Monday, 27 April 2009

More babes

I am sure I forgot to say, but the matriarch of the rabbits here has had another litter of kittens - they were born last Sunday so they are now about 8 days old. They are fattening up nicely, so she must be feeding them well. We had an issue with a litter a couple of years ago which she didn't feed, so it is a relief to see these ones healthy and growing. Including the two which were born earlier in the year to a younger rabbit, there are now 5 babes in the nests!

Hopefully the chicks will hatch from the eggs in a couple of weeks and we will be feeling very Spring-like with all this new birth around us. We are talking about getting some more day-old chicks to rear as well - some for meat and some for eggs, so hopefully we'd get a good mix of the sexes. The girls have done me proud today and laid 20 eggs - and the quail managed 5 between them too. I have a rooster in the slow cooker, which is about done now, so that is going to get taken off the bone, chilled and probably frozen as no one here is up to eating much.

I didn't get to go to the interviews at the school today, because of my nursing duties, but the YFG was asked to go along and take part as she is on the school council. They have appointed a teacher, so here's hoping she's a good 'un!

All change

Refreshing spring rain is drizzling down here today!

Quick post as too much to do - EFG has been awake much of the night feeling sick and I have had to fetch the doctor out to the FH as he is still suffering. YFG has caught a lift to school with a neighbour and is having school lunches all week so that I can be sure that she gets a decent meal. What with the lurgeys we have got here, I am not doing a lot of cooking at the moment.

Hope you are having a better day wherever you all are.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Spring sunshine

The days are lovely at the moment and it has encouraged me to get our garden into gear.

Unfortunately, the FH has been "under the weather" with some kind of stomach bug since last Sunday, so he is not able to get out and about to enjoy the sunshine. I am hoping that he will be on the mend this week. He always takes longer than normal people to get better as he has a compromised immune system since he takes a lot of immunosuppressant drugs since he had a heart transplant 10 years ago. He is OK in himself, just spending time in the bathroom!!!

The YFG had to stay at home on Friday as her sickness continued until 10pm, and we are not allowed to send kids back to school until 24 hours have passed since the last bout of it. She was OK on Friday and felt much better, but it did her good to have a rest. We did go to gymnastics on Friday and Saturday - we couldn't miss the Saturday session in particular as a photographer came from the local paper to snap shots of the girls who won medals in the competition a few weeks ago. We'll be looking out for the paper to come this week with some anticipation - and they have new competition leotards as well, so it would be lovely if they print a colour photo!

Today we slept in, and didn't make it to church. After gym yesterday I was too tired to do the shopping, so we went to Sainsbury's today and stocked up. The girls and I have had some veg stir fry and smoked salmon (the very cheapest trimmings, I promise!) for lunch and since then, we have had the new neighbour and her 18 month old daughter round to see the rabbits and chickens, hung out some washing and now another boy is here, playing on the computer with the EFG. He'll have to go soon as we have some chores to get done before supper, and then it will be full steam ahead into school mode for tomorrow - for me as well, as we start the interviewing process at 9am for the three candidates at school.

I have been shocked and saddened this week to learn of yet another neighbour in financial difficulties, and it has prompted me to wonder whether it is possible to help these people and if so, how one would do it? Obviously I would not offer actual monetary aid, but I wonder sometimes whether there is a need for some kind of housewife-ly (that isn't a word, but it is what I mean!) guidance towards the stewardship of money and making it go further and do more. The lady told me that when the mortgage rate was high, all their money went on paying the mortgage and they had to use their credit cards to "live". This has unfortunately meant that now the mortgage rate has come down, they are no better off as the interest rates on the credit cards are sky high and they have big balances to pay off. Consequently they are still struggling. Although we can see from hindsight that this was not a wise thing to do at the time, I don't for one minute think that they are the only people to have used this strategy to cope, for whatever reason.

I have heard the opinion passed that we are lucky that we don't have a mortgage, but we wouldn't get one nowadays! Our income is low in comparison to others, at less than £20K a year. We live in a house that we bought for £215K five years ago, so it isn't worth any more than that now, although it was valued at £250K a few years ago, before that so-called "bubble" burst. We own two old cars - one we have had for ten years, and one we have had for about 7, both bought second hand. They are both estate cars - we bought the first for £8K from Network Q, so it has cost us roughly £800 a year but the other one was a bigger bargain as the FH bought it from a colleague for £1000, and it is a trouper! I see no reason to buy a brand new car, and would never do so. There are other cars in driveways on streets up and down the country which are newer, flashier, and have hundreds more gadgets, but you know what - I'd rather sleep at night, knowing that mine is paid for and can't be repossessed.

