Where growing, making & good living come together

Six things that have helped me live a simple, frugal life in 2011

Posted by on Saturday 31 December 2011 in meta | 11 comments

1. Making every day tasks easy for myself

If something’s easy to do, I’m so much more likely to do it when I’m in a rush or distracted. We’ve always been avid recyclers but for a long time after we moved to our new house, we didn’t have a recycling bin in the kitchen – stuff just stacked up on the window sill which was messy and annoying; a new bin has made it easier. Ditto always having a roll of masking tape & a pen next to the freezer has made us much better at labelling food as it’s going into the freezer – which in turn makes us much more likely to get it out and eat it again. Just something as simple as having that masking tape & pen on standby has improved our freezer usage no end! I’m going to look for more ways to make my life easier like that in 2012.

2. Having defined “rules”/mini-goals

Funny, I’m not a fan of arbitrary rules generally – I usually use them as a to list of things to rebel against ;) – but having a few rules that I’ve set for myself this year has worked well (possibly because there is no one to rebel against except for myself ;) )

I’ve tried to make them SMART rules or goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely. For example, in the past I’ve set myself a goal of “buy less clothes” – that’s not SMART, but this year’s “buy no more than 12 items of clothing in 2011” goal has been exactly that — I think it’s been a lot easier to stick to as a result. I also have two other rules when it comes to clothes: they must be at least 50% natural fibres (in practise this is typically 80+%) and I must try them on before I buy them (when I first started buying a lot of clothes, I was a pretty standard size/shape so everything fit me and I didn’t get into the habit of trying things on first. Now I’m not-so-standard and clothes sizes seem to vary greatly – and I know I’m not very good at taking things back – so I force myself to try before I buy). Overall, those three rules have really helped me cut back on my clothes buying – and overall, my desire to buy clothes. Now I struggle to find stuff I actually want to buy!

I’ve given myself another few rules/ongoing goals this year too – for every two books that come into the house, one has to go out; to put at least two meals (of two servings each) in the freezer each month to use as future ready meals (John does similar too so we should always have something in the freezer for lazy evenings); and to save as much as I spend on frivolous/luxury items – myVAT. Which leads neatly onto…

3. Keeping a spending diary

Keeping a track of all the money I spend has been very useful in making me conscious of my spending in 2011. Do I still splurge on silly things that I regret afterwards? Yes, occasionally, but it’s made me think twice about a lot of stuff too. Reviewing at the end of each month has made me especially aware of when I’ve had book heavy months, or craft supply heavy periods, and that’s made me more conscious in those areas the next month: not binged/purged, just generally aware. I’m definitely going to continue doing this in 2012.

4. Getting into a decluttering habit

As a lifelong hoarder, I’m really coming around to the idea of stashing less stuff. I’m never going to have a minimalist home – I like books and have too many hobbies for that to be the case – but as our November challenge revealed, there was (and still is) plenty that can go without it being the slightest bit painful. I think our eyes were really opened when we finally sold our old house over the summer – we moved most of our stuff out when we moved over here in September 2009 but we left the stuff we didn’t want over here — the junk tucked away under the eaves or filling up the tiny cellar — until we *had* to get rid of it before the sale was finalised. We had a lot of stuff that had sat there for a decade – just in case we needed it, but we hadn’t and instead it had just got in our way. As soon as we finished the final clear out there, we got rid of, amongst other things, a spare fridge-freezer, a spare separate freezer, two microwaves, two electric keyboards, a drum machine and various old computers. Lots of space freed up! We’ve found that once you start giving stuff away, it makes it easier to give more stuff away – and we’re hoping to stick to that in 2012. I would much rather other people got definitely good use out of something rather than us possibly maybe using it in the future.

5. Knowing what isn’t worth me bothering with

I think I’ve had a bit of an ongoing epiphany in 2011 about everyone having different motivations in life – to borrow another project management idea, they have different key drivers. I’ve always known it but it feels like I know it on a deeper level now, and whenever I wonder why someone is doing something completely different to how I’d do it, I now try to say “different drivers” rather than get all “what the heck… flaming idiots!” about it. I’m sure I do a lot of things that would get me branded a flaming idiot by other people too because I’ve got my own drivers and they’re not necessarily consistent/understandable. I am trying to become more aware of them though and that’s where this point comes in: I’m starting to become more aware about what is and isn’t worth me bothering with.

