Friday, 8 December 2017

Frugal Friday...

I was reminded by Sue over at Our New Life in the Country of the number of folk busily counting up sealed pot savings at this time of year. I assume the tradition of this happening in December originates from people using the money to spend on Christmas? That seems logical I suppose, although that's not where ours goes, but I can see for many folk the money they amass in their sealed pot might well pay for Christmas presents or some of the other additional expenditure that gets accrued at this time of year.

Some folk have a "literal" sealed pot - a jar or tin with a slot cut in the lid and the top all sealed up to avoid the temptation to dip in. We prefer to use our family of Pigs for our "coin" savings - one for my £2 coins, 1 for random change, and another for "roadkill" - the money we find discarded in the streets as we go about our business. Oh, and the sheep - he eats 5p's, obviously. Our "Sealed pot" though is in fact a virtual pot - and it's where we sweep the odd pounds and pennies from our bank accounts away to, along with cashback earned on things bought jointly, and interest earned on any of the bank accounts too. not much physical counting involved in that come 1st December, obviously, but no paying bags of cash into the bank required, either. Each time we log into our accounts through the year we simply round down the current accounts to the nearest £5 and then transfer the relevant amount to the VSP account. It means that our accounts stay at nice round figures (which pleases my slight OCD tendancies) and also builds to a nice little sum of "extra" money which can fund - or at least part fund - something exciting.

Although we don't use the money for specific Christmas related things - I've always stuck to 1st December as the start of the new "VSP Year" - I started saving this way after seeing a challenge on the MoneySavingExpert forums some years ago - that was the date they used, so I did the same, and I've just kept on that way ever since.  Both last year and this, the money saved has gone towards helping to pay for our Christmas trip to the Hebrides - this year it will be covering car hire costs, food and any general spending money, and as it totalled a satisfying £475, it will easily cover those costs! It's a great way of funding extra fun and all from money that would otherwise just get frittered, or eventually swept over to our long term savings accounts.

Our savings Pigs (And sheep!) all get counted up in the Spring - as those have always been used for our main holiday, and that has traditionally always been somewhere between Easter & June, so this worked out to be a good time to do the count. Like Sue & her Lovely Hubby we also refuse to relinquish 10% of our hard-earned to the manufacturers of a machine that will count it for us - instead we sit ourselves down and count the lot between us, then MrEH takes it painstakingly 5 bags at a time to pay it into the Building Society and it gets transferred across to the holiday savings account from there.

The other way we still save which was also something we started when we were working to pay off the mortgage is the "money we didn't know we had" - this is made up from savings made when utility bills or similar are haggled down, and the little bit extra from my salary that doesn't have a job elsewhere. Initially that was the money that we would periodically transfer across to pay off against the mortgage, now it again tends to fund the "extras" that we can justify - we're revisiting the island of Lundy with a group of pals next year - not cheap but a fantastic thing to do - and this account will be paying for that. It means that we can say "Yes please" to fun stuff without feeling guilt about raiding our longer term savings.  If someone was paying off debt money saved this way could be paid off a credit card balance, or set aside to pay a loan down early perhaps, it can be a great way of charting savings made on household bills too!

Robyn


Saturday, 2 December 2017

This Girl Can...

I posted previously about the "year to change a life" thing - and it was writing that post which prompted me to realise that a lot of the changes I've been making and feeling the effects of were about changes in mindset, as much as anything else. It's so easy to make excuses as to why you "can't" do things - and one excuse can readily lead to another. "I can't run because my knees are bad"  > "I can't exercise because I can't run" > "I can't get fitter because I can't exercise". When you start to take a long hard look at yourself, and challenge those thought patterns though, suddenly things start to get achievable.


I've referred here before to people saying things like "Oh you're really lucky!" when what they actually mean is "Oh you've worked really hard to make that happen" - and I guess that sort of links in to the excuses thing - it's a lot easier to assume that things have just fallen into someone's lap, than to think how they might have achieved things, as that leads to the realisation that perhaps YOU could make things happen, too, and a lot of people simply aren't comfortable to challenge themselves like that. I confess that it certainly made me feel a bit uncomfortable!

My "Big Thing" as I think I mentioned before, was running. I realised early on that it would be a great and above all cheap and easy way of getting some exercise, but first I needed to get to the point where I could try it. Walking a lot was the first step, and by the spring I felt I was ready to step things up - on grass first (see "knees" above) to make it lower impact. I made a start by using the same Couch to 5 K programme that a friend recommended - I knew she'd had great results with it. Week 1 starts with interspersing 1 minute of running with 90 seconds of walking, repeated. Sounds easy, hmm? To my humiliation I discovered I couldn't do it - just that 60 seconds was too much, and when I could achieve it, it left me literally gasping for air. I repeated the week still to no avail - if anything it was worse, and yes, I admit it, I gave up - an excuse offered itself "we're going on holiday, it won't be practical to try to do that while we're away" and that was that for a while. For some reason though, it bugged me - I still can't work out what it was that made it get lodged in my head - and I wasn't happy that it had beaten me, so a few months later I decided to have a second attempt. I'd been keeping up regular exercise - lots of walking plus circuit training stuff and similar - so I knew I should stand a better chance at it. If anything, it was worse - I simply couldn't manage it, and had NO idea why. Everyone said "Keep at it, it will get easier!" which made absolute sense - but in my case that just didn't seem to be the case, culminating in a week in October when I struggled to run for 60 seconds even on the treadmill...

Of course that week was the one before I ended up in hospital, suddenly everything became rather obvious! Severe anaemia means that your muscles - including the heart - simply aren't getting the oxygen they need to function, which explains why I was suffering with my legs feeling absolutely exhausted, struggling for breath and generally feeling unable to do the things that I felt I ought to be able to!  When I mentioned at the hospital that I'd been going to the gym and running, there was universal astonishment - apparently I simply shouldn't have been able to do any of those things, and it's only the higher level of fitness I'd reached in spite of everything that saved me from doing myself some serious damage. *Gulp*.

So, fast forward a few weeks and suddenly I've realised - I don't WANT to make excuses any more. I started back on C25K the week after I left hospital, starting on week 2 as I felt confident that I could do week 1 - I've now on week 4 which includes 5 minutes of running at a time, and I'm coping well. I may well get to the point that I have to repeat a day here and there, but that's fine. Setbacks now (Like the final run of week 3 being REALLY tough because I'd tried exercising 3 days on the trot without a rest day!) aren't phasing me. Above all I'm enjoying it - enjoying that feeling of challenging myself, and discovering that my body can do things I didn't think it could. I'm getting a buzz from being able to run that little bit further, or finishing a stretch of running to find that actually, I'm barely even out of breath. I can run - who knew?! Someone said to me last week "It's amazing how fast you can train your body to run" and they're absolutely right!


(Thanks to Jenni at Snippets of a Life for introducing me to that quote!)

If I can do this, then without question, anyone can. I'm starting to think of new challenges too - first it's to finish the C25K programme, and I want to do our local parkrun, and to do some running in the Hebrides too. For me the key was to stop thinking of the things I couldn't do and work with what I could. Running too high impact to start with? So walk. Walking too far hurts? Mix in some static bike work. When I started with the fitness stuff I couldn't even do a single full press-up - my arms just weren't strong enough, so I started with "box press-ups"on hands and knees and worked up from there. This week in the gym I did 30 seconds of full press-ups. It's taken me nearly a year to get to that point though - and giving up would have been by far the easier option.

Go on - challenge yourself - I dare you. If "This Girl Can..." then so can you!

Robyn.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

"Date night" doesn't have to be a thing...!

