Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lazing on a sunny afternoon














Lovely, lazy (well, in my interpretation of the word) weekends. Weekends that don't involve going anywhere, racing, Stagecoach shows. In fact a horrible chest infection has meant that I've not run since last weekend. One child was successfully sent off climbing with his scout troupe in Derbyshire whilst the rest of us got down to work in the garden.

I decided to try to sort out all my clematis this weekend, noting down their names and prune codes. All too many times, despite me tying the names onto them, the plastic degrades in the elements and come autumn I can't even remember the colour of the clematis let alone it's prune code!

On a roll, I decided to finally tackle the overgrowing honeysuckle and bramble that is beginning to creep towards my cordon apple tree. It does a wonderful job hiding a hideous concrete breeze block wall, however, it's also going to do a wonderful job putting an end to the apple tree at this rate.

The local village had its annual plant fair on Saturday, which was all the persuasion I needed to transform this section of the garden. A beautiful Chinese wisteria alba (I know, another climber!) had my name written all over it, a perfect replacement to the honeysuckle. Kept under strict control, this will hide the wall, but equally not strangle the apple.

Late on Saturday afternoon we were rung by one of our local beekeeper group. He had successfully divided some of his hives and wanted to know if we wanted two. So today we re-housed our new bees and now have three hives...exciting times. We also think we may have the potential grumblings of swarming in our existing hive, so we are going to try to artificially swarm them next weekend.

Next weekend LMB and myself are off to the Lake District for the bank holiday. We're going to meet with my sixth form friends of some 25 years ago and (not too closely) replicate our holiday we had at the end of our A levels! 25 years of older bones has made for glamping rather than scrambling into 2-man tents in the middle of a cow pat ridden field, but the sentiment is the same!
The boys are having a 'man' weekend at Lords!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The camera never lies...if it has good lens on it that is!

It's been a while...again.

I am becoming increasingly sporadic as the years pass and am trying hard to decipher why that is?

I think it is a primarily work eating into not only my hours, but also dampening my creativity. I can't remember the last time I got out my sewing machine or even sat to knit. Reports and lesson planning seems to be my past time of choice at the moment (although there is always some necessary house/farm-type chore to deal with). Blogging seems to get a real back seat as I can't find the inspiration on quite such a regular basis, nor can I muster the energy to focus my brain to write!

Sad as that may sound, it doesn't mean I'm NOT dousing my brain in creative things or dreaming about what I could write about if I had the time to think it through!!

This weekend was all about creativity. My dear sister gave me a voucher for a photography course for my birthday.
I had a selection of opportunities from night work to street photography or editing, however, I decided it really was time to hit my camera head on, take her of auto mode and finally figure out what ISO, aperture and shutter speed really meant to my photography.

I'll now step back with the easy option and let the pictures tell the story (it was London Marathon day btw). Hopefully they'll show a developmental progression from Sunday to this afternoon (with an added addition of a Nifty Fifty lens ie: a 50mm f1 - 1.8 Nikon lens as a little bargainalicious treat to myself!)

One of my favourite inspiring marathon motivational signs!


Run you extreme elites!!! Only not too fast because I may not have got to the end of my course to figure out how to do a great 'movement' shot or decided what the aperture should be!!

Messing about in the park with lighting and bursts on my zoom lens.




I really like this effect above, but it does make me feel a little sea sick!

 vortex effect! 


Messing about back home in the fading sun with changing the aperture and shutter speed.









 I love this series of three, watch the bee come in to land. This was with the new 'nifty fifty'.





Finally a few other Nifty Fifty shots of 'the English countryside'

For my next course, aside from some 'street photography' which might be grand, I think I need to work on editing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The fields are alive...

Spring is beginning to show herself, finally.

There have been signs all over the garden and allotment, albeit somewhat intermittently at the moment. The herd of Dexter steers have returned to the field opposite, so the mornings are gently broken up by their lowing and mooing. The mornings are lighter, we are getting up in the light and the evenings are allowing us a few hours to do things before hitting us with the dark.

