2016-2017; Another year

Another year is over and we’re all trying to find our feet in 2017. As much as I sometimes see the fuss around ‘New Year’ as a bit pointless, I do like the impression of beginning a new chapter that comes with the change of date – generally speaking, as people we have always found new beginnings and clean slates appealing and a motivation for change  (who starts a new fitness programme on a Thursday?).

I have spent the past week or so drafting a list of my own personal ambitions for 2017. Unfortunately I am currently fighting off a rather persistent illness which has left me quite unable to act on most of them so far,  so I thought I would take the opportunity to look back on 2016 in the meantime instead.

From a global media perspective, 2016 seemed a little cursed. Looking a little closer you home however, I am looking back on 2016 rather fondly. I did lots of fun things, caught up with some old friends, took a couple of holidays, got a new job, made progress on the house and made progress on myself too. As I didn’t really get my act together on the blogging front, I wanted to share some of the highlights with you now.

February – Long Weekend in York

In February I arranged to take Pete to York for his birthday to coincide with both the Jorvik Viking Festival and going to see Týr, a band he is a big fan of but never managed to catch live. I was in the early stages of what would go on to be an epic chest infection and pleurisy but still had a lovely time getting away with Pete and seeing York and all the Viking attractions. Unfortunately the Jorvik Viking Centre itself was closed after being badly flooded at the end of 2015, but the rest of the Viking Festival was really interesting and enjoyable – Pete entered the ‘Best Beard’ Competition and was very pleased to come in 2nd place.

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clockwise from left; Micklegate, Emblem of the City of York, Jorvik Vikings
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clockwise from left; Hnefetavl (Viking Chess), Pete as Dick Turpin, Second Place in Jovik Best Beard Competition

March – Chickens!

Since we moved to Wales in 2013 we have toyed with the idea of getting chickens and in March Pete decided to go for it, built a coop with help from a friend and then bought us four hens from a local farm. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but it’s actually been really enjoyable to keep them. It took a few months before they started laying eggs but we haven’t been short of eggs since.

Since we got the first four hens our flock has now grown to 8 with the addition of a cockerel who we hatched from an egg ourselves, two hens that were a gift from a neighbour and one more hen who we rehomed from a colleague of Pete’s who was having to move away and couldn’t take the hen with him.

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The Original flock
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Chipper – Our very own hatchling. Clockwise from top right; hatching day, one day old and four weeks old
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clockwise from top right; me with Chipper at 4 weeks, Mabel & Beauregard, Chipper at 2 and a half months

March-April – A Hen-do & Wedding

At the end of March I went on my first ever hen-do for my good friend Laura. We had a great day and night out in Oxford, starting with a walking tour, then lunch and drinks, followed by cocktail making, a late night tour of the castle then on for more cocktails all followed up with afternoon tea the following day. It was lovely to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen in ages and to let my hair down a bit!

Although it was a bit of a trek down from Wales to Oxford I returned the following weekend, this time with Pete, to celebrate the wedding days itself!

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Obligatory Hen-do accessories, Cocktail Making, Afternoon Tea

June – Northumberland

In June we went away to Northumberland for a week with my parents and our dogs. We stayed in a lovely cottage near the ‘village’ of Twice Brewed which was within walking distance of part of Hadrian’s Wall. We had (mostly) great weather and spent lots of time out and about and did lots of walking, I clocked more than 100,000 steps on my FitBit and we tired the dogs out thoroughly.

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Playing Shield-Maiden at Homesteads Roman Fort, Alfred owning Hadrian’s Wall, The Sycamore Gap in Hadrian’s Wall near our cottage
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Ruins of Thirlwall Castle, Molly enjoying the sunshine and a sheep outside the garden wall
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Lindisfarn Castle, Cragside, Bamburgh Castle
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Walking along Hadrian’s Wall and a very tired dog

July – Croatia

For the past three years Pete’s research has required him to spend around 3 months every summer living in Croatia and for the first time in 2016 we actually managed to find a mutually convenient time, and the money, for me to go out and see him. So, despite being terrified of flying on my own, I headed out for a week at the end of July which also happened to include my birthday! It was far from a ‘normal’ holiday, but I was expecting that, staying in an old house in the middle of nowhere with no mains anything – water from a tank that needed to be kept topped up, gas from bottles and the only electricity from a car battery in the main living room. I had the best time and it made the summer apart from Pete and Alf so much easier.

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Me & Pete, My accommodation, The meadow next to the house
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Radio Tracking, Croatian Lunch and a baby Salamander
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Plitvice Lakes 
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Clockwise from left; Lake, Birthday wine and epic food

September – Wedding Weekend

Just after Pete returned from Croatia in September we had a mission of a weekend attending two weddings nearly 300 miles apart. It was important to us to be able to attend both so we didn’t mind making the effort to get to both. It was a lovely weekend with great weather on both days and two lovely (and very different) ceremonies. It was strange that having had very few friends get married we had 3 this year, that combined with 2 babies in our close friendship group probably suggests we’ve got to ‘that stage’ in life (not planning on following suit ourselves mind!).

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Wedding Number 1 – tipis in a field in Yorkshire
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Wedding Number 2 – Pete as an Usher at a Church Wedding in Hampshire

Well that’s ended up being quite a lot longer than I expected, but enjoyable for me to look back at all the pictures we’ve taken over the past year. It’s not that nothing good has happened since September, but I thought I’d better reel myself in before this becomes even more of a mammoth post than it is already!

