Monday 31 December 2012

Goodbye 2012

It's Hogmanay and time to say goodbye to 2012.  It's been eventful as ever.  I like to look back at my photographs and remember the highs and lows of the year.  I'd like to think there have been more highs than lows and my photos seem to reflect this.  Here are 3 pics that sum up the best 3 highlights from my year.
Just before the start of the year I had to say goodbye to my old golden retriever.  This left Lucydog an only dog and she was upset as she'd never been on her own. For many years I'd had 3 dogs and to have only one didn't feel right.
At that stage it had been agreed that I would stay in this house so getting a puppy was an easy decision.  I had always wanted to breed dogs and now I had the freedom to do the things that I had wanted.

Enter Emma, the cutest looking puppy I'd ever seen but that sweet look hides a truly mischievous nature!!  She's now 10 months old and just had her first season.  I need to give some serious thought to my plan of breeding from her.

This is me with my gorgeous middle son at his graduation.  Apart from having to share the day with his dad (I was a big girl and played nice!!) it was a lovely one.  He graduated with honours in German and now lives in Vienna.

This is my favourite holiday snap. No really!! Despite the awful weather forecasts OH and I took our blended family on a campervan trip up the coast of Scotland and did some island hopping.  Apart from this really wet day at Callinish we were lucky with the weather.

The low point of the year was definitely realising that I would have to sell my house.  It's turning into a long drawn out saga and the uncertainty of it all is causing me a wee bit of stress.  But I'm trying to look at the positives in it.  I'm still living in the house I love, I just don't know how long for atm.

My proudest achievement this year was taking the plunge and setting up my wee felted tartan business.  An Etsy shop to begin with, then stocking a local craft boutique, setting up a website and ending the year with a Christmas fair.  I have lots planned for next year!

So goodbye 2012.  Thank you for the highs.  I've learned from the lows and will use that to make 2013 an even better one.

So at the bells tonight I will raise a glass and wish you all a Guid New Year in the words of Rabbie Burns

Here's tae us
Wha's like us
Damn few,
And they're a' deid
Mair's the pity!

May those who live truly be always believed,
And those who deceive us be always deceived.
Here's to the men of all classes,
Who through lasses and glasses
Will make themselves asses!

I drink to the health of another,
And the other I drink to is he
In the hope that he drinks to another,
And the other he drinks to is me.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand
And may his great prosperity
Ne'er fail in old Scotland!

Monday 17 December 2012

Forward Planning

Here's the finished Christmas pudding.  It's now wrapped up and stored in the cupboard for next week

Cranberry and orange sauce already frozen and stored in freezer.  I got the cranberries with a gift card I had for another store so they were free.  A really quick and easy recipe of a punnet of cranberries, juice and zest of an orange and 3 spoons of sugar.  A 5 minute simmer until they pop and go squishy.  It's a wee bit tart so another spoon of sugar would have been better but I'll add some honey to it once it's defrosted.  So 2 elements of the meal are already sorted!

My latest felted kilt.  This was a long ladies kilt.  These are pretty hard to find so I was thrilled to win one on Ebay.  Although there is a lot of length in the fabric once the pleats are unpicked, the width is always short.  Usually only 40 to 50 cm once it's felted.  But this piece of felted tartan is a generous 180cm by 80cm and it's a lovely soft felted fabric.  No idea how I'm going to use it yet.  I'll wait until the new year to decide.  I have a few other kilts winging their way to me in the next week.  I went a wee bit mad after getting my first payment from the local craft shop :-)  But I now have a wide range of colours to play with including white Royal Stewart tartan for a commission.

I've been working on a few special pieces but can't reveal these yet in case the recipients see them here.  But photos to follow by the weekend ;-)

