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“God made the first Christmas, and man has ever since been busy spoiling it.

Year by year the propaganda of the shops grows increasingly active; and their suggestions for the keeping of that high feast … appear annually more elaborate and incongruous than ever before.”


(1922! Imagine what she’d think of Christmas in the 21st century!)

We’ve got out of the swing of baking bread recently – partly due to general winter lethargy and partly due to the fact that we’d struggle to get yeast do its thing.

It would be very difficult to grow a slow rise bread – one that needs a good 12-18 hours to rise. With our woodburners in the office & living room, we get a room temperature of 16-18C (60-65F) for a few hours during the day but for the rest of the time, it is much lower than that. The kitchen is poorly insulated (it’s an addition away from the main body of the house with lots of windows and a hard-to-insulate flat roof) so has frequently been see-your-breath chilly (especially last week when the central heating was out and it was even colder than normal). Opinions differ on the ideal temperature for yeast activity but it’s typically seen as 25-35C (75-95C) – we don’t even come close to that. (Admittedly we rarely come close to that even at the height of summer but it’s warmer, and more consistently warmer, than it is now.)

I’m loathed to use the (electric) oven as a warming box – not only would it be using energy, it would need a lot of management – turning it on and off – since the temperature setting doesn’t go anywhere near low enough for the oven thermostat to manage it. And 12-18 hours of that sort of management isn’t realistic.

Lethargy aside, we would like to get back into baking bread ASAP – it would save a lot of frozen-faced walks to the shop and, of course, shops are going to be closed over the next couple of weekends anyway/out of stock because of snow issues.

We could possibly manage some shorter rise time breads when a woodburning is running – leaving them for longer to account for it still being a bit cool – or even, if I had to do it, in the oven. That’s not out of the question, I’m just a sucker for slow rise bread: I haven’t perfected a non-slow rise loaf recipe yet and I suspect now might not be the time to work on one!

Are you still baking bread at the moment? How are you managing? Have you got any suggestions for things I could try? Or got a fool proof pretty-quick-rising loaf recipe?

As I mentioned in my “spending during my no spend week” round-up, our boiler broke and had to be fixed this week.

It stopped working last Sunday – we thought it was just a sensor playing up but when the plumber replaced the thermostats on Tuesday evening, it still didn’t fix the problem so he had to come back on Saturday – replaced another thing (essentially a £35 washer on the diverter valve), went through a whole load of troubleshooting then replaced something else, something more expensive, something electronic. And you know what? if we’d acted earlier, we could have avoided all of it.

We hadn’t had the boiler serviced in the year and a bit since we moved in. We knew we should but didn’t get around to it.

A few months ago, we noticed that there was something leaking very, very slightly (the washer thing on the diverter valve) but we pretty much ignored it – we’d get it fixed when we got it serviced and getting it serviced was on “to do at some point” list.

Those with a speedy intellect may have made the leap that, with hindsight, is painfully obvious. The leak dripped onto electronic control board and after a couple of months of occasional dripping, the board decided it had had enough.

After finally fixing it, the plumber did a service – he thought it was possibly the first service it had ever had, in its eight years of use, not just our 15 months here – and between that, all the parts & the rest of his labour, it cost us £292 – and left us without any central heating or hot water for a week in the middle of winter. (Our woodburners did a great job of keeping us warm in the living room and office, but the rest of the house was chilly and felt increasingly damp as the week went on.)

If we’d had a service and had the diverter valve thing replaced when we first noticed the drip, it would have cost us about £90 in total. The boiler would also have been running inefficiently because of eight years of build up.

We’ve learnt a very important lesson about maintenance – and about how procrastination can cost you a lot more money in the long run. I really hope we apply the knowledge in the future!

Like Frugaldom & her quail eggs, there was a frozen egg waiting for me in the nest box this morning.

I suspect it was laid later yesterday, after my collection run, so was in there overnight.

Needless to say, I felt the pathological need to crack it open (albeit after it had been sat in the house for about 15mins). It was like frozen jelly inside.

A little background in case you’ve not seen my earlier post: I’m having a no spend “week” – well, a no spend fortnight+, until the end of the year. It was an impromptu idea – I often have no spend days, probably even weeks, without really noticing it but I wanted to have a conscious “no spend” period – and to come at it without any planning/organising has been interesting indeed!