For example, I made soap at the start of the year because it’s something I’d wanted to try for a while. It was cheaper than buying the equivalent 100% olive oil soap from the soap but more expensive than generic cheap soap – and very time consuming (I’ve bought a cheap stick blender for next time) — but we’ve liked the result so I’ll do it again. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s worth me making my own homemade laundry detergent – I’d had that on my list to try but since we don’t use that much powder in the first place, weighing up the risks (it not getting the clothes clean enough for a while) and the potential gain (a saving of no more than £10 a year), I’ve decided that it’s not worth it for me.

I think this is an ongoing thing but I feel like I’ve made a start in 2011 on pinning down my wants/not-bothered-abouts. I think it’s important to realise the latter as much as the former so I don’t feel overwhelmed by having so much to do – and so I’m…

6. Not beating myself up about what I don’t do

I had so many things on my goals list at the start of the year which I’ve just not done in 2012. I had so many mini-goals throughout the year that I didn’t do either. I’m frankly a little disappointed in myself but really, if I’d wanted to do them that much, I’d have done them. (I think it’s the difference between how I want to see myself and what I’m really like – a id/ego/super-ego clash.) I’m disappointed about not meeting those goals but I’m not beating myself up about it. I’m not beating myself up about feeling meh mid-summer even though that means we don’t have much at all in the garden over winter, I’m not beating myself up about .. actually, I’m not going to list what I haven’t done because that’s exactly my point here: I’ve done a metric heap of stuff in 2011 – I should be concentrating on being happy about what I have accomplished and not getting bogged down in what I haven’t.

I need to do my December review and a statistical summary of the year – mmm numbers! mmm graphs! – but I think that’ll have to wait until 2012 now. See you all in the new year – I hope 2012 is as fab for you as it, hopefully, is going to be for me :)

Have you had a good year? What’s going to be your take-home thoughts/ideas/memories from 2011? Have you learnt/applied any new tricks or ideas that have made your life better?

Read More

A few things from the week

Posted by on Friday 30 December 2011 in meta | 5 comments

One. Whenever we tell people we don’t celebrate Christmas, the first question is often “what do you do on the 25th?” – we don’t do anything special, we just treat it like a normal day. A few years ago, when the 25th fell mid-week for a few years, we worked – it was a good day for doing things to busy websites or the like. Last year, it was a Saturday so we had some equally unobservant friends around for pizza and to watch dumb movies – a common Saturday event.

This year it was a Sunday so after a lie-in and a lengthy Lily-dog walk, I cleaned out the chicken coop as I do every Sunday morning – it was so warm that I was fine out there in just a t-shirt, quite different compared to last year! – then hoovered (the new bale of wood shavings had ‘leaked’ as it was carried through the house), then spent the afternoon gaming. Just a normal Sunday really.

Two. I spent that afternoon – and most of the last week in fact – in the World of Warcraft. I’ve jokingly called it a “holiday in Azeroth” – it’s changed a lot since the last time I was there two years ago and I wanted to have a look around to see what’s new – but it’s actually been more of a holiday than I reckoned. It’s as absorbing/disruptive to normal life as being out of the country for a week! I do like that I can create a character that cares about nature and spends as much time looking for herbs, crafting things, cooking & fishing as she does killing things :)

Considering there is a lot of WoW which feels like chores, it really pushes my buttons and I can play it non-stop for hours and hours. I’ve been complying a list of ways it does that – along with ways that my other favourite video games do too – to see if I can transfer some lessons from them onto my real life — make my real life to-do list as fun as running around killing murlocs.

Three. While I was gaming on Sunday, John went for lunch with his family – as he does whenever they all gather together – and returned with a huge pile of leftovers for us, so we’ve been able to join in the “when will we finish all the turkey?” game even without celebrating Christmas ourselves ;) We’ve had turkey & ham leftovers each day since then, and I made a turkey & chorizo jambalaya (like the one mentioned on here) last night which was yum. John also brought home leftover meat from people’s plates for Lily-dog & the feline duo, and leftover veg & fruit (including a LOT of melon) went down to the chickens. Glad we could use it up rather than it all going in the bin.

