Life, work, studies, family, home, garden and other responsibilities
Hopefully, the ping in your inbox alerting you to a new blog post made you smile. It’s been a bit since I had time to write, apologies, but hopefully, after today’s update, you will understand and maybe even join me in getting excited about our new spring season which is approaching fast.
For you guys who have been with us a while, you will have noticed a bit of a decline in the frequency of posts over the last year, culminating in my wee break over Christmas. Rest easy if you were worrying. We are both healthy and happy, I was just very busy and priorities meant I had to reduce the number of activities I could do in a day.
Over the past year, I have been battling through my dissertation which is the final step in the masters degree I have been studying, on top of a full-time job and the garden and our lives in general. For those of you who maybe aren’t familiar with higher education (here in the UK at least), this final piece of work was quite a large undertaking, and so was taking up almost all of my non-working time. For me, as I am studying education, it means a large written piece, which most folks are aware of, but before I could do that, I had to design and run a research project, collect and analyse data and then study previous research in the field. Then, after all of that, I got to do the written part.
I won’t lie, it’s been an incredibly stressful and exhausting year, but I am happy to report I have come out of the other side and I am ready to get back to life in the garden.
But don’t worry I didn’t have to go through it all alone. I had my constant academic cat companions. Who gradually took over more and more of my space… because they love me….apparently.
So the good news is that I am back and just in time to get going for spring – hurrah! The plan is to get into the garden today and clear the mess that the recent storms have made and then get the greenhouse cleaned and ready to go. Then I’ll sit with a coffee, maybe a biscuit, and order seeds etc for the coming year. I have been so looking forward to this.
So, I PROMISE to update you all later in the week with how the garden is looking after it’s spring clean today and on what fun there will be, come spring.
Oh and remind me to tell you the funny story of Kate, the frozen carrot bed and the dark.
Switching to a glass greenhouse: one year on
Well, I guess by the end of this month it’s time to stop talking about the new greenhouse… Olive will be one year old! I think there should be cake.
So this week, the thought of it being a whole year with our first “proper” greenhouse (polycarbonate didn’t count as proper), got me thinking back about our journey as gardeners, and I thought I would share with you guys, as I know not all of you were here in the beginning. So sit back, preferably with a cuppa and a biscuit and let me tell you a story.
The gardening section of this blog came about back in Jan 2012, when Kate and I bought Ar Bruadair (our house). Before then we’d lived in flats (apartments) and didn’t have a garden. In fact, neither of us had ever had a garden. I did, however, begin my gardening adventure shortly before then, with a small balcony, where I tried to grow peppers and tomatoes – with absolutely no success.
But funnily enough, the garden was the one thing we both wanted, so our focus on buying a new place, was on having a garden, some outdoor space. My dream was to grow my own veggies and Kate’s dream was to have hanging baskets, a lawn and a Japanese maple in front of the house. Ar Bruadair was born (ar bruadair means our dream in Scottish Gaelic).
In fact, I was at work when Kate called to tell me the offer on the house had been accepted and she called and all she said was, “You better buy some wellies.” Of course, being great at puzzles, I had no clue what she was telling me, so she had to spell it out. The house is ours, our dream has come true. You are a gardener now! (Wellies are wellington boots)
We were a few weeks into getting the garden sorted (demolishing an old shed to make space) before the first greenhouse was built. It was a polycarbonate job as we weren’t sure yet if we would genuinely take to gardening, so this was a cheaper option to test the waters.
It was a nightmare to put together. And not entirely solid. But it was mine. My first greenhouse.
So skip on a few years, and we’re growing tomatoes, peppers, flowers, even pumpkins at one point.
Always though, winter was a nightmare. The winds around here are strong, and every year we’d lose parts of the greenhouse, usually the roof, to the winds.
And it was a nightmare to clean every year because the polycarbonate panels in the roof had channels which filled with mould and algae.
But, this was our garden, our special place and we loved it. It’s where we sat and enjoyed the sun on a summers day, had BBQs with friends, de-stressed and its where we got married. Right beside the greenhouse.
I’m getting all gooey and soppy thinking back through all of this.
