This blog is mainly a rambling kind of diary of the transition from smallholderwannabe to smallholder.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

There is such a thing as a free lunch!

When we were in Cambridge just recently, I popped into Waitrose because I had a till-spit coupon for a half price jar of coffee. They didn't stock the brand of coffee I needed at that branch of Waitrose so I was feeling really disappointed. I had a £2 off a spend of £10 coupon as well and I had planned something else to buy so that I would end up in profit and they were spoiling all my carefully thought out plans. So there I was still stood in front of the coffee shelves when a Waitrose lady stops beside me and asks me if I would like to have the sandwich she was carrying. I must have looked startled because she had to explain to me that she meant to give me the sandwich and I would not have to part with any money. So I did not get my jar of coffee but I left with a sourdough baguette filled (generously!) with roast beef and horseradish and rocket. It was absolutely delicious and I've been feeling quite kindly towards Waitrose ever since.

They are quite an expensive shop but often their special offers bring the price down to the same as everybody else's special offers and you do get a free cup of coffee, if you bring your own cup and a free newspaper if you spend over £10. We don't have a branch very close to us but we do pass one every so often and I always check their offers and the coupons they send to see if it is worth calling in. It is one shop that my husband doesn't mind shopping at because he gets the cup of coffee..... : )


Saturday, November 10, 2018


My chickens are like the rest of us - they are getting older.  And when chickens get older, they don't lay so many eggs. So we now have some new chickens. Just your typical little brown hen. And the first one has laid an egg. Just a little egg but so lovely because it is the first one. Now if the others would just follow her example, I will be well pleased.

I still have most of my old hens although we have lost several over the summer, which is why we have an empty hen house. Chicken Nugget is still with me and must be eight years old now. She is a buff Orpington which is one of the biggest domestic fowl breeds. She is a real little (big!) character and will sit comfortable in my arms because she is very tame. She was hatched at school and has been used to being handled from day 1. The boys named her and the others who hatched with her, all after some chicken dishes that they all liked. From February and all over the summer, she laid two or three eggs every week. My other old hen is a little brown hen of about the same age but she stopped laying eggs a couple of years ago. I still have two of my white hens from the last lot of new ones and four from the little brown ones who came before that. So I have 13 hens now in total but it is the new ones who will earn their keep and pay for the food for the others.

And when I got my new layers, I also got six who are destined for the freezer. Their appetites are enormous and I think I am going to have to buy more hen food to keep them supplied. The nearest reasonably priced feed merchant is now about a forty mile round trip (which is a lot of diesel) since the Countrywide chain ceased to trade earlier this year. I buy as many sacks of hen food as I can fit in the car and store them anywhere I can but I don't think I bought enough on the last trip. I can, of course, buy hen food closer to home. I can think of three places but the hen food is almost 50% dearer. A forty mile round trip at 17p per mile (elderly diesel estate car) costs £6.80. Local hen food costs at least £9.50 and some places £10.50. At the cheaper feed merchant it costs £6.75 per sack. So it does not take many sacks before we are winning as just three sacks more than cover the cost of the diesel. so I'll be taking a little road trip soon : )


Friday, November 02, 2018

Preserving year 2018

This year my preserving year has been the smallest in many years. We have things left from last year and even a few jars from before that. so we didn't need much to be made this year.  Really my chief aim in doing any preserving was Christmas presents.

So this year I have made:

elderberry syrup
elderflower champagne
elderflower cordial
blackberry and apple jam
cucumber relish
cider vinegar

The elderflower champagne and cordial have turned out really well this year. I still have a bottle of the cordial left and I will need to use that a little more sparingly as shop bought stuff is not only horrendously expensive, but doesn't taste anywhere near as nice, even when made up with sparkling water. I still need to make some marmalade as that is one thing we are nearly out of and also some is needed to go in Christmas hampers. So that is it for 2018.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Cars, Cambridge and a celebration.

