Monday, 31 August 2015

First ever canning and I'm in love!!!

With a fridge full of tomatoes I had my first ever attempt at canning this bank holiday weekend. After  literally years of reading about canning and pinning about canning and internet window shopping about canning I have finally done it!!!

To say it is a proud moment is an understatement. I laughed a little when Kymber said I'd be thinking about canning green tomatoes, cuz guess what, the thought had crossed my mind. It has seemed as though the tomatoes have taken forever to ripen this year, it could be the fact that summers been a bit non-existent. But I swear, they were taunting me, knowing my desperation to can them.

So I picked tomatoes for the first attempt as they could be water bath canned with my stock pot and apart from having to buy mason jars it was a cheap new hobby. I was a bit sad that my bargain jar rack didn't fit the pot, but I took another readers suggestion and used the rings from the unused jars in the bottom of the pot.

I chose a recipe from the Ball website called Basil-garlic tomato sauce. Like most families we eat a lot of pasta as it's easy and filling and the kids love it. Full tummies means good sleep, sold! Here's the link if you fancy a look. The only thing I changed was I added a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar and it really helped the taste. Next year I'll plant some garlic and then it can be all home grown.

10lbs of tomatoes made 3 pints of sauce, which I figure is about 6 meals. My maslin pan was great for reducing the sauce, it's measure marks meant I could stop reducing the sauce when I knew there was just the right amount for three jars, so there were no half filled jars. 

I'm going to try a few half recipes to see what I like before I start making in bulk. This sauce was very good though so I will definitely make it again. For the time being I have added a pressure canner to my Amazon wish list and I'll look at it longingly every time I buy something else, a girl has to dream big.

On another topic, as the rain fell all night our garden looks like the Somme. Our digger friend put in all the services for the cabin in the trench and covered it over, what a massive job done, I am super grateful we didn't have to do it ourselves. It is worth every penny of someone else's time right now.



So for now I just keep admiring my three jars of sauce and I've told James they're for special occasions. He seemed to think I meant the kids weddings?!

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Groundworks begin

The top third of our back garden is currently unusable as a garden. It's been covered in building rubble since we moved in. The guy who rented the house before us was a builder of sorts and dumped all his crap up there. We're going to be putting the garden building up there for us to use during the build and we need it levelled and cleared of rubble. As we were prepping for the party yesterday, James' friend who drives diggers and does groundworks turned up. He was due in a few weeks to clear the area and he wanted to do the work the next day (today). It's always good when a workman wants to do work early! 

It meant after the party yesterday we had a burn up of some leylandii cuttings and moved the wood that needs cutting for the wood pile. It's hard to see from the photos, but one side had brick sized rubble and the rest was covered to a depth of about 4 inches of gravel. It looks a whole lot tidier than usual, we'd strimmed the weeds back for the party!

Gravel to be removed

So today he started on clearing the back of rubbish, getting out a giant tree stump and digging a trench for services. It was like watching a master at work, he used the digger arm like it was a third arm. It was done so much quicker than if we'd have tried to do it. He used the rubble to make a hard, level base for the concrete slab to be laid and what was left was put in a huge hole and covered with top soil, genius.

Trench for services

Ground cleared of building rubble and covered with topsoil

Base created using rubble, compacted with the digger and ready for a concrete slab.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Party prep and the big day arrives

This week has mainly consisted of tidying and cleaning. It's one thing that I confess gets left until last in our house. Cleaning is so endless and pointless, everything gets dirty again! I pretty much clean the kitchen and bathroom and everything else rarely. There's nothing like the prospect of a house full of guests to open your eyes to the grime around you. In my defence it was mainly untidy, but I really do feel lighter for a clean and tidy house.

I also got through a few things that I'd been meaning to do. I shortened the wee man's curtains, having never put them back up since the room re-vamp. The sewing machine and I are acquaintances more than friends, but we put our differences aside and did a creditable job of the curtains. I found a set of invisible threads in wilkos, one for dark and one for light fabrics. They're amazing, a transparant nylon which blends into the fabric. No more new thread for every project, cheapskates rejoice.

When I was in Lidl getting some party snacks I also came across some vanilla pods at £1.99, so the little man and I made some more vanilla essence. I've had the big pot since our honeymoon, when we did a cookery workshop in New Orleans.  It's been re-filled and soon should be making more cakes.

We've gardened like mad this week too and so the day dawned for the party today and the house and garden looked great.

A new tool catalogue came this morning, the boys were looking longingly; like father, like son.

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to Belle our hen. You may remember that a few months ago she was poorly with a broken egg inside her. She'd been laying soft shelled eggs for months and a few times they broke inside her. Maybe a month ago it happened again and I removed the shell and cleaned her as best I could. The vet wouldn't give us antibiotics but her discharge was pretty grim. It gradually got better but she's never been the same, pretty lethargic. The last few weeks she's plodded along, but wasn't right and the last few days she's stayed away from the others and yesterday was in the nest box all day. Whenever she got up she fell over and her crop was empty. When I picked her up she didn't flinch and that's not in her character at all. She was nothing but bones, these last months had taken their toll. I gave her a stroke and said goodbye and James took the pellet gun to the back of her head. She was asleep and it was quick. It was another sad goodbye to a friend though.

