Saturday, December 28, 2013

These boots were made for walking



 Looking back over 2013, one of the things I'm most happy about is how much walking I did. I started off the year feeling unfit. Whenever I did any walking over a mile or so I'd get out of breath and sweaty. It wasn't enjoyable to walk so I avoided it where possible.

I wanted to change so I decided to challenge myself to walk more in 2013. I enlisted my Dad's help to join me on a weekly walk. JD joined us once he was back from visiting family in March. We walked, usually from a walk book, at least 3 miles each week. At first it was hard work and my legs ached for days after each walk. But gradually I could walk further with less aching. I felt generally fitter and got less sweaty when we walked. I started really looking forward to each walk and missed it when we couldn't go due to weather.

Which wasn't often, we walked in all weather. Even snow :)





 In the school holidays (with only a bit of complaining) we got the kids to come along too and had some really nice days out walking.

I especially enjoyed getting to spend more time with my Dad. We'd talk as we walked (when I had enough breath) about anything and everything. It was also a good opportunity for him to get to know JD better. I know my Dad loves nature as much as me so it was great to be appreciating it together.



Another thing that came from walking lots was that I lost weight. Without really trying I lost 2 stone. It felt great to feel fitter and to see the difference in my clothes getting looser. It spurred me on to eat healthier and to be more active in the rest of my life. A thing I'm going to continue into 2014.



All in all we did 37 walks throughout the year. A total of 153 miles. I'm really proud of myself for sticking with it, even on weeks I didn't really feel like it. I couldn't have done it without the help of JD and my Dad. Thanks guys xx


I feel like I've got to know a lot more of the countryside where I live. We've seen some lovely views and visited lots of places I've never been though they're close to home. We've walked through tons of mud and got lost several times but I've loved every minute of it. I'm looking forward to lots more walking in 2014! :)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Homemade gifts

I love the idea of making gifts to give to my family for birthdays and Christmas. They're often cheaper than shop bought gifts and they can be personalised to suit the recipient more too. Plus they get the added bonus of imagining me sat on the sofa swearing to myself because of some fiddly thing taking ages to make. Hah!

The last couple of years I've sporadically made gifts but lack of organisation has let me down. I leave the buying of materials too late and then panic that I haven't enough time to make something. I have plenty of ideas of things to make as gifts so that's not a problem. I think I've made about a 3rd of presents this year but I'd like to do better. Next year I'm going to challenge myself to make at least one thing to give each family member. Even if it's just some biscuits to go with something I bought.

Another thing to think about is what people think about getting a home-made gift. I really like getting something that someone has made just for me and put time/effort into. Not everyone feels the same though.

Making something to give as a gift feels much more personal and satisfying to me. I feel I care more if they like what I've given. I also worry more that they hate it, haha.

Here's some of the things I've made as gifts over the last two years:


 I made these huge bean bag cushions for Leigh and Erin last Christmas. The material was a reversible duvet cover I got from a charity shop for £2. Really easy to make too.


 Chocolate and coconut truffles for my Mum to go with her birthday gift this year. I got the cards made up to put on anything I make to make sure I get credit for homemaking things, hehe.



 I made this cushion for my Mother-in-Law Andina as a gift. It's made from a pillow-case I bought in a charity shop plus red material and buttons I already had.


 Giant chocolate buttons for my nephew Jake's birthday. I bagged and ribboned them up too. You could vary these to give to anyone who likes chocolate. Really simple to make but look great.


 A jar of lemon curd for my Step-mum Maureen. I think this was 3rd time lucky after making a lot of green lemon curd.


 A hamper for my Mum for Mother's Day. Hamper's are a fairly pricey thing to make but can be very personal to the recipient at least.


 A felt Panda pencil case for my panda-crazy daughter Leigh. The felt cost about £2 and the zip was £1.


A fluffy blue scarf for my sister Cas last Christmas I think. It looks and feels really nice but the wool was horribly fiddly to knit with. I got the wool from a charity shop 50p a ball x3.


A knitted wrist cuff with skull buttons for my sister Sally's birthday last year. It was one of the first presents I made and I was really pleased with it.