Four. The chickens’ new roof is working well – and by the amount of digging that’s going on in that area, I think they’re enjoying having a new dry part. If anyone sailing about 700miles south-east of Invercargill in New Zealand (the antipode of West Yorkshire) spots some chickens, they’ll be mine – having dug right through the earth.

Five. I bought some forced hyacinth bulbs a couple of weeks ago as and aside from getting a bit leggy/too heavy for their own good, they’re pretty – and so fragrant – at the moment. I am regretting it a bit though – I prefer plants to cut flowers but while these are in soil, they’re essentially as disposable as flowers. I will plant them out in the garden, to see if they’ve got enough energy to grow again in the future (apparently hyacinths are more likely to grow again in future years than something like tulips), but I’m not holding my breath over them.

What have you been up to this last week? Had a mountain of turkey to get through too? Any tips for helping my hyacinths along?

Read More

What is ‘local’ for you?

Posted by on Wednesday 7 December 2011 in meta | 8 comments

Yesterday on Not Dabbling In Normal, Xan wrote a post about ‘what is local?’. It’s actually something I’ve been meaning to write about for a while so I thought I’d ask you guys the same thing.

We know that it’s better to buy local food/resources and use local providers, because it means that our food, yarn or whatnot isn’t travelling halfway around the world to get to us and more money stays in our local economy rather than floating away to tax exiles overseas. But what is local to you?

Without thinking about it much, I guess I’d say local for me is things made, grown or raised in Yorkshire. It seems obvious: I live in Yorkshire and so stuff from Yorkshire is ‘local’ to me. But that’s a bit silly as there are lots of places in Lancashire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire that are nearer to me that the top reaches of North Yorkshire. I don’t think I’m the only one with that idea though – when we go to a farmers market, it’s mostly sellers from Yorkshire too. Presumably producers in Lincolnshire and Derbyshire have big cities to supply closer to home.

Perhaps a radius is a better option – according to Xan:

Joel Salation of Polyface Farm has a useful, practical definition of “local”– you can drive there and back in a day. This gives you about a 4-hour radius, or just under 300 miles.

I’m not denying that doesn’t make perfect sense for Joel and many other people but a 300 mile radius from me covers all of the UK, and the top of the Netherlands, Belgium, France and a whole lot of sea (the yellow circle on the map below). I’d put something from that 300 miles over something flown in from New Zealand or Kenya but it doesn’t feel terribly local really.

I’ve heard other people say, and particularly in British context, ‘local’ is about a 100mile radius (the green circle on the map for me). That seems closer to my idea of local and seems practical too. But if I lived on the coast in Norfolk, or up in the highlands of Scotland, a 100miles radius would include too much sea/mountainous moorland to result in a lot of produce.

I think what I’m surmising is that local means different to different people, depending on where they are – what does it mean to you?

What do you consider ‘local’? Assuming you’re unable to buy everything locally, what do you prioritise to buy locally or from local suppliers? Do you think you could survive (and enjoy it!) on just local supplies?

(Radii produced on the “Free Map Tools” website in case anyone wants to try making their own.)

(Photo by e pants)

Read More

November 2011 – end of month review

Posted by on Wednesday 30 November 2011 in goals | 3 comments

I’ve surprised myself by how focused I’ve been this month. I’ll talk about it more below but this is what my 105,000 NaNoWriMo words looks like:

(It’s slightly bigger in “real life” ;) )

Goals in 2011 progress

I’ve been so focused on NaNoWriMo this month that I’ve done little else. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that some stuff just isn’t going to happen in 2011. Nevermind.

November mini-goals

I completed three of my mini-goals – the Declutter November challenge (I’ll post more on that tomorrow, when I’ve got rid of my final things!), the batch cooking (mostly a really nice lamb stew) and NaNoWriMo. I’ve loved doing NaNoWriMo – it’s taken up a lot of my time but I hit the 50,000 word mark on Day 11, which both surprised and delighted me. As it’s set before I was born, I’ve had to do a lot more research for this story than I have for anything else and that has been a lot of fun too – I have read about such a wide variety of things and come across some amazing resources online. My one regret is that the story still isn’t finished (which was the whole point of doing it for me) but I’ve got enough weight of it behind me now that I really do want to finish it, so I’ll continue through December. I’m still not sure whether it’s going to be worth editing and polishing but I’m glad I’ve written it anyway. It’s also helped me smash through my extended writer’s block and I’ve actually written a short theatre piece, and planned another two, during the month as well.

