Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Late summer

Yaay, tomorrow we are off to Crete. Mum & Dad, me & my husband and teenage boys We have lots of friends out there and also some friends who are visiting at the same time as us. Its really a time and place for relaxation. We can work on the house but somehow it is still relaxing. I like very much that there is never trouble or theft. No litter (but plenty of naturally occurring mess - this is an island served au naturel!). We have the heaviest luggage ever. I have a little list of tasks for the morning but otherwise we are ready. I love that we have a sixteen year old, an eighteen year old, a seventy nine year old and an eighty year old in our family and they are all equally looking forward to their holiday and to their time together.

Monday, 20 October 2008

To the family house & free entertainment

I'm real busy at the moment. We are off to the family house, three generations of us plus a few friends,in Crete at the end of the week. We don't normally do this at half term but Beloved was away when we went in the summer and he hasn't seen progress.

We are packing like super squirrels. Beloved has managed to pack his telescope and a bedside table (collapsible type obviously) in the main suitcase, along with almost infinite other treasures. He is a born packer, no doubt. Mum and I are hoping to start planning the garden whilst we are there this time. We need something which doesn't need too much attention (or too much water) but which is useful and attractive. I will be mainly goes for fruit trees and vines. We will need to be there for a greater part of the year before I develop the vegetable garden and getting my chickens sorted out. My next door neighbour has chickens and goats, plus a donkey (she tried learning to drive after her husband died but decided donkeys were the way to go after a few false starts) to help her get to market.

Secondly BBC iplayer has come into its own for me again this week. I have a TV license but I find it so difficult to watch TV that i usually give up trying. At the moment we can only seem to get ITV and to be honest there is just nothing on there even remotely watchable. When I went to my parents house on Saturday night they were watching Stephen Fry driving across America. Very watchable indeed. I had missed the first quarter, so today i visited BBC iplayer to download files onto my laptop instead. I have to log on though Internet explorer or else the iplayer website thinks I am in America and wont let me download. Other wise it is perfect (although I could do with more than 1 week to watch it). I love the BBC and I especially love Stephen Fry.

I am off to bed with my laptop now!

Friday, 17 October 2008

The Soap Shop

A few months back I had the idea that I would like a little shop of my own selling lovely, natural, simple items which I had found. A bit too dreamy sadly. Then I moved on to the possibility of an online shop and lately I have been thinking about an eBay shop.

When my husband came back from his travels, he brought for me 5kilos of beautiful olive oil soap. It keep my skin soft and clean and I don't use any additional moisturisers when I use it. It is excellent. I have recently come across the same bars selling on the Internet as Aleppo Gold at £5.25 a bar. He tells me that what he paid for my bars too (yeah, I bet!). I shows my husband the website, yes, says he, we have all that sort of thing so cheap. I just didn't think you would be interested!!!SO now I am wondering whether this might be a new little enterprise for me.

I have a sister in law that lives is quite business savvy and would find a little extra money useful. If the soap was shipped by surface mail then it would have a pretty minimal carbon footprint. All of the ingredients are natural and good for us, in fact the production is pretty much unchanged for the last 1300 years. in Aleppo,

I have another sister in law that lives near the dead sea. Maybe we could bottle up some mud or salt scrub too. Okay, I am getting a little carried away but I do like a project and this could be fun, plus it helps a couple of relatives who could really do with some help.

Hmmm, something to think about.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

New blogs, new recipes & new ideas.

Another new blog to read today. I might have to go part time just to fit all of my reading in. This is the new brainchild of Rhonda Jean at Down to Earth, it is called the Simple Green Frugal Co-op, a bit of a mouthful so I might be referring to it as just 'The Co-op'. It is written by a number of like minded contributors and so far we have had an interesting selection of topics.

and on the subject of other blogs Fiona form the Cottage Smallholder has provided a recipe today for the ultimate spag bol. My boys and I love spag boll but my husband doesn't. I think he had a bad spaghetti experience as a child plus he doesn't like minced meat. Anyway we are going to try this recipe next week to see whether we can finally get him on board. It worked for her reluctant pasta eating partner so maybe also for mine.