We've been away to Cambridge again for five days for my husband to go to meetings and for me to go pottering about. I do enjoy pottering around looking at all the old buildings and walking along the river. I always find something new to look at and enjoy. And if I head for the town centre, there is a street with eight charity shops in it, which means that I can potter through there very happily. I can usually manage to find a new top either for my husband or for me and sometimes something even more exciting. I find that having a good supply of tops means that I can wait a few days extra until there is a dry day so that I can dry the washing outside. I try very hard not to use the tumble dryer unless there is a very good reason for it.

We'll be going back to Cambridge for another stay before Christmas so I'm hoping to do a little Christmas shopping on that occasion. I might even find something for my husband without him being with me to see it and spoil the surprise.

Our car was eight years old when we bought it and we have had it for seven years now. The engine works fine but there are lots of the peripheral things which are not working well any longer or which have stopped working altogether. The driver's window no longer goes up and down, for example. It stopped working about 18 months ago and we had a new motor fitted but it has stopped again. It is very annoying as we frequently go through a barrier at a carpark entrance which means stopping the car, getting out and entering a code, getting back in and putting the seat belt on and then getting out on to a main road. Not fun if there is somebody on the main road wanting to turn in and stopping all the traffic whilst I am faffing around... There are lots of sensors not working properly too. So we are looking at new(er) cars. The thing is that the car sailed through the MOT with no problems at all in July. There are just so many makes and models of cars out there and prices have definitely gone up in the last seven years since we bought this one. Decisions, decisions. We want a larger car, probably an estate so that we can transport lots of wood, something very economical to run, very comfortable for longer journeys, and all for a very small sum of money. So we want the best compromise possible. Anybody got any recommendations?

And it was my birthday this week. My husband took me out for the day and cooked me a nice meal and my grandchildren all drew me beautiful cards. It was a lovely day : )

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Scary happenings and more besides

What a lot has happened since I last posted. The first memorable thing, which I won't forget in a hurry, was trouble with the church cooker. I was working at making extra cakes to put in the freezer, as well as keeping the coffee shop supplied. We had a coule of short stays away planned so I needed to build up supplies of cake. I had a cake in the oven and was leaning over the cooker to stir the soup in the 12 pint saucepan (a pan that size requires me to stand over it to stir right into the edges of the pan to keep the soup from sticking) when there was a big bang in the oven and the oven door blew open into my middle - which made me jump back quickly, I can tell you. There were big flames which hid the 12 pint saucepan from sight and the baking paper lining the cake tins all burned up. The flames all singed my hair and eyebrows and I lost lots of hair at the front of my head. Thankfully I had my glasses on so my eyes were protected. Had I not jumped back so promptly, it would probably have been worse. My skin was sore for the next day but my face was not burnt. After being made to sit down with a drink for a bit, I went back and finished the soup and cooled it and froze it. There were over 50 portions of soup in three pans and I wasn't losing that much work! The oven was electric but the hob was gas and had not reacted to the oven problems at all so I felt safe to continue with the soup.

When I took the cake tins out of the oven, I found a part (possibly the thermocouple??) in one of the cake tins. I have no idea what caused the problem. However I refused to use the cooker again and we have now bought a new one. this meant a lot of hours spent on the internet trying to whittle down the choices. A commercial cooker is not suitable for our situation but we need as large a domestic cooker as possible and preferably with two fan ovens. So now I have a new electric cooker with an induction hob so I need all new pans too. The old pans were a mix of aluminium and older stainless steel which does not work on induction hobs.

And as for pans - how do you choose pans from just a picture online? Not many shops stock the large size ones we need. We need something a bit substantial so that the food will not burn too readily. And the easiest way is to actually handle the pans. Not easy online! And the range of pans available is huge as is the range of prices. Still, we'll get there.

We used up all the cake in the freezer in the cooker free weeks. I also found lots of recipes for things that I could make with just the help of a microwave to eke out what was in the freezer. So now I've been trying to restock the freezer as well as keeping the coffee shop stocked. So I am spending my time either shopping for coffee shop or baking for coffee shop. Housework? Well, I remember that I used to do a bit of that from time to time when I had to, but that has totally gone by the board now : )

The rest of the stuff that has been happening has not been quite so dramatic and has not resulted in any more hair loss, thank goodness.

