Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Christmas preparations and home raised meat for the table

I'm still chasing my tail but my head is just above water and I'm happy as Larry.  Whoever he is.


So this weekend started off with a frost on Saturday morning.  It always makes me want to stop and get a photo as frost makes everything look so pretty.
The frost mean the sheep had a bucket of hay between them which they happily munched on. 
My Mum came over and had some of my homemade jam (the few that didn't turn mouldy!) with a wholemeal breadbun.  She sadly has a, let's say condition for ease, where she is restricted on what she can eat.  So homemade jam is one she can have, which makes us both happy.  It is her 67th birthday today (20th), Happy Birthday Mum xxx. (I am a day late with actually publishing this post!)
I noticed my garlic and onions are starting to come through, you can just spy them in this bed poking through the soil.  The Purple Sprouting Broccoli is also in the same bed which I planted as an experiment to tell me if it's worth doing on a bigger scale for this year.
I finally got round to making some fudge.  I've never made it before and followed a recipe from bbcgoodfood for white chocolate fudge.  Now I don't like fudge myself, but Jack loves this one.  I am going to try and get another flavour made and hand them out as Christmas gifts to people when they visit or as they leave after Christmas dinner.

Yesterday I put a ham in the slow cooker and we had some for tea with pasta and a garlic sauce.  It was really nice and different to what we've been having, so a refreshing change.  Now I confess, I always say to myself I must do something with the stock that's left.  Then I don't and I wash it away, so last night, I sent Dawn a message and she told me to freeze it on ice cube trays for use another time, so I have done just that.  Why I haven't done that before, I don't know.  Thanks Dawn.  We got loads of lovely shredded ham off it.

I've been wrapping gifts as often as I can.  I'm using brown paper and decorating with my own items.  I love this look.
Here is a rare photo of me and the 2 girls.  I don't often post about the horses specifically but they offer the smallholding bountiful amounts of super manure (I was going to use a double S there but I restrained) which in turn feeds the land, which feeds us.  So they have earned the right to a photo ;)  They can be my sanity at times when I feel like I could scream.
Finally to the Christmas meat, please do not scroll down if you're offended by the sight of birds being prepared for the table.  As you will know by now, this is our lifestyle that we're aiming towards, so I make no apologies for it, but will always give you fair warning if there are photos as I understand that we're not all the same.
On Sunday we dispatched a goose and a duck ready for Christmas Day.  We did 2 chickens in the summer and they were a pain to pluck, so we hung them up after dispatch, covered their heads to keep things tidy and plucked them hanging from the small barn roof.  It made the job a lot easier, though it still took a long time.  I can totally understand why hand plucked birds cost so much and doing it makes you realise even more about respecting the process and the end result.  We're doing both birds for Christmas lunch.  The goose will be done in the Aga as per Mary Berry's instructions and I need to look up how long to cook the duck for - I have an alternate oven which I may use for that, as I will need space in the roasting over for the veggies.


Both kids helped with plucking of the goose, they soon got bored to be fair, but I am pleased they were involved.  I do try my hardest to ensure they respect the animals and are not squeamish about being able to provide for themselves. I am really pleased with the end result.


It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!  How about for you?

Friday, 16 December 2016

Quick pre weekend update - dining room progress

I think the fact that it is a full working week next week is giving me a false sense of security as I normally have some time off before Christmas but due to the way it's fallen this year, on a weekend, I keep getting a slight shiver of panic that I need to be all done by a week today and have no time off before hand.  So this weekend I will be getting the gifts wrapped and set to one side. 


We're in the middle of getting the dining room finished in time for Christmas.  We didn't want to do any inside jobs in the Summer so left it until Autumn but with one thing and another it's only getting finished now.  The plasterer completed the walls last week and my lovely Dad helped out by painting it this week.  Normally Ste does everything but December is a crazy busy month in the butchers and we just weren't going to fit it in, so we asked for help.  It looks great, just a plain colour - such a bright sunny room.  Somehow we managed to get a roll end of carpet and arrange for fitting for tomorrow.  Don't ask me how but it involved lots of traipsing round and the air was blue by the end.  The guy is fitting it at some point tomorrow, then tomorrow night will be spent getting the tree up in there, the table and chairs in for the big day, the mantle decorated and start to dress the table for Christmas.


My Mam is giving us her dinner service, some of which was her Mam's, so we will be using that for Christmas which is just lovely.  It will then be stored in the empty display cabinet that we have. 