On a brighter note, the party went fantastically, we had all our friends in the garden having some beer and cider. Everyone was talking and playing with the kids. It makes us realise what a fantastic group of people we have in our lives and how much our friendship group has changed since we had children. I'm so lucky to have a group of girlfriends who all look out for each others kids and who I can trust to be watching them even when I'm not.

So a mixed start to the bank holiday, loss and joy, pretty reflective of life though right?

Sunday, 23 August 2015

A storm blows in, some dehydrating and some shopping

After a warm humid day on Saturday we had a big storm blow in come evening. It made for a good day for us, we had chance to mow the lawn, strimmed the edges and cut some hedges during the day and sit down to watch a film in the evening. It's been years since we've had  lots of thunder and lightening and I admit I was excited. The only problem we had was that it meant a power cut half way through the film. Luckily I knew where the stash of candles was and we got to sit up a wee while and chat by candlelight. It made me think of the people who lived here in the mid 1800's who probably sat just as we did and chatted by the light of oil lamps and candles. One day I'll do some research into the census data and know their names.

The storm brought down an oak limb in our lane and James went this morning to cut it up and haul it home. The big chainsaw wouldn't start though and after endless pulls it managed to do the oak but needs James to have a look over it. But hey, free wood!!! Unfortunately the wind also bought down a big bough from our plum tree. The branch that I can reach without having to scale the hedge or stand in the road. Well you win some, you lose some.

Blossoms babies are getting bigger, she still clucks like mad when they wonder off and they are getting more adventurous.

I'm sure everyone is feeling the same about courgettes around now. We're a bit sick of them so I decided to have a go at dehydrating them.  The oven has a drying function so I set it to 80°C and opened the door a crack. Any further and the fan and heating element stop. I opened the door occasionally to let out steam and after many, many hours the courgettes have crisped up and been put in my beautiful mason jars. Come stew season they'll make a nice addition to a beef stew and dumplings. Can you believe there are 2kg of courgettes here?!

Today we went to the cash and carry for some bits for the kids party next weekend. I also stopped at Homesense and found a jar rack to put in my saucepan for canning. I got it home feeling like a kid at Christmas, but it doesn't fit, by just a few millimetres. Gutted to say the least, but what can you do? Take it back to the shop I guess.

Just a few more pictures, baby girl with her birthday cake. I hope you read this one day angel and you're not too upset by all the pictures on the internet, but mama is so proud of you she can't help it.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Moving the boiler.

After our family day on Saturday we crossed one of the last big planned jobs of the year off our list. Our boiler stands directly in the footprint of our planned extension and we have moved it to a temporary home. It's a pretty big piece of kit and burns heating oil. We didn't realise it had a big tank in there too and when James and our builder came to move it they struggled to lift it off the ground. I had to quickly push our little trolley under to bare the weight; it managed, but only just. James did time in a fabrications team as part of his apprenticeship so he assures me it'll look less bent when next I see it!

This past week we dug out the old oil line and dug a new trench to move it out of the line of fire from foundations. The day after James dug it out I went to hang some washing and the chickens had scratched the soil back into the trench, they weren't popular.

As with all jobs there's always a hitch and the boiler wouldn't fire back up in it's new position. Some issue with a dodgy switch, but after some pretty choice words from James and some fiddling he got it working. So it is in it's new position, it just needs the wires and pipes lagging to protect from the weather and cold. 

I'm torn really on whether in the long term I'd like it to go back once the build is complete. On the plus size I like having a tank of oil stored so we'd have heating and hot water in the event of any problems (electricity generation dependant). On the negative side I hate burning fossil fuels (save the planet), it's expensive and if everything went south I've got a wood stove and Rayburn to cook and heat water on. I like the idea of an air source heat pump, but we'd need more insulation, we're working towards that anyway and I'm not sure on the long term efficiency. Plus it'd make my leccy bill sky high. Anyway, all problems for another day.

So far this week we've all had a bit of a break, I'm cream crackered and so are the kids and James. I had another bout of tonsillitis at the weekend and all the long hours have exhausted James. Baby girl is teething, so not sleeping and wee man's sleep is disturbed by her constant crying. All in all, with the miserable weather the only things I'm doing in the evening are watering, harvesting, tidying after tea and the occasional visits to the gym. It's nice to step the pace down a little. Once the weather clears I'll get started on the garden in time for the kids birthday party the weekend after next.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Happy Birthday baby girl x

Today is baby girl's first birthday. A year has just flown by. Yesterday was my mum's birthday and she had been desperate to have baby girl share a birthday with her. A year ago yesterday, we'd been to a local craft/garden centre and I'd been feeling a bit funny. I ate a whole block of coconut ice to make me feel better and later that evening started with tummy pains. We got wee man to bed and then it really got going. By the about midnight we decided to head to the hospital and they did a routine urine test there. The midwife was in a panic, she said she'd never seen a sugar level so high, did I think I might be diabetic? That's what a whole block of coconut ice will do for you!

