Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Still celebrating!

It's funny - This is a time of year that is much planned for, much anticipated and much enjoyed, but everyone I speak to is then really looking forward to calming down, eating less and getting the house back to normal almost immediately afterwards!
I love having all my chicks in the nest for a while - not that they are exactly chicks anymore! Our Christmas tree was very wide this year and we really struggled to fit what amounts to six adults in the lounge around it! If it were down to me, I would be clearing away the decorations and giving the house a good clean today, but they're not quite ready yet!
Our 'problem' is that we have Christmas, a birthday, New Year's Eve and another birthday all in the two week period of the school break. This is then followed by another birthday within 15 days of that one. It can seem like a never ending round of celebrating, eating and of course the shopping/spending that has gone on beforehand! I remember one year my son, whose birthday it is between Christmas and New year, was too ill over Christmas to open all his gifts. It took him until well into January to catch up with opening both sets of presents!! Crazy really!
I find myself longing to return to my own gentle daily ebb and flow - pottering about, getting stuff done at my own pace. I have found the excess of spending, eating, packaging, mess, washing particularly stark this year, so I will be in seventh heaven by next week, de cluttering, cleaning, sorting and generally returning to normal!
It has been a lovely Christmas this year - one of if not THE best Christmas we have had. The calmer lead up, the curb on excessive spending, eating less extravagantly, focussing on the little things and the opportunities to craft have all lead to a very mellow Christmas. However, I am very much looking forward to welcoming in the New Year and my first set of goals and new challenges for 2015. Believe me, for someone who is more used to dreading a new year approaching, this is a revelation!
Happy New Year everyone! I, for one, am very excited!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Holiday time

Finally, all the children are at home and Simon will break up today, so we can start the holiday season proper! I'm so excited about spending time with my lovely little family. We don't have any specific plans, no places to be or things we have to do, so we can simply please ourselves. I think we will spend time going for walks, playing games, watching movies and of course eating all sorts of yummy goodies.

I won't write on the blog in the next week - I think we all need time as a family without outside distractions. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and I look forward to posting some of my home made gift creations after the recipients have opened them!!

This has been a wonderful few months for me starting a new and exciting chapter in my life. Goodness knows what 2015 will bring! Thank you so much for reading my little blog and commenting via Facebook. I have been touched by your feedback, so please keep reading and commenting. See you soon x

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Gifts for my mother

Since my father's death, 10 years ago, my mum has always come to us for Christmas, except one year when she wasn't well enough. This year, my brother is hosting her at his new house, so I wanted to send her a little package of home made gifts to make it special. She hasn't been well either, so it was all the more important to me that she felt my love and support as she opened them, even though I wouldn't actually be there. I packaged up a box for her containing:-

Home made loganberry jam, lemon marmalade, quince jam, cranberry and pear chutney, chocolate and hazelnut truffles, a button Christmas tree decoration, a découpage heart decoration, a diary, which I had covered and decorated with photos of her grandchildren, a hand towel which I had enhanced with ribbon and lace hand sewn as a trim, a wall calendar and a set of blank greetings cards with some stamps ( she can't get out and about much at the moment so these are really useful). 

I'm really hoping she enjoys these on Christmas Day! 

Special gifts for a special family

We have one particular family to whom we are very close. We have been part of their lives when they got together, then guests at their wedding, celebrated births and christenings and many other special days in between and shared joy, sadness and many laughs along the way. Simon and I are godparents to their eldest child too. I truly wanted them to receive home made gifts this year to express how much I care about them.
For the lovely couple, I created the driftwood Christmas tree and then a découpage blackboard for their kitchen from an unused frame and a length of dado rail.

For our godson, I upcycled a child's school desk from a local charity shop.

For the twins, a memory board for the little girl and for her brother, an upcycled, personalised chair
and his very own little hanger.



I'm really pleased with their gifts. I have enjoyed making them, spending time thinking about all the reasons I love them whilst crafting their presents and trying to inject my own personal touch in to the items. I truly hope they get as much pleasure when they open them as I did whilst making them x

Rhythm versus routine

I was reading something yesterday and I had what can only be described as a 'lightbulb moment'. I have always considered it important to have a routine. I generally get up at the same time, shower, get ready for the day, let the chickens out and clean out the coop, feed the cats, have some breakfast, write my list do tasks for the day ..... I have an order and a process to every day. BUT, and this is a big BUT, this system can so easily lead to guilt and ensuing panic if I fall behind on my routine or miss out a task. This was particularly pertinent before, when I was always rushing to try and get everything completed and hating myself for failing multiple times a week to achieve my 'To Do' list! Madness!