So as you can see, the greenhouse is more than just a greenhouse to us, it’s part of a much bigger dream that we are enjoying. It makes it possible for us to grow on seeds in the Scottish spring (read cold and wet). We can grow tomatoes and peppers, and it’s a place we can shelter from the sudden, driving rain and have a laugh. Oh yes, ask Kate about the weekend we build and painted a fence in the pouring rain!
Now I am painting a bit of a rosy picture here, so let me clarify. As much as that little polycarbonate greenhouse was a huge part of us discovering our love for the garden and we love our garden… I HATED IT! There I said it. I feel better now. I hated that greenhouse!
The thing is, that greenhouse was quite cheap, and you do get what you pay for. It leaked, a lot. It was drafty. The roof came apart every time it was windy to the point where we were using duct tape to hold it together. And it was dirty and a nightmare to clean. So the day I had finally saved enough to get a proper greenhouse, I was ecstatic. Along came Olive (so-called because that’s the colour she is).
Olive is strong and sturdy and one year on I can say she doesn’t leak and isn’t drafty. We are about to do the winter clean, but I don’t think it will be too much trouble 🙂
She isn’t perfect, I’ve still managed to find niggles. Namely the automatic window openers. They activate far too early, even on the optimum setting, so the greenhouse is usually only about 14 or 15 C when the window starts to open. I’d like to have a bit more control over this. But still automated, rather than me having to come home from work to open the windows if you know what I mean. But in comparison, I can’t really complain. I suppose the full year hasn’t passed so I’m assuming she won’t be much trouble to clean, but until we do at the weekend, I guess we don’t know.
So…. what I thought I might do with you guys is…. let’s celebrate Olive’s first birthday with a wee Q & A. So send us your Ar Bruadair questions and we’ll do our best to answer as many as we can. They can be about the greenhouse or gardening in general or I suppose cooking our garden produce or something else random you are desperate to know. Ask away and if I can answer it I will.
By then I should be able to tell you about cleaning Olive too 🙂
How do we ask questions, Eli?
That is a great first question. You have lots of options.
We know it can be difficult to keep up to date with everything that’s going on with your two favourite (ok second favourite) bloggers, especially if you follow us on youtube or Instagram too. So we thought we’d make it easier and create a mailing list for anyone who would like to be kept up to date.
We’ll use it to announce new blog posts, videos and anything exciting that’s happening. Unfortunately, the original widget we used for this no longer supports our needs and we’ve had to move, but the new tool is bigger and better and should hopefully offer you guys a much better experience. it was scary for us, but we’ve ripped off the band-aid and here we go.
So what does this mean for you?
Well firstly, you’ll notice a whole new look to the new post notification emails you get.
Secondly, you’ll get updates bout new posts and news of the antics we are getting up to including the odd peek behind the scenes at Ar Bruadair.
Lastly, the sucky bit. We don’t have access to your lovely details from the previous email company, so if you want to receive these alerts, you’ll need to subscribe again. Sorry, this is completely sucky but out of our control 🙁
So feel free to sign up below if you’d like to be part of the #TellMeFirstSquad
But equally, if you decide it’s not for you at any time, just unsubscribe. We prefer to let you guys control how much we annoy you!
New raised beds – railway sleepers
I just looked over our old blog posts to see when we installed the raised beds and it gave me a bit of a warm glow. I love going back over the old posts to see how the garden has changed and grown over the years.
Turns out we installed the beds very early on in our gardening adventure.
Back then, we were VERY new to gardening, in fact, this is our first garden ( my balcony doesn’t count), so we were working things out and learning as we went. Still are to be honest.
When we moved into our lovely new home here at Ar Bruadair, we new nothing (you know nothing Jon Snow!). We had seen the raised bed thing on TV and thought it sounded like a convenient thing to do. Boy were we shocked by the amount of work it took to get them going.
However, nothing compared to the work that’s gone into replacing them. Sigh, and we’re not finished yet.
So why have we replaced them?
