Author Archives: JuliaH

About JuliaH

I teach history courses for the Workers' Educational Association as well as giving talks on various history topics across Yorkshire and the Midlands as well as talks about the history and creation of cross stitch samplers and blackwork embroidery.

The week so far…

DSC_0010.JPGI’ve been without the Internet.  Apparently there was water in the works!  I suppose its one of the perils of country living.

I am now officially a churchwarden. I’ve been sworn in and have met the Archdeacon. I’m not sure I’m of a suitably serious disposition because on glancing through the order of service I noted ‘the Archdeacon’s charge.’  In my mind I imagined a sober cleric of indeterminate years (but preferably with a fine set of mutton chop whiskers) astride a hobby horse in full ecclesiastical regalia galloping down the aisle followed by a company of choristers – possibly accompanied by bugle and drums.  I clearly need to get a grip.  It turned out that charge is another word for sermon or set of instructions for what churchwardens might like to do – and I can tell you this, I shall not be inspecting the lead on the roof or dealing with the gutters no matter what the archdeacon might have to say on the subject!

And then I went off and attended a meeting.  Clearly I can’t divulge what went on in the meeting as that would be breaking confidentiality but let’s just say that I’ve probably joined the vicar on his mental list of ‘b****y difficult women,’ – but that’s his own fault for volunteering me for the role.

Whilst I was doing that, contemplating the scrapes I manage to get myself into, HWIOO was stripping the cloakroom of its carpet, wash basin and toilet.  I have a very fetching new planter and we have set five days aside where once two would have done for the tiling, flooring and refit of slim line wash basin with waterfall tap (will we ever get the Littlest Madam out of there?)  and low flush toilet.  We have also identified the fact that even with regular breaks and the occasional nap the following two or three days are going to be low key ones.

So all in all today has been a fairly busy one and that’s without celebrating the fact that I managed to install a Paypal button on my main website; send advertising leaflets for the WI to go into the school book bags at our local primary school and sort out my paperwork during the two days where all it did was rain and ruin the flowers.

Village life

scone and creamHaving complained that I didn’t seem to be part of the community I can now officially inform you that I appear to be blending in a bit better.  How do I know?  I’m being informed when people die, that’s how!  As various members of the community people are now telling HWIOO and I about their sad demises.  This is unexpected as we know none of the deceased but we do now.  I wonder if I should attend their funerals to make their acquaintance or at least the acquaintance of their nearest and dearest? There’s certainly always a large turn out for funerals.

Aside from that after a rather prolonged silence on the domestic goddess front I have partaken in the gentle art of serving afternoon cream teas on a bank holiday Saturday.  I have discovered that its an excellent way of bonding as a group.  I’ve no idea why people spend a fortune on team building exercises.  They don’t need to go paint balling or build giant, not to mention useless, structures out of paper and straws, nor do they need to go off on some “jolly” together – what they need to do is organise scones and then spend the day in a confined space preparing and serving cream teas to locals and holiday makers.  This also has the bonus of helping a worthy cause.

HWIOO is still pottering along.  As ever, we’re working at the pacing but we’re trying to cut out the afternoon nap very gradually as I mentioned in January.  HWIOO can now do two afternoons without a snooze so long as they aren’t in succession.  We have learned that if the Little Madams come that for two days after they go he has to revert to doing something for an hour and then changing activity entirely but that he can be more himself during their visit – so in other words to quote the Right Little Madam, he isn’t as broken as he once was.

Meanwhile we still haven’t done something nice beginning with I, although I have found out about the Information Commission Office (ICO) and its requirements.  I have also parted with my cash to register.  I don’t think this of itself is particularly nice but it is exciting that I am becoming more self-employed.  Now all I have to do is find a few more venues, complete the WI speaker course (don’t ask) and write a history book.  I may not move fast but I will get there in the end!

Card die delight …or possibly addiction

rabbit dieI am very lucky.  Hattie gave me a die cutter and at the weekend we may have purchased one or two dies – in the sale I hasten to add, just in case Archie or HWIOO are reading this.  I had a lovely weekend creating paper penguins and a striking Olaf snowman.  I thought I had it all under control when I arrived home, little did I realise that rather like an infection the desire to create from card and paper was fermenting in my head.

It started mildly enough. I made gift bags for the Little Madams’ Easter presents and then I thought, “I know what.  I’ll make them each a card.” This necessitated making nine Easter bunnies from the die shown in the image in this post – six looking forwards and three with fluffy cotton tails.  So far so straight forward.