The lightbulb moment is to completely rethink the very word 'routine'. What if I changed my thinking and called it 'rhythm'? This is a much more natural process, following times of day, mood, seasons, led by you..... It made perfect sense. When I thought about it, I was already tweaking my routine according to certain factors. I rise much earlier in the summer months to make the most of that delicate early morning sunshine, but in the winter, although I am awake, I love to spend an extra half an hour in my cosy bed, thinking about the day ahead before getting up. My energy levels and concentration are greater in the morning so I tend to do most of my work before midday, I then read, research craft projects, meditate and write in the afternoon when I need a gentler, slower style of task. If you view your days as rhythmic rather than routine orientated, you will naturally move at a pace that suits you. If your body tells you that your day's work is complete in the morning, then trust that and do something pleasurable and calming in the afternoon, knitting, sewing, reading, embroidery, a gentle walk taking in everything around you......

Rhythm allows for a more flexible, person centred approach to your own life. A routine implies structure, limitations and expectations, which can lead to disappointment, a sense of inadequacy and stress. Of course however simple your life may be, we all have jobs to get done, a home to be cleaned and organised, food to be prepared, paperwork to complete and many more daily tasks to do. These will still need to be done, but don't set yourself such a rigid order of accomplishment of jobs. Give yourself a break and re title 'daily routine' to 'daily rhythm of work'! Let your natural rhythm lead the way and be kind to yourself.

Don't forget, we none of us need to be perfect. Good enough should be your motto!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

A sense of calm

Firstly may I apologise for the lack of blog earlier this week. We lost all internet on Sunday and only sorted it yesterday evening! I felt quite bereft, although the kids felt more bereft!!Anyway, I'm back online now.

I was reflecting yesterday on just how different this Christmas feels. The main change this year in comparison to many other years, is my sense of calmness. The house is decorated, the boughs are quite literally decked with holly gathered during our walk at the weekend, all the handmade gifts are finished and wrapped ready to be passed on to their recipients and I'm almost there with the food - just a little bit of advance preparation to be done over the next few days. The house is clean - well clean enough certainly! There is a sense of serenity here which I don't remember having before at this point in the year; in fact, I don't remember the last time I was truly serene! Probably the closest I have been to seeming outwardly calm is when I have been at that point of utter exhaustion that I've almost given up! But it's different now. The new me, approaches my life differently - slowing down, more aware of what I am doing and appreciating each task fully. This new style of living has enabled me to enjoy the excitement of Christmas again, rather than just seeing it as a series of stressful chores and deadlines to meet. I needed to reconnect with the joy of the festive season and remember that spending times with my loved ones is paramount. I have taken time out to spend time with friends and family and been able to help others when they have needed it without feeling panic that I would never get everything done. I've made sure that I've had some time to relax on my own too, maintaining my meditation and adding in some small walks. If I'm not relaxed, then that will impact on the whole family!

Don't get me wrong, there are difficult times in the background of all of this, which frankly would have tipped the old me into a complete crisis, but thus far, my new mindset is assisting me to deal with any issues as best I can, then allowing me to let them go again out of my mind until the next time I have to deal with them so they are not festering under the surface.

A handpainted glass tree decoration from a previous 'crafty Christmas' many years ago!

My home, arms and heart are now open and ready to welcome everyone around me this Christmas.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

A simpler Christmas

This year, more than any, I long for a simpler Christmas. It's time to calm ourselves right down, rejuvinate and re connect. I have tried to simplify on all levels to make this a relaxing festive season.

We have spent a lot less on presents this year, mostly because I have made presents for a lot of people. I've tried to reuse and recycle where possible in terms of wrapping them too. I always use last year's Christmas cards, cut up, as tags and we had already bought cards, crackers and wrapping paper in the sales last year.

We have a beautiful collection of Christmas decorations, which we have built up over the last 23 years, so it's been a pleasure to revisit them again this week as we have begun to decorate the house -so many memories wrapped up in those baubles and decorations.  To supplement the decorations we already have, I will use pine cones, holly and ivy, collected on a lovely winters walk - win/win I think!

Normally, we eat slightly vulgar quantities of food over the two weeks, so this year I have planned a much simpler menu. As you know, we cater for meat eaters, vegetarian, vegan and gluten free at home. It's not always easy to balance their needs, particularly when it comes to the more traditional foods, but I've given it a go! For those of you, who are interested, here is the menu for the week of Christmas. (If you'd like a recipe, just let me know).

Monday 22: Thai Sweet potato and bean stew

Tuesday 23: Apple, butternut and chick pea curry

Christmas Eve: Venison casserole and mash for the meat eaters, vegetarian sausages and red onion chutney with mash for the non carnivores.

