Sunday, 29 July 2012

Olympic Dominoes?

It must have been hot this week because we witnessed an unprecedented event in our town.  The leisure centre's swimming pool, which boasts no flumes or wave machine but sometimes has the odd plaster floating around the deep end, was so busy that they had to turn people away.  Including us.  Whilst the alpha mums phoned around neighbouring towns' swimming pools, determined that their sweaty children would go swimming now, I gave up the fight easily, and we sauntered into town.

The kids were allowed a mooch in two charity shops as consolation for not getting their afternoon dip, and whilst Daughter can never resist a Jacqueline Wilson book, Son always checks out the games and toys first, and found a box of dominoes priced at £1.50.

Since we parted company with kiddy farmyard dominoes a few years ago, we have never progressed to real dominoes, so it was time to set the record straight.  And besides, I'm always keen to encourage any game which doesn't involve a screen.

Outdoor dominoes has become a rather surprising alternative to the swimming pool here. The temperature has soared so high that sometimes a relaxing game in the shade has been exactly what is required.  It was no surprise, when I did a bit of domino research (blogging takes you in some unexpected directions!), to find that it is a very popular game in the Caribbean and Latin America.  A quarter-litre of white rum often accompanies a Caribbean domino match and if the fair weather continues, the Wiltshire equivalent of a jug of Pimms could certainly prolong my interest in dominoes!

Rather than the children losing interest quickly, we've found that the the little wooden pieces appeal to the senses, with their dimples and dots and their celtic knot pattern on the back.  If, like my kids, you haven't played dominoes before, it is satisfying to gain mastery of a new game with all its quirky rules.  And then of course, there was the memorable game where everyone was able to lay their pieces in turn and we ended with a perfect domino rectangle.  Like board games at Christmas, it's not so much the games themselves, but the quality of the uninterrupted time shared with loved ones, that matters.

When tired of playing the game we have tried building domino runs, but it's not so easy on the uneven surface of a garden table.  I have learned that there are many more domino games you can play, and while I know that we won't occupy hours and hours, it's good that the simple black and white pieces may have a little more mileage. There are games where you have to lay your dominoes in different patterns, games with more complicated scoring systems, and memory games.  Check out Domino-Games for some ideas.

Naturally, the Olympics is never far from our minds at the moment.  We jested that dominoes should be an Olympic sport, only to find that as well as taking pride in its Olympic runner, Usain Bolt, some Jamaicans think that the national sport should be, you guessed it, dominoes! In 2010 Jamaica even ran a campaign to get dominoes recognised as an Olympic sport.  Apparently the IOC has to approve a sport seven years before the Games in which it will appear, and there are various other hurdles to be overcome (such as evidence of rigorous enforcement of the World Anti-Doping Code!) so unfortunately we won't be seeing Olympic dominoes in London this year.

For now let's hope that there will be more sunny days where we can hone our domino skills to Olympic standard, under the shade of the parasol and our neighbour's apple tree.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Food Waste Friday - Just when I thought I had it sussed...

This week I was feeling a bit smug.  I thought I finally had it sussed and that there would actually be no food waste. 

I wasn't going to be caught out by a gi-normous family pack of mushrooms that had the potential for wastage.  It's all empty:

I fried the entire pack up and used some for a salad and saved some for a pasta sauce.

What I hadn't taken into account was the food waste that would be caused by the sudden temperature change.  Up until this week our summer has been decidedly chilly.  But when it's suddenly ten degrees warmer then everything starts going squishier and mouldier just that little bit more quickly than usual.  The chickens have been the lucky beneficiaries of some squishy fruit this week, but even they won't touch the bread that went as hard-as-a-brick too soon.

I've learnt that the true food waste avoider has to stay even nimbler on their feet than I'd thought.  Better luck next week!