Friday 14 December 2012

Christmas Meal Challenge

About 10 years ago I became very disillusioned with the whole commercial nonsense surrounding Christmas.  I could see that me, my friends and family were spending far too much money during the festive period.  We were buying gifts that were not needed nor really wanted.  A family member stated that they bought their child a laptop because "They couldn't think of anything to get."
We were buying food and alcohol just to eat and drink to excess (and a lot was wasted I'm embarrassed to admit) When I was a child Christmas (and birthdays) were the only times we got new clothes, toys or books.  It was a big deal.  And while my 3 boys were appreciative of the gifts they received I worried that they were getting too used to 'things' and expected 'holiday food' to be provided 24/7.
So I bought a book called 'Unplug the Christmas Machine'  It changed everything, not just Christmas but everything that felt 'wrong' in the way we were living to excess.  A few years later we made the commitment to totally change our lifestyle and begin the road towards a more self sufficient life.  Unfortunately my ex decided that he wasn't cut out for a life of working hard outside an office, hence the situation I now find myself in.  But I wouldn't change it :-)
Blimey, how did I manage to digress so far from the original post topic?? Lol!!  Thanks for sticking with it so far :-)
Anyway, back on topic.  I still feel that we as a family spend far too much on food at Christmas.  Much of it is waaay overpriced and we're conned into buying 'party food' even when we aren't having a party! 3 for £10 on prawns wrapped in filo pastry is still £10 we don't really need to spend.  But the main day itself is completely dominated by the turkey.  A turkey that can cost up to £60!! (Last time I cooked one for a bigger gathering it was an M&S one at £64) And that's before buying all the trimmings, a starter and desserts.  When I cooked Christmas dinner for us plus 4 grandparents and 2 uncles it easily cost £500 plus including wine.
So here's the challenge.  I'm going make a 3 course traditional turkey dinner for 8 people for free, from scratch.  Yes FREE! Zero money.  How?
I'm going to use my nectar points that I've saved up over the year.  They're worth £52 in the supermarket that I usually shop in anyway. The turkey will be provided by a butcher friend of OH as a thank you gift.  Everything else including drinks will come out of the £52.  I totally believe that it's possible.  I keep a decently stocked storecupboard so I won't be including anything I normally have in stock like sugar, flour, stock powder etc.  But anything specially bought will be included in the £52.

Last night I had a good yellow stickered outing. 5 punnets of strawberries at 10p each, broccoli 10p, spring greens 10p and organic sprouts 49p.

Strawberries were chopped and left overnight in the juice of a lemon and a few teaspoons of icing sugar.

Today I pureed them and sieved them into just over a pint of strawberry coulis.  Some will go on a melon type starter and the rest can be ice cream sauce.  It's already in the freezer.  The sprouts have been prepped, blanched and frozen.  So that's 99p off my total already.

This lovely Christmas pudding mixture is now steaming away in my slow cooker.  I had all the ingredients except for the Guinness and black treacle.  But I used a voucher for another supermarket so I'm counting that as free as no money changed hands ;-)  I can use the treacle in other things (like treacle toffee!) and OH can drink the rest of Guinness!!

So far the menu looks like this (for 5 adults, 2 teens and a pre teen)

Fruit cup with strawberry coulis (possibly melon, grape and orange)

Turkey with gravy, bread sauce and cranberry jelly
Roast potatoes
Carrots, sprouts, sweetcorn
Chestnut stuffing (I actually have a pack of chestnuts in the cupboard!!)
3 cheese tart (for the veggie teen)

Christmas pudding (Mary Berry recipe)
Mango trifle (saw this on breakfast tv the other morning)
DIY Knickerbocker Glories (to use up leftover cake, fruit and cream from trifle plus coulis)

Look ok to you?  All thoughts and comments welcome.

PS Recipe for biscuits in previous post is from Veggie Kids by Roz Denny

115g chopped butter
175g plain flour
50g caster sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup

Put everything in a bowl and using your fingers rub everything together.  You might need to add more flour as it can get really sticky.
Knead into a smooth ball
Put dough in fridge for 30 mins to firm
Roll to 5mm thickness and cut out shapes, re roll to use up all the dough
Bake on a tray at 180 for 10 to 15 mins (keep checking after 10 mins as they can burn easily)

Tuesday 11 December 2012

It's beginning..... look a lot like Christmas! :-)  I was feeling very Christmassy yesterday when I found my box of cookie cutters so I knocked up a batch.  They're just flour, sugar, butter and golden syrup.  So easy to make and taste yummy!

I might make some gingerbread ones next week.  I'd love to hang some from my tree but I suspect the dogs would be too tempted!!

I bottled my blackcurrant vodka yesterday (see my snow out the window?)  The blackcurrants were from my mum's garden (I had hardly any this year) and had been lurking in the freezer before I added them to vodka and sugar.  They've been steeping quietly in a cupboard for a month.