Christmas Day: Nut roast or orange marmalade glazed ham, sage and onion stuffing, apricot and cranberry stuffing and of course loads of yummy vegetables, including lots of my favourite - sprouts! How I love them!!

Boxing Day: Cold ham or nut roast, vegan coleslaw, potato salad, green salad and tomato and
avocado salad.

Saturday 27: Potato, parsnip and pea curry with apple chutney, poppadums and rice.

As treats, I plan on making winter fruit compote and spiced apple compote to have with porridge in the mornings, more truffles, fridge cake, dark chocolate and cherry brownies and I'm going to try a GF vegan trifle for the first time. We'll also have nuts, mince pies and mulled wine!!

Now I write it down, it doesn't seem that pared back, but I promise you it is simpler than normal! You may notice the lack of turkey...I'm not a massive fan really and would have had beef or goose, but in the end we decided to save ourselves £50 and just have a larger ham joint to do both days. I will coat it in a gorgeously sticky glaze, so it will still make a lovely centre piece on the main day.

Of course, our waist lines will benefit, but also I imagine that my food bill will only be about £50 over a normal month's budget. It's difficult to calculate an exact amount, but we have certainly spent hundreds of pounds less this year and I feel so much more in touch with what Christmas is really about because of it. What a joy, to ease myself away from the excessive consumerism that has taken over all things festive! I can hardly wait!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Hand made Christmas gifts

I realised the other day that next year I will have to start making things a lot earlier than September if I want to increase the number of hand made gifts I give next Christmas!!
Having said that, I am really excited about the range and number of presents I have been able to give to people, made by me. Obviously you have all seen the jams, marmalade and chutneys, the limoncello, Arancello, the flavoured oils and the truffles. I've posted about the button decorations and the earrings already.
I also added a personal touch to some hand towels, by hand sewing on lengths of pretty ribbon. They are being given as gifts too.

Then there are some completely individual presents which I will have to wait until after Christmas to
post about in case their recipients see them before they get to open them!! I am very excited to share them with you as soon as I can .....
It has been an enormous pleasure for me to try my hand at so many different craft projects and I sincerely hope that there will be equal pleasure for those receiving them. Hopefully they will see that their gifts have been made with love and be able to look past any imperfections!
As for next year, I already have quite a list of craft projects I'd like to try out. I'm thinking I'll start early and have a storage box for them all with a list of who receives what so I don't forget and give them the same thing twice! Well, it's a plan anyway .....

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Everyone has a story

I was chatting with a new friend today and as we were discussing some of the people we knew, I was reminded about how incredibly different we all are - same species, but the most amazing variety within that!
Many many years ago, I watched an Oprah episode (don't judge me!). She was interviewing some chap about his travels around America. Every place he had stopped in, he had gone into a public phone box and randomly selected someone to phone up from the phone book (yes it was THAT long ago). Obviously some people had refused to talk to him, but others had happily told him their life stories, which he had then recorded in a book. I guess the point was that everybody has a story to tell. It's always worth taking time out to listen to people - more often than not, the stories they have to share are surprising and fascinating and often challenge your perceptions and beliefs, which can only be a good thing.

I've been lucky over the years to have met a huge number of wonderful people, from many different cultures and walks of life and I hope that through my volunteering, I will continue to broaden my horizons and challenge my attitudes through the new people I meet.
Some days I have felt it would be easier to shut the front door and keep myself to myself, but ultimately my life is enriched by being 'out there', so I will continue to venture out into the big wide world!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


I'm writing this post partly because developing a more mindful approach to my life has helped me enormously over the last few months and continues to shape every day of my new simple life. I'm also writing it, tongue-in-cheek, for a good friend of mine, who finds the very mention of the word 'mindful' abhorrent! I know that for some people the concept of being more aware may seem liberal, hippyesque, mamby pamby rubbish, so if that's you, look away now if you wish!

When I was working, I was stressed, rushing from one thing to the other, barely managing to keep all the plates spinning. I wasn't sleeping properly, had gained weight, was drinking far too much wine, felt tired all the time and kept forgetting stuff I would never normally forget. There was far too much negativity exuding from me, affecting those I loved. Every morning I woke from a fitful night's sleep, exhausted and already disappointed with the day ahead. I knew I had to do something as this was making me feel really ill.

I started with some basic meditation - a free app on my iPhone. Those 13 minutes of focussing on my emotions and my thoughts, understanding how to calm myself and relax, were amazing and the turning point in my recovery. It was a 'light bulb moment'. Allowing myself that bit of time, guilt free made me see that it wasn't selfish, but rather a self defense measure against the stresses and strains of life around me. I felt much more able to cope and work out the next steps in my recovery.