Looking back through the pictures of gifts I've made has made me feel more determined to make more next year. It's doable with more preparation and less procrastination. Wish me luck! :)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Experiments with my Slow Cooker

My Mum bought me my slow cooker several years ago now and I really enjoy it. At first it was mostly used for stews and casseroles. Then we advanced to pork for pulled pork and gammon joints. But still I'd like to get more use out of it. I love using it because it's so lazy yet smugly organised. You can just throw a load of ingredients in there and then be all prepared when tea time comes around.

I found a list of slow cooker recipes and decided to try a couple of them out. I picked things that I was suspicious wouldn't work that well.

First up is Slow Cooker fudge! ---> Slow Cooker Fudge


 


You put all the ingredients in the slow cooker. Cook for two hours and then leave to cool. Put it in a dish to go in the fridge to set...and wait...and wait...and then eat it with a spoon instead. This happens quite often when I try to make fudge so I shouldn't have been surprised it happened this time. I'm never sure if the problem is the fudge or our patience in waiting for it to set, haha :D


Next I had a go at this bread recipe ---> Slow Cooker Bread

I love the idea of slow cooked bread because bread making has never been something I've managed that well. When I'm baking something I like to mix it up, pop it in the oven and voila it's done. With bread you have to leave it and keep coming back to it which puts me off.




You basically combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Line the slow cooker with baking paper and put the dough in. Cook on high for a couple of hours and it's done. And it works really well. The recipe says you can brown the bread under a grill when it's done because it's a bit on the pasty looking side. I liked it as it was. The crust was thick and chewy the only problem being that I'd forgotten to grease the paper and it was all stuck to the bread. Oops! Apart from that I was really pleased with how it turned out.

I'll have to keep my eye out for more slow cooker recipes to try :)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Living Simply with Children

I finished reading this book a few days ago.



JD bought it and read it a month or so ago and then passed it on to me to read. Living simply is something we're already doing and interested in so it was good to read a book someone had written on this topic. The concept behind the book is downshifting your life to free up time to spend with your family. Working less, spending less and creating a life where you can spend your time doing the things that matter to you most.



I've always felt that spending time with your kids is the best thing you can do for them. I'm always trying to think of different simple, inexpensive activities we can do as a family. We enjoy baking together, going on walks, fishing in the river and lots of other things. Yet, still I worry how my children feel about having less 'stuff' bought for them than their friends. It's hard to live simply in such a material world. I want them to grow up remembering a fun childhood spent with their family and not feeling deprived or resentful that they didn't have the latest smart phone. Reading this book did reassure me that sticking to my own personal values about 'spoiling' my children is the right thing to do.



The book tackles lots of problems you face in trying to bring up children to have good values. It gives plenty of ideas to help you focus on the things that are important to you. I feel like we've already made some changes towards living in a more simple way in our family but I've got a few ideas from this book that I'd like to try out.

  • Having a weekly family time where all 'screen' activities (TV, videos internet etc) are banned for a few hours.
  • Making my kids more globally aware so they realise how children from other countries live compared to them.
  • Re-thinking our Christmas activities to make it less commercial.
  • Helping the kids focus on what they want to spend their time doing.
  • Teach them better money maintenance.



But most of all I want to continue to spend time with my family, getting out into nature, talking, laughing and having fun. The general belief that a successful life is one where you earn lots of money, own lots of stuff and have a big house or car couldn't be further from the truth for what I want from my life. I want to lead a simple, happy life and get to spend as much time with my family as possible...and hopefully they want to spend time with me because that would be awkward, haha :D

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Greenfingers, wah wah wahhhh

She's the (wo)man, the man with the Green touch etc etc. Yes, it's true. This summer I actually grew things from seeds and I'm quite impressed with myself about it. It's the first time I'd tried to grow my own vegetables and while they weren't exactly prize winners, they were edible. Which is all that counts :D

I've always wanted to try growing vegetables but I have a bad track record with house plants and no garden. I found a book at the library about growing vegetables in pots so decided that would suit us as we've got a small yard at the back of the house. I went to Homebase and bought a couple of planters, seeds and some soil.


I chose carrots and lettuce to start with.



I put some soil in the planters, added the seeds as instructed and watered them. I think I made a mistake in not putting enough soil in the carrot planter and worried they wouldn't grow.




