Thursday, 31 May 2012

I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly!

After Tuesday's blog post about family travel games and hot on the heels of Sunday's post about poetry, one of Everyday Life On A Shoestring's subscribers emailed to suggest teaching my children the song, 'I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly'.  What a brilliant idea! (Especially as we are travelling by car not train this time!)  It will take a good chunk of the journey time to remind ourselves of the lyrics and sing it all the way through, and will give Dyslexic Daughter's troublesome short term memory a good work out.  If we want to, we can get creative with the lyrics (like Statler and Waldorf in the Muppet version below..."But I swallowed my gum! How very dumb to swallow your gum!")  

We love a good old sing song, and although the kids have varied musical tastes these days, from Jessie J to Nirvana, with everything from The Beatles, Green Day and One Direction falling somewhere in between, there will always be a place in our hearts for favourite nursery rhymes such as 'I Know An Old Lady'!  I defy anyone, adult or child, not to have a smile on their face after watching Judy Collins singing it on the Muppet Show in 1977!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with...

Remember our recent journey to the North East?  And how we forgot to take with us all the electronic gizmos and gadgets that keep children (and adults) entertained these days?

Disaster?  No, because, guess what?  We had with us some even more revolutionary inventions...pencils, pens and paper!

Half way into the journey home, with books finished, newspapers read and picnics eaten, we started on the games and they occupied us from Derby to Bristol.

The kids have mostly outgrown I Spy.  Phew!  And Noughts and Crosses (Tic Tac Toe).  Alleluia!

But we enjoyed:




and a game where you choose four categories (eg a food, a town, a country, an animal) and choose a letter.  You then have to find a food, a town, a country and an animal beginning with that letter.  A point is awarded for every correct word, and two points if you have a word that nobody else chose.   Repeat with more letters until boredom sets in!

I was shocked at the bad parenting I uncovered when my children said they had never been shown how to play:

Word Consequences


Picture Consequences

When we had exhausted these pencil and paper games, we played Twenty Questions and a Yes/No game.  (One person asks another questions to which they must NEVER respond with a Yes or a No.  If they do so, that round is over and the players swap roles.)

Now I know there are probably much more exciting activities on mobile phones and other electronic devices, but for me, these simple games win, hands down.  We didn't have to worry about charging the pens or paper, or losing expensive pieces of kit!  Moreover, the games were sociable; we could play them all together, at the same time, and amazingly, with nobody arguing.

The half term holiday is coming up and another long journey lies ahead of us, to the North West of England this time.  I'm already thinking about what other games we can play whilst travelling and whilst on holiday.

We have this old charity shop find, but there's nothing less conducive to a fun game than having somebody reading the book, sieving out the good games from the bad, digesting the rules, and trying to explain it, all at the same time, whilst shouting over the noise of the motorway!

Instead of having to resort to my battered Book of Car Games, I'd love to know if you have any simple family favourites that you play with your children or grandchildren?

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Poetry On A Shoestring

I've been thinking about poetry recently.  A friend has been helping her 14 year old son to revise for his English Literature exam, and commented on how difficult it had been, "14 year old boys don't really 'do' poetry."  I have to confess that in middle-age I don't really 'do' poetry much either, although as a 14 year old, we 'did' poetry a lot at my rather traditional school, and I enjoyed it.  The Dragon Book of Verse was our staple poetry diet, and when I look at the contents, which included sections on Creatures, Landscapes and Seascapes, I wonder if it shaped my ecological consciousness? 

These days, poems stumble across me, rather than me seeking them out.  Such as Piute Creek, by Gary Snyder.  When we listened to the radio programme on Thoreau, Husband and I were both mesmerised by this poem.  It lingered in the mind long after hearing it.  I didn't know much about this popular American poet,  but from what I've since been able to glean, he's my kind of poet and I want to learn more about him and his poems.  (If you have a favourite Snyder poem, or book of poems, I'd be glad for any recommendations in the comments!)

