Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A cowboy cookout

What a glorious evening, that started as a very, very dubious day. On the tail winds of the St Jude Day Storm we thought that we were doomed for LMB's very early Cowboy Cookout party. Armed with stacks of indoor crafts that we could do inside the yurt should the weather decide to turn on us, we headed over to a very new Yurt site that is close to us. We'd hired this fantastic yurt for the night and invited several cowboys and cowgirls to help us celebrate.

All cowboys were encouraged to chip in and peel things that they most definitely would not be eating!!

Older cowboys were assigned to the fire pit and the making of hot dogs, baked beans and corn on the cob. You can only see by the look on his face the sheer delight he gets in the simple things in life! The hat made an appearance too.

This photo was just too amazing to miss. Are we in Oxfordshire or are we in Montana? The clouds give the illusion of mountains in the background.

I was unable to take pictures of the birthday girl blowing out her candles as the wind did it for her everytime, but as this was an early party, she has another opportunity to do this on her actual birthday in a couple of weeks time.

After the guests had left, the cousins settled down for a movie and an overnighter in the yurt.

The sisters celebrated the end of another successful birthday party with some well deserved  bubbles!

Finally, the yurt glowed in all it's Hobbiton glory in the failing sunlight....

Snuggled under layers and layers of duvets, sleeping bags, cowboy ponchos, gloves, hats and each other, we all lay down on futons for the night to dream of cattle rustling and lasso knots....

Well, until the ruddy Carbon Monoxide alarm went off this morning at 4am! In all seriousness, it could have been a very different story, in fact, maybe not even one that I would have been telling, but we are all fine.

The wood burner had been out for over 5.5 hours by the time the alarm sounded, so we are all somewhat confused, but perhaps the vents weren't completely closed on the fire, maybe there needs to be ventilation panels in the doors, however, the CM alarm worked successfully and woke us all. If there is one thing it has taught us, it is that carbon monoxide is EVIL and an alarm a necessity as there was no smell, no headaches, no funny tastes, nothing visually evident. If you don't have one and have an open fire or woodburner, GET ONE! I think new legislation states that all woodburners fitted by a professional have to have an alarm installed with them, but if yours precedes this or you just don't have one, please get one.

However, with an intermittent monotone voice and shrieking alarm telling us there was a 'Carbon Monoxide Warning', this little band of cowboys had to pack their things, saddle up and climb aboard their noble steeds to head the 3 miles home to beds that didn't consist of small children, hard slats and the need to wear the whole contents of their winter wardrobes. Glamping is apparently what it's called...I'm not entirely convinced !!

Today, to clear our lungs of any possible nastiness, we have been at the allotment making a path. I'm debating whether to invest in two or three small maiden bare root apple trees to run along one side. I would train them as espaliers. My neighbour allotmenteer (is that a word? Well, it is now!) has a polytunnel that runs alongside where I'd put these trees, so I don't want anything tall to take away any of her light, but equally I think that this area is going to be better suited to a higher fruit tree rather than veg. However, another part of me thinks that this is rather an investment to put onto an allotment. Hmmm, what would you do?

Anyway, I'm off to learn how to make proper bread now with the GB Bakeoff masterclass...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


We picked up our share of our pig this weekend and have set about having our first attempt at making bacon from some of the belly.

All being well, it's an incredibly simple thing to make and means we'll have our own store of bacon for the next few months.

Whilst I was searching for something simple, I discovered that there are a wealth of ways to cure bacon, but I wanted something that I could cold smoke and then freeze that wasn't too fiddly or faffy. In my opinion, if you have to spend a week messing over fiddly stages, then it's not worth it.

So the recipe I adapted was along the lines of this:

I used 8.5lbs of belly pork that I cut into six easier to manage slabs (when this is cured completely, I will slice it and freeze it in usable batches).

Fro the 8.5lbs I used around 1lb of salt
1 packed cup of brown sugar
and 8 pints or 1 gallon of water.