The problem has been that I’ve enjoyed NaNoWriMo far too much and not made time for anything else. The bacon hasn’t been made, the crochet tops still only half-finished, and not all my winter to-do to-did – but I think it’s been worth it over all. I’ll do them in December :)

Buy less than 12 items of clothing in 2011

I came into November having bought 11 things in 2011 and while I’ve randomly seen a few “oooh!” things this month, I’ve been very clearly telling myself “if you buy that skirt you’ll probably never wear etc, that’ll be the last thing you can buy in 2011” — and that’s been a surprisingly good motivator for keeping my purse in my pocket. I’ve bought no new clothes* so I’m still on 11 in 2011!

* I did buy some exempt socks as my sock drawer has seen a good number of comrades fall over the last few months – in the summer I don’t mind holey socks (and generally don’t wear socks that much anyway), but in the winter, I get annoyed when I can see more feet than cloth. I did go out of my way to find better quality socks than just replacing them with cheap ones – who knows how they’ll last but they certainly feel better quality (thicker, better stretch) at this point.

Growing & Chickens

The garden is asleep for winter – well, it should be, I’ve seen a disturbing amount of new growth out there — buds on trees, spring bulbs starting to peek through… There are a few leeks still to pick but everything else is finished for the year now. The chickens helped me clean up the last of the green things earlier in the month – and we discovered that if they eat a lot of achocha, it taints their eggs. Unfortunately we discovered that the day after I’d dragged the whole massive wall of achocha down to their run – Lily-dog got the next day’s eggs so we didn’t accidentally make them into a cake. She didn’t mind one bit :)

Two of the chickens – Ginger and Ms Mauve – have had partial moults but seem to be on the home straight with that now. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t start laying again until the new year though (or after that if it gets cold). Because of them being out of action, the short days slowing things down generally and our team getting that bit older (the ISAs are nearly two now), we’ve only been getting two or three eggs a day this month — 73 in total (or 2.43 eggs on average a day). Not the end of the world, still enough for us but we can’t give as many away as normal.

As always happens at this time of year, my mind is turning to next year – I need to decide on what fruit tree (choices: plum, damson or cherry) to add to the garden, which boring shrubs to replace with more soft fruit bushes (probably raspberries), and whether to get more staggered season strawberries or whether I should go for a glut for jams… Decisions, decisions!


Another reason I’ve loved NaNoWriMo – it really helped curve my spending after an expensive October. I was too focused on my writing to spend time browsing online shops or getting tempted on eBay. No expensive new books or craft supplies! At £128.01, it was by far my lowest month of spending all year – hurrah!

My biggest spending was on transport (taking the little stray dog to the vets and I missed the last bus home after class two weeks in a sodding row – meaning expensive taxis, boo) – £52.80/41% – and eating out (£34.70/27%). We’ve had a couple of lots of take-out and eaten out at restaurants a couple of times too. I’m annoyed about the taxis but I don’t mind so much about the food as it’s all be good food, not just junk. The other things I spent money on were socks, some things for work, and the vet’s bill for the small lost doggy.

All in all, it’s felt like a productive month – but I think December needs to include more bacon & crochet, and if I can stick to spending just as little as this month, I’ll be very happy.

How was your November? I hope yours was as good as mine!

(Oh, and Alexis, Martine & anyone else who NaNoWriMo-ed – congrats on winning too :) )

Read More

Things I’m get unduly excited about at the moment

Posted by on Friday 18 November 2011 in meta | 2 comments

The lovely people who have been reading this blog for a while may be aware that I get unduly excited about strange things. Like freshly cleared out chicken coops. And stupid puns. And graphs. And really obscure references in post tags for others in the small set of people who like both cartoons & mycology.