It's at this time of the year that things begin to ramp up, there are seeds to be sown, earth to be turned, repairs or changes that have materialised during the winter as well, this year, as decorating, putting together stuff for the barn and jobs...that is, life outside our smallest of smallholdings.

Where to start? Well, the barn is now nearly complete. We are on the tiling. Next week the floor coverings go down, then we can put the furniture in upstairs and all the cider, honey and smoking equipment downstairs. It's really turned out beautifully. I will aim to get some photos up here in the next few days.

Of course, now the new patio has gone down and winter has passed, there is lawn to seed, and then the patio tubs to sort. Unfortunately many of them are in a bit of a sorry state this year having stood on the deck out of the builders way, but not in the best place and they're covered in brick dust or rather waterlogged or just plain sorry for themselves. My next few weekends will be spent trying to salvage and re-pot what I can.

We, sadly, lost a hive this winter. No idea of the cause, just bad luck I guess. So we had to take the hive to pieces and blow torch it to ensure that we had killed any possible disease (not that the bees looked deformed or anything). We discovered several pounds of honey on the brood frames, so we took to rather crude methods of extracting as we didn't want to extract the grubs into the honey. We called it the 'spoon to gob' method.

I have a pot of cooking honey and, whilst this honey was no good for jars, it has made a fine addition to my cooking honey and Master Beehive the elder made a rather scrummy honey cake with some of it.

So we are on the look out for a couple of swarms once the weather warms up after we re-assembled the old hive and have assembled a third one.



The chickens and ducks have nearly survived the winter. We have one rather sorry looking chicken who is keeping going despite the odds. She spent an evening warm in a towel in the utility room a few weeks back and then spent a week living in our greenhouse. She seemed to find a new lease of life, so, having given her a reprieve, I popped her back in with the rest. Since then, she has gone downhill again. She still seems to eat and drink, but her comb is very pale. I know what the kindest thing to do would be, but...erk! I keep hoping I might just wake up tomorrow and find her having passed on. Not a very good farmer really :-(

The allotment is looking much healthier this year. We composted all the chicken poop and have spread that, horse muck and topsoil on all the beds. Mr Beehive has built up the sides of the beds more so we may have some luck with root veg and LMB and I have spent HOURS picking stones out of the beds. I'm told 7 years is the magic amount of time to see fruition with soil improvement...7 bloody years! Gah! However, it looks much healthier than last year and whilst I have been turning it, the worms are in abundance. I'm told that is a sign of healthy soil.

I spent a weekend building a makeshift fruit cage which guards my blackcurrants and I still have to make one for the raspberries.
Whilst thinking of ways of protecting the plants I often peruse various websites to see if I can find really nice cloches or protective covers, I um and ah for ages, put things in my basket, ponder over ridiculous postage charges and then shut the website down having wasted an hour but achieved nothing. I then move over to pinterest (have you been there...of course you have!) OMG! The creative ideas that people have!

There is no need to buy when there is pinterest.

I have made my pea support walls, my fruit cage and I have made some short seed protectors from galvanised wire (really easy) and am going to make a few more longer ones using corrugated plastic and rope - for the grand price of £7 per 1.5 m tunnel - not bad considering they were asking over £30 on the websites!

I'll post pictures next weekend once I've built them.

Let the busy seasons commence!



Friday, February 20, 2015

Bread

A half term holiday and the excuse to make lots and lots of bread.


It has LONG been my desire to master the professional, artisan, crusty crust, the kind that snaps when you break it and despite trying many different ways over the years, I have had limited success.

However, I think I have finally got it!

It's taken several batches of dough of different recipes and a variety of ways to bake it, in fact my kitchen has been more like a laboratory this half term!

