Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Sorry I Missed You, I Was In The Garden...

I don't know quite what happened there with the blog... the rest of life just took hold for a while

Since February I have continued to build, paint, fix, plumb, plaster, saw, sew, knit and generally handmake our home... I have taken far fewer photos than usual but I have been focussing on enjoying the process, which can escape me sometimes.

Today I thought I'd give you a peek at what I have been up to specifically in the garden.

Back in March I built a willow den or 'Twig-Wam' for the kids.

I asked for willow cuttings on our local freegle group and was delighted when a friendly couple turned up at our door with several bags full of long willow sticks. (not as long as you get in the kits, but at a much better price)

This was my first attempt at a project in willow and I was on a steep learning curve. Small helped plan it out on paper first. We marked out the general shape with string on the grass before poking sticks of willow into the ground (the newspaper acts as a weed suppressant) The Twig-Wam features, as all the best dens should, a secret entrance, a tunnel and 3 windows.

Most of the willow is growing and it is now (July) in full leaf, though it'll be a year or 2 of weaving and pruning before it really fills out - next time I build a willow structure I will do a tutorial, promise.

During March I also put a serious amount of drainage in the back garden, where our patio will be.

Again a disturbing lack of photos, (sorry peeps)

I dug a trench by hand, around 18" deep and 18" wide (I used the water as a level for most of the trench before cutting through to our outlet) It is wet clay, heavy, sticky, messy work. Also it was raining... I just cranked up my iPod and pretended I was at a music festival... there may have been dancing.

I lined the trench with landscaping fabric and put a couple of inches of pea gravel down before laying and fitting a perforated 4" flexible pipe. Filled all around the pipe with pea gravel and topped it off with some more landscaping fabric and then hardcore on top to give us a base to lay the patio on.
John was mostly on childcare duty through-out, though he did wheelbarrow 2 tonnes of hardcore and 1 tonne of pea gravel through the house for me (big kisses for him)

We have had some very heavy rain over the past few months but for the first time since in 6 years we have no puddles in our garden!

Once that drainage was in I was able to start building and filling gabions which create the retaining wall for our terraced herb garden, and access to the rest of our mini-holding.

Gabions are easy to build and can be filled with almost anything (bricks, stone, rubble, logs, slate, even glass bottles) to create a strong retaining wall. They improve drainage and are great for wildlife and mini-beasts. They do look a bit 'industrial' and I am not averse to that, but I am hoping to soften it a little over time by planting some climbing and spreading plants in the crevices.

I still have a way to go obviously with the back filling and the laying of the patio but some of our herbs are already planted up and getting established over this summer.

The garden is a huge part of my life, having been the prime reason we bought the house in the first place. The vegetable garden, the polytunnel and the orchard have been somewhat abandoned while we have a very young child and concentrate on improving our day-to-day living conditions closer to the house. We will get back to it all someday.

As well as all that since February I have...

Continued to work on our lobby,
Continued home-educated both children,
Went on a walking holiday in the Lake District,
Painted some window frames,
Baked lots of cookies, bread and cakes,
Been a politics geek (and there has been enough politics happening in our wee part of the world to make a grown woman weep... several times over)

But also I've been a Mum, and a Wife and occasionally just a little bit a Me (that's nice sometimes)

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Dry Rot - Victory Over Our Arch Enemy!

Within a few months of moving into Snowdrop Cottage (back in 2007) we found dry rot in the front wall of the house, it was horrendous and scary. The whole front of the house needed stripped back, sprayed and re-roofed... It was pretty much the start of our journey to hell and back with this house.

So imagine my joy when, on returning from a nature walk with the kids a few weeks back I found this on the wall in the lobby.

Dry rot on brick wall

I recognised it as dry-rot immediately and panic set in. It was a tiny amount, though it can spread rapidly. I'll admit to sitting on the kitchen floor in tears, before picking up the phone. Our friend, (who happens to be a damp and restorations expert) came round within the hour and gave me the advice we needed to fix the problem ourselves.

A quick ebay purchase and couple of days later the chemicals we needed arrived.

Brunosol dry rot treatment

Oh, by the way, DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME! These chemicals are for professional use only, not for DIY eejits like me... achem...

chisel wood out of wall

I chiseled out the wood from the wall - I think they are called 'nailing blocks' - they are pieces of wood built into the structure of the wall for nailing something to, in this case a door frame. The fronts were fairly solid and dry but as I got further in, it was clear there was our problem. Rotten and brittle, by the very back I was pretty much just scraping out dust. I also scraped all signs of rot bloom from the wall. and burnt all the bloom and wood to get rid of it instantly.

With all the wood and bloom removed I got dressed to the nines - I was warned DO NOT GET THIS ON YOUR SKIN, I was taking no chances.

Goggles and dustmask for messy jobs

I made up some of the concentrate and applied it liberally to the wall with a paintbrush, I got right to the back of the nooks that I had just removed the wood from, and painted it on 2ft+ in all directions from where the blooming had been. I only needed a tiny amount of the concentrate.

Then I packed the gaps in the walls with slate, as I had been told to. Slate is used as a damp-proof course and does not compact under pressure, which is why you use it to fill gaps in walls.

The photos are pretty bad, but it looks much better now and no fungus!

The stink of the chemicals took me right back to that horrible autumn of 2007 but I am so grateful I was able to do this myself this time round. Before the lobby is finished I will give this section of the wall 2 more applications of the Brunosol. When spring comes around we need to make some alterations to the wall outside to stop moisture penetrating here.