Could someone tell me why, when I needed nine bunnies I have cut and assembled twenty-four in various shades of brown, pink and cream?  It wasn’t as though I had nothing else to do.  There was paperwork for next term, paperwork for this term, six thousand words and a synopsis to write, research for the next two day schools.  There are one or two weeds in the garden, housework to be done and novels to be written.  My only consolation is that HWIOO slept through the whole thing.

I also have a very nice tin filled with various letters of the alphabet, a box labelled “Easter,” with the dies and some spare parts neatly bagged and stowed.  The utility room has a fine layer of multi-coloured confetti that I need to sweep up and I have a little list of useful things that I need to lay hands upon – like teeny-tiny googlie eyes.

Hattie, if you’re reading this, your work is done. I have been infected with die-cutting mania.  Next time you visit, HWIOO may be carried out of the house on a tsunami of hand crafted cards when he answers the front-door.

It’s been a while and Spring has arrived.

DSC_0014Where on earth has March gone?  Come to think of it where has Harvey gone?  I like to think of the handsome little harvest mouse in a meadow chatting up lady mice.  He’s certainly not in the garage anymore.  We have installed a rather large rodent irritator purchased from Maplins which will apparently irritate all the mice and rats in a small family home so should do the trick in the garage which is not the size of a house. During March the bulbs I planted in autumn made an appearance- I was delighted by the fritillary which I wasn’t convinced would appear. I ordered a greenhouse (hurrah) and fell into the sea whilst collecting sea glass. It was surprisingly warm for the time of year.

 

HWIOO is contemplating the exterior woodwork with a view to painting it when the weather finally warms properly and putting up my weather vane, our greenhouse arrives next week and the dog from three doors down has taken to blessing the daffodils outside our front gate every morning.  This does not endear his owner to us – nor does the owner’s habit of standing and staring into our kitchen whilst his dog is about his business.  It’s not as though I’m wafting about in flimsy nightwear but equally when a woman sits down for her first coffee of the morning she doesn’t expect an audience unless she’s a Tudor or Stuart monarch.

And that’s about it – apart from the fact that I’ve got to decorate an egg for the WI.  I have looked on line and apparently with the aid of an old stocking, a flower and rather a lot of cabbage or onion skins I can create a dyed hardboiled egg with a flower on it.  I can see the potential for that to be very exciting.  Alternatively I can use card and paper to create a hen…the latter sounds more straight forward to me as I did once accidentally blow an egg up because I left it boiling for too long…the pan took some cleaning. I may take a photograph provided the aforementioned egg looks sufficiently professional – if it looks like something that a five-year-old wouldn’t want to own up to then I shall conveniently forget the whole thing!

We also need to progress to the letter i – ice-cream, Iceland, igloos, iguanas – shame the Rheged knitting and stitching event doesn’t begin with a letter i.  As you can imagine HWIOO is delighted at the prospect of going to a knitting event and it was only because Teddie expressed an interest in the event by social media that I found out that it was on.  For £2.00 I can go and look at wools and other needle based crafts to my heart’s content.  I have suggested that HWIOO could perhaps have a full English breakfast in the cafe whilst I browse – no this is not kindness on my part, its simply to prevent him looming over my left shoulder in the event of me making a purchase. It’s amazing how off-putting a looming spouse can be if he looms for sufficiently long enough.

Hattie, Harvey and Hopton Hall

IMG_8376.JPGA list of three! And they alliterate.  What more could I want?

First of all, an apology to Hattie.  We arranged to meet one another last week and she was hoping for snow.  It was a beautiful weekend but no hint of snow.  Today on the other hand it hasn’t stopped snowing all day.  We’ve had field fares, a linnet and ten blue tits at the feeder.  All I can say is that I will try and plan better next time!

Beatrix_Potter,_Two_Bad_Mice,_Frontispiece.pngHarvey is our lodger.  He’s small, brown and lives in the garage.  Naomi feels that I’ve travelled into a parallel Beatrix Potter universe on account of the fact that I see our bachelor harvest mouse as living a solitary winter existence before scampering back out to the meadows in the spring to find himself a lady wife.  Naomi, who offered me the mouse equivalent of zyklon b, is of the opinion that where there’s one mouse there are probably many more and I don’t think she was envisaging Hunca Munca or Tom Thumb, though I could be mistaken.  She has a point but he- and until evidence proves otherwise Harvey is a he- does look harmless as he scampers across the back wall of the garage when we take the car out.  He has very elegant tapering feet, a white tummy and a big ears.  My original plan was that as soon as the weather showed any sign of warming that HWIOO would be on hand with wire wool to block Harvey’s return after he exits one warm morning before a mouse’s fancy turns to whatever mice minds turn to in the spring as even I’m prepared to concede that two mice is one too many mice.