I showed the wonderful pizza oven, from Taurus Rising, to husband last evening and he seemed really interested, so I went back to read a bit more tonight and was rewarded with more photos of the pizza oven growing.

Laura at Move to Portugal reminded me how fortunate I am to have a north facing conservatory (home made from recycled bits and bobs wherever possible)which Is always warmish but never too warm, where my washing can hang on the clothes horse for a bit of an airing.

I have been to my sisters house this evening and we seem to be carrying on the heating with candles experiment. So far so good but we are up to 6 tea lights already and it was only 12 degrees when I checked the outside temperature. How many tea lights will be required when it gets down to zero?? Luckily there is a new Ikea opening locally in the spring, so we can top the central heating at a good price.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


I was mooching about today, as I do when I can get some time on the Internet. I came across this blog Taurus Rising. It looks like a really good read, although I haven't read too much yet. I filtered the posts to get a look on the building of a pizza oven. I am inspired! (lets hope the my husband feels the same - he is the builder, I am the supervisor).

Today I made beef stew again in the pressure cooker, without hiding behind an concrete wall. Yay, I am not such a big chicken after all. It is so lovely. This is now a staple.

Lots of my house plants have been living in the garden for a while. Yesterday I took the opportunity (it stopped raining for 30 seconds) to clean up the planting, top up the compost and re-pot the biggies. They are now ready to come indoors and face the winter. They might get a bit of a surprise though as I am trying to avoid heating indoors this winter anyway. Hopefully their autumn of freedom has hardened them off a bit.

Today we had to buy some stationery for my baby for college. He needed 4 lever arch files and a ton of pens. We bought three packets of 10 pens on a buy 2 get 1 free deal. We also got 10% off everything because baby had his student card. We bought a half price magnetic chilli pen to live on the fridge. When we got home we found that we had also been credit for all of the pens. I may have misunderstood the advertised price but somehow, and this doesnt happen often, everything came to a lot less than I anticipated.

I am trying to think of a new name for the blog. I fancy a change. I do that a lot.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Not missing the bigger picture

I have tended to blog about economising, living simply, de-clutter etc because it is part of a way of coping with what is happening in the world. Cut it down into bite size pieces and you perceive more control of it, or at least how it interacts with you, a bit more. Sure, we cant make food any cheaper but we can use it more sensibly.

I just wondered how else people are being effected? Is your neighbourhood full of repossessed houses or new build flats without a first time buyer. Has you letter box dried up from the endless adverts for loans and credit cards? (despite the fact that there isn't money to be lent I still get a credit card ad a week, at least). Having any trouble remortgaging or getting mortgage fixes? My eldest son works in a boat yard building catamarans. How much longer will people want catamarans or is this outside of the sphere of the depression. My husband is a swimming teacher. We have already lost quite a number of students from his classes. How many more will we lose and can he keep going?

I would be interested to hear. Now I am off to embark on my plans for the day, all very frugal, so I can collapse in a tired but cirtuous heap at bed time.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Well that'll teach me!

Went to visit my 'grape' friends tonight, hoping for leftovers. They had picked & crushed every last one. I didn't need to worry about what i was going to do with them after all. Now I feel a bit of a silly for assuming that I might get some. So that'll teach me.

Even without my free fruit I am still doing a bit of squirrelling away. Tomorrow I am going the new veg shop in the town, very affordable, and also the market. Then to the 99p shop for the few bits which are cheaper there, like four tins of Cross & Blackwell Beans are £0.99 instead of £2.29. Then to Lidl for kidney beans & sweetcorn plus some winter meat (such as stewing beef). I have a small shoulder of lamb to pressure cook with lentils and a Kashmiri curry powder which I got from the Asian supermarket. That will feed us for a couple of days with a fluffy loaf.

I also plan to vacuum right through and clean the hard floors, plus the kitchen and bathroom. The bathroom suddenly looks awful so I need some moments alone with it for sure!

In the evening my Mum & I are advertising a few more things on eBay. So far she is doing better than me so I need to catch up.