I read somewhere about the secret millionaires of this world; you would pass them on the street, they buy good quality items which last, they don't follow fashion, they are frugal (like the Queen!) and careful with their money. They don't "look" rich, because they are not ostentatious with their wealth. We are a million miles away from being millionaires (pardon the pun) but we are living in a similar way, and probably taking it a step further because we sometimes "look" poor to those who judge by appearances.

Appearances are deceptive, and this family this week that shocked me with their own revelation about their financial problems are not people who would look as if they are in trouble. Just goes to show that you just can't tell.

To make a contribution to helping other families, our family top ten tips for managing money:

1. Keep good records of every penny spent by all members of the family - from the odd packet of crisps at the newsagents to the supermarket shop to the phone bill and the car tax - EVERY penny has to be accounted for to know where it is going.

2. Plan. Know when the bigger/annual amounts need to be paid and put money aside each month towards them. We take our big/annual payments (house insurances, car-related payments for tax and insurance, heating oil, etc), add them up and divide by 12, add another £10 a month and pay that much into a separate account. The money is then there when it is needed and doesn't come as a big surprise! You can also do this for Christmas/birthday funds.

3. Meal planning. One of the major things we spend money on regularly is food - so it makes sense to be in control. It doesn't mean deciding what you want to eat this week and then going out to buy it, though. We operate the pantry principle which basically means buying what is the best value for money and then making meals from that. It also means that we don't ever buy takeaway because we are too tired/can't be bothered/"don't know" what to cook!

4. Stockpiling When items that we use regularly go on special offer, we buy them - a lot of them! Whatever it is, if we have room to keep it, we buy as much as we can store or we can afford to buy. Obviously, this works best for dry foods, tinned food, frozen items and cleaning/paper goods. It is a good idea to assign a little money each time you go shopping for these kinds of items, as it will save you money in the long run. You do need to keep track of what you have got, and rotate your stock to keep the things fresh.

5. Accept everything you are offered because if you don't, people stop offering! You may be lucky, as we are, to occasionally receive surplus garden produce from relatives and friends. Some of it goes in the freezer and some is re-gifted to others, who we know will also appreciate it. Of course, to keep life going round, it is good to be able to offer things ourselves as well, as we do with eggs and outgrown clothes, and some garden produce.

6. Save up, save, and save! We save up for new purchases that we need to make rather than buying on HP or credit arrangements, or loans. HP, credit and loans cost money in the long run in one way or another generally and I prefer not to go there. It is a discipline thing as well, as I would be concerned that I would be lured into more such purchases and then it would be a slippery slope - so know your boundaries and stick to them. The second "Save" is just that - we put aside a proportion of our income into savings each month. Some months it is more than others, but there is always a little moved over into savings. That provides us with an emergency cushion against all sorts of disasters, and gives us a feeling of security. And the third "Save" is about saving things - rescuing them - repurposing or recycling. Don't throw away something which could still have a use and could usefully prevent us from having to spend money. We save all sorts of things: loo roll inner tubes for planting beans, margerine tubs for freezing portions of food, vegetable peelings for the compost heap, etc. Don't go mad in this department and get yourself overrun with rubbish!

7. Educate the children because if we don't bring up our children to behave responsibly in a financial sense, no one else will. Our children understand that there is a pretty much fixed amount of money each month, and they know that there are priorities for that income. A new DS game is very low down on that list! They buy their own games with money given to them for Easter, birthdays, etc, or they earn it. There are always things that they can do on top of their normal jobs if they want to earn money. They don't get pocket money - no one ever gave me money for doing nothing! If something is important to them, they are keen and happy to contribute to the cost of the purchase - after all, if it is not important enough for them to work for it, why should I? The FGs are both careful with their money, and we do require that they save half of all they are given, so they think about what they want, and will often delay buying something to think about it a bit longer!

8. Mums, stay home with the kids or at least do a job which doesn't involve childcare. I have never been employed in a 9-5 job since I had the girls, always having preferred the flexibility of self-employment. I know that this one is not an option for everyone, but it can help the family finances as often the second job costs as much as it brings in when travel, childcare, clothing, convenience foods, help in the house perhaps, etc are all factored in. A mum or dad at home can do a lot to save money for the family - and that contribution can mean as much to the family finances as actually bringing in a wage packet.