Well simply, the old ones were very cheap and have started to rot, split and fall apart since they were put in. It has been 7 years! We’ve been saying for the last couple of years that we needed to do this, and dreaming that lovely railway sleeper raised beds would be great. We just never got around to actually doing it. Then, with the new greenhouse meaning we no longer needed the sleepers under the greenhouse, an opportunity arose, so to speak.
So the plan….
Well we’ve so far only replaced two (we mentioned in a previous post that we’d made a start). The third is full of strawberries so that will wait until next year when those strawberries are at the end of their life cycle anyway.
We did bed one a couple of weeks ago before the carrots and beetroot were ready to be planted out. Bed two we did last weekend as the courgettes will go in there in a few weeks.
So what was the process?
Boy, was it backbreaking, really. I’ve spent most of this week struggling to move. Why? Well let me tell you.
First job: cut the sleepers to size
Kate took care of the hard work here, but through this we have learned one awesome piece of advice to give you guys so you don’t suffer as we did.
So we had sleepers already, most excellent, meant for the first bed we didn’t have to buy anything. However, they weren’t the right size so had to be cut. Railway sleepers are solid oak and 200mm by 150mm. We (actually Kate) cut the first bed by hand. It was a killer and her hands and shoulder were killing her for days. First piece of advice for you guys, if you are doing this, buy a cheap electrical saw!
Once the sleepers were cut, we put the first level together on the patio so we could make sure it was square and level. Then put the next level together and squared it all up. We didn’t attach the two layers though.
Next piece of advice: this job is so much easier to do on a nice flat accessible space rather than trying to do this in situ. Oh yes!
Job two: empty the beds of soil
You want to completely replace the beds, well it’s gonna be easier if they are empty, so all that soil had to be dug out and put somewhere. A big tarpaulin on the lawn did the trick.
YAY! Now we can get the new ones in right? Well no… if you go read the original story of us installing the beds, you’ll hear about how uneven the ground was and the half arsed job we did of levelling the original beds.
We decided this time we would try to make a better job, while we had the opportunity. That was a killer.
Job three: level the ground for the beds
We ended up having to dig the back end down about 6 inches on average, it was way more at one side and less at another, as this side of the garden slopes quite a lot. It took forever and our soil is clay so it’s hard going to dig. In the end, the first bed looked awesome, properly level from all angles.
There were gin painkillers that night, let me tell you. So what’s next?
Job four: put it all back
Now things are level you can put the new beds in place and fill them back up. Hurrah!
A handy, dandy tip for you guys on this. We build the two sections separately, it made it manageable (I won’t say easy) to carry them and put them in place. Once the first layer was in and level, we added the next layer and fixed them in place with huge, big, carriage bolts. They are all nice and securely fastened together now and nothing is going to move these suckers!
So two beds done, third will get done next year. Oh we’re looking forward to doing all of this again! NOT!
Our beds have done us so well over the years, we’ve had bounteous harvests of carrots, beetroot, courgettes, salad, broccoli, sprouts, chard, kale, strawberries etc. Here is our homage to our raised beds…
youtube, the blog and our community – changes
Day by day we are seeing the blog become more popular and more and more of you are getting in touch with your amazing stories and interesting questions. It’s been so much fun sharing our adventures with you all over the last few years but due to the size of this community, we have had to make some small changes. Nothing scary, don’t worry.
As I mentioned, the blog is growing daily but so is our youtube channel so we thought it was time to get organised and make sure it is easy for everyone to find the content they were looking for.
Originally, our youtube channel wasn’t a channel, it was just a place to make videos available so that we could share them here, but it grew and grew and now it even has its own following separate from this blog. So with that thought, we have decided it was time to separate out the videos into separate channels to make life a little easier for our viewers and readers. We do still encourage you to use this blog as your method of contacting us though, just because it can get difficult for us to keep track of you all through all the different ways you get in touch and we don’t want anyone feeling like we are ignoring them.
So with no more waffling, the channel address to visit should you wish to find our videos on …
We’re just home from a super fun day learning to make hardback books, we’re both still a little bit giddy from having so much fun.
If you don’t know the story of Kate and I, you may not know that books play a huge part in our lives and indeed in our story. Kate is a librarian and I am a book geek. I always tell people that I am the real-life version of Sebastian from “Never Ending Story”, the kid who gets lost in a book in order to escape the real world. Unfortunately, I never got a luck dragon.