We have enjoyed cheese and chilli



Cheese and marmite (no picture, sorry)























And finally sour dough. Now, we have yet to eat the sour dough, but it looks and smells pretty darn fine thank you.



So what is the secret to a crispy crust? Well, and this is in 'my' oven, bear in mind you are playing with yeast and chemistry, so the alteration of just one variable, could mess the whole thing up....
ice cubes and olive oil!

Throw a few ice cubes onto the floor of your oven just as you put in your bread so that you trap in some steam and baste your loaf with olive oil. Also, make sure your oven is hot!


If your crust looks brown and crisp, you will know for sure if you've hit the jackpot if your crust continues to snap and crackle when it's outside the oven.

So here are the recipes that I have used for successful bread making. Enjoy

24 floz water
0.35 oz yeast
1 tablespoon salt
2 lbs strong bread flour
semolina or cornflour for dusting
ice cubes (around 10)
olive oil

The water needs to be a little warmer than body temperature and pour it into a large mixing bowl.
Mix in the yeast and salt, it doesn't all have to dissolve.
Add all the flour in one go.
Bring it together with either your hands or a wooden spoon.
DON'T KNEAD it!!

It is quite a sticky and wet dough and you may just need to press together the flour that gets missed. Make sure it is all pressed together otherwise you'll have lumps of flour in your bread...not nice!

It should be all wet and not take long to achieve.
Cover the container with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for a couple of hours.

Then once it's risen, cover your container with clingfilm but leave a little edge up so the gas can escape and put it in the fridge. It can be left for up to 14 days in the fridge or you can use it any time after the initial 2 hour rise.

Yes, I know, no knead and then into a 'cold' fridge where yeast needs to rise!

This is right!

When you come to use it, it will be sticky but works better straight from the fridge. Cut a section off to use and dust down your board and an upturned baking tray with flour.

Gently mould your section of dough into a small round ball, alternatively put it into a proving bowl. Allow it to stand for around 40 minutes. It won't rise much, but don't worry, it will rise in the oven.

Whilst this is going on, you need to heat your oven to around 200degrees for at least 20 - 30 minutes.
If you have a baking stone, pre heat that for at least 20 - 30 minutes before you want to use it.

When your oven is hot enough, and your loaf has stood, get a small amount of olive oil and a teaspoon of semolina.

Take your baking stone out of the fridge, lightly dust with flour (it will be VERY HOT!)

Put your loaf onto the stone, take a brush and lightly brush a very sharp knife with olive oil (it helps it to cut easier), then slice a deep cross on your bread.

Take the brush and brush over a thin coating of olive oil and then sprinkle semolina over your bread, this helps the crusty feel.

Now you need your ice cubes, take a handful and open your oven, throw them onto the oven floor and, at the same time, put your bread in and close the door.
This is where you wait!

It should take around 20 - 30 minutes to look crisp and brown.
I then take it out, tap the bottom and it's often a little soft due to the stone, so I just crisp it up by popping it back in for 5 further minutes directly on the shelf.

This should be pretty failsafe to get you that crisp, baker-made hand crafted bread that you always dreamed of!

I also experimented with putting a broiler of water on the floor of the oven as well as the ice cubes to ensure the steam continued. I'm not sure the broiler created as much steam as the ice cubes, but some of this is trial and error.

Good luck and hope you enjoy it!








Thursday, January 01, 2015

simplicity

Happy New year!
The eve of the first full day of 2015. How did that happen so fast? Haven't we just had a millennium?
So how does a clean page begin in a new year?
Not one full of resolutions to ultimately break or fail at that's for sure. That's never been a good start.
I do like to keep lists and make thought bubbles on paper.
I also like to try to start the year with a challenge or two in mind. Sometimes it  might be a physical challenge other times it may be a spiritual or development challenge or a mix of all three as it is this year.
This year I do have a list of achievable goals, not resolutions because none of them are things that are new to me exactly, this is more a list to remind me of ways to deepen a more conscious lifestyle.