Meanwhile this week, Mrs Green at My Zero Waste blogged about the environmental benefits of reducing your food waste.  This reminded me that it's the small actions that are important; reducing your food waste can help to combat global warming.  Read Mrs Green's blog post to find out why!

And Everyday Life On A Shoestring is always keen to support local food events...if you're in the Bath area, UK, check out these StrEAT Food Collective events at Green Park Station, with acoustic folk music provided by your favourite frugal fiddler's band!

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

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Salad and Sorbet weather - at last!

If you follow any UK blogs at all, you can't fail to have noticed that we have all gone slightly sun-crazed, after long weeks of solar deprivation!

I make no apologies for jumping onto the summer bandwagon.

How easy the transition to mediterranean living is!

That cupboard full of vegetables?  I waved my magic salad wand.

Grated carrot with almonds and a splash of orange juice. Mushrooms fried in olive oil and garlic, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Courgettes, briefly sauteed with olive oil and lemon juice.

Add new potatoes and home-made quiche and eat al fresco.  Heaven!

If only everyone else here thought so; the salad wand's magic doesn't extend as far as getting  the kids to eat those salads...and I turned my back for a minute only to discover Husband had smothered his with salad much for those delicate flavourings and carefully thought-out seasonings.

But hey, the sun's shining so who cares!

At least we all agree that Lili at Creative Savv's easy freezey fruit sorbet is a winner!  This has been a HUGE hit with all the family.  It really is as EASY as freezing two tins of fruit (for a family of four) and sticking them in the food processor.  Cheap and healthy - sheer frugal genius!

This week we're experimenting with as many different fruits as possible (not all at once though)!  We've tried peaches and mandarins and both were delicious.

And of course you're not as stupid as me, so you won't cut your finger whilst trying to wrestle the frozen fruit out of the tin, because you'll read Lili's instructions properly and let it defrost slightly first!

Enjoy the sunshine!

Monday, 23 July 2012

"Dear David Camron..."

I'm always keen to reiterate that this blog is not just about me, me, me...It's supposed to reflect all the small, everyday things that we do, as a family, to try and keep life green, frugal and simple, even if we don't always succeed.

So I was heartened to find that whilst I have been spending considerable time here documenting my mouldy clementines in the hope of inspiring you to reduce your food waste or whipping up batches of elderflower cordial to encourage you to ransack the countryside so you can make food for free, Son has bypassed the whole time-sapping blogging process and cut to the chase.

He arrived home from school last week with a pile of dog-eared exercise books and crumpled papers.  After seven years of this end-of-school-year ritual, I'm not very sentimental, and I was brutally consigning most of it to the recycling box.

Until I came to this:

and this letter to David Cameron:

The letter says:

"Dear David Camron,
I am writing to you becuase you are not realy caring for the global warming.  Becuase I bet you don't no what can happen.  So I am going to tell you what can happen!!! Polor bear's can die and seal's and penguins.  So please can you try to stop all these factory's. Because factory's can do that to those animials.  
Your's cinsilerly.
PS Try to turn of your light's sometime's."

I'd love to think that all our green proselytising at home has finally paid off, but really I'm under no illusion that Son came up with the idea for this on his own.  No doubt all the class were doing posters and writing to David Cameron in order to fulfil some subsection of the Geography or Citizenship part of the National Curriculum.  Son was characteristically vague when I tried to get to the bottom of it..."I can't remember!" he said, grumpily.  And if all his classmates wrote letters, sadly, Son seems pretty sure they were never sent to Number 10.

But it set me thinking.  In his innocent way, was Son's letter and indictment of our Prime Minister really so far from the truth?

When he was in the running for the leadership, Mr Cameron liked to portray himself, cycing around London, as the would-be green governmental saviour of our country.  From Everyday Life On A Shoestring's perspective, it's all gone a bit quiet since then.

A quick Google, confirms that this is indeed the case.  "Vote Blue.  Go Green", was the message, but since he has been in power, if The Independent is to be believed, he has not made a single speech on environmental policy.  There's speculation that he supports a third runway at Heathrow, and that George Osborne will block subsidies required for renewable energy.