The best way is to dissolve your sugar into half your water before you pour it into the other half, that way you can visually see if you have grains of salt left or not.

I used a large cool box to store the brine solution and belly in.


Mix up your water, salt and sugar until it has all dissolved, then place your belly into the brine solution.
I then weighted it under the solution with plates to hold it down.
You don't want to let any creep above the liquid or you'll end up with rancid pork which will tarnish all your meat.
Put it somewhere cool - my recipe said the fridge, however, my fridge is not a walk in size and therefore as I was doing this in October, we put it in the back of the garage for 24 hours.

After 12 hours take a look at it and mix up the brine to ensure full coating.

After the 24 hours, I got our smoker going. Again, the recipe called for Applewood chips, but with Mr Beehive being in Kenya for the week and this being my first attempt at smoking, he advised we used Oakwood chips as they have less of a tendency to go out.

The meat was removed from the brine, I washed it thoroughly and patted it dry. Then each slab has been hung on various levels in the smoker. I may swap them over later today or, after 10 hours, which is the length of time the oak tends to smoke for, re-smoke but swap the levels over then, so the upper ones get as much intensity as the lower.

Once the smoking is over, I will take them out and, according to my recipe, they'll look a little moist, so will need to be patted dry. Then I'm going to attempt to slice one slab up. I'm hoping my useless knives will work on the meat. I think if I refrigerate for an hour first, the meat will solid up a bit and be easier to slice. Then it'll be frozen...apart from the slab we eat for dinner this evening! Mmmmm.

There are alternatives which I intend to try next time including using maple syrup and maple sugar. I have NEVER seen maple sugar in the UK, so if anyone knows where I can get some, or if any of my US pals want to airmail a bag to me ;-)

On the other side of our thriving little cottage industries, the cider has had a bit of a disastrous start this year!

The first batch we made up may have been 'killed' by there being some sterilising fluid that got into the juice! None of the yeast got going and despite following lots of advice from the cider makers, we just couldn't get it to go.

However, with Mr Beehive going to get the pig last weekend, he happened to 'stumble' across a Zummerzet Zyder farm and managed to wangle himself two large sacks of proper cider apples for £4!!!!!!!!!!!

Hence the fact he is now brewing the 'real' stuff on the windowsills which is doing VERY well and all the gallons of wasted stuff :-( has been replaced. He's learned a cruel lesson this year, that is to say that sometimes you can 'over clean' and it be just as bad an outcome. We all need some good bacteria ;-)

Finally, a sneaky pic of my sis and me. We managed to take mum to see Wicked in Manchester for her birthday last weekend without her figuring it out until she was standing underneath the signs in front of the theatre! We had a lovely time and had such a laugh trying to give it away but her not getting any of it. This included me wearing my Wicked t shirt and trying to fly down some stairs and us throwing song titles and lyrics into conversation wherever we could. To the normal human being this made us sound like utter tits the whole day, however, maybe mum is used to us acting like drongos and therefore, nothing seemed out of character! Yay mum, cheers!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Eczema update

I've decided to do a little update on Master Beehive the elder's eczema since I last posted on the topic and to also highlight the National Eczema Society a little and a sponsored challenge we're undertaking in 2014 to raise money for research.

Interestingly, what has prompted this post was a lady in Sainsbury's this morning, collecting for Teenage Cancer.
I immediately dug into my pocket and handed over some cash, thinking how lucky I am that none of my children have this terrible disease and hoping that it will long, long remain that way. I thought about how I'd not want to be in the shoes of any parent in this situation with such a life threatening illness.

All of this is naturally very very true and I'm not even going to compare eczema and cancer, but what I am going to do is lay it out a little barer today, explain to you exactly how and why eczema is ALSO life threatening to many teenagers (and adults) in the UK today and hope I do that without sounding as if I'm belittling ANY condition, after all, we're all very true to the causes that we have to live through and endure and most of us will fight passionately in order to spread awareness or find help etc.

