Happy December!

When we put our previous house up for sale,  my mind wandered to the next Christmas, what would our next home look like, would we have any animals, neighbours, wildlife to share it with?  Even though we had not seen this house, I pictured a perfect Christmas.  Kids with smiles on their faces (and not arguing!), Steven finally able to relax after the busy December period, and me sat watching, taking it all in.  All of the thoughts I had, I am now putting it into action.  I love my family more than words can say and what better time of year to show it and make the most of it. 

So today, December 1st, the kids got up a lot quicker than normal.  They knew their grandparents had left advent calendar for them.  Jack was down first (he never is) and opened his.  We even broke the rules and had the small advent chocolate before breakfast!  How naughty is that?  He’ll remember that though and I’m all for happy memories.  Grace isn’t so much of a bull in a china shop where Jack is concerned, but she had hers too. 

My lovely Mum bought them a handmade advent calendar where each day has an envelope with a treat in it.  They love it and I think they look amazing in the kitchen on the beams.  As the envelopes get used, I’ll put them away for next year and we’ll use the string they are on to hang small, light cards on. 

I have cut out 24 stars, each star has something on it for the kids to do together each day.  The stars are stuck to the side of the fridge with blue tac in the shape of a Christmas tree.  We’ve never done this before and I think it will be a new tradition.  Today’s star was:

We have never done a reverse advent calendar before either.  I’m not sure what everyone else does if they do one, but we are putting one useful item of food/drink, into a box every day until around 23rd when we will take it to someone in need. I’m not too sure where this will be yet as we’re dropping some items off at a hostel and if they need it, it will be there.  Otherwise I may go to Durham Cathedral and hand it to a homeless person.  Any other ideas are welcome?

Whilst I am showing you – here’s the Aga at the moment and the final advent calendar which has followed us around for many years.

I wonder what will be outside the door at 7pm tonight? 
Whilst we wait to find out, this was outside last night.  How pretty?

A little catch up, birthdays, snow, polytunnel thoughts and 2017 potatoes!

I have broken my phone and have an old spare which doesn’t do photo’s as well but bear with me.  It also means I have to boot the laptop up to see blogs and updates (first world problems, I know).  Wednesday saw us with snow on the ground.  It was short lived and didn’t affect the roads.  It was so pretty to see everywhere white and the smallholding animals all looking around wondering what it was.  I know some people don’t like the snow, but I do and I do hope we have a white Christmas.
The kids played in it, all be it briefly, and I took what photos I could.  We call one of our chicken areas “Chickenville” and the kids wrote it out in the snow (when they were supposed to be doing their jobs 😉 ).  It’s so nice to see them enjoying it all.

Goose foot print


It was Steven’s birthday on Tuesday and despite being at work all day and needing to remove a radiator in the dining room for decorating, he seemed to enjoy it.  He sent me this photo the next day when he had time to enjoy a nice cup of coffee in his gadget that he received.

I’ve been doing more thinking ahead and keeping more notes in my notebook.  This time I have been writing down everything we have as packed lunches, with a view to ensuring I have the contents covered in our GYO plan for 2017.  For example the salads we have contain mixed leaves, spring onion/red/white, radish, cucumber, tomatoes, lots of peppers, sweetcorn, coleslaw and when we’re feeling adventurous, cous cous.  I think we can have this covered in 2017.  Also soups and quiche.
That led me on to thinking about the polytunnel again.  If I can afford one, it’ll be March/April time so we will have missed the early start, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start things elsewhere in the house and heat the greenhouse too, before moving them to the polytunnel when it’s ready.  The purpose of the polytunnel will be to extend the growing season and give me more space to allow us to be self-sufficient in vegetables throughout the year.
The salad items listed above will be mostly grown in the polytunnel although I think the sweetcorn will be half and half for pollination reasons.  In anticipation of next year, I’ve pre ordered my potatoes going for the following options (which will be delivered February):
First Earlies:  Swift (general purpose) and red duke of York (good for roasting).  These will be ready 10 weeks after planting.
Second Earlies:  British Queen (GP but excellent roasting) and Athlete which are lovely cold in salads.  These will be ready 13 weeks after planting.
Maincrop made up of early maincrop:  Carolus (GP),  Maincrop:  Blue salad (I fancy these for something different), Cara for baking and chipping and late maincrop of Sarpo Mire which can be stored until Christmas and King Edward which I think are the same.  These will be ready 20 weeks after planting.
The idea here is they all get planted at the same time and are ready to eat at different stages.  I will grow some in containers and bags but most in the ground.  We’re making a few new beds outside, 1 of which will be for the potatoes.  Having no idea how many potatoes we use and how much each plant will produce, we could be rolling in them or short for demand.  This really is an experiment.  Each order supplies apx 15 tubers (1kg).  It cost me £37 inc P&P so I will see how much we get for our money and make a note of it as next year progresses.