The Paris Review, Winter 1996, ran an interview with Snyder, and summarised him thus: 
"He is America's primary poet-celebrant of the wilderness, poet-exponent of environmentalism and Zen Buddhism, and poet-citizen of the Pacific Rim—the first American poet to gaze almost exclusively west toward the East, rather than east toward Western civilization."
The original idea for this post was to reproduce Piute Creek, on its own, plain and simple.  But it seems that the issue of copyright and reproducing poems, is as fraught as that of music sharing.  So instead, I direct you to a fantastic resource for people who would like more poetry in their lives, The Poetry Foundation.  There you can read Piute Creek for yourselves. And if you would like to learn more about Snyder there is an audio podcast about his life and work, which includes him reading poems from Mountains and Rivers Without End.

This Sunday, enjoy the simple pleasure of a poem (even if you're like my friend's son!)


In case any poets out there are getting anxious, Everyday Life On A Shoestring does not advocate accessing poetry solely online; if you want to support your poets then make sure to borrow poetry books from the library, look out for poetry books in charity shops, buy poetry anthologies and download poetry onto your Kindle!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Food Waste Friday - Very Hungry Caterpillar Style

Have you ever read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle? (If you haven't you can watch a video of the story made by Coppermill Primary School's Year 1 here.)

Well our food waste week has been dominated by using up last week's lemon cake baking disaster, and reads a little like that popular children's book!

On Sunday, we ate through one Strawberry Trifle, as recommended by Barb@ A Life In Balance.

But we were still hungry!

On Monday, we ate through one Eton Mess, as recommended by Jane.

But we were still hungry!

On Tuesday, we ate through one Pineapple Cheese Cake, as recommended by Sunshine Mae Designs.

But we were still hungry!

On Wednesday, we had finished using up the lemon cake, but now we had some pineapple left over from the cheesecake, so we ate through one Pineapple Upside Down Cake!  (With icecream as recommended by Live And Learn)

But we were still hungry!

On Thursday, we ate one nice plain banana.

And on this Food Waste Friday we definitely have NO cake waste!


DISCLAIMER: Here at Everyday Life On A Shoestring we do not usually eat such elaborate puddings on a daily basis, but if the alternative means a lemon cake going in the bin, then needs must!

And if you are thinking that I had to buy an awful lot of ingredients to use up one lemon cake, then think again!  We always buy fruit, and most of the ingredients we already had, apart from jelly for the trifle, whipped cream (which was eked out into the first three puddings) and cream cheese (which as well as featuring in the cheese cake became this week's top sandwich filling).

The Daily Mail featured an article about food waste, 'Britain bins its BOGOF bargains', this week.

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Olympic Fever On A Shoestring

Up until this week, I hadn't really entered into the Olympic spirit.  In fact I was a bit of an Olympic naysayer. 

OK, so having lived in the Lea Valley, London, for some years, I followed the development of the Olympic venues there with a little interest. And you can't argue with the Olympic values: respect, excellence, friendship, courage, determination, inspiration and equality.  But I certainly didn't buy into the crazy lottery system for purchasing tickets; I'm more than happy to partake of the 2012 Olympic Games via the TV.

Then Daughter came home and said that Year 6's Olympic artwork which they had created in small groups, was going to be exhibited at the local Arts Centre, and there was going to be a private view AND EVERYTHING! I couldn't help but begin to be swept along on the Olympic wave!

And of course, when the Olympic Torch passes by your place of work, you have to sit up and take notice, just a little.  Yes, we know the torch blew out in Greece, we know about a certain celebrity who has no connection with Taunton tweeting his way along his section of the Torch relay, and yes the policing of the event may be costing an arm and a leg, but here in North Wiltshire we put those concerns aside yesterday and lined the streets!  Like vegplotting (who must have been standing not far from me in Chippenham and who has a lovely photo of the torch bearer on her blog), for a (very) brief moment as the Torch went past, I felt quite emotional.

So Team GB I wish you well for the Games.  I will be cheering you on from my living room.  And maybe, just maybe, what with Daughter's painting representing the sailing, I can be persuaded to get out my family railcard, and head to Weymouth...