Once you were married, or settled down with your chosen significant other, dating used to be one of the things that a large number of people said "phew - thank goodness I'm out of that loop" about. But in the last few years "Date Nights" have become a "thing" for a lot of people, it seems. Well I say "a lot of people" but actually I suspect that should read "A lot of people with a heavy reliance on social media" -  as that seems to be where it's originated. Now, if it just stopped as people taking the view that it's something they choose to do, that would be fine, but like so many hashtag-worthy subjects, a lot of people seem to see the fact that they do "Date Nights" as a route to feel smug, or worse, to outright try to shame others who're choosing to travel a different path.

As she so often does, Kendra makes a great case for the opposition on her Lazy Genius Collective Blog - alarmingly there are those out there trying to suggest that if you're not regularly "doing date night" it probably means that your marriage is in trouble. Seriously? Now last time I looked, there were all sorts of signs that a relationship might be in trouble, but failing to pop out for a mid-week pizza and beer isn't generally recognised as one of them. If you aren't spending time together at all then clearly that might suggest that something is a wee bit amiss, and perhaps it's time to think about focusing back on one another, but for the majority of us non date-nighters that's not the case. It's not that we're not spending time with that most-important-person-in-the-world-to-us - it's that we're not feeling the need to label that time publicly to others.

I was curious about the "Hashtag datenight" phenomenon so I googled it - astonishingly there is a company out there who, for £40 a month, will send you a ready made date in the post every month - thus removing even the need to sit down together and discuss what you might want to do. There was also a pretty universally panned film dating from 2010, but once you get past those, the majority of what you'll find is Social Media related. Instagram leads the way unsurprisingly with a mix of selfies, "meaningful" quotes and food pics, mostly with other "aspirational" hashtags attached all designed to show the world - or at least a couple of hundred followers - how "perfect" that person's life is. An occasional post clearly made with a good dollop of irony thrown in stands out a mile - and are almost exclusively British (no surprise there!). It's when you stray onto Urban Dictionary definitions that things get REALLY interesting though - and indeed "Date night is the negotiated exchange of a night out for the lady resulting in an*l sex for the man" nearly made me spit my tea out - I'll certainly always view that hashtag rather differently in the future! The OED clarifies that it's mainly intended for couples with children - and I definitely see more logic in this - when you reach the point that far more planning is needed to get a night out with "just the two of you". The majority of those instagram posts don't appear to relate to this model - but I wonder whether this is as simple as again, people not feeling the need to apply a label to it, plus feeling the importance of actually focusing more on and enjoying the time with each other and no other demands than telling their "friends list" what a fantastic time they're having...? 

It's pretty rare for MrEH and I to go out on a weeknight. There are several reasons why it tends not to suit us, but the most notable of those is that by the time we've both finished work and got home, it's usually after 7, and neither of us want to be out late on a night when the alarm is going to go off shortly after 6am the following morning to summon us for another day of daily grind. To be honest, much as we might enjoy going out, generally speaking, what we enjoy more on a weeknight is a chat about our day while curled up on the sofa, and a bit of time to be just "us" after a hectic day. All of the above though doesn't mean we don't spend time together - we always have right since we were first together, and perhaps that's part of it. We have ALWAYS made time to spend time together because we WANT to be with the other, we just take for granted that this is part of our lives together - it doesn't need drawing attention to, and I suspect an awful lot of others treat things in exactly the same way. We just do stuff, rather than advertising to the world that we're doing it and labelling it as something extraordinary. If you're doing the same, then really, I promise you, there is NOTHING wrong with that!

Robyn

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Remembrance...

The Royal Air force social media accounts are currently focusing heavily on Remembrance Sunday as you might expect - asking "who are you remembering" - from families thinking of loved ones serving, to friends remembering those who fell alongside them, there's been a great wide range of examples given and hopefully it will encourage children who perhaps feel that as their parents and grand parents are too young too have fought in either world war it's not relevant to them, to think again.  For me, I take it as a time to think of family members who served in those hopefully never to be repeated conflicts, and to think of and give thanks for friends serving currently and the sacrifices their families make. Currently I have one friend over in the USA where he's already been for several months - he'll be home briefly for Christmas and then away again. Another who has spent a lot of time away from his family in the past year or so (including the three months running up to his own wedding!) and another living away from his Mrs & kids all week and travelling home every weekend - it is incredibly hard on the families, and all so often that gets forgotten. Generally speaking the partners are just so stoic about it too - no weeping and wailing, no making their other half feel guilty, they just get on and mark off the days until their loved one gets home again.



In the town I live in there has been a small exhibition travelling around the area focused on telling us about 5 men from the town who lost their lives in WW1. I caught up with it in the shopping centre on Tuesday, and also had a brief chat with one of the gents from the British Legion who was manning the stand and engaging with people about the exhibition. I was genuinely shocked when he said that they had contacted all the local schools to suggest taking the exhibition in and giving a talk about it to the pupils, and had absolutely NO response. What better way for children to get a real feeling for the history around the two world wars than to hear the stories of those who went to fight from the town they're living in, and in some cases paid the ultimate price? I'm honestly perplexed as to why there was no interest in this - are children not being taught about these events? Or are the opinions of those that would have it that the wearing of the poppy in some way glorifies was beginning to hold more sway?

Whether or not you buy a poppy this year, or attend a service, please take a few moments to remember those who went, and never returned, and those who are still going...

“When you go Home, tell them of us and say,
 For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today”

John Maxwell Edmunds
1916


Robyn

Friday, 10 November 2017

Frugal Friday...

Ahh you see, this series hasn't entirely died a death!

Off the back of my last post, it occurred to me that there was also material for a FF post in there. We're all encouraged to exercise, and to eat healthily, but in itself it can be a challenge to keep the costs down on those - and oddly enough you rarely seem to see anything beyond "oh just do free stuff!" suggesting how people might do that! In between clothes for being active in, actually finding activities themselves that don't break the bank, and getting our ideal "5 a day of different coloured fruit and veg" it is easy for costs to spiral, and not everyone has the ability to allow that to happen. In a world where it's cheaper to buy a packet of Crispy pancakes than it is to buy a Mango, and a months Gym membership can cost more than a medium level Sky TV package, what are the best ways to being able to keep fit and eat well, on a budget?

Firstly - exercise. I was already doing masses of walking of course, and that requires relatively little in the way of specialist equipment. Good footwear - solid boots or shoes but not massively heavy ones - and a decent breathable waterproof jacket are the only essential bits. Charity shops are always worth a look for jackets as people go on a "health kick" then get bored, so their expensive waterproof ends up being sold for a fraction of it's regular price. For footwear the big stores like Sports Direct or Go Outdoors are a good starting point as they have a superb range at all price levels. If money is tight then start off trying things on at the lowest price point and see what feels comfortable. A good tip for improving the comfort of walking boots is to try wearing two pairs of socks with them - a thin cotton inner pair with a more chunky sock over the top - this can help to reduce blisters for some people. (Do remember if you plan to do this to try them on with both pairs though or they will be too tight!) A boot with a replaceable insole is a great idea as often the insoles fail before the boot does so being able to replace those separately can work well. ALWAYS wear walking footwear for short periods of time to start with while you get used to it and it moulds to the shape of your foot. If money is less of an issue a specialist pair of walking trousers can prove more comfortable than walking in jeans or leggings. Another "free to do" activity is running, of course, but again you will need at least some basic items of kit to avoid discomfort or injury. A decent pair of trainers (or if running off-road, supportive, well fitting trail shoes) is vital - but again there are ways to keep the costs down on this. I find that a trip to the Outlet Village is my best bet when I need trainers - there are outlet stores there for two of the big sportswear brands and my current pair (adorned with a "swish" logo and in a rather fetching shade of purple) are specifically designed for running and cost me the grand sum of £22. If you plan to run in them, then when trying on make sure you bounce about a bit at least, and ideally get in a few steps of running to see how they feel. A specialist running shop if you have one locally might be worth a look as non mainstream branded running shoes aren't as expensive as you might think - and if you're planning to do a lot of running then the advantage of having shoes properly fitted might outweigh a bit of extra cost anyway. Another essential for those of us of a female persuasion is a good sports bra - otherwise the discomfort, particularly for the better endowed, will rapidly put you off. Again these are available at all sorts of price-points - from basic crop-top style "supports" designed for wearing over a regular bra for a fiver from Primarni, through to £40+ examples from specialist suppliers. A good compromise here is to look for something reduced in clearance as you can often then pick up a top of the range one for a fraction of the usual price. My £40 RRP Freya one cost me £23 from Brastop, and the good thing there is that it's a brand I knew so I was confident that my usual size would fit. Larger ladies in particular, look for nice wide straps and a substantial wide back with multi-hooks (mine's got 4 and can ONLY be put on by doing it up at the front and turning it round - I'm 13 again every time!) as this will help with comfort. When trying on for fit some vigorous bouncing is definitely the way forwards... ;-). You could perfectly well run in ordinary leggings if that's what you have, but both Matalan and Tesco have a great range of specific running/gym leggings in a variety of styles and lengths - I've got a couple of the Matalan 3/4 length ones (£9 each I believe) and a full length pair of winter ones with a beautifully soft fleece lining - think those were £12. Look out for a fit that won't slide down when you're running, don't fret too much about leg length as they can always be folded over, and a key pocket is helpful. (Failing that find either a fleece or light jacket with zipped pockets, or a lanyard you can clip your key onto, as nobody needs to be running along panicking about losing that!)

