In order to do something different each week of the year, I have a list of challenges to undertake...

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Week 52 - Write a Poem

Now this year is nearly done
Let me tell you of my fun
A challenge for each week was set
Now have I won my weekly bet?

The New Year brought things to clean -
That's when I was really keen!
Windows, garage, oven, car 
My cleaning powers are above par!

Fun things also I undertook
Here's the list, just take a look:
Sea swimming, nail painting, drawing too
Making sweets - all nice things to do.

I took my challenges to the plot
My paths a dressing of woodchippings got
A scarecrow made to protect my crops
The annual show - it was top of the pops!

A falling leaf is hard to catch
I thought that here I'd met my match.
Despite the cold and wind and rain
New running goals I did attain

Domestic skills I have acquired
By many things I was inspired
Knitting, quilting, making bread
I can't let this go to my head!

As the year draws to a close
My final task is this piece of prose
And with a glass of home made cheer
I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Week 51 - Attend a Church Service

Church attendance for me comes under a banner marked 'must-do' for various occasions in life, with attendance at least one service per year is something of a three line whip. It is imposed to all direct descendants by my mother, and the lovely Festival of Nine Lesson and Carols attended these days by me and my brother. My sister is exempt on distance grounds, and the grandchildren are not in the county until rather later in the festivities.

This service does rather take one from the shopping bonanza that Christmas has become, to the spiritual, via comfortable family values - Queen's speech, Roses chocs, board games (or is that just us?).

So my thoughts whilst 'second chorister' is at the lectern reading 'The people that have walked in darkness have seen a great light' from Isaiah chap 9, is of childhood Christmases. An eccentric elderly great aunt staying meaning sharing a bedroom with a campbed and a sibling, Pomagne as the great treat; a buffet in the rarely-used front room with celery sticks in a mug, dipped in salt. A box of Rover's assorted biscuits; Lonnie Donegan on the gramophone.

And tonight in church, my thoughts ran to 'what Christmas means to me now'. The answer to which - and I'm not proud to admit this - is at least in part 'to be able to muck about doing 'stuff' in the day without feeling guilty about not being at the desk working'.

Not very holy, is it? *sigh.

But I have completed my week 51 challenge.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Week 50 - Clear out the Garage

I wonder if we all have an area that we use as a sort of holding bay where we put stuff until such time as we can think what to do with it?

For me, on a small scale, it's the kitchen windowsill by the back door which ends up as a dumping ground - at the mo it includes a couple of odd hooks left over from some DIY, pair of pliers (ditto), wire ties and a few plant labels from the allotment, the gate remote, and a nice stone I picked up when I was in the park the other day.

On a larger scale, it's the little attic room which collects 'stuff' - boxes from things I've bought, miscellaneous computer equipment which doesn't appear to be vital to the running of the home office, but I don't like to throw away, company archives from the year dot.

And on a larger scale again, it's the garage.

I'm hoping to get a chest freezer in the new year, and that will involve a re-shuffle in the garage if I'm not going to back into it every time I put the car away, and so I spent a happy couple of hours getting everything out and reacquainting myself with the contents of the various boxes on the shelving.


I ended up with 4 black bags of rubbish, all the canes and wood stacked/stored correctly, a pile of roottrainers (I don't get on with them!) and pricking out trays which I'll donate to the allotments, and a miscellaneous heap for the charity shop. I swept the garage out (had a fight with the biggest spider in the world who had hold of the other end of the broom), and neatly put all the 'keeps' back on the shelves. 


I have a tidy garage, and space for a new freezer - so that's my week 50 Challenge done!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Week 49 - Make a Christmas Wreath

I've never been one for flower arranging and the like. The issue here being that I really can't tell much of a difference in the end result of someone spending hours putting flowers into a vase, and someone taking a bunch of flowers, and putting it into a vase - if you see what I mean.

Also, although I love have flowers in the house, I don't grow them particularly at the allotment, and resent spending the money. And I don't feel good about the carbon footprint either.

But the artificial wreath that I hang on the front door year in, year does look a bit boring, and so this year - with a hedge of conifers at my disposal - I've tried to come up with something with a bit of a personal touch. 

I took some cuttings...

... looked in the decorations trunk...

