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!


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!


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!


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!


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!


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.


Monday, 20 March 2017


"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.


Thursday, 9 February 2017


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.

- 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. 

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! 

- 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. 

- 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.

- 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! 


Friday, 3 February 2017

Frugal Friday...

As we started to plan for getting the kitchen done, it suddenly occurred to us - we have an awful lot of stuff in that kitchen, and before too long, it's all going to have to be stored somewhere! Quite a scary thought, to be honest. But it didn't take too much time for us to realise that it was relatively easy to turn that into a mini frugal-food-challenge!

So, for the past couple of weeks I've been focusing the meal plan around using up contents of the cupboards, fridge and freezer. As and when it comes to time to start clearing the room we'll be switching on Freezer 2 and transferring the contents of freezer 1 over to there, but we will also need space in there to store "home made ready meals" that we can easily heat up in the microwave while we're without full cooking facilities. Things like Chilli and bolognese are going to feature I think, and we'll have the camping stove as well which will give us a single ring "hob".

For the moment though it's all about using what we have - so the first thing was to go through the cupboards so we knew what we DID actually have. Some things took us by surprise a little - the pack of sugar free jelly crystals that went out of date in (I think) 2008, for example. We can be quietly confident that there is nothing much natural in those, as they smelled, looked and tasted exactly as normal! 5 tins of red kidney beans also came as a little bit of a surprise, along with 8 cans of baked beans. Yes. 8. No I have no idea.  Other things less so - half a jar of smoked peanut butter which never quite hit the spot on toast. About half a pack of pudding rice - it takes an AWFUL long while to use up a bag of pudding rice you know! Quite a bit of dried fruit - that's a conscious choice to have though - I like to know if I want to make flapjacks or similar, I've got the ingredients to hand.

Sometimes "using things up" can lead you to discovering new ideas that for whatever reason you hadn't thought of before. A few rashers of bacon fried and stirred into baked beans for example enlivened a standard jacket potato up no end. It's not that it's anything new or revolutionary, just simply that I'd never thought of combining the things like that that. That peanut butter has been added to Thai style veggie curries  - also using up coconut milk - to turn them into a sort of satay flavour - really tasty! I've also tried one recipe that I've talked about for ages and never previously got around to trying - Clafoutis - essentially a batter pudding, traditionally with cherries in it. We had a lurking can of black cherries donated by a friend who bought them then remembered she doesn't like cherries! A resounding success - and rather than a batter, as such, the recipe I followed gives almost more of a set custard.

Rice pudding with dried cranberries added, finished off with flaked almonds on top to toast for the final 30 minutes of cooking was another success. Apologies for the shoddy photo. I was anxious to get on and eat it!

The reward for this effort is already starting to show, both in diminishing food cupboards, and in diminishing food bills too - so it's definitely working on all levels. I'll be carrying on for the foreseeable future as I work through things, it's requiring some thought when it comes to the shopping list as I have to remember to add those "storecupboard" ingredients that have already been used, but only in the quantity that they are required for the upcoming week's meal plan!


Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Next Step...

The next stage of our refurbishment of our flat is now getting underway. It always amazes people that we've lived here for 13 years and had not done anything major to it until the bathroom was ripped out and replaced last year. I guess that to an extent, we felt that we ought to "really" own the place before we started sorting out the inside to any great extent. Although we were still a few months away from paying off the mortgage altogether when we had the bathroom done, that really had reached the point where getting it sorted out was a need rather than a want, and as we had the money to do it saved, we chose to go ahead at that stage.

While "liveable" - we'd be the first to agree that it's not necessarily been the easiest of choices to actually live with some of it. The kitchen is now starting to tip across to becoming a "need" rather than a "want" to have done. It's sometimes colder than it might be in the place because we've got a number of blown double-glazing units.  The carpets - particularly the hallway - are showing serious signs of wear. We're heartily fed up with the rather 1980's feel to the hallway - think artex and a pine dado rail...  BUT - having waited to get all these things done now means we'll be able to do them as we want, and hopefully buy a quality that will last for a good long while. We will also not be taking on any debt to get the works done now, as a result of having waited.