Enjoy your weekends.

Thursday, 9 October 2008


I am still ploughing my way through all of the hundreds of apples I have been given. We have had a crumble the size of a small planet and tonight stewed apple ( I added sugar and a little burned to the pan, making stewed toffee apple - I never admit to having burned something.)

My mum has more blackberries for me on Saturday and more plums. Tomorrow we are visiting our friends with the grape vines. I am half expecting (and hoping) to be offered an opportunity to pick what I want. However I am suffering from autumn fruit overload. What am I going to do with , say, 5 kilo of black grapes? Last year I made jam, pr more correctly jelly as it was strained. It was okay but not identifiable as grape. It just tasted of indeterminate fruit. The obvious option is wine. Is it just a matter of crushing grapes until the juice runs and then fermenting it? Anyone have any other ideas? I wonder if I shouldn't be making these plans. Will this mean that I wont actually get offered any grapes.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Scarey Pressure Cooker Meals

Okay. Stew cooked in the pressure cooker was fantastic!

Stewing beef, onions, potatoes, carrots, a beef stock cube and some Worcester sauce. I cant believe such a simple selection of ingredients became so delicious so quickly. The only problem was no opportunity to add the dumplings.

My first pressure cooker came from Freecycle. I went to someones house to pick up a jam thermometer and the lady giving it away asked me if I cooked. When I said yes she offered me the pressure cooker as well. The first meals we cooked in it were wonderful but it was too small, the meals were not enough for a family of four, especially when it includes two teenage boys. SO we Freecycled it on and bit the bullet, bought one is Argos.

The new pressure cooker was a bit more sophisticated than the old one and I was terrified of the basic one. So it has sat on the saucepan shelf since last winter. Today I braved it (by which I mean I got my husband to set the dinner going in it!) and it was worth it.

I am still scared of it but I will persevere. I am still scared on the pressure cooker but not quite as much as I was!

Monday, 6 October 2008

Are we all going 'Simple'?

Everyday since the beginning of the current economic down turn, more and more of my friends, family and co-workers seem to be going 'simple'. In fact everyone seems to be coming around to 'our' way of thinking.

A neighbour of my parents gave us permission to pick as many of her cooking apples as we wanted - so we picked them all including some for her.

Someone gave my sister a bag if potatoes which were too small to make the grade in a supermarket (individual potatoes I mean, the sack was the normal size).

My mum has given my blackberries and plums for warming winter puddings.

Another friend gave me a bag of eating apples and a bag of cooking apples from her trees and borrowed some demijohns from me to deal with her grape harvest ( I am still hoping for the left overs from this harvest but I am trying not to look too desperate!).

Someone on Freecycle offered all of their unpicked apples and pears to anyone who wanted them.

One of my colleagues collects all the fruit pips and stones from our lunches and grows them on in the pot plants, we have grapes, mangoes and avocados on the go.

On a less 'free food' orientated note, people are actually planning their journeys to minmise mileage and petrol use. They are car sharing and taking public transport.

Actually I noticed I do tend to focus quite a lot of food and feeding my family. I miss working the allotment but the land was just too awful and we couldn't cope. I am hoping that from the spring I will be able to grow more in our little garden to make up for the loss of the allotment.

So far I have a cooking apple tree and a cherry tree which produces quite well. I also have some black currant bushes but they are very productive at all. I have a kiwi vine which appears to be alive but doesn't actually come up with any fruit. I assume he needs a friend. I have room enough for salad and herbs, so that will be my first attempt. Once I have got the hand of that then I can worry about what comes next.

The good thing is with all these new 'simple' folk there should be plenty of little plants around for bartering in the spring. Cool!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

12 weeks until Christmas

Christmas will be on the 25th December this year, so it shouldn't come as a complete surprise to us but somehow it always seems like it is. I am going through my plans just to be on the safe side.