However, Hattie having seen Harvey had a tale to tell and I would have to say that just as soon as the snow goes, so does Harvey.  Apparently Hattie’s son had a mouse in the garage but rather than making himself snug – possibly in a miniature box bed with hand stitched quilt during the cold season- his mouse made himself at home in the workings of the car, had a gnaw on some rather expensive cables and eventually popped up one morning, through an external air vent,  as Hattie’s son was driving along the motorway.

The sight of a mouse scampering up the bonnet of the car before being spreadeagled, arms outstretched, nose whiffling on the windscreen must have been disconcerting.  There followed a mano a mano or rather mano a mouseo face-off until the vehicle was halted, a photo taken as proof that it wasn’t a hallucination and then the stowaway was ejected into the hedgerow – where it presumably needed a lay down and a strong cup of tea.

Having done my homework it appears that if you catch mice by friendly methods (and I’m not sure that the windscreen is an approved method) that you should deposit them at least half a mile from home or else they’ll probably get back before you do.

We’ve tried old fashioned moth balls which apparently act as a mouse deterrent and we have sonic mouse repellers – Harvey ignores them, apparently because harvest mice hear at a different frequency to the sonic devices.  I am equally informed that the garage will be a spider free zone at the moment. If blocking up the exit doesn’t work we will, as Fagin says, “review the situation” and perhaps consider Naomi’s solution, in the meantime the Mater has suggested that I might want to take pen and paintbrush in hand in order to tell the tale of Harvey. The Right Little Madam, on the other hand, is contemplating the hand stitched quilt and a bowl of food for our guest. We will not be mentioning traps, poison or even cats in her hearing.

Which brings me, last but not least, to our alphabet of delights – Hopton Hall in Derbyshire.  It has a rather lovely display of snowdrops and aconites during the early spring. We decided that we would go and have a look last Saturday.  The sun shone, pheasants showed off their plumage, birds sang – one of them sounded like a train going over points. I asked what it was and HWIOO said it was a lesser spotted ASLEF bird- and it was all very pleasant.  We shall return to look at the roses and to sample the delights of their cafe in due course.  There was, we noted, quite a substantial play park and we have added it to our list of possible places to take the Little Madams.

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Big Garden Birdwatch 2017.

birdIt’s that time of year again and although we’ve already covered the letter G we thought’d we’d reprise it.  Last year we must have been visited by a sparrow hawk or all the birds in the neighbourhood had taken umbrage with us because we didn’t see a solitary bird for the entire weekend which was rather disappointing, not least because it turns out that the local WI has a serious game of bird table one-upwomanship going on – as in, “I have a pied wagtail who comes to my garden regularly.”

“My robin takes crumbs from my hands.”

“Robins are so common don’t you think? There’s a wren that visits me every day.”

“Oh, how fascinating.  I don’t suppose you’ve seen a waxwing.  There’s a pair in my garden.  I think they’re quite rare.  I expect our environment is just right.It pays to look after your garden don’t you think?”  It turned out that the woman the waxwing enthusiast was speaking to was her next door neighbour and come to think of it I’m not entirely sure that waxwings actually visit this neck of the woods.

Now whilst it was tempting to announce that I have a chorus line of fieldfares who cancan their way up the garden path and half a dozen firecrests performing acrobatic stunts for peanuts I couldn’t even claim a visit from Clarence our neighbourhood pheasant last year as we had been the birdy equivalent of Billy No-mates on the key weekend.

This year I had my coffee, notepad and pen at the ready having spent most of the 2016 providing assorted birdseed, sunflower hearts and remembering to melt the ice in the bird bath every time it freezes.  All I could hope was that my tweet rating had gone up and that the sparrow hawk would keep his distance.

I am pleased to announce that my bird table was well attended by goldfinches, bluetits, sparrows, dunnocks, a great tit, two nuthatches, a robin, four blackbirds, a startled looking fieldfare (of the non cancanning variety) and a chaffinch. The jackdaws even turned up to demonstrate their helicoptering skills on the peanuts and their emptying technique on the mixed seed feeder which is to swing on it like teenagers in the park until all the seed has been decanted onto the ground.  A collared dove flew into the window when it tried to taxi in to land but was unharmed (it does it on a weekly basis leaving me wondering where it got it’s pilot’s licence from). There was even a coal tit bouncing around like a pingpong ball with a mohican.  What more could a girl wish for?