So - the first part of the plan was to get the kitchen window and door replaced - the double glazing was blown in the door, and the window was single glazed meaning that that the room was freezing and the window was running with water pretty much permanently. So on Friday they were ripped out and replaced with a brand new super-insulated door and window. we've chosen a window with 2 openers on one pane for the simple reason that this brings opening windows into my reach - the old unit was a devil to reach to open for a shorty like me! The door opens outward making it easier to access the balcony to read the gas meter, water plants etc.  At the same time we have had our old wooden framed aluminium front door replaced as well - really the only change we are able to make to the direct "kerb appeal" of the place. That is already making the place warmer, and more secure.

Plans for the kitchen are also going forwards - we've had a measuring & planning meeting, and are now waiting for a plan and a drawing to come through. We've found a paint colour we like for the walls - a soft fresh green. We've chosen our units - slab style cream gloss - and the handles that will go on them. We've decided to go with the same tiles on the floor that we used in the bathroom - not only will it give continuity through the flat but we really like them! The splashback behind the worktop is going to be done in cream subway-style tiles. We think we've found the oven and dishwasher we want. We've learned that integrated fridge/freezers only seem to come as a 55cm wide option. Which is somewhat annoying. I have to admit though we're finding the process quite difficult - and until last night I couldn't quite work out why. The bathroom was easy by comparison - we felt confident about both the design and working out what would fit. The layout for that was prescribed - it's a small room, the bath will only fit one way, and the rest kind of followed on from there - the layout we had previously worked, and so we stuck with it. The kitchen has left us feeling baffled though - seemingly whatever we tried to make work, wouldn't. We're tremendously limited for worktop space currently - so doing anything that would reduce this further is not an option. The sink can only go in one place. We want to stick with gas for cooking. And suddenly last night the blindingly obvious hit us. The layout we have in the kitchen at the moment works superbly - cooking is a pleasure as everything flows from my worktop position - the tap is just to my right, my knives are in the block right in front of me, the hob and oven just to my left, and the fridge just a couple of steps away behind me. So why do we feel we "have" to change it? If it ain't broke, why try to fix it? And, at the end of the day, in a small space you do have to work with what you have. I'd LOVE a fabby range style cooker - in fact I'd possibly love it slightly more than I do MrEH, so it may be a good thing that we don't have room for one. ;-) Now all that has sunk in, it all feels slightly less daunting and scary, slightly more manageable. The one small tweak to layout will be to switch the positions of the dishwasher and a base unit so that the dishwasher is slightly closer to the plumbing, giving less of a run on the drainage.

Now it's all about the small stuff - thinking about any ways we can increase storage, checking everything is accurate on the plan, seeing if there is any way at all of increasing the space available. A good friend is also going to look over the plans for us - to see if he can think of anything that we've missed, or that might work better. An extremely keen cook, not only has he fitted kitchens for himself in the past he's done a fair few for other people too so he's a great person to have on-side. Our builder (you may remember him from the bathroom exploits) Dave is also ace - not a lot phases him and we're leaving things like suggestions for clever lighting to him to come up with as he's great on stuff like that. Rather as with the bathroom we'll be learning as we go along to a degree - but also learning from mistakes we made there. The next few weeks will be focusing on using up as much in the way of food items as can from fridge, freezer, cupboards and larder - in fact look out for a Frugal friday post on that subject soon. The additional freezer space created will then be filled with home made "ready meals" which can quickly and easily be heated up using just the microwave - we don't intend to spend the time the kitchen takes to do living off takeaways and meals out!

Watch this space for updates on how we get on!


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

2017...some thoughts.

Notwithstanding the "not making resolutions" thing, I do like to start the New Year with a bit of planning in mind - some rough goals I'd like to achieve really. With that in mind (and triggered in part by reading something online earlier on in which someone stated that for them, this year was going to be all about "connection and contentment" - I mean how perfect is that?) I thought I'd make a bit of a list...