When Kate and I met, instead of the usual flowers and chocolates, on our second date, Kate gave me two of her favourite books. It was one of the sweetest and most appropriate gifts ever and sparked a love of Terry Pratchett.
So, today we got to go live out our geeky book alter egos and learn to actually make books. It was soooooo much fun. Kate has been to a bookbinder to watch the process before, but this is the first time either of us actually got to try our hand at making books.
So how do you make a book?
I have to be honest and say its actually a whole lot easier than you think it would be and as a hobby it’s not as expensive as some other hobbies. The basic bits you need are really cheap. Scissors, a sharp knife, a ruler, something to press down folds and make them crisp, glue, a needle and lastly, paper and card. Of course, you can go as simple or as fancy as you like and that will affect the cost but the rainy craft weekend fun and opportunity for gift giving makes it all worthwhile for me.
So….. It all starts with some paper, which can be any type of paper you like, although I really like nice heavy paper so that would be my choice. I always like the really nice stuff that you can use a fountain pen on, not that I would ever risk writing with a fountain pen, as I don’t so much write, as scrawl.
So where do we start? Simply by folding paper in half to make your pages. Four pieces of paper, folded in half to be specific.
Each of these little, folded pieces is called a signature and you make the main part of your book by sewing these signatures together. You don’t have to be good at sewing, in fact, this is the first time I have EVER sewed anything. Unlike my little sister Leigh who has actually made Kate and I, pyjamas and sponge bags and things.
I won’t try and fail miserably to tell you all about the stitching process, but I think it was called a running stitch, but apparently, there are different types of bookbinding stitches for different types of binding. We thought this was going to be the really difficult bit, but it was actually really simple and much faster than I thought it would be. I was onto my very last signature before I even realised.
Then on each side of the pile of signatures (signature block), you have your “endpaper’, this is the piece which you glue to your cover to attach your signatures to the cover. It’s usually a different colour or a bit fancy. I’ve seen this as marbled quite a lot. They are glued to your first and last page and then glued to your cover. But before then, you make sure the main body of the book is secure by glueing along the back to help hold it all together and you put a strip of cloth or brown paper on this. This doesn’t look pretty but it’s very effective. The bulldog clips were really handy for holding the pages square and acting as a stand to let things dry.
Then the fun starts, you get to make your book cover which is essentially three bits of card glued onto some brown paper to create your movable binding. I know, really, it’s that simple. By this point I felt a bit like someone had explained a magic trick. A little disappointed that these wonderful objects which had meant so much to me throughout my life, were actually so simple.
The pretty coloured piece is the cloth that it is all glued to, it’s called book cloth.
There are lovely little touches that make it all work, like the ribbon page marker or the “headband”, which hides the messy ends of the signatures. This just makes it look that little bit more special, and dare I say it professional.
The two pieces, (the cover and the signature block) are stuck together by glueing the end pages onto the hardback cover, making your finished book. I know, really, that’s it!!!
So all and all, a fantastic day out learning to do something fun, exciting and which will definitely appear in our crafty weekends… look out for handmade books as Christmas gifts.
Lastly, we want to say thank you to Marion, our tutor today who was fantastically patient, especially with me and my clumsiness. We’d definitely recommend you look her classes up if you fancy having a go at this.
Little changes big results. Our journey to get healthier.
A friend recently asked if we’d talk on our blog about the changes Kate and I have made in our lives to try to get healthier. After all, we’ve shed a massive 9 stone between us, but importantly we have no diet to sell you. For us it was all about getting healthy, not focussing on getting skinny, but losing weight was a by-product of getting healthier. I’m not going to lie, this is actually a really hard blog post to write, not just because I really don’t like the idea of laying myself bare for the world to read about, or because we’ll share photos I’d prefer to burn, but because I don’t think its a good thing for bloggers and social media “celebs” to offer advice on health. We are not the people to take advice from. So I am going to share some of our story, but on the agreement that you don’t take it as permission to try to do any diets or weight loss tricks or anything. If you feel you need to get healthy or lose weight, talk to your doctor first, and get some proper advice. Deal?