Mindfulness is a heightened awareness of your strengths and limitations, being fully cogniscent of your emotions. For me, slowing down and turning my attention inwards for a change, improved my concentration, my memory, my health and made me a much nicer person to be around! For those of you who have continued to read this post, might I suggest that you give meditation a try? It was a real life changer for me and I will continue to follow a mindful path for the rest of my life.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Driftwood Christmas tree

I'm quite pleased with this little tree. I've seen lots of them in the shops at ridiculous prices, so making my own has given me great satisfaction. The driftwood was collected from the beach at Staithes, North Yorkshire last Easter. Staithes is the most beautiful little place, multi coloured, tall houses, clinging to the cliffs around the harbour. Every house individual, with accents of arts and  crafts everywhere you look. I was completely smitten and would advise you to visit if you can. We stayed in a beautiful little cottage high up on the hill ( http://www.cliffcottage.org.uk ).

Staithes, North Yorkshire
This is the second project I have made with the driftwood so far.  The first was a little hanging decoration inspired by some I'd seen in the craft shop in Staithes. 

The Christmas tree is made by drilling a hole through each length of driftwood and threading them, in length order, on to a thin wooden dowel. The dowel is glued into a pilot hole on a recycled wooden base. I have decorated it with some wired beads and a little star painted red, because I already had them. Another nice idea to decorate them with is small pieces of weathered glass like the stuff you find washed up on the beach, or tiny shells. I will give this one as a gift, but I suspect I may make another one for us to keep as I'm rather enamoured with it! 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

What do I expect from life?

A big question to ponder this one! I think it would do us all good to really think deeply about the things we would like our lives to provide us with.  I don't mean material items here, more spiritually  I guess.

Early on in this journey, I spent some considerable time listing what I wanted out of my life and here is what I came up with:

  • A reason to get up every morning
  • Creative and productive 'work'
  • Daily opportunities to nurture myself and others
  • A framework in which I can live simply and calmly
  • An opportunity to take less whilst giving more
  • Opportunities to gain new skills to provide for my family
  • Moments for me to express generosity, kindness and empathy
  • Moments of stillness 
  • A feeling of purpose and self-worth
  • A sense of contentment
  • An opportunity to create a strong and generous family circle, which provides support for everyone within it
  • An appreciation of the smaller things
  • A sense of control over my own life

Friday, 5 December 2014


As a final flourish to the Christmas gift bags for my sister and my mum, I decided to make some chocolate truffles today. I have a bit of a thing for Frangelico ever since I bought it one year to make a dessert. I don't drink it, I just take the lid off and exhale it's gorgeous nutty aroma every now and again!  What an excellent plan to make chocolate and hazelnut truffles then!

400g dark chocolate - high cocoa solids
400ml double cream
50g butter
A good splash, followed by an even better splosh of Frangelico (hazelnut liquer)

Whip the cream and butter in a saucepan on a medium heat, until the butter is melted and the cream reaches a good simmer. Poor the cream mixture on to the broken up chocolate in a large bowl. Mix in the alcohol of your choice (or vanilla, or orange zest if you prefer) and whisk it all together until the chocolate has melted and you have a delicious unctuous bowl of yumminess. Refrigerate for several hours (at least 4). If you're me, you then get the power tools out for a bit whilst they are setting, but a cup of tea would be good too.

Roll teaspoons of the mixture into balls with your cold hands and the. Roll in a coating of your choice. I used chopped hazelnuts and cocoa powder, but desiccated coconut is also good and you can of course cover them in melted chocolate if you have the time.

Return to the fridge on a tray lined with baking parchment. They can be frozen for about a month, but they will keep well in the fridge for at least a week. Well ..... who am I kidding in this house !!
The hazelnut covered ones tasted very much like a superior Ferrero Rocher I thought - very moreish.

I made about 50 truffles for £5. I can feel another batch coming on for the deep freeze already!
I wrapped them by layering two squares of greaseproof paper on top of a square of recycled flower wrapping paper and tied with a ribbon.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Roasted vegetable salad

I first saw this on a Nigel Slater show, where he was in someone's garden and cooked up a few freshly dug root veg, tossed them in with some leaves and it looked amazing! I love his way of cooking - no weird, impossible-to-find ingredients and letting the individual components of the recipe talk for themselves.
In our gluten free, vegan home (well most of the time anyway!) it's really important I know what I am putting on the table, so Nigel's approach appeals to me.
For the salad you will need root veg - we use a combination of carrots, potatoes, parsnips and sweet potato. I guess you could also use turnip, swede or celeriac. They are then chopped into similar size pieces. Personally I don't peel the potatoes, nor would I peel the carrots if they were fresh enough.