Let's start at the very beginning:

For those of us with children, we often find little rashes and marks on the skin of our newborns. Most of these are put down to unspecified rashes or perhaps an intolerance to some food or other. Some of these cases will go on to be diagnosed as atopic eczema. Atopic, just means 'on the skin' and is the most common form as far as i know, although there are many other types.

Most babies will grow out of it, a few won't. What they don't tell you is that a few will then get it again, perhaps through puberty, perhaps after a period of stress - no-one actually knows the true trigger. It's quite possible that, like the cold sore virus, it lies dormant in the body until moments of weak immunity and then it's triggered, perhaps by a bout of chicken pox or flu.

What I do know is that there are literally hundreds of people with eczema in the UK, of varying degrees, all of whom are individual and therefore to get a remedy that works for your child's skin takes time and trial and error.

During this period of trial and error, you will try creams - most likely beginning with Aqueous cream and progressing through things such as Aveeno, E45, Cetraben, Dermol, Emulsifying ointment etc.
Then there are the steroid creams and the hydrocortisones - (0.5%, 1%, 2%, elacon, Daktakort, Dermovate, Betnovate...) Of course, as any concerned parent you will be a little concerned about things such as skin thinning, so you'll do your darndest to find the root cause: hence you'll probably intermittently make his life miserable by removing dairy, or wheat, or gluten, or meat, or everything. You'll introduce herbal remedies, wash his bed linen every other day, freeze his cuddly toys to remove dust mites, hoover until you realise that your arm has actually become an extension of the vacuum cleaner. You'll keep food diaries, stress diaries, photographic diaries, environmental diaries, mood diaries, diaries of when he last did a poo and what the colour was....nah, alright, I am getting a little carried away there, but you understand the intensity!

During this time you're hoping that his skin doesn't get infected and he end up with Staph or Strep or Pneumonia or Impetigo. Yes, I think this is one area that people don't realise and that is the link between his immunity to infection once his skin is broken. Periodically he'll have to be on antibiotics to clear up an infection...that'll mean he'll get an upset tummy, so you'll need to get him on pro biotics. He'll sometimes need prednisilone because the topical creams won't even touch the sides. Sometimes the infection might hospitalise him or keep him off school for a week or more.

And how does it feel? Well, if you've never experienced it and believe me, I haven't, so this explanation comes from my observations of him and trying to associate it with things I DO know:

Imagine that you have been bitten by incredibly itchy sandflies all over your body. You itch the bites, you know that you shouldn't because it releases more histamine, but you have to. You scratch so frequently and violently despite taking anti histamine tablets, that you begin to break the skin. Over a long period of time, this skin becomes weak and susceptible to splitting open. At the breaks it weeps. Your skin is now red raw. Like a seriously bad sunburn...everywhere....all the while. Anything you put on your body such as clothes hurts so, so badly...if it doesn't stick to your skin first. Some of the earlier bites heal and bleed and heal and bleed, you know that you'll be scarred. Nothing helps. Water gives temporary relief, but then your skin dries up like a wafer and cracks open again. You put moisturiser everywhere every few hours, but it stings like antiseptic on a graze, the steroid does the same. You cry, it hurts on your face when you cry...salt stings.
That's eczema from an observer's point of view.

All the while he will be subjected to torments from kids whom he meets that don't know him, weird looks from passers by because he can sometimes look exhausted, red under the eyes and a little like a drug addict with all his skin flaking off.

The shock of being told that he needs to see a psychologist when he eventually gets to see a consultant dermatologist and specialist eczema teams hits home that he is in a category of kids who are at higher risk of suicide!

So, this is why Mr Beehive and I are climbing five peaks in the Lake District in 12 hours next Easter. We will do Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell, Esk Pike, Great End and Scarfell.
I will put a link on the blog so that, if you feel you can contribute, however small, we would be very grateful.