My night

Today I have felt off, having gone to bed with a niggle of a headache that was still there when I woke up. I felt quite short tempered all morning which isn’t normally me. So when I got home, I got in with jobs thay I knew being in a bad mood is good for. Cleaning! The kitchen got an overhaul and I started to feel better. I then took the puppies out for a lovely long walk. Despite it being a really blustery afternoon, we had a lovely walk out. The dogs found fox holes and something large has been wandering through the previously 3 foot high grass. I then put the ponies in the field for an hour, put the potatoes in the Aga for jackets, went back out and mucked the ponies stables out. Steven and I caught Barbara,  one of out sheep and checked her feet as she’s developed a limp. There wasn’t anything obviousl so I iodined them and she was free to go. She seemed easier on it just 30 mins after so whether the iodine worked I don’t know. Fingers crossed she’s fully ok tomorrow. Once the ponies were mucked out, I fed the chickens and got the geese their tea. In between this, Steven had to go for an appointment and we had tea when he got back. After tea I went back out to finish the horses and Ste went to his boxercise class (rather him than me). I collected the eggs and noticed there was a chicken egg in the duck house. I think they’re trying to confuse me.
I’m all finished until the morning now, in the house in my own which is very strange. The kids are at grandparents tonight so I am having a shower and washing my hair before I have to work 8 to 10. I do my evening work from home and it’s not hard, so I won’t complain.
In the photo with the chickens. Can you spot the odd one put?  Our cockrel isn’t supposed to be in here! Cheeky.

Autumn on the smallholding

This weekend has felt very Autumnal.  It’s been a mixture of lots of lovely things.  The changing colour of the trees, the leaves that have appeared underfoot when we’re out walking, the apples that are readily falling and being used in the cooking, the homegrown squash that I roasted and we ate, the dip in temperature on a night yet the days that are still creeping up to 17 and 18C and I finally got round to making a Sunday lunch and doing some baking again. 
I made some chocolate, ginger and oat cookies from my new favourite person, Mary Berry.  Between her, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Pam Corbin, I think I have a year’s worth of recipes to keep us going.  The cookies are really nice and I got 21 out of her recipe.  It claims you will make 24, but we don’t eat biscuits that are so small in this house ;).  They took 11 minutes on the bottom rung of the Aga (just for my future reference).
I’ve also made a start on the Elderberry wine.  I did wonder if I was too late but we found a bountiful supply that were still young and fresh so as a family, we picked them and brought them home to make a start.  I also made a Elderberry Winter Tonic which I’ve read about in a few places.  It’s now sat in my fridge waiting for the cold season to start.  I only used 2 cupfuls of Elderberries which yielded around 400ml of tonic.  I’m giving my Mam some to try and help her through the winter as she has a hernia and suffers terribly with what she can and can’t eat, hopefully she can have this without side effects and it’ll help keep her immune systems up.
Of course to go along with the homemade wine, Steven needed to try homemade cider, so he and our lovely neighbour borrowed a cider press and got to work pressing buckets of our apples from the orchard and the neighbours too.  They managed to make 15 litres which is gurgling away in the pantry.
We’ve managed to get rid of quite a lot of muck this weekend and in return bagged ourselves a large carrier full of different breads which are all now in the new freezer ready for when we run out of have unexpected guests that need feeding.
I’m off to bed shortly, not necessarily ready for going back to work tomorrow, but certainly feeling blessed from the weekend. The dogs look like they are quite content too.

Another weekend is here :)

The damson vodka that I made last weekend is starting to have a decidedly pink undertone to it (pictured pre pinkness!)  The kilner jar seals must need replacing as it leaked when I turned it on its head.  So Steven had the idea of using two together until I can replace them.  The jars are 3 litre jars and when I looked on ebay, they all seem to be up to 2 litre max which is a slightly smaller diameter to the ones I have, according to their measurements.  So that’s raspberry vodka and damson vodka on the go.  I hope they taste nice as I actually don’t like vodka!
For the raspberry vodka, I’ll decant it in December and use the raspberries for ice cream topping for adults at Christmas, or even for the middle of a special cake.  I’m hoping this drink will be like drinking summer in winter and warm us through the cold and dark nights.
This weekend I’ll be picking sloes for sloe gin.  I’ve never make it before, well I’ve never made any of these actually, so it’s all great learning.  I must remember to make a note of the recipe I use though, as if it tastes lovely next year, I’ll struggle to remember which one I made!
Now Autumn is here, we’re also going to be foraging the elderberries in an attempt to make wine and some elderberry winter syrup.  I’ll take photos of each step to share on a post dedicated to that.

Have a lovely weekend all.