I then rub in olive oil and tonight I added Harissa, but it could equally be garlic, rosemary, honey or maple syrup. They are then popped into the oven at 180 to begin with, then I generally whack the heat up to 200 nearer the end. They take about 45 mins on the whole, lifting and stirring them occasionally.

I like to serve the salad on a platter. Last Christmas, my lovely children bought me the round platter below, which I often use.

The finished salad is served on a bed of mixed salad leaves (I like plenty of rocket and/or watercress) 
with a drizzle of dressing. This evening's dressing was a mixture of my own French dressing, 
mixed with a very finely chopped clove of garlic, a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and soy yoghurt. Obviously if you aren't vegan, you could use crème fraîche. We served it with bread, but it really doesn't need it! Very tasty, low fat, at least three of your 5 a day, gluten free, vegan, cheap.....what more could one ask?!  X 

The finished article! 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

What a difference a day can make!

Yesterday, I didn't get out of my pyjamas all day and only managed one task - writing our Christmas cards. It was the third day I had woken up feeling as if I'd just stepped out of the boxing ring and I wasn't up to anything much.
Today however, I woke thankful that the 20 stone man who had been sitting in my back and shoulders for the previous few days, had finally got off! Thank heavens, I was back to my usual self.... BUT then the anxiety started to set in....so much to do!
What did I do first? Write a list of course! It was a long list mind and there wasn't much chance of me getting it all done today, but at least I had removed it from circulating in an endless loop around the inside of my head. I always feel calmer when I put it in black and white.
Now, the house is clean, the washing baskets are empty again, my husband has some shirts to wear and then....

This will be cosy for us all to gather in tonight. 

Oh joy, I got the power tools out!! I think for the first five Birthdays and Christmases of my marriage, my parents bought me a workbench, a power drill, a cordless screwdriver,  a jigsaw, a belt sander and a router. Not a bad little stash to play with. All I need now is a warm dry workshop as opposed to a cramped, slightly chaotic and leaky shed at the end of the garden. One day .......
I have been crafting all afternoon. In fact it was all I could do not to let myself get distracted this morning, but I stuck with it knowing I'd feel better when the house was back in order. There are no fully finished projects yet to photograph - just a conservatory full of half complete creations. When they are complete I'll post photos of course.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

December's targets

I set myself quite specific targets in November and as promised here is my progress report :-
  • Pay off the mortgage - completely paid off and wow what a brilliant feeling that is!! 
  • Work from a cash only system for food and miscellaneous items and socialising - this has worked extremely well and meant we spent about 50% less than in November 2013!
  • Work on reducing our waste by composting more - separating compost materials from any other food waste has worked very well. Our food waste bin only really has the odd meat bone and lemon from my morning cuppa. Our vegetable peelings when mixed with the chicken poop and straw from the coop, will make fantastic compost for the garden in the spring.
  • Set up a blog - obvious answer to that one!
  • Continue to de clutter - I haven't moved too much on to a new home, but I certainly haven't acquired anything else to clutter my home.
  • Make packed lunches to save money - we have managed 2 to 3 days most weeks with packed lunches for everyone, but I need to invent some more interesting fillings to ring the changes.
  • Spend less generally - definitely. Simon and I have both been very aware of not spending money for the sake of it.
  • Reduce electricity/gas/water usage -  not only do I try to turn off lights and devices, I also try to use less of everything - toothpaste, toilet roll (I mean using fewer sheets rather than anything unsavoury!), shampoo etc., but I know I'm the only one who thinks like that in the house unfortunately. I think there is a toilet roll muncher hidden somewhere in my house!!
  • Don't acquire any more plastic bags - I'm really proud of this. Not a single plastic bag has entered the house when I have been in charge! Again, the rest of my brood still need reminders.
  • Start a small change savings pot - this worked well and by the end of the month we had about £10 in small change in there.
  • Read and skill myself up on growing my own veg, upcycling furniture, crotchet,knitting, patchworking, embroidery - I'm loving doing this; planning veg growing for the spring and thinking up all number of projects to occupy me in the New Year.
  • Use fewer cleaning products and if they run out, use natural products. - I'm still using the ones I do have, but I haven't bought any replacement ones and once they have run out, I'm going to try natural remedies, such as white vinegar and lemon.
For December I need to embed the ongoing targets from the above list and I aim to make as many home-made Christmas presents as possible. I have planned a Christmas menu with considerably less meat than previous years, not only because of the vegan/vegetarianism in the house, but also in an attempt to keep excess spending to a minimum. I want to decorate the house with as much as possible from nature and will go out collecting holly and ivy to deck the boughs! We have more than enough decorations already and had already bought cards, wrapping paper and crackers in last year's sale, so
that saves us a bit. Obviously, I imagine we will struggle to stick to our budget this month, but there's
no harm in trying hard to spend as little as possible, whilst remaining in the festive spirit. I long to 
have a calm, centred, family Yuletide, so that's my main aim for this month.