9. Don't follow fashion of any kind! Know what you like and stick to it. Be brave and be different. A thrifty friend of ours back in Scotland painted all the rooms in her house white - white walls everywhere and white woodwork and doors. Then she had one carpet laid throughout the bungalow, in a semi-neutral colour pattern, and she just accessorised each room slightly differently, and she had a charming, welcoming and restful home. Similarly with clothing, one friend here always wears jeans - Monday to Friday she wears jeans when she is out and about, and her at-home uniform is grey joggers and a matching grey fleece. It sounds boring, but it saves her a fortune and who sees what she is wearing at home anyway!? It is timeless and classic, and it is easy to care for. I chuckle to myself when I see high-fashion in the playground at the school; most of us are very practical mums here, people like me who may just have rushed to the school straight from the garden, the dog-groomer who has nipped up to the school in between clients, the gardener in her wellies back from the horticultural college where she teaches, the stables owner, for example - this is real life that most of us are living, and we don't need that kind of day-to-day attire. Keep it real for your life situation.

10. Dare to be different in all kinds of ways. Shop once a month, walk everywhere, grow veggies, keep chickens and quail, drive old cars, holiday on the Costa del Cromer, but above all, have fun with your families doing it! That is not a cop out number 10 - that is really the crux of the matter. Daring to stand up to the waves of easy credit, pressure to go to work in a career, put kids into childcare, buy takeaways or Macdonalds because it is what "everyone" does.......well, I think that people are beginning to realise that there must be another way, and we are already some way down that path. It's not always an easy path, but we sleep well at night and we have some fantastic times with our families.

Gosh, I'd better shut up now!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Still in the garden

The washing got done, the plants were potted up - a couple of peppers, the tomatoes and a butternut squash, and the lettuce plugs are tucked into one of the raised beds. The quail have been moved, and have laid 4 eggs between them today so perhaps they like their new quarters. And I have weeded the strawberry bed - and found a couple of strawberry plants under the weeds, so there are more than I had thought!

The YFG is on the mend, I hope - she has just had some toast, so I am praying that stays down. She has had a little sleep this afternoon as well. And the FH has done a little of the ironing pile, so there is a little less for me to do later. If he goes off to bed early to watch TV, I will be putting a DVD on to get me through the pile!

Getting stuff done - at last!

Seeds have been sown, some of the quail are in their new house, and I went to Delfland Nursey yesterday and bought more plants for the garden. Most of them were vegetable/salad plug plants to give us a head start on the season, but I also got 4 cherry tomato plants, and some fuschias and geraniums for the hanging baskets, as well as (got SO excited about this!) 5 raspberry canes - we may actually have some raspberries this autumn! They are late fruiting ones, so I think that they will fruit on the new growth they are putting up now. Must get those planted today!

I got so much done yesterday that I was impressed with myself. Apart from the gardening and washing, the trip to the nursery and the other general stuff I do every day, I also cut a neighbour's son's hair, and had a school board meeting, which went on a bit. We had a lot to talk about as we are interviewing for a new teacher on Monday.

The YFG has thrown up this morning so she is at home, watching TV in bed! That means that today's plans have had to be altered slightly, but hey, that is a mother's privilege to be able to move plans around to fit with sick kids! Nothing's so important that it can't wait another day or week, so now I already have plans for next Thursday...

The revised plans for the day now include a big heap of ironing, some laundry, getting the plants sorted in the garden, and moving the other quail into the lower apartment of the new house. One of this second group died yesterday, unfortunately, but she was a weak bird and had been for some time. She didn't seem to be actually ill, just weak and not able to eat as much as the others - perhaps the pecking order kept her at the bottom. Anyway, whilst we mourned her passing yesterday, we have 10 others to look after. They laid three eggs between them yesterday and so we are hoping that they are getting the idea a bit more now!

Monday, 20 April 2009

So much to say, where to start?!?!

Last Wednesday, I thought that I would take the FGs to Church Farm at Stow Bardolph, just north of Downham Market on the A10. However, we stopped en route in DM to go to the famous shoe shop where we got the YFG's winter boots. The same wonderful woman, Tracy, was in the shop, and she remembered the YFG's funny feet and helped us to find some summer school shoes for her. We eventually came out with a pair of black Primigi Italian leather shoes for £36, which I was pleased with, price-wise, having expected Italian soft leather to be more expensive. All this retail therapy meant that it was 1.30 by the time we got to the farm, and I was loath to pay £17.50 for the three of us to go in there for just a couple of hours, when I could see from the car park that the place was packed out and there would be queues everywhere. So, we travelled along the A10 a little further and went to Ely. The EFG has been studying Oliver Cromwell in history, so we went to the Oliver Cromwell house/museum in Ely for a good hour's mooch round. It was fascinating, and good for education as well as interest. After that, we had a wander through the city streets and walked back to the car via the ice cream van and the cathedral, where I took these photos.

