Sunday, 17 January 2016

The icing on the cake?

They got rather excited when they saw me mixing up a big bowl of icing last week. We didn't have a Christmas cake last year - had I made a belated one in January after all? Complete with royal icing? They asked hopefully.

No it's something far more useful than that. With an under sink cupboard that's bursting with eco cleaning product ingredients following my over calculations for a WI workshop back in 2013, I'm using up some bicarb in a home-made cream cleaner. The recipe comes from Jo in Tasmania, at her All the Blue Day blog - she's got a special tab on her blog right here with information on planet-friendly cleaning products. (Jo's a thoughtful blogger and true wordsmith - quality writing, always, as well as quality cleaner recipes).

Jo's cream cleaner recipe
1 cup bicarb
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
10 mls castile soap
40-50ml water
10 drops clove oil

When did I ever follow a recipe properly though? I don't have any cream of tartar, so I didn't bother with that. Nor the castile soap, which I replaced with Ecover washing up liquid. Clove oil, surprisingly, I did have, and that gives the product a hygienic and Christmassy smell. Although it's in the recipe for its mould inhibiting properties, I'm sure you could replace it with another essential oil, or even leave it out altogether.

And the icing on the cake? When brushed into a  grubby school shirt collar, the cream cleaner works its magic as much as on bathrooms and kitchens. 

That's the 'after'. You'll have to imagine the 'before' - not difficult to do:
12 year old boy + white shirt = grubby collars.

Thank you Jo!

Monday, 11 January 2016

Let's hear it for regional museums

One of my favourite museums is the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. I've been there a few times now and it never bores or disappoints. For all sorts of reasons:

Image courtesy of Jorge Royan - Wikimedia Commons
  • Unlike the Natural History Museum in London, you don't have to queue for ages to get in, nor fight the crowds once you're in there.
  • The Victorian neo-Gothic architecture is amazing - it's light, airy and immediately uplifting. 
  • You can call me an old fart, but I like the fact that the artefacts are left to speak for themselves without too much fancy schmancy interactive kit getting in the way. Even Son, who loves anything techy, spent hours poring over cabinets of insects. 
  • Although it's not as big as the NHM in London, there's plenty of geological and zoological stuff to see. On our recent visit, admiring the birds, the bugs and a geology exhibition in the upstairs gallery occupied our whole time.
  • The collections are excellent, as you'd expect - it being Oxford and all. Grandad says the bird collection is better than London's. (Naturally in this day and age, we don't approve of killing animals for collections, but most of the exhibits we saw looked genuinely historical).
  • We especially enjoyed the current special exhibition about William Smith, the father of modern geology. The geological maps he produced of the UK are fascinating, as is his story (he started life as a humble surveyor and worked his way up). We were surprised by the fact that although he was successful in his field he ended up spending time in a debtor's prison due to his lack of business acumen. ("This would make a great book!" we exclaimed, little realising that there already is one.)
And all this for free. (Although donations were made, of course). Aren't we lucky?

As if that's not enough, the Pitt Rivers Museum, which houses the University's archeological and ethnographic collections, lies directly behind the Oxford Natural History Museum. Trouble is, it's hard not to get sidetracked by the Natural History Museum on your way there. One day I'm going to 'do' the Pitt Rivers Museum in its own right. 

Have you got a favourite local museum I should check out one day?

Saturday, 9 January 2016

A Simple Living challenge is for life, not just for 21 days...

A year ago, exactly a whole year ago in fact, I joined in with Kindspring's Simple Living Challenge. Like many of Kindspring's challenges, it was a 21 day thing. (Go check them out here if you like a challenge with heart). Although I found it difficult to cram in the challenges to the three weeks, I never quite intended to be still completing the challenge and blogging about it one year after the event. But why not? Simple living should be for life after all, not just for 21 days.

The story so far? Well, Days 1 - 7 featured challenges such as mindful eating, unplugging, decluttering, emptying your email inbox, spending some time in silence, doing something you'd been putting off, and reflecting on the meaning in your life. Weighty matters, so you can see why it was difficult to complete a challenge per day...