I’ve been saying this for a fair while now, but I really do hope to get back into blogging properly so hopefully this will just be the first of many 2017 posts!

For now I’ll leave you and say Thank You to everyone who made my 2016 so great, and to everyone who might still be reading this.

Happy New Year,

Love

Betty

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We Be Jammin’

Having been inspired by my new Queen of Crafts book, I decided to turn my hand to a little jam making this weekend. It’s something I’ve fancied trying for a while, I like the idea of preserving and storing fruit and veg produce for the winter. There’s something satisfying and comforting about the idea to me.
Anyway, I was aware that it about the time of year for blackberry picking. I have great memories of picking blackberries with my parent when I was a kid. So, I took myself and Alf (the puppy) off to the local common, where I knew there were vast expanses of brambles and where, a few years ago, the boyfriend and I had a very productive blackberry picking session. Unfortunately this year was no where near as profitable. I don’t know if I was too early, too late or if it has just not been a good year for blackberries. I came home with about 200 grams, which probably wasn’t enough for making a decent amount of jam.
So, the following day I decided a trip into the New Forest, my childhood blackberry picking ground, was in order. Plus I really love walking Alf in the forest, he enjoys it so much. I took my camera along and took a few pictures in between picking berries and getting caught in brambles.

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The forest wasn’t actually that much more profitable on the blackberry front, but it was so nice to get out with Alf and have a walk in the peace and quite, with practically no other people. I’m quite specific about picking berries, which probably slightly reduced my haul. I don’t like to take too many from one spot, I’d rather pick a few from a bush as a walk past, you need to leave some for the wildlife! I got a fair few injuries too, several pricked fingers, a couple of splinters and a very prickled calf :/
Due to the low fruit yield, and the fact that I had definitely decided I wanted to make jam, I made a quick trip to the supermarket to buy some supplementary blackberries, as well as sugar and pectin, which I also needed. The recipe is not mine to share, I suggest you buy Queen of Crafts as a most excellent guide, but here are some pictures of my jam making fun 🙂

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It was actually really quite easy to make, which I was surprised about. The instructions in the Queen of Crafts book are really simple and easy to follow (but you’ll have to buy it to find out how I did it!). I did have a slight issue, having ladled it into jars and leaving it to cool for a while, it was pretty clear to me that it wasn’t going to set. Having discussed with my mum, I decided to empty the jars back into the pan to boil for longer and, apparently, lemon juice (plus extra sugar to offset the sourness) helps in getting the pectin to set. Fortunately, after a second boil, with lemon juice, the mixture looked a lot more jammy. I put it all back into jars (unfortunately it had decreased in volume, down from 4 jars full to 3 and a third), sealed and left to cool overnight. Joy of joys, this morning I most definitely had jam 🙂
I also impressed myself with my resourcefulness as, not owning a funnel and not wanting to get covered in hot, sticky jam, I cut the top off a Pepsi bottle, which served as a fine makeshift funnel!
There was just one final step, dressing the jars up! I have a large quantity of fabric that I have accumulated for non-specific uses, and picked a heart print fabric to make lid covers. I cut out what I thought were reasonably size circles, but when I put them on the jars they were too large and looked a little silly, so I had to trim them up while still on the jars :/ I hope they don’t look too scrappy now. I also made labels, I tried making labels by hand, but just couldn’t produce anything I really liked, so I turned to my computer, and knocked up some pretty funky labels that I think suit me and my jam down to the ground :p

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I’m really very happy with the outcome. I did a fair amount of tasting during cooking and it was really very, very yummy 🙂 I’m not much of one for jam on toast, so I think I’m going to have to whip up some scones or jammy dodgers or something else that I can include jam in!

Hope you are having a good weekend,
Keep on Jammin’
Betty
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Why I love my puppy

I should probably begin by saying, he technically isn’t my puppy, officially he is the boyf’s puppy and unofficially our puppy, but I thought calling the post “Why I love the puppy I sort of own but is really my boyfriend’s” was a bit long-winded and less catchy. I had to add this disclaimer in case he decided to kick up a fuss 😉
Anyway, the past  3 and a half weeks while the boyf has been away, the puppy has been here with me, and we’ve been looking after each other.

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His name is Alfred, Alf for short, he is around 19 months old and we rehomed him 14 months ago from a rescue shelter.
He is such a good dog, apart for a few separation anxiety issues, he doesn’t bark much and he is really very obedient and good with tricks. But these aren’t really the reasons why I love him.
I love him for his joy and exuberance. I find it hard to look at his little face and not smile. He seems to enjoy everything; he gets excited when people come to visit, he gets excited when you re-enter a room, he loves the sunshine, he loves other dogs, he is equally happy with a stick as an expensive toy, he chases things in his sleep. He will run around smelling things like it’s the best thing in the world. He has such an infectious joy about him that you would have to be a cold hearted so-and-so to not appreciate and be touched by.
He has been my most constant company these past few weeks. He’s been good for a cuddle when I’ve been feeling low and he curls up next to me when I am sleepy. He even eat my cakes that go hideously wrong and appreciated them.

I had always been a cat person before we got Alf, but I have been converted. The only thing that would make him better would be if he purred when you stroked him.P1050241 P1050242

Best Wishes,
Betty
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