Happy Christmas to you all! 

Monday, 1 December 2014


One of the struggles I had when I was working, was always feeling I never had enough time. I was always rushing from one activity to another, never having time to finish anything properly or notice my surroundings. That physical feeling of anxiety - adrenaline racing around your body, slight nausea, irritability and a general feeling of mild panic .... This had become the norm! I'm a doer - I like to be busy and going to bed at the end of the day having achieved something is the best feeling ever! I am used to being active, even when I'm unwell, I REALLY struggle not to do some small jobs, much to my family's annoyance!

One of my favourite places to be! The quilt makes it so cosy.......

However, since leaving employment, I have trained myself to slow down. It's amazing how much more you notice! Staying at home, leading a simple and frugal life involves work. Cleaning, washing, ironing, cooking all meals from scratch, making my own gifts and repairing everything I need means I'm busy, but because I complete the tasks mindfully and slowly, I not only enjoy them more, but I also notice opportunities to do it slightly differently, rather than just being in the mindset 'get it done so I can move on to the next thing on my list!'
Simon and I did some Christmas shopping on Sunday and whilst walking past a stall, I stopped to admire some crotchet items. The lady at the stall started to chat to me and through this I now have a crotchet class in the neighbouring street to start in the New Year! Last year, I would have been so stressed out that I wouldn't even have taken the time to stop and chat to her. My new found slowness has provided me with a new opportunity, which is brilliant.
House work and chores are never ending, but try slowing down, completing each task quietly and with full awareness of what you are doing. My guess is that it will seem less of a chore, you will complete it more thoroughly and enjoy your daily tasks more.

On a separate note - I'm feeling a little under the weather today, so went food shopping, but forgot my cash!! School boy error! I've had to use my card, come home, take the cash out of its plastic wallet and hide it until next month! My first mistake, but no doubt not my last..... We are none of us perfect.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Achieving balance

I am very pleased to announce that my house isn't cleaner now I'm not working, than it was when I was working. This may seem like a contradiction in terms for me I know, but bear with me .....

Don't get me wrong, I still maintain a clean and tidy house and I am as house proud as ever. My point is that I haven't spent all my time religiously and excessively cleaning. I have been out for walks when I felt like it, I've socialised, I have meditated ( and fallen asleep - I don't seem to be able to meditate without dozing off!!), I've read books and I've crafted!
This is what I want to be doing with my time. The last few months have been about finding a better
balance. The budgeting, home-cooking and living in a clean, calm and ordered home are all very
important to me, but to feed my soul, this needs to be balanced with peaceful and creative activities.

If I ever revert to cleaning out drawers to pass the time, I'll know that my life is out of kilter again!!

Friday, 28 November 2014

A tiny craft idea

Just a really short post today, I'm afraid. I thought I'd share this little idea for napkin rings. Eventually when I get my grandmothers sewing machine up and running again, I will make some of my own napkins, but meanwhile I have these lovely chicken print ones from Sophie Allport ( I covet her merchandise way more than I should !!).
As there are six of us and it's particularly important that Briony doesn't get one which may have been contaminated with gluten, I needed individualised napkin rings, but I couldn't find any in the shops that I liked.

In the shed I had some old wooden curtain rings. I then bought a set of five chicken shaped buttons which matched the napkins perfectly. (I'm also a sucker for all things chicken!). The buttons were simply glued onto the wooden curtain rings. Each of us has our own little chicken - mine is the one with the white body and brown tail feathers. I had two little ladybirds which I had kept from a previous item - perfect for Briony as she adores ladybirds. Finally, we have two guest napkins decorated with gender stereotyped buttons!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Shabby chic candles

I had £2 left in my sundries budget - what could I spend it on? Not the most exciting dilemma of my day, but I popped into my local charity shop and they had a set of 6 cups, saucers and tea plates for exactly £2.
If you're anything like me, you'll have various remnants of candles left over. I already had some wicks bought in Hobbycraft for £2.49 for 12. I was therefore able to create 6 little candles in a cup to give as gifts. I assume you can add essential oils to add fragrance, but it didn't have any, so these won't scent the room, but they look pretty. The cups are fixed to the saucers with some contact adhesive.