ANYWAY. It’s Friday afternoon (singalong Friday afternoon in our office) so I thought I’d think about some of things that made me all happy-happy-joy-joy. This is what I’ve been getting unduly excited about recently:

1. The pointy bit on, say, tomato puree tube lids that you turn upside down and use to pierce the foil on the top of the tube bit. (I wonder if they have an actual name because that’s kinda long winded.)

I used one the other day and was reminded of the genius – it does the job perfect and safely. I don’t have to hunt around for a knife or similar – and risks stabbing myself when said knife inevitably slips. It probably doesn’t add much, if anything, to the production time or costs (since the lids are just formed plastic anyway), and doesn’t impact the level of waste or whatever. Plus, if it’s a shaped spike, it makes the tomato puree come out in the fancy pattern, like a considerably less gross version of these. (Warning: link contains poo humour and a waste-of-plastic “gag gift”.)

2. How much quicker it is to defrost stuff in a bowl of water than just on the side

A 1lb/500g pack of diced lamb fully defrosted in about an hour the other day, versus probably all day if I’d not put it in water. Woo. And then I turned that lamb into a lovely casserole thing with lots of veggies and chickpeas. Double woo.

3. The thread slicer on a sewing machine.

I like to jump right in when it comes to crafts and rarely plan ahead enough to remember to grab a pair of scissors. And even if I do, it’s time consuming to pick them up whenever I need to make a quick snip. So the little (shielded) sharp bit of metal on the side of the machine is wonderful for me.

4. Seam/stitch rippers

And similarly, seam or stitch rippers, whatever you want to call them. So small yet so useful!

5. The fact that we might get to see the sea tomorrow

Great on two counts: 1) the sea, weeeee! and 2) dog in sea = hilarious.

6. That when I came to search for a picture of a tomato puree tube for the picture up top, by completely coincide I ended up on Recycle This and a photo I took two and half years ago.

I thought, “oh, I’ll use that, we use Morrisons tomato puree after all – oh! that’s our tomato puree!”

I heart internet coinky-dinks.

What are you getting disproportionately giddy about at the moment?

Read More

A found hound

Posted by on Tuesday 8 November 2011 in meta | 11 comments

Anyone who follows me on Twitter (particularly my @louisa_ account, which is where I do my non-simple living wittering) will know that most of my yesterday was swallowed up by finding a dog.

We were just coming back from our Lily-dog walk when this little hound came hurtling up our road towards the very busy A-road at the top. We stopped her just before the junction and found she was shaking with fear. We didn’t really notice until an hour or so later but she was bleeding from the mouth – she’d either been hit by something or run into something very hard and snapped one of her fangs.

John ran home with Lily and we used her lead to bring the little dog back to the safety of our front garden while we tried to find her owner. The dog calmed down a lot when we popped her on the lead and walked well beside me, making us think she’s used to that and not free-roaming.

We found her tag: her name is Kia and there was a phone number on it too – but when we dialled the number, the line was dead. I spent the next hour walking her around the street (and calling in the woods) to see if anyone was looking for her, and asking every person with a dog who walked past if they recognised her. As I’m sure is the case in most areas, everyone with a dog is at least on nodding terms with everyone else with a dog, and many can link dog and human. While I was doing that, John phoned the (non-emergency number) police and the dog warden, but no one had reported her missing and the dog warden wasn’t available to pick her up from us “until tomorrow”.

By five ish, I hadn’t had any luck finding her owners on the street and I was very conscious about the blood around her mouth – bloody saliva rather than dripping blood at this point, so I took her up to the vets for a quick checkup (which is where we found out about the broken tooth) and for a microchip scan (there wasn’t one). Unfortunately I had to wait for longer than expected for a lift back from the vets and Kia got stressed out waiting: the traffic, the dark… She jumped on my knee but my hugs weren’t calming enough and the anxiety aggravated her bleeding tooth – it started dripping with blood, big dark drips all over my jeans and the floor. We were both very grateful when we finally got home.

We fed her – soft food, because of her tooth – and left her to sleep on the sofa in our office yesterday evening (with regular visits & wee breaks), and then overnight. She is very sweet and seems largely house-trained (she weed & did a little poo on newspaper overnight, but that’s possibly because our rhythms are out of sync), but we didn’t want her in the rest of the house because we don’t know how she is with cats (she’s met them and not gone for them but better safe than sorry) and we thought that Lily-dog might appreciate some alone time with us.