Let’s go back a few years, you know that thing where you meet someone, you are happy, you pile on weight? Yup, that was us. Although we’d both fought with our weight for a number of years, we were happy, we stopped caring and worse, we both loved food so we started to celebrate everything with meals, usually large, rich meals. Oh and we commiserated everything with food and beer too.
This photo was us, in our happy place, the kitchen. This wasn’t our biggest size wise, but at this point, all we did really was eat and watch TV. Maybe we played video games. Kate was struggling with her blood pressure, suffered from depression and found it quite painful to walk any great distance (like the 1000 meters to the train station). Something had to change.
Unfortunately, at that point, it didn’t. We were happy, we accepted being out of breath trying to climb the two flights of stairs to our flat, not being able to breath when we tied our shoe laces and all the other stuff no one wants to talk about. We just decided to stick our fingers in our ears and ignore it.
This photo is probably the hardest photo for me to share.
We both hated how we looked here and spend most of our time in baggy t-shirts and shorts, because let’s face it, at that size, clothes don’t feel good. The turning point was a few years after this when we were planning to get married. We both realised we really didn’t want to look at wedding photos and be depressed by them so we began, slowly, trying to introduce a healthier way of life for us both. It worked, slowly, a pound at a time we both started to lose a little weight, but more importantly, we were feeling better physically, which meant we could be more active. All of which helped. Then when Kate started thinking about turning 50 she decided to step it up. She was having a hard time accepting that she was actually going to turn 50. I think it was more to do with the realisation that yup, you are a grown up. There was no getting away from it now. But the struggle to accept our ageing, made us look at everything in our lives and we realised we had a pretty awesome life and we were basically cutting it short. So Kate made a decision, she was going to be fit and healthy, not fat at 50. That was when Kate got brave and joined me as a cyclist.
She started small, just around the block, but began upping it. Around the block became a couple of miles, then three or four miles then in the summer she thought what the heck. She began cycling to work and back regularly and that’s when the big changes happened.
Fast forward a few years, and between us, we have lost 9 stone, we both now regularly cycle for our 7-mile commute each way and we go to the gym or play sport as our fun past times. But you know what, we both still cook, we still love cooking and eating. So what changed, what diet did we go on, cause let’s be honest you all want to know so you can buy the book or sign up to the website, right?
Honestly, we didn’t, we didn’t go on a diet. We still eat all the same foods we always did, we just slowly introduced some changes.
I can’t begin to tell you how important portion sizes are, or how out of control ours had gotten. Something as simple as learning what a proper portion of food looked like made a huge difference. So for us, large bowls of pasta were replaced by 75g of pasta each. It was shocking at first to see how small that was compared to our usual bowl full, but this recognition of how much we overate was important.
We found ways to incorporate more veggies into our diet and reduce the meat. We still eat meat but it’s not the main source of food anymore and not every meal. We add a couple of vegetables to every meal. NOT CHIPS that doesn’t count. The difference this has made to how we both feel is fantastic. If we have a few days where our meals lack veggies now, we can really feel the difference in our general well being.
Replace needless fat and calories
Do you need to fill the pan with oil or would a teaspoon do? Really try it.
Instead of cream, use a low-fat cream alternative like Elmlea. It doesn’t taste any different. Instead of sour cream use natural yogurt. Replace creamy pasta sauces with tomato-based sauces or for a fantastic (UK) carbonara, replace the creamy sauce with cream cheese, we use the Philadelphia light with garlic and herbs. It’s full of flavour and sooooo many fewer calories.
It’s these little things that add up. Obviously, we are not saying you can’t ever have that gorgeous creamy pasta meal again, just you can’t have it all the time. We tend to try to eat well most of the week, but Friday is our date night, that’s when we cook a nice meal together and share a bottle of wine.
Reduce the booze
Notice I said reduce, not stop? We still have a wee G&T of a Friday or share a bottle of wine with dinner, but we don’t drink much more than that. I notice much more now the ill effects of booze. One extra G&T and I won’t sleep well. Open that second bottle of wine and we’ll have hangovers.