Personally, I've always found the gym both enjoyable (yes, honestly!) and really helpful in terms of giving me a measure of how I'm doing as far as fitness goes - but it can be an expensive venture with monthly memberships costing a fortune in some cases. I searched about a bit for budget gyms near home but didn't find anything much in a practical location (knowing I'd mostly be going straight after work, I needed something with parking which rules out most of the within-budget options) at a price I could afford. I then shifted my focus to closer to work and found a small Community Sports Centre within a local college, offering reduced price memberships and also "Pay as you Train" access to the gym for not only local residents but also those working locally. I pay £7 per visit, which as I generally make it there once a week, but not always, works out better than a monthly membership fee for me. I'm not tied in to any sort of contract, and there was no joining fee - literally I just walk in (15 minute walk from the office which acts as a decent warm-up!) when I want to, and pay my £7. The downside of this sort of place is no classes, no PT's and limited opening hours (5pm - 10pm) but as I will always be using it within those times, and have no interest in classes anyway, this isn't an issue for me. It's got all the machines I want both on the cardio and strength training side, and being a community centre it's not full of Body Builder types, OR entirely walled in mirrors which I find incredibly offputting!

In terms of food, if you're happy to not be eating exotic stuff at every meal, happily the often heard "it's more expensive to eat healthily than badly" tale is a total fallacy. All the major supermarkets and the discounters now have a range of low priced fruit and veg which changes on either a weekly or fortnightly basis. At the time of writing Aldi can offer you packs of sprouts, leeks and pears at no more than 69p each, while a visit to ThaT supermarkeT would net you Citrus fruit for 79p, and a whole host of vegetable options from carrots to courgettes at 60p or less per pack. When we switch our meal planning to work from what veg options are the best value that week, and use those as a starting point, it's possible to eat very healthily indeed on a tight budget. In additional most of the supermarkets now offer a range of "wonky veg" - not so easy on the eye but just as full of taste - for a discount price in a bid to try to tackle some of the issues around food waste. Carbs aren't left out either - wholewheat couscous is the same price as white, wholewheat pasta is generally sold at the same as white (although often only in 500g bags) and my favourite brown basmati rice is available from Home Bargains at a budget-friendly 99p a kilo, or at least it was last time I ventured in for some! I'll be the first to admit that getting a full 5 a day isn't always easy - I tend to have bananas for breakfast for part of the week, and generally have an apple and some citrus fruit of some sort after my lunch - yes, you'll notice that we veer towards the lower priced fruit options - we prefer not to eat berries etc that can be grown in the UK out of season for the most part, but I do occasionally buy Blueberries or grapes in the winter months for some variation. Generally though that is when they're on special offer. Remember a glass of fruit juice can count as one of your five a day (and that is regardless of whether it is from concentrate or the other sort) and beans and pulses also work - AND have the advantage of being cheap as chips (in fact CHEAPER than chips!) as well as being great sources of iron and protein. Tinned pulses are best picked up from the "ethnic foods" aisles in the major supermarkets or the dedicated shops that many of us are now lucky to have nearby, and dried are always cheapest from the dedicated shops and can be bought in larger quantity. (Those shops are also a fantastic place to pick up all manner of herbs and spices at a great price, too!). If nothing else with your food shopping and meal planning try to remember that the suggestion that "you pay for convenience" is usually true, plus when you cook from scratch you have the control over what you put in, and that's got to be better for you, right?

Robyn

Thursday, 2 November 2017

One Year to Change a life?

**I started putting this post together several weeks ago - and have just returned to it at a point where I could realistically change the title to "One year to SAVE a life" - read on... (And apologies - this has turned into a bit of a novel!)**

Sometimes something happens along that you wish you'd thought to blog about as a sort of "progress report" thing, but then you realise that actually, you've slipped into the whole thing with the sort of mix of conscious/unconscious thought that would have made that impossible, as at the start, you weren't aware of quite how big what you were getting into was...

Regular readers will be aware of my aversion to New Year's Resolutions but how, at the start of 2017, I set myself a list of goals - things I'd like to achieve in the course of this year. It was all quite casual - for example I said I wanted to reach an average of at least 5,000 steps a day rather than the usual "I'll get my 10,000 steps in every day!" that I knew would foster failure. Eating better - not "I'll get my five-a-day EVERY day" - as sometimes that's just not practical. More improvements to the flat - new doors and window, and the kitchen of course (and yes I know I've not actually got round to blogging pics of that there, but I will do, I promise!). To keep using "free money" to pay down the balance on the 0% credit card. Others were in relation to friendships, and to being better organised. What I realised a few months in was that all the goals I'd set were in one way or another pointing towards making my life better, and happier, for the longer term, and also that these weren't short term goals - nearly everything on that list was something that was going to require working through over a period of time. Almost without realising it, I'd set myself up with a plan that, if I could follow through with it, would indeed change my life for the better in a year...one year to change a life - can that be done? Good question!

The biggest challenge for me has been the changes I've made with a view to improving my physical health.  This stemmed from worsening Arthritis which, just under a year ago, threatened to rob me of my mobility. I woke up one morning in severe pain to the extent that walking at all was agony and even getting up from a sitting position was causing me problems. I was terrified - and I knew without question that I was going to do whatever it took to try to fight back. The first thing for that was to improve my fitness - not easy when even walking is excruciating - but walking was exactly where I started. I forced myself to get out for a walk every lunchtime - just a mile or a bit over. By the time the New Year and those challenges had kicked in I was making that 5k target pretty much daily, and felt ready to step it up, and in fact since then I've hit the recommended 10,000 a day more often than not. I now walk whenever I can - before work if I only have a spare 5 minutes I'll just walk a slightly longer route to the office, and after work, while waiting for MrEH to get back to the car, I'll throw in a walk then too. I also started looking more closely at what I was eating - partly to start incorporating foodstuffs that were proven to help with the Arthritis, and partly because I knew full well I was tending to eat too much, by means of over-large portions, snacking when I was bored, or just too much of the sorts of foods that should really be more of a treat (yes cheese, I mean you). I started keeping a food diary via an app - and that in turn told me if I was eating more calories than I ought to be, or not. I knew I didn't want to "go on a diet" - because diets are temporary, and this needs to be permanent, but equally I knew that I needed to re-educate myself on what a portion of this, or that, ought to look and feel like, and the app proved a great way of doing this. The other problem with diets is that they tend to leave you feeling hungry, and I'm not great at being hungry - so I started investigating foods that would fill me up better without being "stodgy". A natter with a really good pal just before Christmas made us realise that we had similar goals and we got a group of friends together for motivation and inspiration - having to account to several others on this stuff definitely makes you focus a bit more!