I juddered to a real halt when it came to Day 8 - the challenge was to 'Do It Yourself!', reflecting on the hidden costs of convenience and making something you need with your own hands. "Maybe you'll learn how to sew curtains, or make your own chocolate. Maybe you'll build a bird feeder or make a birthday card for a friend", Kindspring kindly suggested. They even helpfully provided a link to a website called Instructables, which tells you how to make just about anything. I have made curtains, chocolate and cards in my time, but last year, the months rolled by and, if you exclude cooking, I didn't actually conjure up anything from scratch. Perhaps Kindspring is right - I have become distanced from my 'inherent creative skills'.  Oh dear. I seem to do much making do and mending, and using up and doing without, but not much creating of 'things'.

Daughter came to the rescue though. She has been desperate to use the sewing machine and when she found some festive fabric in the box of Christmas decorations, she asked if she could make some Christmas bunting. Of course! She did it mostly herself but I helped. So I think this counts towards the DIY challenge. I mean, everyone needs a string of Christmas bunting at some point in their lives, don't they?

Monday, 4 January 2016

Happy New Year!

2015 was not my best blogging year. These last few months I did type an awful lot of words - but on other things. Essays - the university studying sort where you have to read and think - and work stuff, mainly. So unless I wanted to spend all of my time sat at a computer (which I didn't), blogging sort of fell by the wayside.

But I do still enjoy writing, especially the sort that doesn't have to be academically referenced, and I do still try to live a little bit more sustainably, and I do try hard to keep things simple, even when they're really rather complicated with work and family and studying, and what not. And being a student again means I definitely have to be frugal. So all is not lost. And of course my favourite thing of all is to try and minimise food waste and to eat leftovers. Especially Christmas leftovers. And take bad photographs of said leftovers. 

Can you guess what they are?

The thing about blogging is that it does make you think about all that stuff more and keeps you accountable, and then there are all the others out there who are thinking about that stuff and blogging and commenting about it, and eating leftovers. It's heartwarming. 

So whilst I can't resolve to be a more frequent blogger in 2016, I can resolve to dip in and out still. And eat leftovers. 

Monday, 17 August 2015

Wild Swimming

One of this summer's favourite frugal activities has been swimming. Wiltshire Council kindly provides free swimming for kids during the summer holidays, and we've made good use of the offer. 

This year the kids have also enjoyed wild swimming. Not in Wiltshire, but in the East Dart at Bellever, Devon, and further down in the River Dart itself at Newbridge, towards Ashburton -a really popular swimming spot.

It was icy cold water and both kids quickly concluded that wetsuits are definitely needed for river swimming in England. That was why I couldn't be found in the water. Rivers are just as enjoyable when you're sitting beside them, enjoying the sound of the water flowing swiftly over large granite stones and the play of the light as it shines through the trees.

Wild swimming has really become a 'thing' over the last few years - locally, a swimming area on the Avon not too far from here has become very well known, although we have yet to make our way there. With the help of Grandad and the Internet, Son seemed to easily find grid references for the two Dartmoor swimming places we visited - both were safe (as in, not too deep) and the water looked clear and fast flowing enough not to be harbouring any nasty diseases.

A good introduction to wild swimming, and certainly something we (or some of us) will pursue.

Do you know any good spots for wild swimming near where you live?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Two of your Five-a-Day...inspired by GBBO

Two weeks ago I told you about my bloggy collaboration with Fabrizio from, a website that promotes products produced by monasteries. Fabrizio sent me two food items produced by monks in Italy to use in recipes of my choice. 

The deal was that in return for receiving the edible products, I would link to the Holy Art UK website. I've already told you about the cream tea we enjoyed using the Italian gooseberry jam. The second item was a beautifully packaged bar of chocolate, Il Cioccolato Di Roma, no less. So delightfully packaged that we almost didn't want to eat it. Once we'd opened the chocolate it did seem a shame to cook with such an objet d'art, so we ate half of it as it was, neat. Unsurprisingly it was delicious.