DEVELOPMENTAL
I have for sometime now had an interest in living life in a much simpler way. I get ground down by technology and consumerism and wish life was just plainer and easier. I have read lots of books on the subject and realise that this lies with me to find my way and not on seeking to alter things I simply cannot change. Living simply is about finding ways that makes my life more simple and peaceable. To give up many things I don't need is one thing, but to give up things out of a stern sense of duty or some misguided need to conform to a strict set of rules will cause dissatisfaction, ultimately giving no peace or simplicity in my life at all. So, rather than binning all my worldly things and going to live in a hut without any running water, my challenge will be for all future things:
1. Do I really need it?
2. Could I borrow it?
3. Could I make it/mend it/recycle it?

Simplicity is also about our actions; ways we can connect more, relate more, be calmer with each other. Ways I'm thinking to incorporate this is to have one weekend  month that we turn off the TV on a Saturday evening and play board games with our kids, bring back our family reader, bring back our Sunday hikes and start going to meetings.

SPIRITUAL
This last statement relates to the fact that I have been wanting, for quite sometime now, to attend our local Quaker meetings. Our boys attend a Quaker school and we have found their outlook on many things so incredibly compatible to our own. I was christened in the Church of England but have never really been a church goer. I am not going to use this space to say anything about the Church of England, suffice to say, it just never felt what we were seeking. Recently Mr Beehive said he also wanted to attend, so this is our second goal for this year.

PHYSICAL
Finally after feeling like I have become a Christmas pudding I am determined not to lose the fitness I have built up over this year. I will continue to try to run one race a month and also do park run as often as I can. Mr Beehive and two of our friends have decided to walk the 50km Thames Path challenge in September. If we feel suitably comfortable with the achievement, we may extend that to the 100km walk next year. For now, goals are to be scored not missed, so baby steps it is.

What are your goals for this fresh new year?




Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy Christmas

This will be my last post of 2014. I can't quite believe it. Not only is the end of yet another year, but I've been blogging now for 9 years! This time next year it will be a decade of life speaking to you all through this blog and sharing snippets of our life.


Cheeky boy here, cracks me up on a daily basis, interspersed with his incredible knowledge and wisdom that blows me away!



And life, what is that? A life portrayed as 'perfect', I hope not, we have as many mess ups and down days as the rest of you only I am more picky about what I make public. A life where my children are no longer really the subject of this blog; they have grown, and oh 'how' they have grown, and their lives are theirs and theirs alone, not something for me to find a blog subject in. Of course I mention them, frequently, but I no longer blog about their toilet habits or silly things they say or do as they are no longer toddlers and, frankly, it's no longer that kind of funny !!

Yeah, not a lot changes for those of you that know this funny guy! He is so adorable and loving.
This one is going to the stage! Such a daaaaarling as well as an absolute darling!

It's been nine years of evolution for me as a child of the pen, to an adult of the computer age. I fight demons on a daily basis about the merits of blogging, computers, facebook, email communication and time spent doing such by both myself and my children, but I know that life is different now and frankly, I enjoy reading blogs and facebook. The former placates me sometimes at the end of a long and tiring day. I quite like to lose myself in five minutes of someone else's life and yes, I do tend to go to my favourite bloggers who have similar lives to my own or similar ideals.

I do sometimes have ruminations as to whether it is time to stop the blog, there are so many out there now and blogging has become a career for so many that my feeble little rambly blog just doesn't compete with the big boys, but, then the voice of reason says: Who are you blogging for? Ultimately it's for me, and for my family and for my friends whom we don't see very often or who live back in the USA, Belgium or Scotland, and, if I didn't unload my head on here, there'd be one hell of a lot of mixed up incoherent crap in there, and blogging is cheaper than therapy ;-)

So I will continue, perhaps for another year.

For now though, I'm going to switch off here and spend Christmas with my family and I'll be back in the New Year.





Have a wonderful Christmas time