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

When laziness becomes a virtue!

Today it's been ideal drying weather for cereal packets, washed and ready for re-use!

That's four less packets of cereal in the cupboard, and as I am too lazy to go shopping today frugally minded, the newly single occupant, porridge oats, has had a makeover.  (Unfortunately not everyone in this house shares my love of porridge).   

Crunchy Oat/Granola inspired by frugalgirl's.  Because I am too lazy to go shopping today or follow a recipe  creatively minded we had to improvise the ingredients, so our version is something like this: fill the bottom of a roasting tin with oats, dribble and mix in a generous splash of sunflower oil, a few drops of vanilla extract and a couple of spoonfuls of honey.  Bake on a low temperature for 15 - 20 mins until it looks like granola!  Add whatever you fancy or have to hand in the way of nuts, seeds and dried fruit.  And hey presto! 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Switch off your lights! (And a free lunar calendar!)

No, this is not a boring blogpost telling you about the energy and cost saving benefits of switching off your lights!  I'm sure none of you need reminding about that.

If you check your calendars, today, Sunday 20 May, is not only my Dad's birthday (Happy Birthday Dad!), but it is also a New Moon. Your calendar should show tonight's moon as a black circle; it's that darkest of nights where the moon's disc has 0% illumination.

If Everyday Life On A Shoestring had a list of our top 10 simple pleasures, looking at the night sky would be fairly high on that list.  Of course we don't do it enough, especially at this time of year when the nights are light and midsummer will soon be upon us.  And we know shamefully little about the constellations.  But we still relish that feeling of being a very little part of a much bigger picture.

In keeping with the current lunar cycle, today's episode of BBC Radio 4's Something Understood (my new best radio series!), which can be heard at 11.30 tonight on Radio 4 or on BBC iplayer for another 7 days from today, is a celebration of the power of darkness.  As well as featuring poetry and music inspired by the darkness, the progamme considers the transformative nature of darkness and the sense of the eternal it gives us - of 'being small in the face of the infinite'. The programme also looks at the issue of light pollution which is a growing problem in industrial societies.  As well as making life hard for astronomers, light pollution impacts on the environment, wildlife and health and Marek Kukula, the Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, suggests that we need to see the night sky as a living natural resource just like forests and lakes.  

As Bart Simpson says, "Springfield!  Turn off your lights!  Nobody likes sickly orange barf glow!"  So tonight at least, I, too, urge you to switch off your lights for a little while, look to the skies above, and enjoy the darkness.


For a free lunar calendar 2012, click here.

Check out the British Astronomical Association's Campaign for Dark Skies.

(Thank you to their image library on Flickr for the image above, looknorth-spain) 

Everyone's a winner at Everyday Life On A Shoestring!

Drawing the winners at random from all the 1 week blogiversary reader give away competition entrants was, as I suspected it would be, incredibly easy!  Did I have to download a random number generator, or spend a long time writing names on slips of paper? NO! As there were only two entrants, it would be very mean to have only one winner.  Especially as they have both supported Everyday Life On A Shoestring right from the start!  So Jo and Claire, congratulations!  Please email me your addresses, and your veg growing kits will be winging their way to you soon!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Food Waste Friday - A Baking Disaster!

Things going wrong seems to be a recurring theme this week...

Washing machines, heaters left on all day, library fines...and now cakes!

Spurred on by the success of the belated birthday baking session earlier in the week, and to celebrate Daughter finishing her Year 6 SATs (national Standard Attainment Tests), I cooked a big lemon cake yesterday.

Only I forgot the main ingredient.  Flour.  I got a phone call half way through the cake mixing process resulting in sugar being added twice, but flour not at all!  Now, with two Coeliacs in my immediate family, I can do gluten-free with the best of them, but this was not a gluten-free recipe.  Unfortunately it wasn't until the mixture was bubbling all over the oven, magic porridge pot style, that I realised what had happened.