Two happier events were family picnics. The whole family got together at the end of August in the park at Bidford on Avon along with a few friends and we had a lovely day. There were swans on the Avon just a few feet from where we were sitting and a family of fluffy new moorhen chicks living in the bank beside us.. Lovely!

We enjoyed the first picnic so much that we all opted to have another one to celebrate three family birthdays in the same week in mid September. This time we went to a free concert in a park in Bromsgrove. The music was lovely and the weather stayed nice for us. There were also lots of stalls run by various local charities. There was also one run by the Love Food Hate Waste people. I did a game/quiz thing about recycling and got most of it right and came away with a nice hessian shopping bag which was an unexpected bonus.

I've also seen my new little grandson on four occasions since I last posted. He is five months old now and growing more capable every time I see him. I've had some good cuddles and I enjoy that lots.

We did have to call out the RAC when we had something partly come away from the underneath of the front of the car when we were travelling at 60mph along a dual carriageway. Turned out that it was not a crucial part but it still frightened us when it happened. You can imagine the noise of this thing suddenly coming partly adrift and banging along the road surface when we were travelling at speed. Not fun!

So I've baked and baked and baked some more and we are ready for our first trip away. It is back to Cambridge again for my husband to go to more meetings, but for me it is time off to wander along the river, or look at the old buildings, or look at the shops, or knit or do a crossword or read or whatever takes my fancy. And I am looking forward to it!!!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Burton Dassett

For our anniversary, my husband took me to Burton Dassett. It is a country park not far from junction 12 on the M40. It is 100 acres of land on what used to be an ironstone quarry. Apart from a "beacon" and some toilets, there is nothing else there - it is just a place to wander. And we did have a good wander round. It is a hill in the middle of a fairly flat area so there are very good views all around. Several hundred years ago, there was a windmill which blew down and was replaced by another which also blew down a couple of hundred years later. The "beacon" looks like the stone base of the last windmill which is now filled in with concrete and is a reminder that a beacon was lit there to warn people of approaching armies at the Battle of Edgehill (a couple of miles away) in 1642.

There is also an old church just outside the park. The original was built in 1086 but only lasted a couple of hundred years and was replaced by a bigger building. The bells for this were cast in 1286. The latest modern addition was added in 17 something...  The floor space in the church is about the same as our church so this one must have served quite a substantial community. The floor slopes upward from the bell tower to the high altar. Never been in a church where the floor sloped like that. There were also the remains of medieval paintings on the walls and all the pillars on one side of the church had stone carvings of animals and head and plants.

It was a lovely day out and we had a lovely picnic. I enjoyed it far more than going out for a meal in a restaurant and my husband knows this : )


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Celebration week

Last week at church we ran a holiday club for 3-10 year olds. We had over 80 kids signed up. I was working in the under 6 group and we had between 34 and 37 each day. That is a lot of small kids! They did great and we all had a good time. We were taking them through the story of Joseph with stories, crafts, drama,  action songs and lots of other little activities too. We also put on a bbq for the kids and their families on the Friday which was well attended. The last day of the holiday club was actually the Sunday which included the usual service. I'm not sure the normal congregation knew what had hit them! suffice to say that the adult leaders slept well last week...!

This week is celebration week in our family. My son's three children all have birthdays in August, exactly one week apart, so they are having a grand joint celebration on Saturday with all the family and all the children's friends invited to a bbq. That will be a busy day and I hope it remains dry because that number of excited kids are not going to fit inside the house... Also, it is our wedding anniversary tomorrow. Not a special one this year, but my husband is actually planning to take me out so that will make it special : )

At church, we have had a girl from Slovakia staying for the last month. She has been helping a lot in the coffee shop and has been making Marlenka - an Armenian honey cake. It is absolutely beautiful! She has written out the recipe for me so I shall have a go at making it.

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