My goals tend not to be "set in stone" types - I've done this so often before, saying that I want to do X, Y or Z, and then I set my bar too high, don't quite reach it, and end up feeling like I've failed completely. I admire those who are able to set tremendously ambitious goals and reach them each and every time - sadly that's not me. Step counting is a great example - I would love to be able to reach the ideal of 10k steps per day, but realistically most days of the week this just isn't achievable for me. I have no options to walk to or from work, my walking is generally pretty limited to what I can jam in before work, at lunchtime, or after I finish. So with that in mind, my first "personal" goal is set at a rather more sustainable level...

- 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 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.
- Continue with a general plan to Eat Less, Move More - again in a bid to assist with the health issue.
- Continue using my Bullet-ish journal to help with planning and general organisation
- Look into yoga classes locally or if there is anything good I can do online - again this is related to the health issue

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
- New front door to be fitted
- Complete kitchen redesign/refit. This will include some building works.
- Hallway to be refloored/redecorated.
- Decluttering on a minor scale - focus on seeing items within the house that we don't use
- Work consciously on using the things we have - whether that's foodstuffs, or useful items.

- Joint savings to continue as they are
- I will keep a good eye on interest rates and make the most of any access we have to higher interest savings
- I would like to have paid off at least £700 from the 0% card by the end of 2017.
- The paying down of the 0% card is to happen as much as possible without dipping into savings.
- Aim to make £30 extra per month minimum via surveys, cashback etc to pay against the 0% card

- Keep doing it!
- Look to upgrade my long lens next winter
- Really work on concentrating and being present in my photography
- Stop. Think. Shoot.

- Continue to work on gaining confidence in friendships
- "Let it go" and "This too shall pass"
- Stop and think before acting
- 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.
- 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
- Have fun - make the most of situations that offer themselves to me, and be brave enough to take them up.
- Try to tick a couple more items off our big "We want to..." list.

Of course there are two points as a result of all of this. The first is that *technically speaking* you might say that there's little difference between my goals, and the next person's "New Year's Resolutions" - I'd dispute that though - my goals will get reviewed at various stages, and may even get added to as I think of various things. The second is that for the first year in....well, years, I'm not setting ANY goals along the lines of "blog regularly" - ironic, eh?!


Sunday, 8 January 2017

New Toy...

So as I mentioned in my Frugal Friday post, I've recently become the owner of a new Canon 80D DSLR. This becomes my second camera body, alongside the 7DMk2 and replacing the 40D I've had in my kit since 2009. The 40D has been brilliant - I've used it for speedway, rugby and aviation stuff, and even a few weddings! It's been to the Hebrides about 7 times, and lots of other places besides. It's been drenched numerous times, and been "round the clock" in terms of shutter clicks, having to have its shutter mechanism replaced back in about 2012 I think it was. To be honest I'm quite sad to see it go, BUT it had just reached the point where its age was starting to show - in digital camera terms the 40D was positively ancient, and switching mid Reds display from the 7MK2 to the 40 I was really noticing its limitations.

By way of comparison - I've swapped out a 10.1mp sensor for a 24.2mp one. 9 autofocus points for 45. Strangely the shooting speed is pretty much the same - maximum 6.5fps on the 40D, and just half a frame quicker pm the 80D. The new one feels a LOT closer to the 7Mk2 - but it's still taking some getting used to. I took it to the Hebrides at christmas, thinking that I'd have lots of time to get to grips with it, but the weather was such that it barely left the bag! So far the only flying things it's been pointed at are birds, but so far I've been pretty impressed with the results.

The autofocus is fast and the tracking in servo mode nice and smooth, and the detail it captures is exceptional. Another feature that was a real selling point for me was the built in wifi - meaning that I can upload photos from the card in the camera to my phone. Might be nice come airshow season to be able to fill quiet moments between displays with a quick bit of processing and social media posting - and as I have apps on my phone for both processing RAW files and copyright marking the processed shots, that's very achievable.

It handles colour well too - as these sunset shots show

Those colours are accurate to what I could see at the time of shooting. All the shots on this post have minimal processing - quite simply they've needed almost nothing. Sharpening only on the two Robin shots, and a bit of levels and highlights, plus sharpening on the sunsets. I used a little noise reduction on one of the Robin ones.

It's no slouch when the daylight fades away entirely either. Remember that supermoon last month...?