I now have an oven to clean and a large amount of sweet sticky stuff, ranging from jaw breaking brandy snap texture round the edges, to Ben and Jerry's cookie dough ice cream texture in the middle!  I can't bear to waste it and it's too sweet to feed the chickens.  Any ideas?

(I like how it's a kind of inverted cake!)


Check out FareShare which supports communities to relieve food poverty. 

"FareShare is at the centre of two of the most urgent issues that face the UK: food poverty and food waste".

I heard about the charity through reports of last Friday's Feeding the 5000 event in Bristol.  Whilst I have the luxury of fretting about lemon cake gone wrong, it's chastening to remember those who don't.

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Blog Glitches On A Shoestring

Setting up a blog has been a steep learning curve for me as a non-techy person!  A couple of glitches have been brought to my attention by some helpful readers.  If you were paying attention closely last week you might have noticed that:

  • this blog's URL changed from to

  • I changed the name of the blog from On A Shoestring to Everyday Life On A Shoestring, in the interests of corporate image (!)
This may have resulted in some glitches with viewing the blog and with the subscription process, by feedburner and email.  I think I have updated both the subscription by feedburner and email buttons in the side bar on the right hand side.  I strongly recommend that if you have subscribed to this blog feed at any point from the blog's inception to today, and have NOT been receiving emails or feed through the feedburner, that you re-subscribe!  Sorry about this!  And of course if you haven't subscribed yet, you could always think about doing so!  

I have also endeavoured to make it easier for you to comment on posts.  You should be able to post without having to enter what the squiggly writing says (or 'captcha', as I'm reliably informed it is called!)

Please let me know by email if you continue to have any problems and please bear with us during Everyday Life On A Shoestring's infancy!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

And the winner so far is...

Don't worry, this is not yet another reference to the infamous 1 week blogiversary reader give away!

One of the aims of Everyday Life On A Shoestring is to show how frugal living pans out in reality for ordinary folk like you and me; busy people who might be trying to hold down jobs or busy retired people, looking after family, keeping home and garden, trying to eat healthily and fit in some fun stuff too, exercise perhaps or hobby time.  We're frugal through necessity as well as choice.  And we get it wrong sometimes.

With that in mind I thought I'd show you our very own frugal winners and losers for this week so far.


  1. Liftshare to work - 2/3 days
  2. Week's worth of shopping at Aldi (£47.00). 
  3. Baking cakes to take into work for my birthday. (Yes, I know my birthday was in April but there are lots of April birthdays so we agreed to stagger the cakes).  I haven't done a like-for-like price comparison but I'm fairly sure it's cheaper to bake rather than buy.
  4. Installing a 'new' second hand washing machine after old second hand one finally gave up the ghost.
  5. Managing to get our energy bill reduced by 18%.  That's a whole other frugal story that will get its own blog post soon.


  1. School dinners* purchased = 5.  Everyday Life On A Shoestring supports healthy school dinners but the cost would be £80+ a month for us, if they were a daily purchase.  Five out of six possible dinners is tipping the balance too far.  I'm afraid it's packed lunches for the rest of the week kids!
  2. Leaving electric heater on ALL DAY!** One of our frugal heating hacks is to use an oil-fired electric heater to heat one room instead of putting the central heating on.  Son has a habit of putting it on in the front room to take the edge off the morning chill, when he's watching CBBC before school.  Occasionally, in the mad dash to get to work and school, it gets left on ALL DAY in an empty house.  On a sunny day like today that makes me especially CROSS!
  3. Raking up some huge library fines.  I confess to having a history of being an habitual offender on this front but things have got a bit out-of-hand even by my standards.  We have had some DVDs on loan from Bath library and although they were finally returned today, they have been so overdue that I suspect they have possibly been singlehandedly paying the salary of several librarians.
Even with this week's frugal losers I reckon that overall FRUGAL is still winning.  Have you got any frugal winners and losers this week? Feel free to comment!