Oddly, the one thing that never really featured in my consciousness was losing weight - yes, I know that seems daft when two of the goals were eating less and moving more - but there you go - so when I first started noticing that my clothes were getting looser - to the extent of really not fitting, I was actually a bit surprised. I've no firm idea of what my start weight was, although I could hazard a decent enough guess, but I was a largish size 16. The aim though was very definitely fitness rather than weightloss - and I can't help but think that made the whole thing feel more attainable.

So I walked, then started throwing in some more intense exercise when I felt ready for it - MrEH has proved a great (if demanding!) personal trainer. Going back to the gym was incredibly hard - just getting the nerve to walk in the door in the first place - but I did it. I was struggling though - I'll freely admit - I felt like I should be getting fitter - I was losing weight and toning up, but my breathing wasn't improving and I was really finding running difficult. Three times I started the Couch25k programme, and three times I gave up after repeating week one several times and just not being able to get to the point where I could complete even that without a problem. Frustrating just doesn't begin to cover it - and I had no idea why. MrEH kept assuring me that yes, I was definitely getting fitter - but not feeling the results made it incredibly tough to continue... Just over two weeks ago I got my answer on this when all of a sudden the breathlessness got a LOT worse. I started having problems just with regular walking about, and over the course of just three days this got steadily more and more problematic. Then I started feeling generally very unwell, and getting heart palpitations which were truly alarming... I felt bad enough that in the absence of being able to get a GP appointment, and no walk-in centre in town these days, MrEH took me to A&E where a blood test was done and I was sent home...briefly, before being called urgently to go back as the blood test had shown a rather alarming result - and as the Dr who called me said "You're going to need a blood transfusion". Who? Me? No - that sort of thing happens to other people, not me, surely... Well apparently not - Haemoglobin levels in women should be 110 - 145 and anything below 70 is considered as "dangerously low" - mine was sitting at 45. With a Ferritin level at 3 (should be at least 12) the diagnosis of severe anaemia was a pretty easy one to reach I suspect! In the end I spent several days in hospital and had a total of FIVE transfusions (thanks to the O+ blood donors out there!)  - the first three didn't even get me out of the dangerously low level, which goes to show how bad things had got. The first truly sobering thing was being told that had MrEH not made me go to hospital that first afternoon, I wouldn't have woken up the following morning. (That is very definitely another thing that happens to other people, surely?) The second was realising that had I not taken the steps I had to improve my fitness, I'd have been incredibly lucky not to have ended up with significant damage to my heart - the very first thing they did when I was admitted was hook me up to a ECG which thankfully proved that everything was in order. All in all I was - as a nurse friend of mine pointed out in stern tones - "one very lucky lady". On the plus side, the beauty of the transfusions is that it sort of does a "hard reset" back to where you should be without having to go through any of the nuisance stuff like "recuperating" - by the time I had the second bag of blood on board I felt back to what my "normal" had been for rather a long while...once I'd had all five I was so bursting with energy that I was annoying even myself! I'm on iron tablets for the foreseeable future - no surprise there - and regular blood tests (ugh!) but have also now had a diagnosis and started treatment for the root cause of the problem, which hopefully will sort things out.

So a post that started out focusing on whether you can change your life in just a year - by tackling things that are impacting on your physical and mental health - has turned into a rather more serious message. If something isn't quite adding up in your personal health, don't assume that the fault lies with something you're doing, or not doing. Join symptoms together too - in my case a "join the dots" approach resulted in a fairly obvious conclusion that I could have drawn much earlier - but the various symptoms came on at different times and on the face of it didn't seem to be linked in the slightest. If in doubt go and see your GP - and if you don't get an answer, go back and back until you do.

As for whether you can change your life in a year - yes, I'd say so. The exercise thing hasn't been easy - not in the least - it took a long while for me to be able to do much at all without my knees demanding to know what precisely I thought I was doing to them, and even now I have "ouchy" moments. Some of the stuff around friendships has been tough - albeit ironically being ill and in hospital helped to make things clearer on that one - you certainly find out who your real friends are in that situation! Some people have been gently "sidelined" - the acquaintance option on FB has been utilised and others have just been stepped aside from. I've made a conscious decision to step away from back-biting and sh*t-stirring - that's negativity I just don't need.  On the whole, I'm so much fitter and healthier both mentally AND physically than I was this time last year - and that was the change I was looking to make. Exercise and smaller portions are habits now, and habits I want to keep to, and I've even been brave enough to purchase a set of bathroom scales!  On my other goals, the household stuff - the kitchen was a truly traumatic process but has turned out stunningly. The new doors and windows are making SUCH a huge difference - and there are more to come imminently. I'm on target to pay down the amount I was aiming for this year on the 0% card without touching the money that was set aside to pay for those items. My long lens upgrade was done - without using any form of credit. We went back to Cornwall, and we're planning some more trips for the next little while as well including a return to beautiful Lundy next year.

All in all life is good - and very, VERY definitely not to be taken for granted...

Robyn

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Accidental food wins...

Coping without a kitchen has been...well. "interesting" is one word. I can think of a few more too, and I've probably used most of them over the past few weeks! The first couple of weeks passed relatively uneventfully on the food front - I'd batch cooked ahead of time we we had some nice easy "bung it in and heat it up" type meals standing by in the freezer...but then we hit a few snags (right now you don't want to ask, trust me!) and things dragged on a bit...and then the carefully prepped and stashed meals ran out...

As you know by now, we're really not people who in any way, shape or form, appreciate a "ready meal" of the supermarket type. Indeed, I spent a LONG time in one supermarket (name begins with T....) studying all the "ping" meals available. High salt levels come as standard, it seems. It's incredibly difficult to get a tasty sounding ready meal at a sensible price without extraordinarily high levels of something, be it salt, fat or sugars. In fact it's still quite difficult even if you start to look at the "premium" ones, which came as a bit of a surprise. Takeaways are great but again the possibilities for healthier stuff there are relatively limited and anyway I don't want to be eating takeaway several times a week as standard. So thinking laterally was needed. We have a camping stove - so that enabled stir fries...but only having one ring meant needing to look at the "straight to wok" type noodles. The Ambient ones in the sort of squishy block didn't feel terribly appetising to be honest, so instead we tried the "fresh" egg noodles which are frequently sold alongside the stir fry ingredients. At £1 a pack they're obviously quite a lot pricier than the dried ones we've always eaten, but I have to confess we found them REALLY tasty, so yes, that is something we will take forwards happily enough for continuing to eat. Salads obviously have been easy to throw together as they can be prepared in the limited space we had available. The bags of prepped veggies (much as it pains me to buy them!) have been useful as you can steam them in the microwave - and an incredibly handy "microwave grill plate" bought for us by my parents a few years back but rarely used until now has proved to be excellent at cooking things which wouldn't normally seem ideal for microwave cooking.

One dish we'll definitely be taking forwards for the future evolved due to me wanting to come up with something that took almost no space to prep, and required no actual cooking at all. All that is required for this dish in terms of equipment is a chopping board and sharp knife, a bowl big enough to hold all the ingredients mixed together, and a fork for combining it all. (so minimal washing-up as well - also a consideration when washing up is being done in a bowl in the bath...!). For my Jewelled CousCous Salad you'll need the following: Sufficient dry couscous to serve two people; a pack of prepared pomegranate seeds; a bunch of parsley, cashew nuts, fresh tomatoes - the juicier and riper the better; a can of chick peas.  Make the couscous (I use wholewheat as I find it has more flavour) up as normal - you can add a knob or two of butter if you like, or indeed a squeeze of lemon juice. Salt & pepper to taste. Once you've poured the boiling water over shove a plate on top of the bowl and leave it to steam & absorb, while you chop the parsley, cut up the tomatoes, and open and drain the chick peas. Fluff the couscous with the fork and then fold in each of the other ingredients in turn - you want to get everything well distributed through, and make sure that any juice with the pomegranate seeds gets in there as well. Finally serve into bowls and top off with a handful of lightly crushed cashew nuts each. Seriously tasty and SO pretty to look at as well!