I watered them every day and pretty soon they looked like this:



Hurrah, real live growing things! The lettuce was great and we ate it in salads or sandwiches. It'd grown quite quickly which pleased me as I'm quite impatient. I'm not sure if it would've grown bigger but it was tasty as it was. The carrots took longer and I ended up picking them before they were fully grown as it was starting to get really cold and I worried something terrible might happen if they got caught out in the frost. My gardening knowledge is limited so I'm not sure what the terrible thing would be, haha.



The carrots were tiny but they tasted really carroty. I was pleased just to have grown something successfully from seeds. I've got big plans for next year. I'm going to start planting earlier in the year and have bigger planters. Any tips are appreciated :)



CHALLENGE UPDATE:

I managed to go the whole of October without buying anything new. Spookily a week or so after my post about needing an umbrella I won one in a Facebook giveaway, which was very handy. The challenge to not buy anything new was easier than I thought. I bought a few second hand books from charity shops. My walking boots wore a hole in them but I acquired a pair off my Dad that he no longer uses. The hardest thing was that I needed a new winter coat and it was getting colder and colder as the month went on. I looked around loads of charity shops to try find one and scoured eBay for a used one but no luck. I bought a new one on November 1st instead and really enjoyed it's warmth. The truth of it is that I don't often buy new things already so it didn't take much adjustment.

I think I could generally go without buying anything new but buying things second hand takes a lot more effort with looking around to try find what you need. I was relieved when November came round to just go online and buy what I wanted quickly and easily. I'm going to continue to try buy most things I need second hand or from the market instead of buying things online though as I want to support local sellers rather than huge companies.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Simple Pleasures




I believe that the best things in life are all the small things. The things that make you feel happy or remind you that you have a good life. Or even something that makes you realise you don't have a terrible life or that you're lucky to be happy and healthy (or alive).

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago. I was in a bad mood, feeling frustrated and angry about a difficult meeting I'd just had. As I was walking down the street on my way back home I was frowning and feeling cross. Then I noticed some fallen autumn leaves swirling about in the wind. I continued walking thinking about how I love the noise they make as they scrape around in the wind, kind of rattling along as they go. Then I got to a low wall where the leaves had blown and accumulated so I kicked my feet through them and watched them scatter away swirling even more in the breeze. I was smiling and feeling happy, my bad mood had dissolved. It felt good.


I hope everyone has simple pleasures that remind them that life is good. I hope everyone can find the time to notice them and to really enjoy how a simple thing can make you feel happy.

This blog has a list of simple pleasures ---> http://zenhabits.net/75-simple-pleasures-to-brighten-your-day/ I enjoyed reading through them even though it includes drinking coffee - bleurgh!

Some of my simple pleasures are things like:

Drinking water that's been chilled in the fridge
Eating chocolate and slowly letting it melt in my mouth
Having my feet in cool water on a hot day
Making food for someone else
Kicking through autumn leaves
Being outside walking about in nature
Looking through old photos of my kids
Checking something off my to-do list

I could go on (because making lists is also a simple pleasure for me) but you get the idea. If you haven't already done so today, enjoy a simple pleasure and feel happy to be alive :D

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why We Don’t Have TV by JD



We don’t have TV. More specifically, we don’t have live TV. We’ve got a TV, which we use for Netflix, our Wii, and DVDs. I’m just going to use ‘TV’ to mean ‘live TV’ here, because you’re a busy reader and that’s going to save you several words throughout this post and then you can more quickly get on with your important business.

There are a couple big reasons we don’t have TV. First: advertising. I’ll probably write another post on what I think about advertising, but for now I’ll just say that I believe advertising mostly exists to make you want something you didn’t know you wanted (and certainly don’t need), which results in money transferring itself from your pocket to the pocket of somebody who already has more than enough of it. Advertising does this in a lot of frankly ridiculous ways, like ads for toys showing all the children playing with it enjoying themselves so much they look actually crazy. You’re never going to enjoy that My Little Pony Playset as much as the insane child in the commercial, so don’t waste your money. As far as I can tell, Leigh and Erin generally aren’t interested in fad toys or fashions, and I believe a big factor in that is us not having TV so they’re not exposed to as much advertising as they would be otherwise.