* Have you heard about NeverSeconds, the blog of a 9 year old Scottish school girl who photographs and rates her school dinners, and which is in the news and currently 'trending'?  (On her 16 May photo it looks as if one of my birthday cakes (see photo above) may have strayed onto her plate, but I can assure you that ELOAS is not yet supplying fairy cakes to schools.)  The school dinners eaten in Wiltshire by ELOAS are rated much more highly, thanks to Hampshire County Council's Catering Service.

** Various options are currently under discussion at ELOAS...including banning Son from the front room and TV in the morning and sticking a 'Before you leave the house have you....?' checklist by the front door.

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Fickleness of 9 Year Olds!

There's good news and bad news in today's blogpost...

Remember how only last Thursday, 9 year old Son convinced me that no boy his age would ever find any joy in a butternut squash growing kit? (See 1 week blogiversary - reader give away)

And that frankly, I was a little bit loopy for thinking otherwise?

Well, the good news is I'm not so loopy after all!  Would you believe it, 9 year old boys can have quite a fun time planting butternut squash!

The bad news is that neither Son nor Husband are reading this blog very thoroughly.  I'd been away for a night at the weekend, leaving Husband in charge.  On my return I was naturally checking the blog and planning this week's posts, when Son looked over my shoulder at the photo of the butternut squash kit in Friday's blogpost.  He beamed at me and said, "Me and Dad planted those butternut squash seeds yesterday", waiting for my admiration.

"But it's a PRIZE for my blog readers!" I spluttered, followed by an interrogation of Son as to the enjoyability rating of planting butternut squash.  (Quite high, if you're wondering.  The saying "Mums always know best", comes to mind.)

This is what the 1 week blogiversary reader give away now looks like:

I guess that might be a bit difficult to send in the post.  One alternative would be a delayed gratification reader give away where I send the winner a butternut squash when it's harvested, but no, there's more good news!  As it was such a frugal bargain of a never-to-be birthday present, I will be replacing it this week and hiding it in a secret location, far, far away from prying 9 year olds.

So you still have until midnight on Friday 18 May to leave a comment on the original 1 week blogiversary post to be in with a chance of winning the growing kit!  (Maybe tell me what you intend to do with the butternut squash when you've grown them.)

While you're deciding whether to leave a comment or not, check out Veggie Trumps to see how well you know your onions (and other fruit and veg)!  It's given us quite a lot of fun here!

Friday, 11 May 2012

1 week blogiversary - reader give away!

This week I purchased a frugal birthday present locally for Son's friend.  A combination of something to read (a 1001 Stupid Jokes book) and something to do:

But the veg kit (plant, eat and grow butternut squash!) was met with absolute resistance by Son, who said something along the lines of, "You are a complete weirdo of a mother, everyone will think I am the weirdo son of a weirdo mother, he probably doesn't like butternut squash anyway, and I BEG you not to make me give it to him". 

Sometimes I listen to my children.

Well, Friend's loss is your gain, dear reader!  Just comment beneath this post for a chance to win this superb vegetable kit!!  (Sadly I won't be able to post 'biological material' to the US :( but hang in there, readers from the US, as I have a book give away planned for the 1 month blogiversary!)  A winner will be drawn at random, on the 2 week blogiversary next Friday!

If you look at the typical number of comments on my blogposts so far, you will see that you stand a VERY good chance of winning!!  And you will also see that I have a VERY good chance of winning too if nobody comments!!  So it's a win/win situation all round!

Good luck!

Food Waste Friday or Cucumber sandwich, anyone?

This week's Food Waste Friday post was supposed to be about veggie lasagne:

which was Everyday Life On A Shoestring's Friday supper, crafted from left over vegetables and salad.  Very delicious.

But something happened yesterday.  I had a cucumber sandwich epiphany.  It was the Morris Minor's fault.  You might remember that I told you last week that I'm the wife of a 1966 Morris Minor Traveller owner?   Well, yesterday it was making its maiden voyage as a fully resprayed and fully working vehicle (it was purchased 2 years ago for £100, having lain in a garage untouched for 10 years).  And it was doing it in style.  Prom season has started round here.  You know? That thing that didn't exist when I was at school, where Year 11 pupils celebrate the end of their school career by dressing up in princessy ball gowns and smart suits and have a big party in a big posh house.  And of course, as befits this age of celebrity they arrive at their party destination in Limousines, Mercedes, vintage fire engines, and here in rural Wiltshire, gert big tractors.  Or they opt to arrive in our old banger of a 1966 Morris Minor, as did my colleague's son and his friend.