They kept promising to get me booked in to the labour ward, they just wanted to get two women booked in who were coming to be induced. After an hour or so of waiting I sent James to tell them I was going to push. A little midwife with a Hitler complex came rushing over telling me off royally, 'don't you dare start pushing, get in the wheelchair, NOW!' 

I got onto the ward and less than ten minutes later I had my baby girl, at 1:51am, sorry mum, I'd missed her birthday. Once I had a bit of a cuddle I started pestering to go home. No one who's ever been stuck on a crappy post-natal ward with third world style food and militant midwives will want a second experience. They took their time but eventually I said I'd discharge myself and take the baby to the GP for her newborn check and they all of a sudden found a nurse to do the newborn check and we got home.

This is one of the first pictures we took of her in the hospital.

and here's one from today playing in the ball pool.

She's a good girl but she doesn't half know her mind, which to anyone who knows me, wouldn't surprise them at all! Wee man was ever so good and didn't try to steal her limelight at all. 

We took a day off from jobs to spend some time together. She opened her presents this morning and we took them off for lunch at the golden arches (no bad parenting here, honestly). As we were in Worcester we walked down by the river and fed the swans. 

We took them both to the cathedral, wee man loves a look round and I wanted to show him the tomb of bad King John. Unfortunately for us, some very lucky lady was getting married so a lot of it was closed, but we'll go back another day. So a lovely day to celebrate a very special little girl.

The cloisters, my favourite area. The kitchen garden is enclosed by these.

Beautiful poppies to commemorate VJ day
Beauchamp effigies from the 1400s

Come on dad

Sunday, 9 August 2015

One project completed and another to begin

So goes the circle of life for most of us. We are having a small victory celebration this evening, James is having a few Cornona and I'll be eating popcorn, whilst we watch a film together, in the early evening! After a final push this weekend James has finished the pointing, he finished the front and the flashings on the chimney today. It's a job that was started the tail end of last year and has been constantly interrupted by other jobs that have come up and really started in earnest with the light nights.
This marks a milestone for us this year. We had list at the beginning of the year; do wee man's room, get planning permission granted and point the house. We've now done them all, plus a few other things, woohoo!!

Front of house pointed

Flashings pointed

As to the other project to begin we've been thinking about the build next year. I'm sure I mentioned that we have to demolish just over a third of the house to build our extension. Only about a third needs to be demolished at once and then the other little bits will be done over time as funds allow. Our builder said we really should move out during the process, he says it will take a lot longer if he has to make good every job before he goes home. It's not in the budget to move out so we've been looking into making somewhere to go if it all gets a bit much and we need a clean space to keep our sanity. I've looked into static caravans and garden buildings. Caravans cost the most, but then they are designed to be lived in and have everything you need for a self contained home. Garden buildings come in all shapes and sizes but within our means a wooden building is probably the most economical. In the long term we don't really want a caravan sitting round the garden, but we could use more storage (who couldn't!?) so we've settled on a wooden building. 

I've found a building that slots together like a cabin and comes ready partitioned with a few rooms. There's one larger room and two very small, but enough space for a place to get away. We're planning on staying in the house as much as possible and sleeping here but it means that if a job is not complete and it leaves us without power, water or some other essential we'll have a room to be in that's dust free and safe for the kids when I turn my back. We'll run power and water up to it and insulate it to keep it warm. So that's our plan to build over autumn and winter in preparation for spring. There's lots of ground work to be done first though, so at some point we'll borrow a digger and clear the back of the garden which is currently covered in rubble. 

Next weekend James is moving our boiler away from the back of the house where the demolition will take place and put it in a temporary spot further away and reconnect it. It makes one less job for next year and clears room for the new drainage channels to be dug. At the moment water just pools against the rear wall of the house. 

So that's our current plan for what to keep us busy over the next few months along with the everyday of job and kids, exciting isn't it?

Just as an aside Blossom had four eggs hatch and she's looking after the chicks beautifully, she gets very agitated when they all go in different directions and is only happy when they're all under her wing.

Meeting her best friend for the first time in ages, it wasn't very friendly! 

Safe and sound, where she'd like them all the time.

Teaching them to eat

We also had a bit of a play on a water slide when the sun was shining on Saturday and wee man loved it.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

They're here!!!

Blossom has chicks, why did I doubt?! We were making jam in the kitchen when my friend said she was going to pop out and have a look and came back to say a chick had arrived.

We almost couldn't contain the kids who were all chomping at the bit to get down to the bottom of the garden to investigate. They were delighted to see the little chick chirping away and hiding under her mothers wing. A few hours later James and I had a look and there were two all dried off and a third pushed his head from the egg while we watched. I'm not sure who was more enchanted me or the kids (definitely me). One more life experience for us all to enjoy.