The Nitty Gritty

  • The chemicals I used are for treatment of dry rot in masonry - we got them on eBay from Platinum Chemicals cost about £45 including delivery.
  • I wore overalls, rubber gloves, a hat, dust mask and oversized safety goggles to protect myself. I was very careful not to splash the stuff around.
  • If you are in central Scotland and have problems with damp, rot or woodworm contact Russell Preservation - I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Thrifty Thursday - Meal Planning - With Free Printables

My Thrifty Thursday series is all about sharing money saving tips I've learned while raising a family under a mountain of debt in half a house. For years we lived on a £50 a week budget (not including housing, bills or travel) while we paid back all of our debts. Now we are able to save for the future because of all the skills learned through those difficult days.

This week I'm talking about meal planning. I'll explain how I save money by planning our meals every week. While cutting out waste and eating home-cooked nutritious meals every day. The key parts to this system are:
  1. Making a list of the meals you regularly eat
  2. Moulding your menu around other activities
  3. Knowing what you already have
  4. Building a reliable meal plan

Before I go on, in our house we have lunch (at 1pm) and dinner (at 6pm) You may be a dinner & tea, lunch & supper, or tea & supper family, I'm sure you'll figure it out.

There are 2 free printables this week: 

NB. As with all my printables these are free for personal use only, if you want to share them with friends or on your own blog please credit our-handmade-home.com fully. If you steal my stuff I will cry, and you don't want me to cry do you?

OK - Lets get started

Making a list of the meals you regularly eat.

You only need to do this once and it will make your meal planning much easier. Most of us have a staple of the same half-dozen dinners we cook all the time, with maybe another 20 things we eat occasionally. It couldn't be simpler - get a piece of paper (or use our free printable) and write down all the meals you like to eat.

Keep your list for future reference.
We have a ringbinder in a kitchen drawer where ours lives

Moulding your menu around other activities

On your meal plan (you can make up your own meal plan or use our free printable)
Note down the activities of the week that will affect meal times - Being a family with 2 kids we regularly have after-school clubs, piano lessons, visitors, special events and day-trips.

Each week I also make time to cook 1 HUGE pot of food and freeze it in family sized portions - this means I always have a few home cooked 'ready meals' in the freezer for busy days or emergencies.

Knowing what you already have.

Now it's time to clean out the fridge and pantry - not a deep clean, just a quick wipe and re-order. 

In the fridge I start on the top shelf move everything down to the lower shelves, give the top shelf a wipe, then move everything up again, tidying as I go and throwing out what will not be eaten. Then I move down to the next shelf, this means I get right to the back and there is nothing lurking, this also means I can stop if I need to change a nappy, answer the door or play candy crush saga.

In the cupboard (we have a huge and poorly designed pantry) I just have a look around and a quick tidy, so I know what is there.

I usually have a quick look in the freezer, but only clean it out once every 3 months or so.

The first time you  clean out your fridge and cupboards can be frightening, but just put on your safety goggles and elbow high rubber gloves and get stuck in. When you do a quick clean every week it becomes so easy.

Be honest with yourself and throw out the things past their best that have not and will not be eaten.

There is space on the bottom of our meal plan printable to note down what you already have.

Building a reliable meal plan.

Take all the information you have now and fill in the gaps on your meal plan.

  • On busy days plan simple meals - For us that is Tuna Pasta, or something we already have in the freezer
  • On quiet days plan to cook a big pot of something - Friday is quiet for us this week so I'll make Chicken Tikka Masala, it is an all day venture, but makes enough for 3 family meals.
  • If you are out of the house until late plan something in the slow cooker - I make chilli straight after breakfast and it sits in the slow cooker all day, it also makes enough for 3 family meals.

Sometimes I'm in the mood for certain things, sometimes I pick things off the list at random, sometimes I try new recipes. Other family members often have requests.

Lunches are always more random than dinners.

Go shopping once a week
'Dropping in' to the supermarket costs more money - shops are experts in getting us to buy more than we need. The less time you spend in the shop, the less money you will spend.
We get our groceries delivered once a week - our budget for food and drink is around £35.  We eat well, lots of fresh healthy, homemade food. I always do my meal plan the day before visiting the supermarket (or website)
I'll cover more about shopping lists in a future blog post.

Use what you have 
The average family in the UK throws out £700 worth of food a year - my entire budget for 4+ months. 
If you put your mind to it, you could probably feed your whole family for a week on what you already have in the fridge, freezer and pantry.

Learn to cook
I believe the only reason my family eats well is because we cook everything from scratch. If you buy prepared or ready-meals you'll struggle to keep the costs down.

Cooking for Blokes was the book that got me started cooking.

Love your freezer
For storing homemade 'ready meals' and leftovers, my freezer is indispensable.

Get some storage boxes for leftovers.
Stackable, microwaveable, freezer safe boxes with well fitting lids that hold enough for a family meal. If you don't have the funds for new boxes, plastic margarine tubs do a fine job (but don't microwave them!)

Learn to label

I used to just chuck leftovers in the freezer, and find them 6 months later... 'what is this?'... fast forward 30 mins and we are digging into a plate of curry with spaghetti... hmmm... So I learned the hard way. Either write on boxes with a washable marker or buy inexpensive little stickers and get into the labeling habit.

Be part-time vegetarian
Good meat is expensive. Try planning a few meat-free meals a week.
When cooking a meaty sauce (chilli, bolognese, etc) I add plenty of grated carrots, mushrooms, courgettes, etc and a handful of lentils along with a stock-cube to keep that meaty flavour.

That's me signing off for this week - Feel free to share in the comments any of your own top-tips for meal planning.

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