I also have a bottle of toffee vodka on the go as well but I'm not happy with it yet.  Think I'll need to add more toffees to it to get the desired consistency.

I like to make up gift baskets containing jams, chutney and a wee bottle of something alcoholic for family and friends.  Easy, inexpensive and always appreciated by the recipients

Monday 10 December 2012

My first Christmas Fair

Although this was my first fair as a seller I've organised and taken part in many fairs over the years as a teacher and PTA member.  But it's very different when you're on the other side of table trying to earn money for yourself!
The venue Mar Lodge near Braemar is a National Trust property.  It's a country house originally built as a sporting lodge in Victorian times. It can be used for functions and events.
When we arrived we were told to pick a table.  All the local folk had bagged the downstairs area so I had to go upstairs to the panelled landing.  It was a lovely setting but very dark!  It took us ages to work out how to use my lovely new camera but I managed to take some pics.

First layout of my stall.  When I stood back it looked too cluttered so it got re arranged several more times after this! I didn't take any more as customers started to arrive.

With the baskets removed

My lovely mum and aunt knitted these wee Christmas puddings.  They have a well known chocolate inside ;-)

Heart cushion.  I nearly sold this but the lady dithered (good Scottish word!) and said she'd think about it and come back.  She didn't!

Star cushion.  Really thought I'd sell this one.

In the end I sold 4 wee brooches, a star tree decoration and loads of the wee knitted decs.  Total made was £53.  Not a huge amount for 4 hours but the table was free.  I handed out a few business cards so maybe I'll get some commissions at a later stage. And I can add a National Trust Christmas Fair to my CV.

But the best part of the day was talking to 2 of the other stall holders.  They were so generous with their advice.  I learned loads of practical tips about setting up my stall (battery powered fairy lights, bunting in the textile you're selling, display boxes/shelves) and got amazing business advice to take my stuff to the next level.

They both talked about how you can never predict what will be a good fair (in the sense of making money) Weather, location or time of year don't seem to be indicators of potential customers or how much they will spend.

The lady next to me made items in Harris Tweed (phone covers, keyrings etc) She has been trading for just 18 months.  She was featured in Country Living magazine and sells her products throughout the UK!!  Like me she works from home and has turned a hobby into a thriving business.

I am seriously considering her advice.  Scary yet exciting at the same time :-)

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Poorly puppy

My dogs are a huge part of my life.  So when one of them is ill it's a worry.  Poor Lucydog has had a nasty upper GI bug.  After 4 days of vomiting the diarrhoea kicked in.  So a quick trip to the vet for some meds and special food (she's lost weight!) resulted in an unplanned expense. 

It seems every time I get a few pounds saved, something crops up that needs money thrown at it.  Recently my car needed new tyres, it had an oil leak and an engine misfire.  Big garage bill! And now a vet bill.  Fingers crossed Emma doesn't get it but since they like to cuddle up together in bed it seems likely that she'll get it too.

Ah well, I just need to sell loads of stuff at the Christmas fair this Saturday!

Saturday 1 December 2012

Busy is good, right?

Oh my, it's December already.  I am so busy with stuff right now I don't know if I'm coming or going.  The Christmas fair season is upon us and I have orders to fill, I've had my first commission (6 tree decorations in a specific tartan) and am desperately trying to get my website photo gallery sorted out  Not helped by my camera getting smashed as it went through airport security.  Hey ho.
I have managed to fit in a quick trip to Vienna.  Sadly no photos but we had a lovely time visiting my middle son who lives there and seeing the gorgeous Christmas markets.  Lots and lots of lovely inspiring ideas.

Next batch of brooches for the shop in Crieff

Present I took for my son :-)

Last night it snowed here.  Just a little but enough to make me realise I need to get myself more organised for the big freeze they're predicting.  A couple of years ago I had so much snow I couldn't get my car up the wee lane to my house for 7 weeks.  It snowed, then froze. Then snowed again and froze.  For several weeks.  It's going to be that bad again apparently so I need to make sure I have plenty of food and supplies.  We also lost the electricty for several dyas as the snow brought down the power lines.   Since I'm so rural I'm at the end of the lines so am always last to get reconnected.

Despite the cons of living here, the pros are good enough to make it worthwhile though :-)