This one is (I think) the south side of the cathedral, and the YFG is posing there to show just how HUGE it is!

We do like to go into the cathedral and have a look round, but they charge £4 per person, so we make an occasion of it when we do go in. We are going to a service there at the beginning of May so we are looking forward to that already.

The "girls" were happily waiting for their breakfast this morning when I took this shot from the roof of the hen house - it was the best place to get a decent picture of them all, but it was a teeny bit precarious up there... They just love to scratch around in the straw for their corn, and have enormous fun running after bits of bread that we chuck in as a treat for them some days.
Here is the nest that one of the Dutch bantams made - she had sneaked away and found this incredibly tight spot between some bags of fire wood, lined a hollow with dead grasses and bits of straw, and laid 10 eggs! With no resident cockerel with which to consort, these weren't going to hatch for her, so I have bought half a dozen Silver Wyandotte bantam eggs for her to sit on, from a breeder on ebay, so I hope they hatch as the postage cost more than the eggs!

These are the eggs, just as they arrived on Wednesday morning - we put them under her on Wednesday evening and moved her into a proper broody house so she and the eggs are safe, and the chicks will be enclosed there with her once they hatch out.

And these are some of the gloriously varied eggs which are being laid by our lovely girls - don't they look great?

This is the chocolate-sponge, fondant iced creation that the YFG made all on her own for Easter. She ate the last bit this afternoon. It was all her own work and design - well done!

More photos coming soon!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Eggs everywhere!

Quick post to share our good fortune!

The girls in the hen run are doing us proud - yesterday we had the most eggs to date and counted ourselves blessed with 18 eggs but then today, they have surpassed themselves and laid 20! Huge round of applause for the ladies!!

(Could someone have a word, though, and just tell them that that is fine, and we can't really cope with more than that on a daily basis?!?)

Loads more to tell but got to go to bed now, so will try to catch up at the weekend.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Getting on with it all

I have come back from the second weekend of gymnastics training absolutely exhausted. I rushed around here like a mad thing on Thursday and Friday last week, trying to get bags packed and things ready for the journey, as well as leaving the house in a reasonable condition for the FH and EFG who were staying here. My temper built up and then erupted on Friday evening when I just wasn't getting things done!

I did manage to get some seeds sown - huge relief! Four kinds of tomatoes (a plum, a tumbling cherry type, a "normal" type and a larger-than-average kind), two kinds of squashes, courgettes, and spinach were actually sown in pots, and then lots of beans (dwarf, runner and broad) were put in jam jars of water to soak. They will probably get planted tomorrow. The autumn sown broad beans are coming on really well, and have loads of flowers, so I am hopeful of a good crop there in a while. There will be more seed sowing done in the weeks to come as I get up to speed in the greenhouse.

The quails are still living in the greenhouse although the FH is building them two new cages, of a high-rise variety, one above the other. We are experiencing a very steep learning curve with these quail! You may recall that we thought we had separated the males from the females after some feather-pecking incidents. We discovered that we were wrong when we found some eggs in the "male" cage.......both kinds are laying eggs, but the eggs are different so we have come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of quail here. It may not be the end of the story, but that is the latest episode. Today I hard-boiled 9 quail eggs - cooked them for 4 minutes and they have come out perfectly. Trouble is that one doesn't even make a mouthful! Interesting to note that the inside of the shell is a beautiful light blue.

Some of our neighbours are moving out on Thursday so we are a bit sad to see them go. They are moving to the Welsh border area, where they will enjoy the more hilly countryside as they had come here from rolling fields and found our flatlands rather, well, flat! They have two dogs and love walking, so I hope that they will be very happy over there. The lady has been a good customer to me for eggs, so I was pleased to hear that she has recommended me to the incoming family.