Despite being supposed to deliver a big keynote speech at the Clean Energy ministerial earlier this year, he didn't.  The CarbonBrief blog gives a good round-up of the conclusions that the media drew from this lack of a clear message from the man at the top.

And I'm not encouraged by this very recent leading article, entitled 'Mr Cameron's green tinge risks turning dark blue', in The Independent.  

I know we can't rely on government to sort out global warming and other environmental issues singlehandedly, and it's down to us to do what we can at an individual level too, which is precisely why I blog.  But while I'm busy being frugal in Wiltshire and trying to do my part to ensure there's a healthy environment for my children and grandchildren in the future, I expect David Cameron and the Coalition to be doing their best up in London.  

Mr Cameron, I think you really ought to do more than "try to turn of your light's sometimes."  Please show us that you "realy care for the global warming"  because so far, we're not convinced that you do.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Food Waste Friday results in a clean sink!

It's Food Waste Friday again.  Time to reflect on the week's food waste with the aim of minimising food thrown away, in the hope that our household won't be making a large contribution to the 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink that it is estimated UK homes dispose of every year.

It wasn't a bad week here.  Just the usual suspects, although it was a different citrus fruit that was the culprit this week:

A half lemon had to be used as a cleaning product rather than food, but I didn't mind too much because now I have a nice, shiny sink.

The ubiquitous cabbage is hanging around, along with some beetroot. 


But fear not, some Borscht is planned and I like this Moldovan recipe which should use up the cabbage and the beetroot in one fell swoop!  I'm going to take a leaf out of Simply Being Mum's book and stick the beetroot Borscht in the slow cooker.  (Oddly enough Jo at Simply Being Mum's Food Waste Friday post this week, also involved cleaning with her food waste!)

This week we were even more thankful for the food that we have, and even more determined not to waste anything, as we heard a lot about the West African Food Crisis.  Despite the Aid agencies intervening earlier than they did in last year's Somalian crisis, there is still a major emergency due to drought and families not having enough funds to buy food.  One million children are categorised as malnourished and are at risk of dying and a further 3 million are at risk of becoming malnourished.  The Guardian's monthly Global Development podcast looks at the West African situation and what solutions there are for preventing this type of crisis in the future.

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

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Everyday Life On A Shoestring Tour de France Cycling Special!

Husband and Son are still glued to the TV every evening watching the Tour de France.  It's all the more fun indulging a passion for cycling when Team Sky, with its British cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, look as if they have a chance of victory!

Our family cycles with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Husband regularly cycles the 12 hilly miles to work (and back), and celebrated his 40th birthday by cycling from John O’Groats to Lands End.  Son is very keen too and is always begging to go for long cycle rides.  Daughter grumbles but usually enjoys a ride once she gets going, and I really ought to get out on my bike more often.

One of the success stories of the economic downturn has been the upsurge in UK cycling, both as a leisure pursuit and as a form of commuter transport.  CTC statistics suggest that the mileage cycled is up 20% over the last 12 years, and it is even higher than this in urban areas.  I know that on my journey to work in the car (*cringes*, although in my defence it’s usually a liftshare) I see a lot more cyclists on the road than a few years ago.

The increase in cycling has created a big opportunity to consumerise cyclists.  I can’t help but smile to myself when I see a MAMIL (Middle Aged Man In Lycra) out for an afternoon ride wearing gear that makes him look as if he is just about to tackle une ├ętape de montagne dans Le Tour!  I’m not being sexist here; men are three times more likely to cycle than women in the UK (according to the National Transport Survey 2010).  The gender gap in cycling is being addressed through schemes such as British Cycling’s Breeze campaign, (which encourages women to get on their bikes, and organises social groups and women-only rides).