Areas of expenditure

Decorations - tree, lights etc - I have an artificial tree (it always seemed to be to be a bit mean to cut down a living tree just for 10 days of decoration)and an eclectic mix of decorations from previous years. Each year I allow myself to buy one new items, by which I mean one new bauble or whatever, rather than one new box of colour co-ordinated Christmas deccies. My tree is lovely ( I think) with old wooden toys, fat angles and loads of lights (Ikea sale). Aside from the tree we just have a couple of wreaths, dried 'stuff' for the front door and a fabric wreath for indoors. Lots of lights around the picture rail/edge of ceiling. All of the lights are low power usage from Ikea and were all bought in after Christmas sales in previous years.

Food - My family and I share the cost and cooking of Christmas between us, We each entertain us al on different days and we also bring along different things on the other day too, so our grocery shopping isn't much more than usual. I also need to stock up on goodies for making sweeties and biscuits. Last Christmas I was ill I didn't make anything at all, so this year I am likely to go a bit over the top.

Cards - I only send them to people I wont see, who are not on email. The half dozen that I have should be enough for this. I cant see the point of giving cards to people that you see everyday.

Presents - Husband and children, still thinking about this. Rest of the immediate family, we have decided to keep to the £10 per person budget and gift must be creative or homemade or just plain weird. We also exchange with two other friends families who have children. One family we have agreed to stop presents with but the other is not so easy, even though we live in different countries and mainly the postman benefits not any of the children. We don't send presents to anyone further afield in the family. I send something weird to my best friend but I do if I find someone special and I don't if I don't, if you see what I mean. We also have a secret Santa present deal going on at work. You can opt in or opt out but it is good fun and we have a limit of £5, so I am in.

Events and going out - Free lunch from work, affordable lunch from work, bring something breakfast at work (I just realised I have no social life, I just go to work, hmmm.)I don't need any new clothes.

Charity etc - I will give to charity the money I save from cards (but not the stamps -that is my actual saving). At work we will organise the breakfast within the team but any left overs are auctioned off to the rest of the building, money to charity again. I will buy bits and pieces from charity shops and I will give the unwanted stuff back there again. If you have a bit more time of your hands then how about volunteering.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Dusting off the slow cooker

There is a definite nip in the air. This week I have had to close the big bedroom window at night and only have the little one open. Last night I had to close even the small one.

Although it is bright and sunny this morning the feeling is that we are going into a cold, cold winter with fuel prices riding high, food prices on the increase, investments and savings worth, or perceived to be worth, less than ever. We need coping strategies to get through.

My sister is going to shut the house up tight & light candles! This is going to be her plan through the winter, more cold = more candles. I suspect fluffy blankets & hot water bottles will also feature. Last evening I visited another friend & drank my coffee wrapped in a fluffy blanket! No-one is wasting an ounce of fuel. When we came home last evening I noticed our house was far warmer, even though we wouldn't put the heating on for ages yet anyway. We have cavity wall insulation, roof insulation, double glazing, the conservatory roof is some high tech product that heat and cold out. Being green (and mean) in the past is payng off for us now. I have also got to make some changes. I have dug out additional curtain linings to go behind the lined curtains already in the sitting room. I have heavy velvet curtains in the attic to warm up the conservatory, I just wish I could find them. So that is something else to do. I don't have loads of candles but I do have hundreds of Ikea tea lights. My sister is right, if you shut the curtain up tight and make sure all the doors are closed then it does warm the room up & the little twinkling lights and really pretty too!

What else can I do? We have a couple of fluffy blankets but a couple more would be good too. Stews and soups need to be back on the menu. Do I use the slow cooker or be brave and try the pressure cooker? I am terrified of the pressure cooker but I am going to challenge myself to use it. The food from it is delicious, much better than the slow cooker, but the slow cooker doesn't give the impression that it will lift of the gas and fly around the room!

What else can I do?

Looks like this is turning into a list ( I am very keen on lists since I turned 40 - helps me to focus).

1.Thermal underwear and socks, for everyone.
2.Plenty of chili powder in the soups and stews.
3.Search out recipes for lentil/split pea dishes - very warming.

I may be back to add to the list later as I am inspired.

My Life Makeover Journeyid thinking similar thoughts to me.

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