Sorry folks, the old adage is true, eat less move more and I can’t emphasise enough how important the move more part is. This doesn’t mean you have to start jogging, but you need to move more, every day. Not just occasionally take the stairs. Every day, increase the amount of activity you do, even if its just a walk or two but make it a regular habit. this has a huge effect on more than your physical health.
We are not gym bunnies, we don’t spend every night in the gym and to be honest we’ve only started going to the gym at all in the last couple of weeks. We changed by cycling a little, together. We started with maybe a mile. Kate hadn’t cycled since she was a kid so we started small and slow. Gradually we built up how often we cycled and the distance. This was the big moment for Kate, watching her fitness increase, seeing the change in what she could physically do.
It was that regular exercise that made the huge difference though, in the last 18 months since we started cycling, Kate has lost 5 stone, no longer needs blood pressure medication and no longer struggles with depression. Although I’ve found it harder going than Kate to lose the weight, I’ve lost almost 3.5 stones. We are healthier and happier and have found some fantastic new ways to spend time together.
So what else are we going to do? Well, we are going to try to add some more blog posts about the recipes we make which help reduce calories and unnecessary fat. They might be as simple as use cream cheese instead of cream, but if it gives someone an idea and a place to start, then I think its worth it.
Cycling without age – help buy a trishaw to let older people enjoy cycling
There have been a couple of news stories of late which have really captured my attention, stories about new schemes to help older people carry on enjoying the fun of cycling even when they are no longer capable of doing the cycling themselves. One such scheme is currently the dream of some local residents here in Musselburgh, Ewan and Morna. They have set up a just giving page to try to help raise the £7000 needed per bike. Ewan had seen this type of thing in denmark, but never thought for a second that it could take of in the UK and now here is he part of the movement making it happen.
The Cycling Without Age scheme gives people in residential care or otherwise stuck in their own homes the chance to get out into the fresh air. This is an important aspect of the scheme for Ewan, he is keen that not only the elderly benefit from this opportunity but other residents with mobility issues too. Specially adapted trishaws (awesome passenger carrying bikes) take these people out on traffic-free routes. This then lets the pilots (person riding the bike) and older people (enjoying the ride) share stories and experiences. As you can imagine, this has already had tremendous success in more cycling friendly countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, and Scotland’s first chapter was started in Falkirk where the scheme gained national attention and has won prestigious recognition at the Pride of Britain awards. You can find out more about Cycling without age from their website: http://cyclingwithoutage.org/about/
Kate & I, being Musselburgh residents and keen cyclists, completely support Ewan and Morna with this project hence why we thought we’d share their story, but as always, please don’t feel pressured into supporting this scheme, we are just trying to raise awareness and do our bit to help something we think is really worthwhile. Although it would be amazing if you could spare a few pennies to help.
A local charity group “Walk With Scott Foundation” got in touch with Ewan and Morna and offered to match their funding if they could make the £3500 mark, which they did in January, so that has secured one bike, but there is still insurance, storage maintenance etc. Ewan is hopeful that they may even manage to raise enough funds for two bikes and a town the size of Musselburgh would definitely benefit from having two bikes.
Time to up my skills and make Ar Bruadair a bit more interesting
Kate and I get so much from this blog and the community around it. We really enjoy updating you all on our adventures and even more so reading the emails and comments we get from you after you have read the blog or visited the youtube channel. This got me thinking about how amazing it is that with all the fantastic blogs and youtube channels out there, that you guys take the time to visit us and chat with us. We really appreciate it, so I thought it may be time to give back some of that love and learn some new skills to help make Ar Bruadair more exciting for you guys to visit, so I’m retiring my trusty smartphone and learning to use a proper grown up camera and hopefully in the process, learning to take some really interesting photos and videos. I though it might also be an interesting journey to document on the blog for those of you who may also be considering the leap to DSLR cameras.
Let’s start at the very beginning….
This has all begun with lots of learning online about recommended camera and kit. No mean feat as I needed to find the kit that would offer what I was after for both static photography but also for video creation for youtube. After much deliberation, I decided on the Canon 70D. Not only is it a great DSLR with all the features you’d expect, it also has focal tracking for video, a must when you are alone and videoing yourself. I wonder if I can buy a cameraperson somewhere?