What to do with the other half?

My usual policy is not to get involved in reality TV shows that will sap hours from my life and that promote the culture of celebrity. It's the holidays though, so I broke the rules and accidentally watched the first episode of The Great British Bake Off last week.

Maybe the reason I don't watch reality TV shows is also because they are so emotionally draining. I know it's 'just a cake' as Husband reminded me several times, but I couldn't help but shed a tear when the woman whose non-setting chocolate mousse filling showed her sloppy chocolate cakey mess to the judges anyway. And as for poor musician Stu (who was the first to exit the competition) and his creative cakes that didn't impress...The best way to show solidarity with him and his Black Forest Gateau made with beetroot, was to make one too.

Not a four layered thing, that would be just too extravagant, but Jamie Oliver's Epic Chocolate and Beetroot Cake (you can find the recipe here) sandwiched with creme fraiche and cherries. Beetroot and cherries makes two of your five-a-day, and with no flour or additional fat (other than that in the chocolate) required and a relatively insignificant amount of sugar, this cake can only be a good thing...

In deference to the GBBO, I asked for feedback on my 'chocolate work' decorating the top of the cake. "I don't think you can call melted Italian chocolate spread around with a fork 'chocolate work' ", said Son. I guess I won't be entering any baking competitions soon, but the cake was still scrumptious or even, to use Jamie Oliver's description, epic. Thanks to the grated beetroot it's very rich, moist and chocolatey. I did have to buy some Co-op dark chocolate to top up the Italian stuff to the volume required in the recipe. (In fact the Italian chocolate was Al Latte and probably wouldn't have been dark enough on its own (so it really was a good and useful thing that we ate the other half on its own)).

This is a cake to be savoured slowly, just like Il Cioccolato di Roma.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The RE-giveaway winner and Tilley hat love.

I promised that I'd draw a number out of the hat for the Simple Living Handbook re-giveaway if Kathi from Florida, the original Simple Living Handbook giveaway winner, didn't reappear. She didn't. If she ever does I promise I will make it up to her. 

I got one of my kids to draw a number out of the hat. The number was 9. Commenter number 9 (if you take away a duplicate commenter) was Louise Houghton so Louise is the winner this time! Pleeeeease drop me an email via the blog's email ( with your address, Louise, so I can post the book to you. 

That's my Tilley hat in the picture. One of my favourite possessions. Tilley hats are not cheap but last year I invested in one (and it was truly an investment at nearly £60) in the interests of good sun protection. Usually I'll scrimp and save and look for the secondhand or cheapest option but sometimes it's worth spending out, especially when personal health is concerned. And Tilley hat owners must be a loyal bunch who hang on to their hats - you won't find many bargains on eBay. I was also after, once and for all, a hat with a brim that doesn't flop around and which doesn't blow away in the slightest gust of wind - the Tilley stays firmly put and even has adjustable strings for extreme weather conditions. 

Tilley, a Canadian company, pride themselves on making good quality products "handmade with Canadian persnickitiness", that last. Their hats come with a life-time guarantee - worn-out hats will be relaced for a small fee. A letter in a recent Which? consumer magazine from a Tilley hat owner praised them for successfully replacing his hat after 18 years.  

I'm hoping that this is a case where the initial investment will be outweighed by the fact that I will never ever need to purchase another sun hat again and so it will work out to be a frugal choice in the long run. I just mustn't lose the hat. 

What also swayed me in my decision were the environmental credentials of my particular hat - the Tilley 'Mash-Up' - it is made of 70% recycled hemp and 30% organic cotton. It's not a flashy hat - it's simple, eco and I think frugal. That's how I like it.

I'm curious - what items are you prepared to spend more on, in the hope that they will last well and save you money in the long term?

All opinions my own - this was not a sponsored post in any way.