I reckon that it would be even tastier with lightly toasted cashews, but even with them straight from the pack like this they still add a lovely crunch and almost creamy flavour. The pomegranate seeds give glorious little bursts of sweetness,and then there's the juicy tomato and the nutty chickpeas - somehow it all just works brilliantly together! This recipe is definitely a keeper for me - it's always great to have nice simple meals that can be thrown together fast and create the minimum of clearing up, after all!

Robyn.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The great big dirty food fight...

Food fads - they've been about forever, but with the advent of social media they've never been more visible. And the more high profile the fads get, the more heated the opposition to each one becomes. It's starting to feel as though the latter part of this decade is going to be the time when food turned nasty...

For years there has been "opposition" and snobbery inside the question of food, and eating. From Weightwatchers -v- Slimming World - right through to the current "Clean eating - good, or evil?" debate, people love to disagree, and with food being a subject close to many of our hearts, it's not surprising that it can provoke strong feelings. Equally there have and will always be people who are keen to promote an extreme for whatever reason - Cabbage Soup Diet to Atkins - if you particularly want to eat in a particular way, you can probably find a "diet" that will suit your requirements - whether it's good for you is another question!

One thing that the current clean eating trend has in common with nearly every other diet out there is that it persuades us to see foods as either "Good" or "Bad" - but is it healthy to teach people to demonise foods like this? I like a pomegranate seed as much as the next girl, and I'm even partial to a bit of kale here and there, but equally I also thoroughly enjoy the occasional bacon sandwich on packet white, Gooey bacon, brie and Cranberry ciabbata, or packet of good old Walker's Ready Salted. Are any of those things going to kill me? No, if they're eaten occasionally, rather than on a daily basis, probably not. Do they make me happy? Yes - damn right they do, and that in itself means that eating them occasionally has one great big fat (sorry!) benefit right there. Sure, I have food "principles" - I'll only buy free range eggs for example - and would rather go without than eat battery ones, and I've not eaten McDonalds food since news of their political leanings in the 1980's became public knowledge, but generally speaking, I'm not going to be storming around telling you that your choice of breakfast, lunch or dinner is in some way inherently evil, and neither should anyone else be doing so.

A quick google on the question of Clean Eating turns up a lot of different, and much conflicting, information - and yet some of it is pure common sense and may well provide a key to why so many people have sworn that they've successfully lost weight on one of these plans. Learn about proper portion sizes - well, yes! I'd be the first to acknowledge that I'm not always the best with that, but it is logical to only eat the right amount of whatever you put on your plate. Read Labels, says another one - educating yourself about what is in the foods that you're buying can never be a bad thing, surely, but how many of us really question the stuff that finds its way into what we eat? Some of it is a bit less practical "Eat 5 - 6 small meals every day" - well, yes, great in principle, but for the majority of us with 9 - 5 jobs, that's not really all that user-friendly, is it! Then there's the confusing; "Drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water each day" - well that's brilliant, but what measurement are we using for the body weight?! "Avoid all calorie dense foods containing no nutritional value" - not actually that easy to find a food with no nutritional value at all, calorie dense or otherwise... My personal favourite "avoid chemically charged foods" - well that puts the Kibosh on the 2 - 3 litres of H2O they say you should drink a day, huh?  Interestingly nearly everything I found on a quick image search for "principles of clean eating" on google seemed to originate from the US - and I'm always inclined to be suspicious of a nation that is too busy to say the "ed" on the end of mash when they talk about potatoes.

How about we all jump off the "fad" bandwagon and ditch the "diets" and start actually thinking about what we choose to put in our mouths with a bit more logic? Make the bulk of your food across a week healthy - and eat it in sensible quantities. Eat slowly, actually taste your food, and stop eating when you start to feel full. Think about the amount you put in against the amount of energy you've expended in the day - a busy day where you've done some exercise will need more calories replaced than one in which the limit of your exertion is reaching for the remote control. Listen to what your body tells you - do you know we're actually born without a taste for particularly sweet things - the desire to "eat sweet" is gained as we grow up, probably because mostly we're taught to regard sweets as a treat - not a criticism at all, that's just the way things are. Interestingly I've found that the less sweet stuff I eat, the less I want. Of course I have the odd slice of cake or bit of chocolate, but generally speaking I very rarely crave those things. Since I've been thinking more about the refined sugars I eat, there is no question that I have wanted sweet stuff less even than I did before, and that certainly does suggest that those sorts of cravings can be "cured" at least in part. If you're thinking about a particular diet or eating plan that tells you to cut a particular foodstuff out completely, ask yourself whether that is sustainable in the long term, and if not, whether in fact you'd do better to follow a different path. Thinking about changing to a way of eating which we can take forwards as a lifestyle choice, not just plan to follow as a "diet" might actually enable us to break the yo-yo dieting  habit for good - after all, if the food we're putting on our plates looks appetising and makes us look forward to eating it, it stops feeling like a hardship, doesn't it! Given a choice between feeling deprived, and feeling fulfilled, I know which I'd choose!

Robyn

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Making changes...

It's to be hoped that by the time you read this, I will have no kitchen. Yes, I realise that sounds slightly odd, but finally, at LONG FECKING LAST, 13 years of planning to get our kitchen refurbed has become an actual event - so understandably we're quite excited! Rather as with the bathroom, we've decided not to take a "papering over the cracks" approach, but instead to literally rip it out and start again - so Dave-The-Builder is currently engaged in removing appliances, stripping out existing units, removing plumbing and stripping the walls and floor back to bare concrete.

                                    


This feels like a far bigger job than the bathroom did - we actually surprised ourselves with that, while there was unquestionably a lot of upheaval while it was done, the actual process of deciding what we wanted, and getting that "want" transferred across into a design and then reality was relatively straightforward - the kitchen feels as though it's been anything but, however. I think part of the issue around this is that with the bathroom, we knew from the start that the layout couldn't change - so our only real challenges were how to make that prescribed layout work for us better - so things like the recessed shelving in the wall behind the bath so that shampoo bottles and shower gel no longer had to sit out on the edge, finding a vanity unit that would fit in a very restricted space yet still give us the look and increased storage we wanted, and coming up with a solution to provide some heating in what had, until that point, always been an unpleasantly cold room in the winter months. Even now, very nearly a year on, I still walk into that room and say "oooh!" and we still joke about having someone else's bathroom - it's just gorgeous, and worth every penny of what it cost us.

                                    

We spent what felt like weeks with the kitchen tying ourselves in knots trying to work out how we could change the layout, how we could make it all fit better, and finally, at the point at which we were tearing our hair out, we realised - the layout we had already pretty much works for us - there are small things we'd change, but ultimately we like the cooker sitting in the middle of the run of worktop, we like being able to stand at the sink and look straight out of the window, and we like the fact that the fridge sits behind the main bit of worktop we use for preparation, so getting things from it is as simple as turning round and grabbing them. The main downside to the room has always been too little worktop space - and a great big wasted space across in front of the window and in the back corner of the unit next to the sink, so that was the stuff we wanted to target. Overall layout though? Yeah. mostly pretty much fine. One we realised this our focus turned to finding a way of fitting in a corner unit that would give us access to the wasted space, and working out how the brick wall in front of the window could be "thinned down" - increasing both worktop & cupboard space AND floor area - something which can make a real difference in a small kitchen. The only real layout change was to move the washing machine to the opposite end of the room - it will now sit next to the door which is actually more practical - and this change is what has enabled our rather snazzy new "vario pull out" corner unit to be practical.
                           