I'm quite pleased with them at approximately 50p a piece.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A challenge

I finished my last session of my course to become a Home Start volunteer yesterday. It's been such good fun meeting new people. We were a thoroughly disparate group in so many ways - different ages, different backgrounds, different personal experiences and yet we did have three important things in common  - 1) we were all women, 2) we were all parents and 3) we were all there because we thought we would be able help someone ..... Let's hope that's true!
Shoes from a previous life path ..... Small sigh.....

One of the ladies there mentioned that she had set herself a challenge a few years ago of not buying any new clothes or shoes for a whole twelve months! She told me that it had been a liberating experience, not having to shop or spend precious time deliberating what to wear. As soon as she said it, I did a mental tour of my wardrobe and realised that I had everything I needed plus some (especially in the shoe department!!), so I'm going to try the same challenge! I may not succeed but I like the idea of it and it certainly fits with my new desire to lead a life which has less impact on the environment. If I could sew or knit properly, I'd make my own clothes, but that's some way off yet!
Shoes from this life path - more practical but less beautiful!

I will really miss my Tuesday course especially as we had gelled so well. We have had such a laugh despite some truly tough subject matter and I hope we manage to stay in contact. Funny how life can throw up new experiences and friends along the way if you are just open to those opportunities.

Monday, 24 November 2014


I'm new to upcycling having spent the last 20 years buying new furniture. I am however, totally smitten with the idea of taking someone else's previously loved item, doing some 'tarting up' and producing a revamped, personalised item for my house. It seems to me that finding a new use for unwanted items, using your crafting skills to create something unique for your home and preventing unnecessary waste fits in perfectly with the ideals of leading a simple life.
Back in August we decided to rejig Immie's room before she started at secondary school. It looks great and is so much better for storage and space, but the chair she had had before really didn't fit with the new grown up look of the room. I went trawling around the local charity shops for a suitable chair and material to recover it. I ended up, in my sixth charity shop, buying two battered and sad looking kitchen chairs for £10.

Sanded down, primed and two coats of Matt paint did the trick for the frame, but I was struggling to find appropriate cloth for the seat covers. I happened to be in a local garden centre and looked through their end of season sale, finding a quilted bag in exactly the right style of material and pattern. It had cost £30 and was reduced to £10.  I cut the bag in half, using the pink side for Immie's room and the green side for one of my other daughters, Alana's room and it was perfect!

I love the idea that those chairs have spent a previous life in someone's kitchen with chatter and family life happening and have now been saved from the tip and given a whole new lease of life. As and when we move house, I will certainly be sourcing any additional furniture we need from charity or thrift shops rather than buying cheap new furniture!

The first step to leading a simpler life

You may be wondering what the first step would be once you decide to lead a simpler life. I believe the key has to be reduce the amount you spend. Your life will never be truly simple when you have any form of debt, so if there are still outstanding amounts to be met, then your initial target would be to reduce and eliminate the debts.
We are now in the fortunate situation of being totally debt free, having worked hard to pay off our mortgage and having no credit cards, so the next step is to reduce our monthly outgoings. In order to know where we could make savings, I tracked our outgoings to the penny for a whole month. Oh my! I could hardly believe how much we spent on stuff! It seemed that we were in the supermarket almost on a daily basis, picking up a forgotten item from the previous days shopping, only to add another three to the basket , before you know it, another £17 has disappeared from the account!
In the following month I set a cash budget for food and 'sundries'. My husband has a small amount of cash each week and was charged with trying to stop the gauge at £40 for any fuel fill-up. He gets so cross when it nudges over to £40.01!! I then dug out two ziplock bags and labelled them up with our cash amount for the month £400 for food and £100 for sundries. We also have a savings tin for any small change or anything left over at the end of the month.

You may feel that it's overly restrictive having such a tight budget, but I have found it liberating to spend less, to make do with what I have in the cupboards and be inventive with menus to make the most of any stocks we have. It fills me with pride to be able to provide healthy home-cooked meals for my family without overspending. The kids have occasionally complained at the lack of food, by which they mean lack of anything that can go straight from packet to mouth without any further preparation!! I do budget for treats, but they are rationed rather than free flowing as they were before. Perhaps they'll appreciate them more? Simon and I certainly appreciate our once a week bottle of wine!
In case you are wondering the flowers were a gift from our guests on Friday evening.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The remedy ....?

..... A bowl of hot porridge with vanilla sugar and caramelised cinnamon apple! X

Feeling a little sad today

The weather here is awful - grey, wet, cold and generally dismal. I have fallen into a bit of the doldrums I'm afraid! Yesterday, my youngest daughter Immie took these photos along the nearby canal. They look very enticing - exactly the kind of November day that appeals.

I often walk along the canal. I love the little community that has built up here with the houseboats and it's one of those walks that you can make as long or as short as you like. There is all sorts of wildlife from the usual swans, ducks and moorhens, to multiple other small birds, mink, dragonflies and water rats.