The girls have been to the local town today for a multi-sport day, and had a good run-around. The YFG now has a friend here on the trampoline, and the EFG has got her laptop out, half-watching TV with the FH and half playing something on the pc. We had my uncle here to tea last night, bringing some of the bounty of his garden - sprouting broccoli, leeks and cauliflowers - he only asked for half a dozen eggs in exchange so I am sure I got the better deal. For tea we had one of the last batch of home-grown chooks and it was excellent; a very meaty bird with some firm, densely packed meat that had very good flavour.

Off to put my feet up for half an hour with a cup of tea!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

First Holiday week nearly gone

Thursday already and tomorrow Good Friday! I can't believe that the week has slipped past so quickly.

We had a "down" day on Monday to recover from the gymnastics day on Sunday. The gym itself wasn't so tiring but what knocked me sideways was the early start and the driving - just over 3 hours all told. The YFG was tired out from the gym, but then she worked really hard and I was proud of her.

Tuesday we went to the dentist and it was the EFG's turn to make me proud, as she had to have a filling and she hardly flinched at all. It is not good that her teeth needed a filling, but I was pleased at the way she took the injection, the drilling and the numbness around her mouth.

Yesterday the FH went out to his lunch club in the village and the YFG was at a friend's house for the day so the EFG and I had a sort of quiet day - I mowed the front lawn and dug over another of the raised beds in the back garden. The EFG also had a friend round to have lunch together. When the FH came home, I took the EFG off to town to spend the £50 giftcard I won in the Sainsbury's Active Kids prize draw (yes, people do actually win those things!) so we got some new clothes for both of us, the Faryl CD, the Waterhorse DVD, some new earrings for both of the girls, and some Tshirts for the FH so everyone got something courtesy of Sainsbury's!

Today has been another day of getting things done - haircuts this morning, done by my friend for whom I bake cakes in return so I did her a cake quickly before she turned up at 10.45am. She did the girls as well as me, and then stayed for a cuppa afterwards, and her daughter stayed for lunch too. We had to go to the other nearby town this afternoon to the doctor's for the EFG, so we dropped our visitor home on the way. I have also been starting to get things ready for this weekend - I have put some bits and pieces in a box to take to the caravan for our overnight stay on Saturday, and I need to find another sleeping bag - there's four here somewhere, but I can only lay my hand on one! The YFG and I will be staying there as it is closer to Norwich so it cuts down on the travelling for us - we have to be there both days this weekend.

The family Easter meal will be Sunday night when we get home at about 7.30 and I am looking forward to it already!

Monday, 6 April 2009

All getting too much...

I have to keep apologising for not keeping up to date, but there has been so much to do and think about this week that I haven't had time to be here.

In brief (no, I don't really do "brief", do I?!?) the quails have continued to lay eggs so that we now have a little clutch of five. The debate rages over what to do with them - poach them, fry them, hard boil them? We can't decide. The female quail have had to be moved to a new pen as we have now realised that there are 5 male and 6 female which means that the males were being rather amorous a bit too often for these poor females and they were pecking them on the back of the necks and one was bleeding a little. Separating them means that the females are getting a break and they can recover their composure and their feathers in peace.

The hens are doing well and we are now getting a dozen eggs most days. I had mentioned to someone (GTM, I think) that I hadn't counted them lately, so I have had a headcount and there are: 9 assorted brown hens (Orpington crosses/pure Orpingtons/Buff Sussex/one ISA hybrid), 3 black hens (2 golden laced Barnvelders and one which is possibly a Silver Sussex cross) and between 14 and 16 white Sasso hens - they are hard to count as they keep moving and all look similar so forgive the inaccuracy of that count. There is also a turkey stag in there with them. The FH has killed 5 cockerels today - we have decided that the hens we killed for meat earlier in the year definitely had more meat on them than these cockerels. They really are quite lean so the best thing to do is going to be to cook in the slow cooker and then use the meat for pies and stirfry rather than trying to roast the whole bird.

I haven't sown a single seed and am getting quite behind in the garden.

Yesterday I spent the day at Norwich Gym Club with the YFG doing the first day of the three day course to move up a level in coaching. We will be going back next weekend for the other two days of the course. It's fun and challenging, so we are enjoying it, and the YFG is loving the gym there as it is a permanent set-up and has pits to land in, and a ground-sunk trampoline - she loves it!

School holidays are here, so we have dentist and doctor appointments this week, and then two multisport days next week in the local town, and a few spare days to fill in between. We think that we might go to Wimpole Hall for the lambing if the weather is OK next week. We haven't been there for lambing for a few years, so that would be a good day out.

Will try to check back again soon!