And, just for the updated record, he has, for the first time in three years, got smooth skin and his eczema is non visible and he is not itchy. We appear to have found the steroid/moisturiser package that is working for him. We are incredibly grateful for the consultant and her team at the JR and hope that if we can raise enough, then more children will get more help from teams like her on the NHS and through the eczema society's continual campaign for awareness and support.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Open your eyes

Yesterday evening I dropped the boys off at a Scout camp and, as I didn't have the youngest hobo with me, was able to meander back from the camp.

As I came over the brow of a small hill (believe you and me, my area only does small ones) the clouds appeared above the line of trees like snow topped mountains.

It completely took my breath away.

It's moments like this that help me recharge my batteries. That make me put the rest of the weeks' insanities into perspective.

Fluffy white clouds disguising themselves as grand and imposing mountain ranges, transporting me away from the Oxfordshire countryside on an Autumn Friday evening and into the depths of the Rockies or the Appalachian range. I can pretend, momentarily, that I'm driving close to Boulder or I'm on my way home to Connecticut to our little clapboard house in the woods.

But not once in a weekend, twice! Obviously someone felt that I had a lot of recharging to do this weekend!

Walking back from a meal at our local pub with LMB, the sky appears to have erupted this evening. There is a harsh chill to the air, not one to make your breath appear before you, but enough to make you realise that maybe you haven't quite put on enough layers for this October evening (and one to make you worry a little bit about those boys in that field on that camp!). There is also no moon.

There have been few times in my life where the skies have been clear enough to see the milky way. I remember clearly seeing it lying on a beach in South Africa back in 1990 as a teenager. A few years later, camping under the stars on the banks of the Dordogne river and then here, in this house. I have seen the milky way and this huge expanse of night sky here a few times, but nowhere else I have lived or travelled, have I seen it as clearly as these times.

I know it's been there for me to see but I just think that sometimes there are times when your eyes need to be opened wider to the beauty that surrounds you. Your eyes need to be hot wired to your heart and soul on these occasions. It may be there at other times but if your eyes aren't truly open, then you won't see. Tonight I needed to see so the banalities that came through a build up of tiredness and everyday pressures could then pale into insignificance.

Tonight I am just grateful for seeing.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Agh, just agh...that's all!

Apparently Bridget Jones is now as old as us. She's a widow and still living her life in measurements of wine units, caffeine consumption and waist line expansion. I'm sure her knickers are no smaller than ever they were either.

If my life were documented in Bridge's terms, I swear that this week and last would look something like this:

Number of hours spent in the car transporting kids hither and thither - 150

Loads of washing put on - 15

Number of trips to various hospitals and doctors - 3

Number of irritated letters sent to teachers in relation to out of order behaviour by the teacher (yes, don't go there!)  - 2

Number of water related issues - 2 so far, if you don't count the wooden floor that has risen yet again and the fact that, yet again, we have had to take it up...the other two incidents where water has come through the ceiling are minor, no, mere blips in comparison!

Number of weeks husband has been out of the country - 2 and counting

Number of turds picked up from the lawn - at least 35!! I have dogs that seem to feel it is their duty in life to ensure at least one poo has been done by the time I've picked up the previous 467!

Number of animals dead - one :-( a stiff guinea pig by Sunday evening :-(

Average time I have sat down each evening this week - 9.30pm

Average amount of hours slept - 5 - if I'm lucky enough not to have a child in my bed

Caffeine drunk - not enough

Wine drunk - seriously not enough

And this is with a part time job flung in the midst somewhere.

So how have all you Bridget Jones' coped this week ?

Hopefully normal jollies will resume once said husband is back in the country and I'm no longer the local cab service, water defence league, house elf, homework companion, caviidae funeral director, chief poo picker, dispute resolver and angry mama bear.

Toodle Pip!