Well fancy kit purchased and it was time to learn how to use it, after all no matter how fancy the camera, if I can’t make the best of it, nothing will change. As a complete NOOB to anything more than point and shoot, a beginners course seemed like a good place to start. So I enrolled in a beginners photography class with Jessops, a local camera shop and patiently waited for the day to come around.
Saturday came and I packed my little camera bag ready for school with the usual butterflies any new student experiences. There was no need for the butterflies, though, I had the most fantastically fun day, a whole day learning about aperture, shutter speed, exposure control and ISO with Jefferson Wilcox a photographer from Fife who works with the Jessops training academy.
The class consisted of 8 folk, a good mix of genders, ages and experience (well camera kit) at no point did it feel like there was a difference between me as a total NOOB and the guys with the massive lenses, everyone was there to learn and Jeff, the guy teaching, had a fantastic natural ability to bring all the students into the lessons. Unfortunately, the weather was pretty awful on Saturday so we didn’t get out to test our skills and had to settle for photos around the tiny classroom, but Jeff came prepared and let us test out shutter speed as he threw a hockey puck around (nice touch to make a personal connection between student and teacher Jeff).
The take home for me was controling aperture, just playing with this last night made a huge difference letting me muck about with backgrounds as I took pictures of Kate but even looking at photos I took at the beginning of class compared to at the end I can see a difference already. I guess we watch this space for more.
If you fancy trying out a course with Jessops, I would recommend it. Take a visit to their website for more info.
I still have a lot to learn (I can see things that are wrong with these photos which I’d like to fix so I think that’s a good thing), and I will keep you all up to date on my adventures, I promise.
A few months back after we blogged about our fun with packed lunches. We were asked to try out a lunch box for the purposes of a review. We have actually been using the lunch box regularly, but due to studies I just haven’t time to write a review. So apologies as I know a few of you have been looking out for this.
Yumbox – a lunch box review
The yumbox is an American product designed to help provide portion control in kids lunches but it now comes in an adult version as well as the kids one. We were given the adult box to try out. It’s called the panino yumbox.
It has 4 compartments;
1 large one which fits a SMALL sandwich,
2 smaller compartments and
a little dipping sauce section.
I say small sandwich because I found this misleading on a lot of the reviews. A normal size sandwich has to be squished in a bit but if you cut the crusts off it fits fine. It annoys me when reviews are misleading so I want to make it clear, a normal sized, sliced, white bread sandwich will be a tad too big.
The little compartments are great for some nibbly crackers or fruit or yoghurt although the lunch box isn’t very deep, so a cupcake of muffin will be squished a little too but just a little.
So what did we think?
Well, the first thing I want to comment on is that yum boxes are marketed as leak proof and you know my thing about claims of leak proof. The marketing materials do point out that the box is meant to be leak proof against things like yoghurt, not necessarily water, so at least they are honest. I will put my neck on the line though and say, yup, very happy that the little compartments in this box don’t leak. Kate has been taking yoghurt into work every day and there hasn’t been a single “incident of leakage”. So thumbs up on that one. In fact, Kate was so impressed with the box after one day of use (and her yoghurt) that she bought another so we had one each. She loves the fact that she can carry her entire lunch in one box.
It’s a good strong box, feels like it will last. The catch that holds it shut is easy enough to undo but also feels like it will hold secure and not accidently undo if it catches on something in your bag. This is a good thing. Speaking of bags, one of the things that Kate really loves about this box is its size. It’s slightly smaller than our other “book style” lunch box, and this means it fits into our bike bags much nicer, it actually lies flat on the bottom of the bag, which our other lunch boxes don’t. Also, because the compartments are jst the right size, things don’t get rattled around and end up mishappen. This used to happen a lot with our book lunch box.
Now I have to comment on one test I did. Given that the box has little compartments for different foods, I wondered if the compartments were not only leakproof but also would stop smells transferring. So…. in one compartment I put a little bite-sized chocolate muffin, in another a little meat snack which is strongly seasoned with things like garlic. The test being, would my mini muffin smell of garlic by lunch time?
