!

Normal service will resume shortly and boy do I have SO much to share with you all!! Brace yourselves for a big dose of excitement!

Once again, apologies for the dodgy links...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Chilli Oil

Another blast of the preserving recipes....

Chilli Oil

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Someone Came A-Looking!?

Someone actually came to look around our house and by God it was a tip! They hadn’t come by appointment, they spotted that we were in and just knocked on the door. I had to apologise for the mess of the house, there was quite literally stuff on every conceivable surface, but they seemed unperturbed by the mess and were happy to climb over the four empty cardboard boxes and two cat carriers to ascend the stairs!

We should maybe have said ‘you need an appointment’ but there has been no interest in the house at all so getting someone through the door was just too good to miss. It did mean that I was late for a make-up appointment, I am to be head bridesmaid at my friend’s wedding and it was make up practice time, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do! She didn’t mind, as both she and the other bridesmaid needed their makeup done too, so I just joined the back of the queue!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Apple and Blackberry Leather

In keeping with the theme of preserving I thought I would share a few recipes over the next few weeks. First up Apple and Blackberry Leather. This is a great recipe for home grown or foraged fruit and is a great favourite with kids, they can also join in making it too! As with all my recipes I am putting this in the recipe section of the blog.

Find the recipe here.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Bees... The New Chickens?

It seems that even before the true benefits of chicken keeping have been acknowledged we are on to the next step to self-sufficiency. For those, like me, who are still revelling in the dream of owning chickens and desperately measuring the ground and counting the pennies to decide how to make these feathered friends a permanent feature of our self-sufficiency lifestyle, the introduction of a new dream draws our imaginations down a new enchanted path.

Since deciding that chickens were step one on the way to self-sufficiency and reading every magazine on the shelves relating to the subject I begin to notice that Bee Keeping was starting to crop up here and there and soon was commanding it’s own two page spreads in glossy Technicolor. Before I had even chosen a spot for the coop I was already thinking thoughts of home-made honey and my own tribe of pollinators!

So with this in mind, is Bee Keeping really for everyone? Or should it be(e) left to the experts? What is in it for us and is it as difficult as it appears?

Bee Keeping is apparently, once the hive and colony is established, an easy hobby with much sweet reward. A hive requires little space so can be maintained in a small garden or even on a flat roof. So long as the area is sheltered and sunny the world is your oyster. The main question is:

How Do I Learn? (Followed closely by Will I Get Stung? – Sorry, but the answer is Yes!): Join a local bee keeping club, they run courses for beginners, lasting around 12 weeks, and will train you in both theory and practice. After this time you are given a mentor who will help you through your next year with either a club supplied hive in the apiary or your own hive at home. What better way to learn than through practice! This sounds like my kind of learning, being quite impatient I admit I like to get on with things, so the idea of starting straight away in a controlled learning environment really appeals.

What do I need?: Bees! But also, a hive – there are many companies including the chicken keepers favourite Eglu that supply hives - hat, smoker, veil and smock top and hive tool. A rough guide on price is around £400, but this can obviously be more if you go for more elaborate kit or less if you look for second-hand or DIY. If you take second-hand hives lookout for disease as it can remain dormant in some hives for up to 30 years.

So how time consuming is it?: In the height of summer, which is the busiest season the hive requires around 30 minutes a week of time spent maintaining it, this is assuming that all is running smoothly and there are no issues that require to be resolved. Honey is extracted only once or twice a year and during the winter there is no need to do much beyond checking the hive for damage.

Honey: Honey is extracted between July and September and is removed by spinning the frames in an extractor (which can be bought or hired). The honey is left in a vat for 48 hours before it is ready to eat.

Can I Sell The Honey?: Many people on the road to self-sufficiency look for both what they can eat and what they can sell. As with most produce you make, of course you can sell it; however you should make yourself familiar with your country/area’s legislation and labelling laws before hand and should obtain the correct food hygiene certification. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

I really like the idea of keeping bees, and could easily imagine the hive in the orchard with a little cloud of buzzers humming around it. They would make a good source of my own pollinators and I would have my own supply of honey for us, friends and family. So maybe bees will feature on the farm sometime, but until then I have a coop that needs filling. In fact I have a coop that needs buying, then filling. But watch this space…

If you are interested in learning more check online to see if there are any local groups near you or check out some of the links I found on my travels:

Most of these links apply to British groups but are sure to provide great background reading for all, for you local source of information just do a search around your own area.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Latest Bounty

Returning to the garden, I quickly managed to grab a good handful of ready runner beans this morning from the three en-potted plants on the decking. They are certainly producing a good crop regardless of their meagre numbers, I am certainly going to be growing them at the new place, mainly because they are so easy but I also have plans for them – watch this space...