It's been a nail biting week; would the weather hold dry for long enough to complete the final touches of the respray?  Would Travis the Traveller really manage the journey without breaking down?  But by yesterday there was no going back.  And I had a brainwave; cucumber sandwiches were so clearly the most fitting savoury nibble for the pre-Prom mini party.

It pains me to say it, but in all my 44 years, I don't reckon I'd ever tasted a cucumber sandwich until yesterday.  I didn't let that put me off though!  The concept of the cucumber sandwich is so embedded in our English culture that I was pretty sure I could pull the whole thing off without resorting to Google for a recipe (gasp in amazement).  And so I present to you, cucumber sandwiches, Everyday Life On A Shoestring style:

Ingredients:  lots of thinly sliced cucumber, good quality white bread with no crusts (would you believe it - Warburtons even sell a crustless loaf, which had cucumber sandwiches written all over it, and which I succumbed to in a fit of pre-Prom unfrugality), thickly spread margarine or butter, salt and pepper.  

I know it goes against the simple living grain, but if you want the authentic experience please don't be tempted to try making them with healthy wholemeal, or worse still home-made bread!  It just won't be the same!

Assemble it all together and slice into delicate triangles:

So what's the Food Waste Friday link?

Well, I had no idea how many cucumbers it would take to make cucumber sandwiches.  Let's just say I erred on the side of caution and today, Friday, leaves us with surplus cucumbers.

But no worry, it seems I've been missing a trick these last 44 years, cucumber sandwiches turn out to be the most versatile foodstuff ever...Lunch? Check! After school snack? Check!  Kids hungry pre-supper? Check!

I double checked my facts before writing this post, and it turns out that cucumber sandwiches date from Edwardian times when growing exotic veg in hothouses became popular in wealthy homes.  A glut of cucumbers in such residences resulted in the birth of the cucumber sandwich.  Most recipes don't include salt or pepper but a dash of lemon juice, or orange zest instead, however I was flattered that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (a cucumber sandwich of a surname if ever there was one), of River Cottage, follows the ELOAS recipe.

If you don't like your sandwiches simple, variations include cucumber with cream cheese, apple, dill, parsley, mint, salmon, ham or marmite (but not all together).

In short, this Food Waste Friday feast is healthy, simple, frugal and delicious!  Let's hear it for the humble cucumber sandwich!


Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Welcome to the world my mangetout babies!

Let's get one thing straight.  

Do not for a minute think that Everyday Life On A Shoestring has this simple living thing wrapped!  

At the moment, these baby mangetouts are the only, yes the ONLY plants that we have to go in our beautifully dug allotment!  A whole allotment devoted to a set of mangetout sextuplets.  Last year we behaved like real grown up gardeners and perused the D T Browns catalogue by the fireside in January, ordered seeds and planted them on time.  This year everyday life has somehow conspired against us and although Husband has rotavated the plot, and seeds and organic potting compost have been bought at that well known gardening emporium Aldi (!), we just have not got round to planting.

But rest assured, simple livers are nothing if not resourceful and optimistic!  My babies will not grow up to be spoilt legume brats.  For one thing, although they may have no fellow seedlings at the moment, when they are planted in due course they will find themselves in the company of some redcurrant and gooseberry bushes,

a large apple tree whose prolific blossom heralds a good crop this year,

and two chickens, Ginger and Yoko.  (Notice all the apple blossom in the chicken run!)

So all is not lost. 

And even better, Everyday Life On A Shoestring is fortunate enough to know lots of kind hearted gardeners who will share their surplus plants, and there are lots of community events coming up with plant stalls where there are bound to be a few bargains!