Sunday will see the goose and duck being prepared and a trial of the frozen red cabbage.  Along with a million and one other things that I need to list out and put in order of what to do first.


Sorry no photos today but expect photo overload after the weekend :)

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

December birthday and raspberry vodka

Sounds like a good combination right :)


It was my birthday yesterday and also my long day at work, however it was great fun.  I heard from people I've not spoken to for a while, saw my family, was lucky to receive gifts and got to taste my raspberry vodka which we started off in summer.  Oh man, it was lovely.  I've been having a few drinks through December to celebrate and feel festive with friends when they visit etc and now I have this, we're taking a bottle next door with us to celebrate Christmas Day Night with our lovely neighbours.  It'll be the perfect end to the day when I get to chill after a hectic day no doubt.


So in true Tracy style, I was given a greenhouse heater and 2 huge propagators and a thermometer for min/max and current temperatures from Steven, along with some long socks, a bottle of Baileys and other items.  How lucky am I?
I also got a personalised notebook which I just love, that I am going to use to record all of next years info around eggs, veg seeds sown, grown and harvested (weights etc, thanks Dawn!).  My lovely parents got me a new coat to do my smallholding jobs in Winter, for which this weather is far too warm to wear it yet, so I am wanting a bit more winter weather please.  I got a Bake Off apron and £60 cash which has been spent on something for the smallholding that I will do another post on.

Hugely exciting too - the farmer has confirmed the litter of piglets which we're getting ours from is due 2nd Feb so we will take them once they are ready.  In between now and then, I need to learn all about caring for them (already done a lot) and Steven is going to get their shelter/ark sorted.


Later in the year we are hoping to get goats too but that pending what Mother goat delivers in the Spring.  More on that once it's firmed up.


Ooh and Christmas is still firmly underway, home made cards have been made and the kids put SO much effort in to them.  They were gratefully received which I was super happy about.  We didn't manage to do all the cards as homemade, I didn't realise how long they will take.  That's ok though.


Did you know, apparently, Boxing Day is the time to sow onion seeds traditionally.  Don't ask me who's traditions or in what country, but that's what I was told! 
Plans for the weekend?  I'm going to put some winter lettuce in my propagators this weekend.  We also need to get the Christmas meat sorted - a goose and duck from the smallholding will be dispatched this weekend.  They have had a wonderful life and this is what they were raised for.  We know what they have eaten and have been with them from cradle to grave.  Next year I am hoping for all home raised and grown produce as the main Christmas lunch.  There are a million and one other things on the list, which I'll post as I get round to them,  In the mean time I leave you with how my work place was decorated for me! 
Where I work - a lovely lady always makes us feel special.




Monday, 12 December 2016

Catching up with December's antics.

I was just reading Dawn's blog to catch up when I glanced at her sidebar and noticed it said 6 days since my last post.  That has gone scarily quick.  As much as I love December and the Christmas build up, there is a lot to do on top of the usual. 


The elves have been busy keeping an eye in the kids.  No matter how I moved them round, this photo still looked pretty rude and it wasn't meant to!  Sorry about that, though I did get a giggle.
We've found another hay supplier.  I didn't need one, but whilst helping a friend in need at the weekend, we got chatting and he is local and does small bales for £3 a bale which is average for here.  The hay was nice and dry, no mould and not too sweet, so will be good for the horses and sheep when they get their extra.  Grace also made a new friend.  The innocent trust between a puppy and a child made my heart melt. 
Steven made a new friend.  What a corker of a boy!
Buster is adamant there is something in the walls.  I can't hear anything and I hope it isn't mice or worse.  No suggestion other than Buster refusing to move, looking transfixed at it.
For those who have heard about the bird flu preventative requirements, we've done our bit to follow DEFRA's guidelines on avian flu and housed ours in the barn with the horses.  Grace is the only one who can easily get in and out to their feeders, she's a big help. 
They hens do decide to roost anywhere but where we want them too mind you.  At least it's all in the barn.  I can't wait to get them back out again.
We have managed to hatch 13 chicks, ready for next year's laying hens.  Sadly we lost 1.  I am going to also raise some more of my rare breeds.  The chicks are inside and were hatched on Thursday 8th December meaning they will be at point of lay on 11th May.  This years last hatch which were July 2nd are now at point of lay but aren't laying.  I presume given the time of year, they don't want to!  We're still getting a lot of eggs though from out main hens so that's great. 
 