The result – a categorical NOPE! The muffin stayed muffiny and lovely and the garlic didn’t ruin it. Very happy Eli.
So in a nutshell, yup we are big fans of this box and are happy to recommend it with one caveat, though, I suspect it wouldn’t hold enough food for a blokey lunch. It’s a proper little portion control demon.
Some things I should point out though, in case you are considering it. This is a lunch box for cold foods. It isn’t designed to be put in the microwave and isn’t insulated so won’t keep foods either hot or cold. It’s just a great box for holding all your lunch items in. But that being said, we are big fans.
That’s the tomato growing season come to an end here at At Bruidair and so the green house has been cleaned up for winter. Those who have been following my adventure with the new watering system may be wondering what my final thoughts were, would I recommend it, was I happy with it, are there any flaws? We’ll just for you guys, here is my end of season review.
Would I recommend it? Hell yes.
I am thoroughly happy with the Quadgrow system. It did exactly what it said on the tin. The watering was much more evenly dispersed meaning I didn’t get any split tomatoes at all. In previous years this was a common occurrence. Also although I didn’t notice the plants being overladen with fruit, (there had been other people claiming to have doubled their yield) I did actually get more tomatoes than previous years. The system seemed to have extended the growing season and I actually took my last tomatoes from the plants in mid October. Normally by then there nothing but green tomatoes.
Trying to think of downsides and I can’t really think of any, it worked really well. There was one or two things it may be good for potential buyers to know about though:
1. the feeder mats – the plant roots grew through and around these mats meaning they are one time use only. You can buy replacements though.
2. when it came time to clean up, I was in for a surprise. Slugmageddon! Although I had no evidence at all of slugs actually causing damage, I was randomly finding slug trail and wondering why, for the first time I seemed to have slugs in the greenhouse. The explanation came when I opened things up to clean it. The underside of the pots and Quadgrow lid we’re absolutely covered in slugs and slug eggs. Covered. Obviously the dark, wet environment had created a slug hotel. So next year there will be copper tape employed.
Apart from that though I’m really happy and really glad I bought these.
So yup, I would recommend them.
Hygge recipes to get you through autumn and winter: mushroom soup
The Danish, hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”) is one of those words that just has no English alternative. Though there are many ways to describe hygge, we see it simply as the Danish ritual of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Friends. Family. Graciousness.
Autumn is truly here, it’s time for warm jumpers, soft scarfs and comfort food.
I love the Danish attitude to life, and autumn and winter are a time when they really excel at showing us weather whinging Brits what an attitude adjustment we need.
So I thought instead of updating you all with a post about how bare the garden is starting look, I’d share one of our family favourites, a big comforting bowl of mushroom soup.
It’s great to warm you up after a morning of raking leaves and turning compost.
It’s such a simple soup to make and really versatile. So you’ll need…
2 punnets of chestnut mushrooms chopped roughly (you can add more if you like make it as thick as you like your soup)
1 white onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 tsp of fresh thyme chopped
1 litre of stock
Get chopping, chop your onions as finely as you can and sweat them off in your big pot while you chop the mushrooms.
A tip for chopping mushrooms, a lot of folk wash the mushrooms first but I find this just makes them slimey and hard to work with because mushrooms are little sponges that soak up water. Instead use a damp cloth to wipe any rogue bits of dirt from them.
Once your onions have softened add your mushrooms and give it all a really good stir around to help the mushroom start to cook and release their liquor.
Next add your chopped garlic and chopped thyme and give it all a good stir. You only want the garlic in there for a minute of two as you don’t want it to burn.
Add your litre of stock and leave your soup to simmer gently for about 20 mins.
Once you are happy that everything is sufficiently cooked, get out your stick blender and whizz away until it’s nice and smooth.
You can do this in a normal blender, but I had a bad experience with this a few years back which resulted in Kate redecorating the kitchen so I stay with the stick blender.
So that’s your soup. Make it extra nommy and comforting by serving it with a wee swirl of cream on top and a slice of warm cheesy bread.