As with the bathroom, we've adopted an approach of finding best prices for things, and going with a budget option where it doesn't matter, but equally being happy to spend a bit more to get the finish we want, or to add little extras that will improve the way the room works for us and our own quality of life within it. The units are mid-range - but are also the nicest we saw, with a good quality finish. We could have spent more, but to be honest we didn't feel we'd gain from doing so. The floor tiles will be the same as the ones we used in the bathroom - and are coming in at under £100 for the whole floor. Similarly the wall tiles - we knew what we wanted, and when we found something that fitted the brief perfectly for 39p a tile, that was another decision made. We are using the tiles as a splashback including filling the space under the cooker-hood, which has saved us buying a separate expensive one - as our new cooker will have it's own glass lid over the hob which lifts to provide a splashback in any case, installing another one just felt like a waste to be honest. The interior of the larder is also being re-tiled - it's not on display and doesn't get seen by anyone other than us - so the most basic of square white glossy tiles will do the job perfectly. Total bill for all the tiles - wall, larder and floor? £188.00. Bargain. On the other hand we're spending a bit more on the cooker to get the one we want - although sticking within our restricted 550mm width, it gives more interior space on the oven than many of the 600mm wide options available. and also gives us two ovens as well as three different burner sizes on the hob. We could have got something that "would have done" for £100 less - but we use the cooker pretty much 7 days a week, so it's worth paying a bit more. Similarly we've gone with a "prestige brand" for our dishwasher. Electrical works will take up a good 5th of our budget - but at the same time they will also to an extent "future proof" us. Little extras like USB points in sockets, and a relocation  of the consumer unit add an amount to the cost but will also improve the look and ease of use of the place substantially. Lighting proved to be a real quandary until I asked a lovely friend for some input - he's a bit of  whizz with fitting kitchens having redone not only his own, but quite a lot of others, and he suggested using lighting above and below the units to give a gentle light throughout the whole room, and reducing the need for a top light - something which really appealed to us. We're also repeating the idea of using glass shelves with LED strips behind to project light into the room as this worked so well in the bathroom.

We're expecting a fair bit of chaos and disruption for the next few weeks, but we've planned easy to prepare meals for a few nights, and will probably take the approach of eating out or getting a takeaway on occasion when the mess all gets a bit much. We've factored in an increase in our food budget for the next few weeks as part of the cost anyway, as we always knew trying to prepare meals with the very restricted facilities we'll have was going to be a challenge, particularly as neither of us are a particular fan of processed ready meals. Anyway - watch this space - I promise to post an "after" for you as well - just try and stop me!

Robyn


Friday, 31 March 2017

Blue skies & Red Jets!

So FINALLY last Friday I got a day up at Scampton garnished with blue skies and sunshine. I'd been up a few times previously this winter hoping to photograph some flying, but on the first occasion the weather didn't clear for the whole day - we spent all day sitting in the photo section office drinking tea and gossiping. Second time round wasn't much better either - a single sortie got flown, but mostly up above the clouds. More tea, more gossiping.  The third attempt was a little better but still not those glorious blue skies that look so wonderful in pics. This trip was FAR better - the forecast had looked good all week, so it was just a case of crossing fingers that it didn't change - and for once the Met Office didn't let us down!

For a change the wind was in the right direction for the jets to be using the runway nearest to us - always nice to see them taxi out...



First up we had the Synchro pair practising their "Heart" - first time they'd done it this year, and I think you'll agree it's already looking good...

                    

Then "Enid" section took to the sky for some lovely looping passes and rolls - always nice to watch, and photograph!


For the third and subsequent slots we relocated to one of our favourite spots - lovely and quiet and peaceful, well until this happens...



We had the Heart overhead again - later with Synchro being joined by Red 8 who will be "spearing" the heart this year. Masses of close passes overhead - some of which were too close even for the short end of my 100-400mm lens. The best bit though? The slightly elevated position we had chosen giving us fabulous views of the jets running in over the Lincolnshire countryside...



Always a pleasure to watch! Work-ups are going well - in the course of the last few days the team have flown their first "9-Ship" practises of the year and it's all now starting to come together. A few more weeks of getting it all together here before they head to Greece for "Exercise Springhawk" which should hopefully culminate in them being awarded the coveted "PDA" - Public Display Authority which allows them to go from performing "practises" (as they currently are) to "Displays" in front of the public in the UK and elsewhere. They then return to the UK in time for their first public displays at Torbay Airshow down in Devon at the beginning of June. Can't wait!

Robyn

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Everyone Else is Taken...!

Fit in! Join in! Be like everyone else! (Or not...)

There's a huge amount of pressure to conform, to do what everyone else does, to be "normal". Most people probably don't even give any thought to "normal" - they just want to be considered it. We're not born wanting to be normal, wanting to emulate what others do in their lives - watch any group of small children playing together and yet, they'll copy, but they'll also be totally happy to say "Nah - that's not me!" if that then doesn't fit in well with what they want to do. Then we hit school, and good old peer pressure comes into play in earnest, and to be honest, it never really goes away.

Sometimes wanting to emulate others can be good - seeing a friend who's a fabulous cook, for example, and thinking "wow - I'd love to learn to cook like that!" has benefits to your everyday life. A friend who's fabulous at photography can make you push yourself to think a bit more about your own shots, and how you can improve them. Other times it can be less positive - we've all seen that person who is so anxious to please that they will mould themselves to whoever they're spending time with - not quite "Single White Female" standard, but equally creepy to watch, after a while. Suddenly they develop an interest in things that they'd previously never mentioned (but if challenged, will always manage to look astonished and claim that they'd "always" been interested in X, Y or Z!"), their tastes in music and TV change, and they will fervently agree with whatever their new role model says, regardless of their true views - determined to not risk upsetting this person who, mostly, will be a far stronger and more dominant character.  It can be a dangerously easy trap to fall into as well - at least to a degree - after all it's far easier to agree with someone than to present a contradictory view, isn't it, especially if you lack the confidence to deal with a scathing and dismissive reaction from the other person if you do suggest that you feel differently. We all like to appear agreeable after all. Ultimately though, seeing someone like that can also be quite painful to watch, not least as invariably after a time the dominant personality will nearly always get bored with their resident "yes man" and run for the hills. A true friend will like you for yourself, and will be interested in your views and opinions - they won't shout you down or ridicule you for daring to voice them.

I wrote my most recent Frugal Friday entry on the subject of choices - how we all make them, and how sometimes, people make assumptions about WHY we've made them. Either way though - we all have a right to freedom of choice in so far as it doesn't harm anyone else, and those choices should be respected by others regardless of whether we agree with them, or not. "I wouldn't have done it that way but if it suits you, then great!" is fine "Well that's just stupid, you should have done it this way..." less so. Mr EH and have chosen to live a life without debt - we're not comfortable with it, don't like feeling as though we owe anything to anyone, and when in the future we choose to take on a mortgage again, we'll deal with it in the same way we did the first one - by making sacrifices, and overpaying as much as we can until it's gone. I have chosen to take on a 0% Credit Card for my new camera and phone, bought last year - not because I hadn't saved the money for these - I had - but because that money serves me better sitting in an interest bearing savings account. I worked for it in the first place, now IT is working for ME (It's not working all that hard, granted, but it's the principle that counts, here!). The card was opened with a 22 month interest free period but will be gone long before that, and should the worst happen, they money is there to clear any outstanding balance immediately. For the past 9 years we've adopted a way of life which means that if the money is not in the bank for something we want, we simply have to wait for it until we've saved up - and that works well for us, we're happier for it by far. Sometimes our choices are to do without, do with less, or do with something different, down to cost, other times they are made for other reasons - the one thing above all that - halleluiah - our original financial choices meant, is that we are no longer ruled by cost in all things - we consider necessity, and quality of life first. I still feel that one of the most powerful things I learned in the early days of our voluntarily frugal journey was that we don't need "stuff" to make us happy - breaking the habit of buying on impulse has probably saved us as much as anything else we've done over the years.