Aside from my acknowledged exceptions (food-to-cook-at-home, food/vets for animals, essential bills, some bus fares and one birthday present), I have spent some money:

  • £3.35 on posting a package to my mum. It wasn’t time sensitive – it didn’t have to be there by a certain point or anything – so it could have waited until after my no spend period. But it seems silly to be waiting just on the principle when I would be sending it either way (it’s not like I’d change my mind about sending it like I might about buying something). Equally, the item – a vintage music box I found in a charity shop, matching one my mum already has – could easily have been sent a couple of weeks earlier if I’d been more organised/planned my no spend week better. I could have easily not sent it but I think the important thing is that I took time to consider whether or not to send it rather than just acting without thinking.
  • £292 on getting our central heating/hot water boiler fixed and serviced. Sigh. (Strictly speaking, John paid for this, not me, but I wanted to mention it anyway.) It stopped working on Sunday and was finally fixed on Saturday – six days without heat was beginning to make the house feel very cold and damp (our woodburners provide heat in the living room & office but aren’t big enough to heat the whole house). Given it’s the middle of winter, it was more a necessity than a frivolous want – and if we waited, it would have got harder and more expensive to fix over Xmas and New Year. (I’m going to write a post on this soon because it taught us an important, expensive lesson.)
  • £3.24 on drinks at the pub on Saturday afternoon. A bit of a frivolous spend this one but it was a social occasion – meeting some people we’d been meaning to meet up with for *ages*. John was going to buy them but I was closer to the bar so I went.

From my exceptions list, I bought the birthday present, spent £4.30 on bus fare and we went to the supermarket for our monthly shop.

This is obviously quite a lot of spending during a no spend week! But it did work to strength my willpower while I was looking for the birthday present. I went into both clothes shops and bookshops while buying it – two key temptation areas for me – but I stayed focused and only looked at the category of things I was likely to buy for my friend, not stuff in general and certainly nothing for me. I also avoided charity shops and bargain shops to avoid the temptation. If I hadn’t been “no spend”ing, I could have easily have spent £50+ at those shops without really wanting or needing to – or even really noticing!

The “no spend” rule has also kept me away from online shopping – I’ve had several “I could just check eBay for that” moments regarding books, curtains and other random things, but I’ve resisted. I’ve also resisted temptation of sale offer emails from shops I like – and unsubscribed from those marketing lists.

We ate out on Thursday night – John’s company’s December meal (which they paid for) – but aside from that, haven’t eaten out or had any take-out. We had talked about having lunch at the pub on Saturday but instead had a bigger breakfast and didn’t need to eat again until we got back.

I’m going to keep going to the end of the year – so another ten days of no spending. From the exceptions list, I’d imagine I’ll need to spend a little on fresh food this week, buy a bag of dog food (which lasts 6 weeks), possibly some money on vet bills (Lily-dog is poorly at the moment – hope it’s just a bug) and a return bus fare to a rehearsal tomorrow night. Hopefully that’ll be it though!

Hurrah, in the midst all this fervent frugality and frozen frigidity, I’ve been reminded that summer – and growing – will come again.

Yesterday, as the snow was coming down pretty hard, the postman delivered an parcel of live plants which I ordered back in November – a baby lingonberry bush, a baby cranberry bush and 12 strawberry runners (not pictured).

As I’m new to fruit and as it’s pretty damn chilly out there, I post an “arggh! what do I do with them?” message on Twitter and on UKVegGardeners, and the wonderful Jan told me exactly how to look after (but not molly-coddle) the strawberries. Thanks so much Jan!

I have a bit more faith in the lingonberry and cranberry making it through the winter in one piece since they’re both cold climate plants – I’m going to keep them in their current pots during this cold spell, and in the unheated sunporch rather than the greenhouse (it gets a little heat from the house but more importantly, it’ll be easier for me to keep an eye on them) and plant them into bigger containers when it gets warm enough for me go into the garden without my teeth chattering. I’m expecting a dwarf cherry tree as part of the same order – I’m kinda hoping it doesn’t arrive this side of Christmas now as that’ll involve digging out a big old shrub thing — not going to happen in this weather!

As well as those arriving, on Wednesday, my also-ordered-weeks-ago oyster mushroom dowel spores. I’m very excited about these – I’ve spent the last year reading and learning a lot about finding and identifying wild mushrooms, but not finding a whole lot of edibles near here. These will allow me to cultivate some of our own – and hopefully further utilise the shaded far end of our garden. Although as it’s currently being used as part log store/part bonfire-in-progress, I’m going to have to clearly mark my inseminated logs!

Speaking of which, I have to find some logs for inseminating – they need to be a hardwood, ideally oak, beech or birch, about 10-15cm in diameter and cut within the last six weeks or so. I’d hoped I could use sycamore as we have several thin-and-pointless sycamores that I could cull but apparently sycamore isn’t advised. I think the neighbours have a silly, never-going-to-grow-up silver birch in the neglected bit of their garden so I might ask if I could have in return for the promise of mushrooms at a later date.

(In other food-from-the-garden related news, the chickens seem to have succumbed to the winter – we’re only getting one or two a day from the four layers now, and the new girls still haven’t offered up anything, not even a wonky shelled one, even though they’re probably about 21 weeks old now. (They’re noticeably bigger than when we go them.) I’m going to give the original girls a good fondle this weekend to make sure nothing is wrong with them physically – I don’t think there is, just the lack of light. Hopefully they’ll pick up again as the days start lengthening.)