‘Smart materials’ have undeniably made sports activities a lot more comfortable, and I know that Husband and Son love to spend time dreaming about the bits they can buy that will improve their bikes, but family or everyday cycling does not need to be an expensive pursuit.  

Here are our top tips for cycling on a shoestring:

  • Choose your bike carefully.  You’ll probably get a better quality bike from a specialist bike shop than you will from buying a new, cheap bike off the shelf from the supermarket.  Good bikes can be found secondhand on Ebay and Freecycle and we’re lucky enough to have a community bike maintenance scheme in our town, where your old bike can be serviced or a refurbished one purchased.
  • Make sure you have a helmet.

  • Buy lycra if you must, but look out for good deals.  We've bought the odd item from Wiggle but Aldi and Lidl regularly sell cycling clothing and accessories in the spring and summer.  Padded cycling shorts are a good investment if you’re cycling more than 5 miles.  The rest of the family have cycling gloves, but I get by with ordinary woolly ones.  Otherwise, your usual sports gear will suffice – trainers and tracky bottoms.  And of course, if you’re in the UK, invest in a good waterproof!
  • Learn how to maintain your bike yourself.  I have a live-in bike maintenance man so I’m lucky, but if I didn’t, I’d check out the University of Youtube or invest in a good manual, such as The Bike Book.
  • If you have kids then jump at the opportunity for them to do a cycle proficiency course such as Bikeability.
  • Always take snacks on a family bike ride, however short!  Flapjacks or cereal bars, and bananas are our favourites.  Jelly babies are well known for giving a quick energy burst.
  • Always take a drink.  Water is fine, but for a longer ride the boys in our house make their own energy drink: for a 500 ml drinks bottle, use 50% fruit juice and 50% water with a quarter of a teaspoon of salt.
  • Our family is now at the stage where we can all cycle safely on the roads, but we started out with the kids on bike seats and tag-along bikes on traffic-free cycle paths.  We're lucky to have the Bristol to Bath cycle path not too far away.  If you're in the UK, check out Sustrans for cycle routes close to you.

  • If you have reluctant cyclists in the family, then aiming for a destination where there might be a small treat, such as an icecream, may help!
Please share your top tips for successful family cycling!

Monday, 16 July 2012

5 Things Goldie Hawn and I agree about!

Every frugal living blog needs a touch of Hollywood glamour every now and then, especially on a cold, grey, summer's day, so it's time to mention Goldie Hawn again! 

A while back I blogged about reading Goldie Hawn's latest book, 10 Mindful Minutes, followed by her autobiography, A Lotus Grows in the Mud, which I picked up for a £1 in a charity book sale.  I said that, surprising as it might seem, I found that her philosophy on life, as described in her autobiography, had much to offer the simple-liver.  But don't just take my word for it, see if you agree:

1) I've learnt that material things don't provide lasting happiness and Goldie says:

"Possessions do not make us happy, nor does the obsession with acquiring more and more wealth.  How much is enough?"

2) I say that it's the people in your life that matter, and Goldie writes:

"If someone asks me what makes me happiest it is never anything I can quantify like a house or a possession or something I can touch.  It is the spirit of the human being, which can fill me with more joy than anything in the world."

3) It's worth smiling even when you don't feel like it.  As Gretchen Rubin puts it, act the way you want to feel, and Goldie thinks the same way:

" A smile is an indication of a happy heart, and when you smile it changes your perception.  It can create a better day.  As frivolous as it might sound, studies have proven that even if you don't feel like smiling, if you force yourself to smile, you will change your state of mind.  By doing so you can actually raise the immune system boosters in your blood."

4) It's important to have compassion as we go about our daily lives, and it's important to Goldie too:

"By reaching out and trying to help people in any way we can, by developing more compassion in our hearts and in our lives and in our spirits, we will help to make a better world".