As long as the things you're doing are safe & legal, and don't hurt others, don't let anyone judge you, or raise an eyebrow at you for doing them - if they suit you, and your way of living, then that's the key thing. If someone DOES try to make you feel as though you're strange for making the choices you have, then maybe it's time to bear in mind the old adage - "Them as matter, don't mind, and them as mind, don't matter". Old it may be but there's a lot of truth there. Be true to yourself first, and worry what others think after - or at least try to, that one is a learning curve for me as much as anyone. If someone chooses to judge you for making a choice about something, then that says more about them, than about you, and learning to be comfortable enough in your own skin to say "Each to their own, eh" and shrug off hurtful comments is a powerful thing. Be yourself - everyone else is taken!

Robyn

Friday, 24 March 2017

Frugal Friday...

Choices. We all have to make them, consciously or unconsciously. For us, living frugally was a choice - we discussed where we ideally wanted to be financially, and agreed that debt free - including mortgage, was the end goal. And from there we made choices that facilitated that. We chose to delay the work that ideally needed doing on the flat, for the first thing. Everything was "good enough" - we were without question able to live with it - but there is a lot that needs doing now that the mortgage is dealt with, and we're now making further choices about which way to tackle those.

Once the choice to alter the way we lived was made, that in turn lead to other choices. We chose to stick with fixed rate deals for our mortgage for example - we took the view that we could afford what we were paying, and it allowed us to make overpayments, and the security of knowing that wasn't going to change for a set period of time worked well. In hindsight, we would have been better to have changed provider and gone onto a SVR - the lowest our rate ever dropped in 13 years was 4.34% and our overpayments were limited by the fixed rate product - but there you go, hindsight, as they say, is a marvellous thing!  We chose that although yes, we wanted that mortgage gone, we weren't going to cut ourselves off from all that was fun in the interim - and that, for us, proved to be the correct choice. We budgeted for holidays, for some "fun" stuff - and that allowed the overpaying and the other frugal choices to be sustainable, we think. This is borne out by the significant number of folk (some of whom may be found on a frugal blog or two out there!) who chose the hardcore "cut everything" approach and have failed to meet their own targets as a result. In theory we could have been MF sooner than we were, but the experiences we would have missed in the meantime would have been a sacrifice too far.

One thing we've never sacrificed is our food choices though - I recently mentioned to a friend that we were having a variation on Jack Monroe's Carrot and Kidney bean burgers for our dinner that night - and the response was fired back "I don't care how cheap they are, I wouldn't make them - I want meat in my burgers!" - now the first level I found this interesting on was that the perception was that I must be making them because they were cheap. Well there's no getting away from it, they ARE cheap, I reckon even with the tweaks I've made to the recipe (parsnip instead of carrot due to MrEH's carrot-dodging tendancies, additional herbs and spices, that sort of thing) they still cost me no more than about 50p a batch to make. However, they also taste really nice - we simply wouldn't eat them if they didn't - for us, food and flavour go together without question. The second was the assertion that burgers had to have meat in them. Whilst we are about as far from vegetarians as you can imagine, another choice we made years ago - namely to only buy British, higher welfare standard meat, means that as a result we now eat less of it than we used to - our choice is higher quality, lower quantity, and that works well, we get a better tasting product when we do eat it, and as we've learned to pack the flavour into our meat-free meals by combining flavours and textures, using seasonal veg wherever possible, and acquiring a good collection of herbs and spices, those don't feel like a hardship for a moment. I love a nice meaty burger as much as the next person, but I'm also happy to consider alternatives, and discover tasty stuff by looking a bit further afield and stepping away from the accepted norm. Sometimes meat is almost used as a seasoning - a little finely chopped bacon in macaroni cheese for example, it's there, but it's no longer the entire point of the dish - again we get away with this because our bacon is higher welfare, dry cured and FULL of flavour - don't try this with the watery Danish stuff guys, you might as well save your money! One very well known frugal blogger told me some years ago in a public comment in her blog that I was wasting my money buying higher welfare British meat - she "couldn't afford" to do that - ironic as at the time her household had a significantly higher income than ours did, but no matter, my ethics won't let me "afford" to do otherwise. I'd certainly encourage anyone else to make the same choices we do on that front, for flavour and quality alone - but it IS a choice, and it may not be right or even possible for everyone.

Stunning colours in last weekend's "Winter Slaw"!

Another choice we made which has a bearing on the food thing now is for me to drop my working hours to part-time a few years ago. Working 4 days a week naturally brings in less money than a full 5 day week would - so the trade off for this was that I would use that extra time to drive down our household costs - and naturally this does include food shopping. I make the time to check online for the Super-6 deals from this supermarket, and the Pick of the Week offers from another, and often our meal plan is built around those. On the rare occasion I buy a specific item for a recipe - raw beetroot for the Winter Slaw I made last weekend, for example - I make sure the rest of it gets used up in another way so food waste is kept down. I rarely have time through the week to cook from recipes - envious though I am of those who do - so our weekday meals tend to be pretty quick to cook but still cooked from scratch. And yes - some of them will be meat free, through choice. This week for example - the "parsnip and kidney bean burgers" that sparked this post, served in Lebanese wraps with rocket and winter slaw; Bolognese, batch cooked at the weekend and simply reheated, served over pasta; a spicy king prawn salad (that used up the remainder of the Winter Slaw too); Liver and onions with mash & veg (SO wonderfully quick to cook, and so full of flavour!); A Thai inspired fish stew with rice; Sausages with a pile of assorted roasted veg (yes, that was where the rest of the beetroot went!); Pasta in a creamy cheese sauce with mushrooms and bacon. So roughly a pattern of meat one day, and veggie or fish the next.

It's definitely worth thinking about your choices in a bit more detail than you might otherwise - taking the time every now and again to re-evaluate, make sure that those choices are still right for you. Work out where taking a little more time might save you money that's better used elsewhere. Challenge the obvious. Ask yourself why you do things to a certain pattern, and whether there is a better way. I'd almost not thought of it before but writing this post has made me realise - making our money and our time work for us has really been key to what we've achieved so far, and as a result of that we've learned skills which we'll continue to use on in to the future.

Robyn

Monday, 20 March 2017

Words...

"It's only words"
"Words don't come easy"
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me"

Except of course we all know - or at least *should* know that last one isn't true don't we. Taught to children in a bid to show them that someone can't hurt you just by calling you names - and of course if we're referring to physical harm and damage, that may be true - but what about the effect of words on someone's mental health, self-esteem and confidence? And what effect does teaching that really have on a child - to some, does it give the impression that you can "say" what you like to someone, or about someone, as that's OK, it's just causing them physical harm that's wrong? Sometimes it certainly feels as though that's the case. You'd think by the time people progress into adulthood that they would have learned that words CAN hurt, at least, but increasingly that doesn't seem to be the case - and the internet certainly doesn't help with that - too many "keyboard warriors" who feel they can say whatever they like (Jack Monroe's recent court victory and the TwitterStorm that followed certainly proved this with a surprising number of people feeling that the result was wrong as "You can say what you like on the internet") and hang the consequences or the effects on others. And of course now if you dare to speak out, to say "No, this is wrong, that's treating someone badly, that's not nice" you get accused of being a "snowflake" - a lot of people confusing being nice, with being over-sensitive.