 I've also bought the sheep a mineral lick as the grass is obviously not growing.  Plus I have acquired a new chest freezer (new to us) for FREE but I insisted our friend take some petrol money for dropping it off.



Monday, 5 December 2016

Well Neville and Nancy elf have been up to mischief.  The kids found them on top of a cabinet in the room, then under a blanket to get warm and this morning it looks like they had helped themselves to a cuppa during the night!  The sheer cheek ;)
Neville and Nancy Elf.
We're flying through December already.  The daily tasks are coming thick and fast and we haven't had time to do them all as that's what life is like, right?  So we have the ones we haven't still stuck on the fridge ready to do when the weather and moment calls for it.

Tonight however the star said to "Celebrate Christmas past" so we set about looking at photos from when the kids were young and laughing at how much we have all changed over the years, seeing those who are no longer with us and remembering them fondly, both animal and human.

The reverse advent box has the following items in:  corned beef tin, cannellini beans, baked beans, bottle of orange and dried pasta (I'm slightly concerned that you need to cook this so it may be substituted depending where it ends up).  I'm looking forward to taking this to somewhere/someone in need. 

In smallholding news, the sheep (and geese and hens) have got the hang of the new galvanised trough.  Bottoms up.  Well, it is nearly Christmas.
Mr mole is still giving us mole hills but he hasn't moved away from the area yet, so were still ok.

At the weekend, Ste and I slept well.  Why?  Because we shovelled 37 barrows of muck into the newly built veg bed.  Plus I did another 7 into the other veg area.  Of course Ste did the filling, I just wheeled!  So really I shouldn't be aching as much, but I am!
before
after
It was very frosty here this morning meaning the tap we use to fill the animal water was frozen, as was the one on the house wall (this one didn't freeze previously). 
Tonight is very cold again, so I've made sure all of the buckets are full to the brim and a spare bucket is full ready for topping up any that need it in the morning.  The horses drink during the night, so it will be them that need it.  The poultry I can do from the house if I have to.  It's a nice feeling knowing we're getting everything ready for the weather to come.  I feel prepared.



Can you spot the ducks?


 
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Friday, 2 December 2016

The big Christmas reveal (big if you are aged 9 and 6!) and a couple of pests

What was behind the door at 7pm last night? 
A quick excited hug before tentatively opening the door.  Expectant faces all round.

Someone had lit the Christmas (bay) tree lights…who was that?  It wasn’t you and it wasn’t me?
Oh, it’s so exciting.  What’s this?  A parcel in brown paper and tied with string.  It says Special Delivery.

Back in the warmth to look inside.
The excitement couldn’t be contained.
It was Neville the Elf!  He’s brought Nancy along with him, his Elf mate.
They even brought a gift to remember the first Christmas on the smallholding.  It’s a hessian bag with names on it.  One for Grace and one for Jack.
Time to sit back and relax, taking in the magic of Christmas.

Day 2 star:

 

 In smallholding news.....
 We have pests.  Rats and moles. 
The rats need to go.  Easier said than done, especially living next to water. 
The mole hills are going to be added to the vegetable beds.  As long as they stay at the orchard, we're ok.  If they move to the field, that will cause problems.  Hooves and holes mean a vets bill when they get stuck in the mid gallop. 
 

 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

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?

Monday, 28 November 2016

A weekend away

So it's Monday!
Steven and I spent Saturday lunch time until Sunday lunch time away from the smallholding.  This is the first time in ages that we've been away without the kids and from home.  We went to a murder mystery event with a group of friends and stopped over at the hotel.  We had a lovely time (though the murder mystery theme was rubbish) and came home feeling very relaxed, so it was worth it.


A friend who has her horse with us looked after all of the horses and my parents kindly stayed at mine to look after the kids and the smallholding animals.  Everything was all fine when we got home and we even managed to get some Christmas tree lights up on the big outside tree on Sunday.



We settled down late on Sunday night to find we were being watched with a face at the window.  Ste said it made him jump out of his skin!  As you will notice, there is a tree in this photo too, also decorated for Christmas.


We love celebrating through December, especially as it is our first one in the farmhouse.  So from December 1st, there will be a flurry of posts showing you what's happening that day for us.  Not everyone celebrates Christmas, especially not as early as this, but we do :).  I'm not getting in to politics or frugal arguments.  It is what it is and I hope it makes you smile.