5) I firmly believe that connecting with the natural world can help put things in perspective, and Goldie cites her father's words to her, as some of the most important she would ever hear:

"If ever you feel like you're getting too big for your britches, then come out here (Chesapeake Bay), or go to the ocean and stand on the shore and see how small you are."

Although I'm sure Goldie and I live very different lives, we're in agreement on some things!

All quotes from Goldie Hawn's A Lotus Grows in the Mud, 2006, Bantam.

Friday, 13 July 2012

No Food Waste this Friday!

Food Waste Friday, another food waste fiasco?  After last week's declaration that I really would aim for no food waste this week, I just about swung it by the skin of my teeth.  I'm not going to count the mouldy tinned pineapple I found mid-week, as that should have gone last Friday.  Or is that cheating?!

Thanks to blogging about Food Waste Friday I can see some patterns emerging in our food waste habits particularly when it comes to oranges and cabbage!  It appears that in this house no-one can be bothered with peeling oranges.  Our fruit bowl often dwindles to this (the photo makes that orange and satsuma look more appealing than they were in reality):

My family prefer their vitamin C to arrive like this:

Fairy cakes with icing made from orange juice!  I like the orange peel embellishment, but as I keep finding empty paper cake cases abandoned with orange peel in them, I take it that not everyone shares my enthusiasm.

As for the cabbage, I tried to disguise it in a stir fry this week but when I was clearing away the plates I found that Daughter had thoughtfully left some customer evaluation on the table (I should never have shown her the Neverseconds blog!):

Both the cabbage and oranges arrive in our veg and fruit box, and whilst we plough willingly through all the other contents, these two items tend to hang around.  I'm happy with the boxes otherwise, so I guess I just have to be more creative about using the less popular items up in a more timely fashion.

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

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Knit happens!

It's ironic that the yellow jersey I'm making for newly born Niece 3 has been following the Tour de France route, and has itself witnessed several presentations of its namesake, le Maillot Jaune!

Ironic, because I don't usually spend much time in front of the TV, let alone sport on TV.  (There are some rather enthusiastic Tour fans in the house at the moment so when my knitting anchors me to the sofa, I don't have any choice but to partake too.)

Doubly ironic, because in Le Tour, the yellow jersey is presented daily to the rider completing the route in the shortest time, but my own little yellow jersey (or rather shortsleeved jacket) is currently far from being a winner.

In terms of speed it's doing well - a baby cardigan knits up quickly, especially with the added motivation of Niece 3 arriving slightly earlier than expected.  No, the problem is that I'm a 'loose knitter', which means that although I haven't met her yet, I'm fairly certain that she won't ever be short and wide enough to fit my woolly offering.

As usual, I hope to inspire you NOT with my frugal perfection, but through Everyday Life On A Shoestring's have-a-go attitude and our enthusiastic and optimistic approach to overcoming obstacles!

There's only one thing for it - unpick what I've knitted so far (all of the back), and start again on smaller gauge needles (unless anyone has any other suggestions?) which will compensate for my slack knitting.  Wasn't it me who said the other day that the journey's more important than the destination?!  For those of you who like to put a price on frugal endeavours, I'm afraid I can't reveal the costs involved (in case Niece 3 is reading this), but let's just say that it would be a complete waste of money if I left it as it is and she never wore it.

The Tour de France continues for another 10 days, so I'm hoping my yellow jersey will be yellow jersey worthy and Niece worthy by the 22 July.  And if it's not, at least I've enjoyed the French scenery and so far, I've knitted the Britons to success!

I'd love to hear about any knitting disasters you may have had, and whether you managed to rectify them!  Please feel free to comment below!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

My return to pen and ink!

I must confess to having a stationery fetish.  Name nearly any stationery item and I will sigh fondly.  

What can be more satisfying than a stainless steel pencil sharpener that results in a pencil lead so sharp that a little shard snaps off when you use it for the first time?  Or the promise of that ever elusive, organised house that a newly-put-together magazine file holds?  And notebooks in every shape and size?  Don't get me started!