Sometimes though the right words can have a positive effect. In the midst of a rather "Meh" day on Saturday, two separate events reminded me of this. First a card from some lovely friends, thanking me for something. Just a tiny gesture, and absolutely "not required" but the message written inside was thoughtful, beautifully worded, and absolutely "right" in the circumstances. The second was a message via social media from someone I'd randomly met the day before, while photographing a helicopter flypast in London. We'd exchanged a few words whilst waiting - but were too far apart to actually talk properly, but once the aircraft had passed by I crossed back over the road to say hello and see how they'd got on (conditions were horrible!) - for various reasons this had made a very positive impact on the person, and they'd gone to the trouble the following day of doing some online research and had managed to find my Facebook page as a result. Another set of thoughtful and considered words, and in this case, quite brave, also, for various reasons. An average day utterly transformed by the actions of others.

"Farewell to the Lynx" - the last RN Lynx Helicopters over the Thames

The people involved in these two small kindnesses didn't need to go to the lengths they did at all - the first could have been a more simple basic "Thank you" - and in fact a thank you had already been said, so it could be argued that the card was unnecessary in any case. As it was, the beautifully crafted and considered message inside was a truly lovely gesture. In the second case, I was totally taken aback that someone would go to the time and effort involved in tracking me down in order to thank me for something which I could never have known would have had the impact on them it did. In both cases though I can only thank THEM - for taking the time, for thinking it was worth it, and for being genuinely nice. Not "Look at me, look how nice I am" gesture - more about the person making it than about the person it is made to - no shouting or showboating here, but a genuine kindness and a thoughtful use of words. There's a lot to be said for that.

Robyn

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Progress...

Remember those new years "Not Resolutions"? I thought it seemed like a good time to do a first progress update on them - I'm keen to try to do that a few times through the year - mainly to keep myself accountable more than anything else, but also to help with tracking my own progress. I'd be the first to admit that somewhere I tend to fall down on this sort of goal-setting is to fail to review things, and so lose focus - so one aim for this year is for that not to happen.

Personal:
- I will aim to reach a minimum of 5,000 steps per day. There will be days when for whatever reason I won't manage this, but the average across a week is the important thing. I'm right there on this. There have been a few days I've not reached the 5k level for various reasons, but the majority I've been well over it, and so far my average over a month is looking great! This one has been a real learning curve for me - sop many times in the past I've set "10k steps a day" goals forgetting that sometimes this simply doesn't work with my life. 
- I want to concentrate on eating well - with a focus on learning more about foodstuffs that will potentially assist with a health issue I'm trying to work to overcome. Yes - and I'm prepared to tentatively say that I'm starting to notice a positive difference. I've embarked on a "reduced sugar month" for February too - although I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, I was keen to identify the areas where I DO consume more refined sugar than is perhaps good for me, and so far this seems to be working.
- Continue with a general plan to Eat Less, Move More - again in a bid to assist with the health issue. Yes. They say a month is sufficient time to form a habit - the moving more part of this has now been over that time and it has started to feel as though it's become part of my regular life. I've now introduced the dietary stuff to that as well so I'll see how it goes. I don't do diets, I don't do scales, so my only measure for this will be how I feel generally.
- Continue using my Bullet-ish journal to help with planning and general organisation HOW did I not know about these earlier? Absoloutely genius idea - I can quite happily pick it up and add a few notes at lunchtime, and it's turned into my absolute "go to" for checking on dates, arrangements, and things that need doing. 
- Look into yoga classes locally or if there is anything good I can do online - again this is related to the health issue On the back burner for now - one thing at a time or things get overwhelming and that's counter-productive. 

Home:
We want to continue with the works on the flat, initially to make it a lovely place for us to live, but also to add value.
- New door and window to be fitted to the kitchen Done - and making SUCH a quality of life improvement already!
- New front door to be fitted Also done - and again the quality of life improvement is there already. It's a pleasure - if slightly odd - to come home to a door that looks so nice.  
- Complete kitchen redesign/refit. This will include some building works. The planning side is well underway - we have a plan and a drawing and are now at the stage of starting to think about the detail. Things are being noted as we think of them (for example MrEH's genius idea that the socket next to the microwave & kettle should have USB points included - thus instantly reducing the issues with not having enough space to plug everything in!)
- Hallway to be refloored/redecorated.
- Decluttering on a minor scale - focus on seeing items within the house that we don't use 1 cupboard saw a full bin bag full of old paperwork, and assorted oddments of computer paraphernalia that is so out of date it's no longer worth keeping, along with old appliance boxes and similar head to the rubbish, and a carrier bag full of oddments for the charity shop, too. That in turn has freed up more storage in that cupboard.
- Work consciously on using the things we have - whether that's foodstuffs, or useful items. The plan to eat from cupboards, larder, fridge and freezer ahead of the kitchen refit is going well - albeit my depleted cupboards are starting to make me a little nervous! 

Financial:
- Joint savings to continue as they are Ongoing
- I will keep a good eye on interest rates and make the most of any access we have to higher interest savings Again, ongoing - a new regular saver account was opened when the old one matured in January, and the money to pay for the works on the flat is coming from our lowest-interest savings accounts.
- I would like to have paid off at least £700 from the 0% card by the end of 2017. So far £105 of this has been paid off - my £700 target equated to £58 a month and I'm well up on that. 
- The paying down of the 0% card is to happen as much as possible without dipping into savings. Savings are untouched so far, and the money for the phone and the camera - the two items that were balance transferred to the 0% card - has been shifted into a separate savings account so I can keep track. 
- Aim to make £30 extra per month minimum via surveys, cashback etc to pay against the 0% card A little over £50 so far, with some more to pay out. 

Photography:
- Keep doing it! Very little so far this year - weather has rather stopped play. I do however have a possible opportunity to explore a new area of photography that I've not touched on before, which will be interesting if it comes off!
- Look to upgrade my long lens next winter
- Really work on concentrating and being present in my photography
- Stop. Think. Shoot.

General/Random:
- Continue to work on gaining confidence in friendships I won't be going into much detail here on this one - it's a more public space than I feel comfortable including too much on this very personal issue.
- "Let it go" and "This too shall pass" Mindfullness. 
- Stop and think before acting Again this is about being mindful. Reminding myself that sometimes it's better just to step back from things, than to react to them 
- Try not to feel hurt or upset when other people behave unpleasantly or unkindly - I can't control their behaviour, I can control my reaction to it. Yes - this one is all about reminding myself that when someone behaves this way it says more about them, than about me - but my reaction says more about me, than about them. Food for thought. 
- Be conscious and mindful. Think about the choices I have, and those I make 
- Tidy up both laptop and desktop in readiness for the new Airshow Season.
- Continue with volunteering stuff  Ongoing
- Have fun - make the most of situations that offer themselves to me, and be brave enough to take them up. well the photography thing I mentioned above may be the first of these for the year!
- Try to tick a couple more items off our big "We want to..." list. Planning a trip back to Cornwall in a few months.

Generally speaking at the moment, life is good. The one thing from above that has so far surprised me the most is the difference I'm feeling as a result of being mindful about refined sugar. I've identified habits that I didn't really know I had, but have also confirmed my suspicion that I'm really not someone who generally speaking eats a lot of sweet stuff. On that basis I don't feel that a "no sugar" target is particularly relevant to me - but I am actively researching what sugar is in the foods I choose, and cutting back where appropriate. Just in the 9 days I've been doing this, I feel like I have more energy - which is a surprise as if anything I'd assumed that the opposite would be the case, but this could be as a result of the healthier choices that are being made as a result of thinking about sugar?  I've established that I tend to have a habit of eating sweet stuff at weekends - a cake after tea on a Saturday for example, and that is something I can consciously seek to change. There are foods with added sugars that I won't be giving up any time soon - bread for example - and others that I've always been able to easily say no to in any case - chocolate. 

I may do a full blog post on my findings from the sugar experiment at some stage - watch this space! 

Robyn.