Having sent off the online survey honestly and accurately, I’m now wondering if I should adopt the prevailing post-truth approach to information with the ladies of the WI in order to improve my standing as a domestic goddess in our local community. Apparently in these rural parts having a reputation for being on the same wavelength as St Francis of Assisi is inherently helpful if one can’t create a spongecake of appropriate lightness.  Do you think they’d believe me if I informed them that my garden is now home to a colony of dodos?   Perhaps a party of penguins?  An ascension of skylarks?  An asylum of cuckoos? A flock of albatross or even a scattering of herons? A parliament of owls carrying letters and scrolls?  I thought not –

In the meantime the RSPB’s Great British Birdwatch is running all this weekend – why not download a pack and start watching.  Double click on the image to open the RSPB page in a new window….happy birdwatching

robin

Orange Marmalade

dscf2665Its that time of year again – marmalade time.

1 kg Seville oranges – guaranteed to have more pips than flesh and even when you think you’ve got all the little blighters they keep popping to the surface during the interminable boiling time.

1 lemon – this one came wrapped in tissue paper.  It was the only one wrapped in the crate with its little logo covered square of protection – so obviously it was the one I needed despite the fact it was virtually at the bottom of the box.

2kg of warmed granulated sugar…you know that adage about the watched pot – what it should actually say is that the warmed sugar is either stone cold or welded to the bottom of the pan.  There are no in-between stages.

A small muslin bag for all those pips. The chances of you having one of these unless you’re like me and saw them in a sale several years ago and thought they might come in useful are remote – and it turns out little muslin bags with drawer strings are very useful indeed.  They will also be exceedingly useful next time you’re shopping and see something else in the kitchen paraphernalia range that your loved one feels is excess to requirements.  Now you will be able to remind him or her of those handy little muslin bags whilst looking virtuous and highly organised.

I cup of cointreau or spirits of your choice – to add to the marmalade not to while away the time whilst the marmalade cooks.

8 X 375g sterilised jam jars.

 

First chop your oranges and deseed them.  Its the pith that makes the marmalade bitter but I very swiftly discovered that my marmalade wasn’t going to be delicate and ladylike – for starters the oranges had lives of their own and for seconds it turns out that I have many cuts on my fingers.  The mandolin did not work particularly well as the little device for stopping you chop your fingers off didn’t like the orange peel very much.  Any way ultimately I chopped a kilo of oranges into roughly equal strips and collected most of the pips.  The pips go in a muslin bag which as luck would have it I had (as I may already have mentioned).  The oranges and the lemon chunks go in a very large bowl and then you add 2.25 litres of water followed by the bag of orange pips and a plate to cover it all.  Go away and do something else for twenty-four hours.

Transfer the pleasantly citrus concoction to a large stainless steel pan along with the pips in their bag.  If you use copper you’ll end up with very clean copper and very dirty marmalade – take it from one who knows.  Gently heat.  You need to halve the amount of liquid.  The longer it takes the softer the peel will be.  When the kitchen is steamy because you’ve forgotten to put the extractor fan on open the window so the neighbours can share your orangy sauna and turn on the extractor fan.  Thank your lucky stars you don’t have wallpaper in the kitchen and if you do tell yourself that you needed to redecorate in any event.

Deposit 2kgs of sugar in a pan – heat gently watching it nervously for any signs of sticking.  This means you need to stir it regularly but gently because otherwise hob cleaning is going to take on a whole new meaning.

When the sugar is warm and the liquid in the other pan has halved, add the sugar to the liquid.  I took the bag of pips out before adding the sugar not he grounds that I wanted to use the bag again and knew how difficult it would be to get clean otherwise.  Put your thermometer in the pan and prepare for a long couple of hours inhaling orange steam. The setting point for marmalade is 104 degrees centigrade or 219 degrees farenheit.  One very helpful book informed me that if I went over the setting point that the marmalade would never set – a dispiriting thought.  Remove the odd rogue pip, stir to stop sticking, admire the peel shrinkage and when the temperature is close to setting point add the cup of spirit.  There will be alarming bubbling of the kind that you’d expect to see in a cauldron and the temperature will drop unexpectedly despite all the bubbles.

Don’t forget to sterilise your jam jars.

Eventually after a very long time the optimum temperature will arrive.  By that time you should have planned the next month, be able to breath through your nose and gone off making marmalade until next year.   Remove pips and any scum. Pot the marmalade up without pouring it over your hands. Seal and leave to cool.  Apparently you can enjoy it for breakfast the following morning.  Is now the time to mention that I don’t like marmalade very much? However, the Pottermeister’s jar has already got her name on it!

Now all you need to do is clean the kitchen or find a willing victim – er, sorry- helper, to do the washing up and clean the hob.