Fortunately having a job in education allows me to indulge my stationery habit.  A bulging pencil case is the top tool of the trade for a Teaching Assistant.

As we near the end of school year, my pencil case is looking like a shadow of its September self:

Just a few lead pencils, coloured pencils (mostly blue for some reason), a highlighter and a rubbishy pencil sharpener.

I don't want to rush into re-stocking it now.  I recently read that an estimated 4000 million pens are thrown out daily in the US, so although I've dabbled with pens made out of recycled materials in the past, and I always buy recycled paper products if I can, this summer I want to take even more of an eco-stationery stance.

To tide me over until the full re-stock of my own and my kids' pencil cases (which will include using what we already have in the house), and inspired by hearing that fountain pen sales are on the increase, I have dug out my old ink pens.  The reason for the rise in people buying more of these is maybe that in these computer-driven times, handwriting has become more exclusive and pens are seen as luxury items.  But I prefer the notion that in a complex world, people return to simple, honest, traditional objects.

I found four ink pens lurking in our stationery drawer, all of which must be at least 15 years old.  Two of them are now up and writing. With lots of interest in fountain pen parts, the two lidless pens may be Ebayable and I'd love to think of them being used rather than languishing in our dusty recesses.

I abandoned my Parkers many years ago for my favourite Pilot Hi-Tecpoints, but I am finding them a pleasure to use:

(These blogposts don't just write themselves you know - although you might not believe it, some work does go in to planning them in longhand first!)

I don't think that I can convert to using Fountain Pens ALL of the time, but they will certainly become one ingredient in my eco-pencil case.

And if, when I have restocked my pencil case with more vintage finds from around the house, I find that we still need more pens, I will be checking out websites like The Green Stationery Company for environmentally friendly options.  (I'm not sponsored or affiliated to them in any way, but I like the look of some of their products.)

What's your favourite writing tool? 

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The Everyday Life On A Shoestring Wimbledon Special!

If you're living in the UK, you can't have escaped the fact that today we have a Brit, Andy Murray, in the Wimbledon Men's final!  As I write, he is battling Roger Federer to become the first home winner since Fred Perry in 1936.

Here at Everyday Life On A Shoestring, we like to play lawn tennis too.  Ever played frugal swingball?  It's great fun!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Food Waste Friday – How not to make rocket pesto!

If our food waste was going to get a school report for this week, it would probably read: “Could do better!”

Maybe my mind was taken off the half pot of mouldy yogurt I found at the back of the fridge by the enormous bag of rocket (arugula) that came with our fortnightly veg box last week.  I received some helpful readers' comments on using up yogurt a couple of weeks ago so there was really no excuse for mouldy yogurt!  

Nobody in the family likes rocket much apart from me, and I was going to be eating salad with rocket for breakfast, lunch and tea, if I didn’t do something with it quickly.

Enter rocket pesto!

I made my own without resorting to a recipe

I used most of the bag of rocket, some marked down parsley, cheaper than parmesan substitute – grana padano, blanched almonds instead of pine nuts (£3.49 for a teeny tiny bag – you must be kidding!), olive oil, salt and pepper.  I shoved it all in the food processor and whizzed it until it looked like pesto!

The verdict is that sometimes it’s best to use a recipe!  Somehow my quantities can’t be quite right, or I should not have been seduced by the marked down parsley. Although my pesto looks fantastic and has a wonderful consistency, it’s even more bitter and medicinal tasting than you’d expect for a pesto made with rocket.

Next time I will use a recipe like this one, (and I might be tempted to use half rocket/half basil):

  • 100 g rocket, washed
  • 25g Italian hard cheese, grated
  • 25g pine nuts
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic

My pesto won’t go to waste though.  Like medicine, I will use it in small doses in dressings and sauces.

And next week I really am aiming for NO WASTE!