... and came up with a spray of green with red ribbon and mini-baubles.

The shape looks rather like a Christmas tree, and I am undecided whether to give it a trim to make it more rounded in shape.

So apart from a bit of minor tinkering, that's my week 49 Challenge done!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Week 48 - Make Sourdough Bread

I love bread, I really do - but what I do NOT love is the pappy cotton wool bread that you get by and large in the shops.

The alternative to spending an outrageous sum for a 'proper' loaf of bread is, of course, to make your own. Having had a bash on a couple of occasions in the past, though, any bread I have made has been pretty brick-like - I suspect I haven't got the knack of kneading.

So I have a bread maker. This is a pretty good move, as you can chuck into the pan any permutation of bread flour, honey, malt, oil, butter, salt, seeds, bran etc etc and get a pretty respectable loaf.

But earlier this year, my godmother sent me some instructions on getting a sourdough starter going, and to make bread from it pretty much in perpetuity, all without commercial yeast. Intriguing!

I gave it a whirl last week, and spent a week with a jar full of flour and water paste which despite my skepticism, eventually when frothy and I had my starter ready to make bread.

Well, not quite - the starter has to be primed with more flour and water, and left for another 24 hours. And then you can make your bread. Brilliant!

My first go was categorically not a success. I used rye flour, which - if you think of how solid rye bread is - was always likely to be heavy going. A total failure, this went in the bin before it was even dough. My second go was more like it - I did half quantities and ended up with a perfectly edible loaf. Ha!

And this weekend, I've gone for the full thing. The starter was taken out of the fridge, part measured out and primed for 24 hours. Today I added flour and salt, kneaded the dough, let it rise (hours more), and tonight I have knocked the dough into shape and left it to rise AGAIN, and then into the oven.

I must say that it is utterly gorgeous, and I can see that the initial faff factor will soon become routine. But you do have to think ahead!

A success - eventually - and my week 48 Challenge is completed!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Week 47 - Grow a New Vegetable

Having had a half plot at the Hill for 7 years, I try to grow all sort of tasty fruit and veg. I do tend to grow pretty much that same thing year after year, though - partly as I know what I like, partly as I know what I can grow well.

But precisely because I have settled into growing mostly the same things year on year, it is a good challenge for me to have a go at something a bit different.

Following a discussion on the Grapevine at the beginning of the year, I decided to have a go at celeriac - I don't think I've eaten in more than a couple of times - but enjoyed it - and I certainly haven't grown it before.

The seeds are like dust, but they came up in their little pot.

I pricked the seedlings out into modules, then planted out in June.

They did well, as I kept them well watered, and kept the weeds down, and stripped a few leaves off the top of the growing bulbs each week or so over the summer.

And today, I dug my first one up. It might look like an ood, but peeled, boiled and mashed with potato and butter for tea tonight, it was delicious!
It might be the first time I have grown celeriac, but it will not be the last - and that's my week 47 Challenge completed!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Week 46 - Visit a New Town

The annual Christmas shopping trip with Mum tends to be a tootle over to Solihull - it's about the right size, with enough shops that we don't have locally, and the right distance away.

We've experimented with other towns over the years - Sheffield Meadowhall (too far away), Worcester (too open air in the cold weather), Telford (too soulless), Merryhill (surprisingly difficult to get to, given the proximity to home), and tend to gravitate back to Solihull.

But this year, we went to Derby. I've not been there before, although it used to be a popular trip out for Mum and Dad, and Mum was keen to go back and have a look round.

It's just a straightforward 45 minutes from home, and having a look online beforehand would appear to consist of a new shopping centre (Westfield), an enormous indoor market and an old shopping quarter by the Cathedral.

We parked at the shopping centre, wandered round the market, then had coffee, looked at the chain stores (most much larger than their counterparts in our town), and found an independent kitchen shop.

Then to the Cathedral, which we had a look round before going to the shop for Christmas cards, and having a look round the independent shops there - the prize being the wonderful Bennetts department store.

We were out of time - we should not have lingered in the shopping centre at the expense of the independent shops. Derby is certainly worth a return visit.

The camera conked out, so the only pic I have is of the Cathedral, but that is my week 46 Challenge completed!