That was with the camera mounted on a monopod. It had no issue getting or maintaining focus, and happily gave me a shutter speed of 1/1000th at ISO 400. (If I'd had my tripod handy I would happily have dropped both ISO and shutter speed further.) Again I'm pleased with the detail, and once again relatively little processing was needed.

So - the verdict so far? Impressed. Hoping to get the chance to shoot some Little Red Jets with it  next week - I'll be interested to do a straight comparison with the 7MK2 and really get to grips with how they perform against one another. Fingers crossed for some nice blue skies!


Friday, 6 January 2017

Frugal Friday...

Predictably, I'm not making resolutions - yes, again! I am however planning for the year ahead, it feels a bit like the start of term when you were at school, the New year. While I'm not a great fan of all the hoo ha that goes with New Year's eve, I do in some ways quite like the feeling of starting afresh. I'll try and update on some of the other things we're thinking about and planning in the next little while, but for now, it IS a Friday, after all...

As always at this time of year we're turning our attentions to things financial - although more with a mindset of a "reset" than anything else. Just looking over what we're doing, Where we're spending, and reminding ourselves to be conscious about the money going out. I've got myself a little bit of a money challenge going on once again - which actually feels quite good, it's nice to have that focus again. In the tail end of 2016 I made two reasoned big purchases - a new camera and an upgrade to  my phone. Once cashback etc was taken into account the camera was purchased for the best price I could possibly have bought it for - and I was pleased to be able to buy from the UK rather than going the Hong Kong route, this time. The phone was dealt with in two phases - with just under 3 months to go on my EE contract I gave them a call as I'd spotted a SIM only deal that I hoped they might consider matching - to my delight they did - saving me around £12 per month on my bill, and increasing my data allowance to a level where I may not run out on several months of the year, too! Having done that, I then purchased the new phone paying upfront from a third party seller - fully unlocked and ready to go when it arrived. I did a lot of research on this - friends left, right and centre were urging me to go for the iPhone 6s - but with my previous one being a 5s, I was wary of the increase in size, so was also looking at the iPhone SE. I read a lot of articles comparing the two, and made a pros and cons list of the advantages of one over the other - there were few features that the 6S boasted over the SE that I really felt I wanted to be honest, and the massive win from the perspective of the SE was the extra battery life over it's bigger sibling. I also analysed how I used my phone and was surprised to realise quite how much of the time I use it one-handed - I estimated that at least 75% of my use was in that way. With that in mind the final deciding test was to handle my Mum's 6s - and that proved to be the decision-maker as each and every time I tried to use her phone one handed, I promptly flipped out of my hand and had I not been ready for it would have landed on the floor. With the decision made to opt for the SE I was even more pleasantly surprised to discover a £100+ difference in price - I eventually paid £409 for mine.

Although I had the money sitting in savings ready to pay for both items, I paid on the Credit Card both for the financial protection it gives, and also thanks to the cashback it pays. It was then that a thought occurred to me...a quick look on the Money Saving Expert site revealed a fee-free balance transfer card which I was likely to qualify to get. (Sainsbury's Bank - 0% for 22 months in case you were wondering.) Applied, and got - result! This means I have a space of time where the money can stay in my account earning at least a little interest - well anything is better than nothing, right? My plan is as follows: I've got back into doing surveys again - and anything I earn via that route will get paid against the 0% card. I'm also setting the Direct Debit for the initial minimum payment, rounded up to the next £. whereas normally if you just set it for the straight minimum payment, it will fall over time, mine will stay the same, meaning that as the balance drops each payment will effectively have more of an impact on the balance remaining. Assuming the TopCashBack payments on the two purchases some through OK, those will also go back against the card. My aim is to pay off both items within the interest free period, (obviously!) but using as little money from my savings as possible. So far I've chipped £35 off the balance - £11 survey money plus the £24 I would usually have paid on my phone bill (it came in at zero this month due to the change onto the new SIM only deal).

I'll keep you informed of how things go - it feels slightly odd to be thinking in terms of being "in debt" again, but currently the very fact that I don't like that much is serving as a good incentive to get it gone! Oh - and the new camera - well see for yourself, I'm happy...!