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

Thursday, 5 July 2012

While the Cub's away the girls will play!

When the Cub Scout of the house goes on camp, there's only one thing for the girls to do: park Husband in front of an action adventure film and indulge in some frugal pampering, Girls' Book style!

I mentioned the Boys' Book of How to be the Best at Everything a while back so it's only fair to give the Girls' Book a shout out too.

My children and their cousins adore these books. I adore them too, and only partly because most of the activities cost nothing. There is a certain gender bias to the ideas but whilst the Girls' Book includes How to put together a school-bag beauty kit, it also includes How to survive a charging elephant and How to spot your friend is a werewolf, (none of which I have hitherto learnt how to do).

With her little brother out of the way, Daughter knew exactly what she wanted to do in his absence!  Meal out? No! Watch a DVD? No! She appeared with the corner of Page 31 turned down:

"Want to look fab but can't be bothered with lengthy beauty routines?"  I don't know the author but this chapter seems to have been written for me personally.

"Simple - just boost your looks while you're tucked up in bed.  You'll look beautiful in the morning."  Perfect for the plain lazy and the lazy plain, like me.

We added our own step one, a long candle-lit soak in a deep bath (which we shared of course, one after the other).

After that, we pretty much followed the Girls' Book, word for word.

We slathered brazil nut body lotion on our feet and then wore cotton socks to bed in order to wake up to softer tootsies.  

Handcream was generously applied to "work wonders on hands and nails" while we dreamt, and we slicked on the vaseline for smoother lips!

We chatted of this and that.  Then we slept.

Were we more beautiful in the morning?  I don't know and I don't care!  As with so much in life, it is the journey that's important, not the destination.  I got to spend a lovely, peaceful evening with my girl, without a nine year old boy bouncing on the bed, and that's all that matters.


If you're wondering how to survive a charging elephant, stay downwind, check whether the ears are fanned (indicating that it is really charging), run away in zigzags, climb a tree and throw a decoy, such as a jacket or a sack of peanuts!  

You'll be able to spot whether your friend is a werewolf because he or she howls rather than sings, has red-tinged fingernails and hairy palms, never wears silver jewellery and gets restless around the time of a full moon!

So now you know!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

We ♥ Cubs!

Trying to get Son into our local Cub group was the closest I'll ever get to the experience of trying to get a child into Eton!  You have to put his or her name down on the waiting list before they're conceived.  Well, almost.

I wouldn't have known that places at Cubs could be so highly coveted, but thanks to my muddly mum top parenting strategy (which is to always ensure you have a few Mums who really know what they are doing amongst your friends, and who tell you when you need to sign up for things), I got Son's name on the list early enough for him to join Beavers (the Cub group for younger boys and girls), and from there he had an automatic pass into Cubs itself.

We don't have much disposable income floating around here but if there's one thing we don't begrudge paying out for, it's activities for the kids, and they do lots of after-school sports and take music lessons.  In fact I frequently ask myself whether they are doing too much/too little/or the right activities (especially at the beginning of term when we seem to be signing a slew of cheques).  As a mother who aspires to a 'simple' life for her family I'm never sure if we've got the balance right, but Cubs is one thing that I have no reservations about.  For the princely sum of £40 per term (13 weeks this term) I think it represents good value.  In fact, at £10,649 less per term than Eton it's an absolute bargain.  Moreover the activities at Cubs align nicely with my anti-materialistic aspirations and even on the wettest of Thursday evenings Son NEVER has to be cajoled into going!

Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Let's start with what the Scouting Association says: "In Scouting, we believe that young people develop most when they are 'learning by doing,' when they are given responsibility, work in teams, take acceptable risks and think for themselves."  What's not to like about that?
  • For six months all of our cub meetings are outdoors (whatever the weather) near a lake.  Activities like kayaking, raft-building, shelter-building, archery, map reading, birdwatching and my personal favourite this term: ‘cooking a bread twist on a stick’, are all on offer.
  • Son comes back soaked, muddy and smelling of woodfire.  Fantastic!
  • It is super well organised by Akela and his team of assistants and young leaders, all of them volunteers.  I know that Scouting these days purports not to be just about 'boys, tents and woggles' but Son has never had a male teacher at his primary school, so good male role models in other areas of his life are really appreciated.
  • Cub camp!  Again, it may not be all about the 'tents' but Son experienced his first camp last weekend, and arrived home exhausted but having had a BRILLIANT time in a wood in the middle of nowhere.  Although we love the outdoors and go camping as a family, he experiences it in a much more varied, and rough and ready way with Cubs!  You won’t find us singing, “Oh you’ll never get to heaven in a girl guide’s bra, coz a girl guide’s bra won’t stretch that far!” round our camp fires on family holidays!
  • Watching his armful of badges gradually filling the entire sleeve of his cub jumper gives Son great satisfaction.

Some of that stitching is pretty awful isn't it?  I'm never going to get a badge for 'sewing on badges', but just you try sewing one on 2 minutes before Son leaves for Cubs... (I haven't yet internalised the Scouting motto, 'Be Prepared'!)

Can you see why I'm grateful for those Mums who told me when to put Son's name down for Cubs?  And really, I'm quite glad he was never destined for Eton; he wouldn't have got to experience the Cubs in North Wiltshire otherwise!

What are your children or grandchildren's favourite activities? And how do you decide how many extra-curricular activities they do or don't do - have you got the balance right?

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Cordial Sunday greetings to you!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not the only one in our family who's working hard at being frugal.  We're a frugal team, even if we don't always talk to each other about our money and environment-saving projects.  After our recent gardening misadventures, this week's Elderflower Cordial project can be deemed one of our more successful frugal partnerships!

Elderflower is in full blossom and very abundant around here at the moment, so when Husband suggested making some Cordial, I jumped at the idea.  (That was after I'd fallen off my chair with surprise, as he's not really an Elderflower Cordial kind of guy; he's more a few-glasses-of-Merlot man.)

Husband collected some elderflower heads and we were off.

It's really is surprisingly simple:

After making a syrup of boiling water, sugar, citric acid and lemon slices, you add the (thoroughly rinsed) elder flowers.  We stripped them off the stems as we didn't have room for them in our biggest pan. (That's Husband's hairy legs by the way, not mine.)

You leave the pan in a cool place and stir occasionally:

After approximately 24 hours, you strain the syrup through a muslin, (or in our case, our most hygienic tea towel), and bottle it in sterilised bottles:

Husband was tempted to leave out the citric acid, as we didn't have any hanging around the house.  I insisted that it must be in the ingredient list for a reason, so after Googling it and reading on some forums that citric acid is not easy to get hold of as it is a bomb-making ingredient (*?!), I went shopping for it with some trepidation.  In North Wiltshire however, it is easy to find in the local health food shop, although I was rather alarmed when they reassured me that if I found I had bought too much I could put the rest to another use...bomb-making? my kettle!

We conducted a small experiment and found that the citric acid does serve a purpose; without it the syrup tastes like a sugary syrup.  With it, the Elderflower Cordial tastes like, well, Elderflower Cordial!


30 elderflower heads

1.7l/3 pints boiling water
2 0z/50g citric acid/ 1/4 cup citric acid
2 unwaxed oranges sliced
3 unwaxed lemons sliced

We increased the ingredients to 45 elderflower heads, 4.5 pints etc, and spent about £2.00 on ingredients, which filled 4 wine bottles.  That works out at 50p per bottle.  I'm sure a bottle of commercially made Elderflower Cordial would be much more, so we reckon it was £2.00 well spent.

The end result is delicious, and even Husband relinquished his beloved weekend beer and red wine, and has been found in the garden, sipping on a glass of the golden nectar!  Cheers!