I am attributing this year’s crop to the slight change in my growing method, I stopped them growing (nipped off the growing end) earlier than I usually do. Now this I usually do but I usually let the plant grow larger than I have this year. I had to stop them short because of their position in the garden, left to their usual devises they would have made their way over the fence to the next door garden and attacked the washing line. So this year I stopped them and they seem to have appreciated it with a bumper harvest.

At the farm I am hoping to get them planted in the garden (actually in the ground) rather than pots so I am hoping that should allow them to be left to grow larger again as they won’t be competing for space or nutrients as much as they are in the pot.

I think I may have found a good spot for the strawberry patch too, although further investigation may be required. But there is an old, and quite small, silage dump (will get pictures when I can, I know you are dying to see!) that is very over grown with weeds at the moment. But I figure that with the fourth side walled up and it filled with soil it aught to make a rather nice raised fruit bed. So this may be one of the many ‘first’ projects that need to be done in the garden.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

When The Garden Produces... So Do You...

One thing I love about growing your own food is that you can be a bit spontaneous, especially when you spot something that you hadn't remembered about or something you weren't expecting!

I headed out into the garden last night, as earlier that morning, when I had put the girls out, I spotted that the Blackberry bush appeared to have suddenly burst into life with some rather yummy looking berries. My little mind began thinking of a plan and when I saw a few pears on the ground I knew what I had to do!

When the garden gives you windfall pears and juicy blackberries....

You gotta make pie....

And then you gotta eat it!!!!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

What?! Seriously... What!?

Just as an aside based on the creation of posts, a behind the scenes to the magic that is Realising the Dream!!

We have all had close encounters of the Microsoft kind, that handy green line to inform us that we are writing complete garbage and yet the options provided to fix the issue seem somehow unrelated to the problem: we’ve all been there. But whilst writing up my latest post I saw a doozy so bizarre that a screen print was necessary. Now I am aware that my ‘A’ should be an ‘a’ but beyond that the problem appears to be that I am missing a capital.

So, What? I repeat, What? The heck is Word trying to suggest as a resolution:

Mr Gates…. 'Youhaven't' What is that!? Eh?

Only When You Haven’t Got a Camera!

So we made it to the house again on Sunday and spent some time measuring up all the rooms, particularly the kitchen as this is something that needs to be changed before we can move in, mainly because it has only an oven and a sink in it! Our problems with the kitchen are:
  • It’s too small
  • It won’t always be a kitchen

It being too small is obviously a temporary problem, the plan being to make the kitchen in the byre/barn/dairy… in the extension! But it means what do we do with our stuff meantime and we also need a functional kitchen until the new one is ready, and we have no idea when that will be. The final use of this kitchen will be a laundry room style affair, probably with a nice big deep freeze in it. Both because we are a bit further away from shopping facilities so it will be good to be able to buy in bulk but also for all those veggies I intend to grow.

This situation results in the problem ‘The Oven’, we have inherited an old yet functional oven, which is great, it will tide us over until the new range cooker in the new kitchen, but it causes problems. We want to add new units and cupboard, as the kitchen currently has none, but with a free standing cooker this causes issue. Should we stop the work surface to allow for the cooker which will result in a strange gap in the surface and cupboards once the function of the room changes? Or do we go for what we want from the laundry room and just have to put the cooker somewhere less than suitable? This also results in problem with getting power to it! Arg!

We thought we had it all sorted until:
“What about the fridge?” *Sigh* “This sucks!”

So, we went upstairs to measure the bedrooms and draw nice diagrams, kitchen design is far to complicated! This was were I wished I had a camera, as somehow, we still don’t know how, a Starling (see stock photo) had got into the master bedroom and was repeatedly nutting it’s self on the windows. Managed to grab it, using one of the net curtains it had pulled down, but it slipped away and flew to bedroom three, with us in hot pursuit. The curtain had to be discarded this time as he, after being successfully grabbed, put up a peaceful protest of grasping the curtain, on which he was hanging, as tight as he could. This meant that I had to one-handedly, toe by toe, extract the lacy curtain from his grasp. He was then marched downstairs and released out the back door; he flew off, no worse for his ordeal. Our good deed done it was back upstairs to talk sockets.

Although the electrician hasn’t been decided upon we thought it a good idea to try and sort in our own minds what we wanted and where and you wouldn’t believe how tricky it is. Standing in an empty room trying to picture your furniture in it and therefore where the sockets would need to be! We managed eventually and got some diagrams drawn up.