Secondly, the attitudes displayed in a lot of TV shows are just awful. I’m talking about supposedly harmless shows like Victorious on Nickelodeon, which is about a group of high school kids that display a lot of attitudes I don’t think are ok for anyone to have, neither adults or children.  I don’t know this as a verified scientific fact, but I believe that there’s a part of your brain that doesn’t realize things on TV aren’t real. That’s why movies can be scary, because that part of your brain thinks oh my God there’s a killer cannibal rapist in this room with me right now Jesus Christ turn it off make it stop. In the same way, I think that part of your brain doesn’t realize a situation in a sitcom doesn’t actually involve real people (Not that they’re robots. Except for Bender, who is actually a robot.), and in some small way you’re influenced by the mean or stupid things those characters do.

That doesn’t mean I think TV doesn’t have redeeming qualities, though. There are some very entertaining shows, very educational shows, and sometimes you’re tired after a long day at work and just want to watch George Foreman infomercials. As I said earlier, we have Netflix, which we use for watching documentaries and TED talks (http://www.ted.com/talks), as well as plenty of movies. One day there’ll be George Foreman infomercials too, but for now we just do without. On the plus side, not having TV saves us £15 a month, and if you’ve got more than the basic package it could save you a lot more.

The main differences with Netflix are that there aren’t any advertisements and it’s not a passive entertainment stream. With TV, it encourages you to just sit there watching whatever’s on, even if you’ve seen it before, even if you’re not really that interested, because they want you to see more of their advertisements. With Netflix or any on-demand service, you’re making a conscious choice about what you want to watch, and when that finishes, you stop watching.

Not everyone is the same as us, and for many of you TV might work out just fine and fit in well with your life. For us, though, we’ve been without TV for almost two years now, and we don’t have any plans to bring it back.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hungry Planet: What the Jacksons Eat

My husband JD and I have long been interested by a series of pictures showing what people from different countries eat.

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

It shows families from 28 countries with the food they eat laid out and also details how much they spend.

Such as this picture of a family from Germany:


And this family from Japan:



It's really fascinating to compare our shopping habits with each of the other families. Recently we decided to show the pictures to the kids to show them how other countries eat compared to us. They were really interested in what foods they ate and enjoyed spotting familiar brands among the foreign ones. We asked them which countries seemed to eat healthily and whether they thought they got good value for money. It was great to feel like they understand which foods are good for them and which aren't. Although I think they wished we ate like one of the families from America that showed 2 massive takeaway pizzas!

This led to us wondering what our weekly food shop would look like all laid out like in the pictures. We shop twice a week, once at the supermarket and once at the local market so we had to do ours in two pictures. The week we took the pictures we spent £50. We usually spend between £50-60 a week but that week we already had some meat in the freezer to use up.


Our food shopping looks like less than most countries but we make a lot of food from ingredients like flour etc which we only buy every few weeks. Also we don't buy Coke in bottles every week but we saw these at the market and enjoyed the novelty of glass bottles! We make our own wraps mostly but bought these to make quesadillas as ours aren't as aesthetically pleasing, haha.

I feel like £60 a week is reasonable for a family of four. I feel curious how much other families spend on food. How much do YOU spend? :)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Wet Start to a New Challenge

We're a family who enjoys being thrifty but still fairly often I find myself wanting to treat myself to something new. I have an Amazon wishlist I keep topped up with things I'd like and although that list is really for family to give them ideas for gifts, I occasionally find myself looking through it with a view to spending some money. The trouble is that having a list of 'wants' makes me want them more.

Buying something can give you a buzz but more often these days I feel better if I know I'm buying something second hand and making use of something someone else didn't want. We seem to live in a world where our consumer culture pressures us into replacing perfectly fine possessions with newer shinier things for almost tenuous reasons. We're made to feel inadequate if we don't have the newest or most fashionable possessions.

So, I've decided to challenge myself to not buying anything new in October. I'm going to try go the whole month only buying things used or second-hand. Not including food, that would be gross!

Sounds good, right? Well, it all nearly went horribly wrong yesterday. I had to go into town for an eye-test and it was pouring down with rain. I mean really raining too not just a shower.



The kids had left for school taking the only two umbrellas in the house. I don't drive so I was going to get very wet on the way to the bus stop. Not that it'd help me immediately, my first thought was to Google umbrellas and buy myself one so in the future I wouldn't have this problem. I found a nice skull one for £12.



Then I remembered my challenge. Bah! I decided to have a look in some charity shops while I was in town. I dashed from shop to shop looking for an umbrella but there wasn't one in the 6 shops I checked. I really REALLY wanted to just go into Primark and buy one for a fiver. I didn't though, instead I just got wetter and wetter feeling more and more jealous of people around me with umbrellas. I even daydreamed about snatching an umbrella out of the hands of a smug looking old lady I passed.