John and I always stop for lost dogs, or dogs walking down the road by themselves. We always have done, even well before we could think about having our own dog – I think because there is always the possibility that if we couldn’t find its owner, it would force our hand into keeping it. I think we both felt that way about Kia when it became apparent that there wasn’t a breathless owner with an empty leash just around the corner — we’ve idly talked about wanting another dog (usually when I’ve been looking at spaniel rescue websites – a naughty habit!) but know that everything is pretty settled in the house at the moment, and it would be a bit silly to rock the boat just for another pooch. But when one turns up like this… However, it’s been a really useful lesson: I’ve learnt that I don’t want another dog right now. Lily-dog has separation anxiety and needs a lot of attention, she likes being an only child (she is fine about sharing us with the cats but doesn’t even like sharing me with the chickens!) and I don’t think it would be right by her for us to bring anyone else into the house as anything more than a guest. She seemed jealously mopey whenever we paid any attention to Kia and while she is the most gentle dog in the world normally, I could tell she’d get grouchier over time and that might lead to snapping. That said, she actually got on with her much better than she gets on with most dogs: not as shy as she normally is, even around our friends’ much smaller Westie.

John took the two of them on a short walk together this morning and he stopped more people to ask if they knew her – they didn’t but she got lots of hugs, and even one half-offer of adoption. Then the dog warden arrived out of the blue at our house about an hour ago now. We had been worried about her going to the dog warden since they only keep the animals for seven days, and if they can’t be rehomed then they’re put to sleep. I also have a stereotype in my head of a gruff, angry man – but the guy who turned up here was lovely. He sat down and had hugs with her before leaving, and assured us that she’s exactly the type of dog who the Dogs Trust/RSPCA love to pick up: sweet, house-trained, not too big, very pretty in a scruffy, mad-eyebrows type way and in possession of the second softest ears in the world (jealous Lily-dog’s teddy bear ears still has to have the number one slot or she’ll sulk. Kia gets bonus points though for having actually effective ears, not like Lily’s hard-to-position flaps ;)).

She’s clearly someone’s pet and I hope she finds her way home again, or at least to another loving home (we’ve left our posters up around the area, so we can pass on that she’s with the dog warden or even if that half offer of adoption becomes more serious). A few people – offline and online – have suggested that she might be a victim of the recession: someone pushed her out because they couldn’t afford to keep her any more. That’s another reason why I wanted to track down the owner ourselves – because I don’t want to even think that someone who lives near me would abandon a trusting pet near a main road. But I’ll admit I’ve learnt something a little dark about myself too: I can now see why other people don’t stop to help animals. We had to have/risk somewhere to contain an unknown dog for an unknown period of time, I had to take on a charge at the vet because I couldn’t leave her bleeding (it wasn’t much, just a nurse consultation charge even though I saw the vet, but if she’d needed emergency treatment for a cut or something, I’d probably have paid for that too), and we’ve put in a lot of time trying to find her owners, taking her to the vet etc. If she’d been more likely to potentially face being put to sleep at the end of seven days, we’d have been reluctant to hand her and would have had to find a shelter or someone to take her instead. We’ll still help stray dogs in the future – but I really can see why other people might not feel able to take it on.

Why I’m writing this here: I know that most/many/all the people who read this love their animals dearly but just in case anyone is in financial dire straits and needs to give up their pets, PLEASE contact a shelter about it or re-home it directly yourself. Shelters and rescue places may have a waiting list but they make it clear they don’t judge people about their reasons for giving up their animals. If your pet needs medical care and you get housing or council tax benefit (the actual benefit, not just a reduction), you might be able to use a PDSA for free/very cheap treatment. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t just abandon them :(

UPDATE: just as I’m finishing up here, we’ve had a call from the dog warden – her owner has called to claim her! Hurrah! Apparently she got seriously spooked by fireworks (so maybe even over the weekend) and the poor scaredy pooch JUMPED OUT OF HER OWNER’S BEDROOM WINDOW (which may explain the broken tooth). We’re so glad she’s found her way home though :)

Read More