Meanwhile I'm off to do some sowing!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Henry David Thoreau

Considered the grandfather of the simple living movement by some, it was the 150th anniversary of Thoreau's death on 6 May.  Radio 4's Something Understood programme with Sir Mark Tully, dedicated last Sunday's episode to Thoreau, and celebrated the life of this naturalist, poet, writer, anarchist and abolitionist.  Thoreau, a transcendentalist, was also deeply spiritual (and indeed I heard about the programme via the Embrace Mindfulness blog).

Thoreau is best known for his book Walden or Life in the Woods, published in 1854, which details his experiences of living in an isolated hut in woodland owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  The radio programme suggests that Thoreau has influenced the lives of many, from Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, to Pink Floyd's musicians.

The programme concludes that we could all still learn from Thoreau's views on friendship, simple living, and treasuring the countryside.  However Mark Tully advises that perhaps we should not follow Thoreau's stance on non-payment of taxes unless we have a kind aunt, like Thoreau's, who will pay the tax man on our behalf! 

As usual, this episode of Something Understood contained beautiful music and poetry.  The programme can be enjoyed on BBC Radio 4's iplayer until this Sunday 13 May.

More Train Travel On A Shoestring

From yesterday's post it might seem that I timed it to coincide with Martin Lewis (the UK's 'Money Saving Expert) releasing his new Ticketysplit App  to help you search for the cheapest train fare on your mobile, but it really just was a happy coincidence.  For those of you that like app-y things...

Free TicketySplit app slashes train faresRevolutionary new split ticket tool | Uncover hidden ticket combinations to cut the costTrain split ticketing gives massive legal savings on scores of routes, even though you travel on the SAME TRAIN at the SAME TIME. Eg, a Solihull to Reading single costs £47. Yet the train stops at Banbury, so instead buy Solihull to Banbury & Banbury to Reading tickets & it costs just £23, saving £24. The problem's been finding when this trick works - until now.

  • train faresNew free MSE split ticket app: 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Train Travel On A Shoestring

If you live in the UK you are probably aware that train travel on a shoestring is nigh on impossible these days.  So, with recent colossal train fare price hikes,  it was in trepidation that I embarked on the purchase of train tickets from our home to the North East of England, a distance of some 300 miles,  to get me and the two kids to a family occasion.  I ruled out the other travel options, driving and flying, pretty quickly.  It's a long way to drive with two children, and although flying worked out at a comparable ticket price to the train (if we flew at silly o'clock) the cost to the environment couldn't be justified.

I don't know about you, but to my mind £136 (plus £28 for a family railcard) doth not a shoestring make!  However it could have been worse, and was of course worth every penny for us to be present at this VERY special family birthday.  So how did we keep the costs down? We: 
  • Booked as far in advance in possible.  'Last minute' is often advised for hotels, package holidays but for UK trains the opposite is true.  I dithered around for a couple of days, (in disbelief most likely)  and the price went up by a fiver.
  • Bought a family railcard.  For such a long journey it virtually recoups its cost straight away.
  • Booked using the  I always check raileasy and the train companies themselves but the trainline usually always comes in cheapest.  splityourticket is also worth checking out - their website will check out whether it is cheaper to buy separate tickets for parts of the journey.
  • Took our own picnic, including a flask; we were NOT going to be seduced by that catering trolley that rattles past your seat laden with kitkats and other goodies positioned right at the height of a child's head!  (On the return journey the children were allowed the reward of a hot chocolate for good behaviour, but ever frugal, I made them share one between them and the catering lady kindly let them have an extra cup.*) 
  • Took all our own entertainment, books, paper, pens and rubik's cube.  The electronic kit (ipod and DS) was forgotten by the kids and was not missed.
  • Took a Granny and a Grandad with us on the way there.**
OK, so maybe that last one didn't really keep down the financial costs, (although we shared their tissues, crisps and fruit salad!), but having two doting grandparents along for the ride certainly made the 5 and a half hour journey much more bearable for me and the children.

If you have any more tips for frugal train travel please share them in the comments below!