I hope this challenge gets easier. Haha :D

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sal's 30th Birthday

It's my youngest sister's birthday soon so I'd been trying to think of what to get her for it. I really enjoy making presents as they're a bit more personal so I decided to make her a hamper. She loves coffee (I can't stand the stuff) and also reading so I made that my theme.

I found a great recipe for Chocolate Brownie Biscotti (http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/6160/brownie-biscotti.aspx) which supposedly goes well with coffee. Perfect!



The biscotti was easy to make and delicious. Well, you have to sample one when you're baking!


I bagged up the biscotti in a cellophane bag with ribbon to make it look fancy. I'd bought Sal a book from her Amazon wishlist so that went in the hamper too. I added a bar of her favourite chocolate, some more biscuits, a cafetiere and a few packets of coffee.



Next I wrapped up the hamper in cellophane, tied it up with more ribbon and wrote out a tag.


I really hope she likes it and doesn't find out about the biscotti I sampled :D

Sunday, August 4, 2013

To market, to market

Every Wednesday we venture out to our local market to buy our fruit and vegetables for the week. It's less convenient than getting them from the supermarket with the rest of our groceries but it makes us feel good.

In our town on the high street we used to have a grocer shop which we used sporadically to buy the odd onion we'd forgotten in the weekly shop or to pick up some strawberries to have with ice cream in the summer.

Last year the grocer shop closed down and we later found out he'd gone bankrupt. Immediately we wished we'd shopped there more often and done our bit to support his business. Now we can't and another useful shop has vanished from our high street to be replaced by an estate agents. Which is a bit crap really!

Shopping for our fruit & veg at the market makes us feel like we're supporting local farmers and businesses. I've started buying eggs there too and other stuff now and again.





We usually spend roughly £10 on what we need for the week. By picking out what looks good or what's at a good price that week we seem to get a lot for our money. Which I really like.




The kids have a tenuous enjoyment of fruit and veg that has to be encouraged a lot, so at the moment we're doing a 5-a-day challenge with them. If they manage to eat their 5 fruit and veg a day they can choose what snacks to eat the next day instead of being limited to just two snacks a day instead. So far Leigh has managed it 3-4 days a week and Erin has done it once. But they're both trying so that's great :)

Last month I decided to have a go at growing my own veg and the kids were also keen to try growing something. I'll post pictures in a future post so you can see how we got on!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Making chicken burgers with Erin

My youngest daughter Erin used to have a very limited range of foods she'd eat but slowly over the last year or so she's started eating more and more different foods. It makes for an easier tea-time and makes us feel better about the food she eats.

Chicken nuggets and burgers used to be a firm favourite with her. In fact for a long time she wouldn't entertain eating chicken unless it was breaded. Now she's keen to try chicken in new ways and even eats chicken curry.

We recently found a meat grinder in our local charity shop for £5 and snapped it up with the intention of making our own chicken mince to make chicken burgers. Why is it you can't buy chicken mince in supermarkets? It's strange!

The meat grinder didn't have any instructions but after a bit of trial and lots of error we got it working. Luckily JD was on hand to persevere with it as I was ready to give up and take the grinder back to the charity shop :D

So here's us making chicken burgers:





I chopped the chicken up into smallish pieces so it'd go easily through the grinder mechanism. I did this because Erin wasn't keen on actually touching the raw chicken.



Erin really enjoyed mincing the chicken up but said it looked gross. So guess who got the job of forming it into patties, yeah me! The chicken mince was moist enough to form into patties without any other ingredients. It'd probably be good to add salt and pepper or some other seasonings but we really wanted to try the chicken plain and see how it tasted.





The chicken burgers were great, really tasty. For some bizarre reason we didn't have them in bread buns but I imagine they'd be even better like that. Erin enjoyed them and didn't even mention that they weren't breaded. Cooking them in a frying pan gives them a nice browned outer coating and they stay quite juicy inside. So this is a great way to feed your kids a healthier no additives etc version of a food they already love.

Since making these burgers we've also made beef mince successfully too so it seems to be a fiver well spent so far. I'll have to think of some more uses for chicken mince too. Watch this space! :)