Today however is not really a day for walking. The garden is full of puddles and the poor chucks seem to be developing a moat around their chicken run! I've given them a treat of bread soaked in powdered milk mixed with warm water. They look fairly miserable too this morning.
I am enjoying writing the blog and people say they enjoy reading it. I'd truly love to receive your comments though. It would be so much more fun for this to be interactive........I just know that you have things to share or ask too. Looking forward to being cheered by your feedback. 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Joy and regret

As I mentioned before, after the success with the limoncello, I was going to give it a go using oranges in place of the lemons. I thought I was inventing a new drink but of course the Italians had got there long before me. It is called Arancello in Italy after the Italian for orange - Arancia.

Well folks, it is sublime! Keep a bottle in the deep freeze - it's sweet and strong and very very warming!!! Even my husband who doesn't drink anything stronger than beer or wine, was taken with it!
It is a great joy to have discovered how easy it is to make such fantastic treats and gifts. My only regret is that I didn't discover it sooner!! 

Friday, 21 November 2014

Dinner party food

There's a running joke in my family where my Mum asks on the phone what we are having for dinner and when I tell her, she replies " That's dinner party food". We have always eaten very well and we all enjoy our food. My Mum was an excellent cook, my brother too and whilst Mum didn't actually formally teach me, I guess I must have picked up things along the way.
I'm cooking today as we have friends coming for dinner. I was actually very pleased that there is a vegetarian coming so I have the perfect reason to continue with the mostly vegan theme.

On the menu this evening:-

Pea risotto
Roasted vegetable tarts with a selection of salads
Lemon brûlée tart with raspberry coulis

I only went £10 over my weekly budget and that was due to the wine, so I'm feeling satisfied. We really enjoy having people over for dinner and it's certainly my favourite way to socialise. I enjoy going to restaurants too, but I feel most relaxed in someone's home with freshly cooked food and convivial company.
The house is clean, the oven is on, the house is warm and smells of home prepared food and I'm in my pinny - bliss!
I'll let you know how it went tomorrow. 

Thursday, 20 November 2014


I love to have a clean and tidy house. I have always been the same and in fact I have bordered on the obsessive! When my children were little, I had to give myself a stern talking to because I was always tempted to tidy up as they played. The poor souls had barely finished a puzzle before I was counting the pieces back into their box! The bottom line is that I only truly feel relaxed when my house is all in order although I have taught myself to be less pernickety over the years, finding that 'good enough' is fine for me now.
I find it cathartic to clean. Most days will have some form of cleaning or tidying involved in them. I think that if I were to be able to maintain a constant standard I'd never feel stressed...however, with four children and assorted animals, that's a pipe dream most of the time, so I'll have to suffice with ticking along and the odd deep clean when needed.
I have to wonder though if that slightly old fashioned sense of being 'house proud' has become unfashionable? With the rise of programmes such as The Hoarder Nextdoor and How Clean is Your House, I sense there are significant numbers of people out there who either don't have the time, skills or inclination to keep a tidy home. Each to their own of course, but there's only one way of doing it for me!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Special diets

My eldest daughter, Briony was diagnosed with coeliac disease about 3 years ago. She had been so poorly for quite some time and we couldn't work it out. Eventually, whilst channel hopping one evening, I stumbled across some food programme on channel 4 and realised that's what she had. A few tests later, we had our confirmation. It was a steep learning curve initially. You wouldn't believe what items contain gluten!! However, we seem to have it sussed now and I even have a completely separate area of the kitchen for 'gluten preparation' - even the slightest contamination can make people very ill.

Just as I had got to grips with the coeliac, she announced that she had become a vegan! Alana, my second daughter, then went vegetarian, leading me to a whole new set of challenges in the kitchen!
On the plus side, there are some major benefits:- Briony is feeling better than she has in years and has lost weight and is looking great; my food bill is considerably less; I too have lost weight and my digestion is much improved; we produce very little food waste and what we do produce goes on the compost heap and we are definitely reaching the 'five a day' target!!

I try not to use too many specialist ingredients which are pricey, but rather focus on using normal basic ingredients and avoiding gluten and animal products. We have meat or fish on a Sunday for the four of us who are still resolutely carnivorous and share the vegetables. Frankly, our roasts have always been more about the vegetables anyway! The non-meat eaters will have a nut cutlet, vegetarian sausages or veggie burgers with their veg quota.

This weeks menu:-
Butter bean cake and salad
Mushroom and bean hotpot
Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding
Thai vegetable curry and rice
Curried tofu burgers and chips
Spiced bean and vegetable stew
Lentil chilli and vegetable rice