* This is not as cheapskate and mean as it sounds; they were very large cups and neither Daughter or Son would have drunk a whole one!

** G and Gdad did NOT book in advance, as they were worried about missing their very early train, and paid considerably more than we did.  On A Shoestring sincerely hopes that they will take on board (excuse the pun) all the advice contained herein!

And yes, the photo at the head of the blog is really a photo of our tickets/seat reservations and yes, there really were just three of us!

Monday, 7 May 2012

"We all have a duty to do our bit for the planet"

"We need to become more conscious that our choices affect one another and the earth.  We share the same air, we share the same land, and unless we change the way we live now, the future doesn't bear thinking about." 

Olivia Newton John interviewed in the Observer Magazine, 06.05.12

Friday, 4 May 2012

What's the best selling, most popular, least read book?

The answer, of course, is the Highway Code!  'Dave Brown's New Highway Code' which aired today on Radio 4, appealed to me on several fronts.  I couldn't help but be drawn into Dave Brown's (he of the Mighty Boosh) insight into the Highway Code, which was originally set up as a code of good manners for drivers.  There was interesting discussion of the attitude of motorists towards cyclists and the graphic design of the older editions and road signage, but I particularly liked the insight into post-war and 1950s driving, when travel on the road was simpler and slower.  

At the end of the programme Dave proposes a return to those 1950s values: we should imagine we are wearing 'a trilby or a sensible hat', a 'double breasted suit or a mac, buttoned and belted'.  We should all drive like '1950s gentlemen and gentlewomen, polite and more patient, well-mannered'.  And above all we should not be 'afraid to give a cheery wave or a smile!'  Ah, now if everyone drove like that wouldn't it make the world a better place!

Enjoy the programme on BBC iplayer, available for another 7 days.

Food Waste Friday

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it.  A typical example of small actions providing personal benefit as well as wider environmental benefits. estimates that in the UK "we throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, costing us £12 billion - most of this could have been eaten."  This would have cost the average household approximately £480 per year. Lovefoodhatewaste reckons that if we stopped wasting food the benefit to the planet would be the same as taking 1 in 5 cars off the road. 

It's not all doom and gloom though, they also reckon that between 2006 and 2010 food waste has reduced by 13%, which is over 1 million tonnes.  And many people are addressing their food waste; does a great job of cataloguing the contents of her fridge very thoroughly every Friday and accounts for all her 'waste'.  

Not much left over in our house this week, as we've been running down supplies in preparation for a bank holiday weekend away, but these blueberries had miraculously escaped being eaten for a WHOLE WEEK!  They were still edible, so here's a food waste Friday breakfast...

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Welcome to Everyday Life On A Shoestring

Welcome to Everyday Life On A Shoestring!  We have been interested in simple living since the 1980s.  Inspired by the philosophy 'Live simply that all may simply live' and motivated by the desire for a greener lifestyle, we are certain that simple is good for the soul!

Everyday Life On A Shoestring shares one family's attempts to live simply and frugally.  We are an ordinary family, living in a medium-sized house with a medium-sized garden (and an allotment) in a medium-sized market town in the UK.  Sadly there's no smallholding, wind turbine or solar panels for us, but we like to share the small everyday things we do to try and keep it simple, green and frugal.  There are four of us; two teenagers and two adults.  One member of the family likes to write and posts on the blog, at times regularly, at times sporadically, depending on the time available.  The other three family members provide inspiration and ideas. Most of the blogposts have a frugal/green issues/simple living connection, even if that connection might be a bit obscure sometimes!  

Living frugally has meant we have been able to maintain a fairly healthy work/life balance, and keep ourselves relatively debt-free.  As you'll see from the blog, we're always striving to be frugaller and greener; there's always room for improvement!  If you have any suggestions for things you would like to see on the blog we are always open to ideas.

The benefits of a frugal lifestyle, both on a personal and a global level seem more relevant than ever.  We're thrifty not only through necessity and because we know it benefits our bank balance, but also because we believe it's better for the planet.