Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Birthdays, bikes and bottom humour...

When I was a child, a birthday party was simple. You put on your long dress (it was the 70s) and headed off to the birthday girl or boy's house for party games with a few friends, followed by a birthday tea.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the kids' birthday party has become an elaborate beast. My kids have been to simple affairs akin to the classic 1970s party of my childhood, but they have also been to birthday parties with magicians and entertainers. They have been go-karting, and travelled in a limo to the cinema. They have been to craft parties, swimming pool parties. They have done all sorts.

And in turn, we've done our bit to fuel the elaborate party craze. Parties at home, parties in the park, parties in the garden, parties at the leisure centre, a climbing party, the party where I was Princess Leia from Star Wars and Darth Vader arrived all the way from next door...

But then again, we've also had no brithday party. Last year Son had a new bike for his birthday, which was way more than we usually spend on birthday presents, and part of the deal was no extra expense of a party.

So how did Son want to celebrate this year? Two friends for a sleepover and a bike ride. Simple!

We were able to piggy back onto the Spindles and Sprockets (our local community bike collective) monthly bike ride. Three boys cycling 18 miles in the afternoon = a blissful night's sleepover for all involved! (Thank you Spindles!)

There was also DIY Pizza all round. Add a whoopee cushion and a healthy dose of fart humour into the mix and you're guaranteed a successful supper. Ten year old boys are easily amused.

While the pizza dough was rising there was just the right amount of time for a flag capturing game in the garden.

And before they hit the sack, there was the compulsory DVD.

In the morning, ice cubes from the breakfast orange juice provided amusement for some considerable while. Melting holes in ice cubes by blowing through drinking straws is good fun (if you're ten). And it was a small step from hole-blowing to requests for more ice cubes, and a bold announcement that they would be constructing the Statue of Liberty from ice. Sadly this project was dropped in favour of kicking a football around...

All this got me thinking; years of planning fancy birthday parties, and it turns out whoopee cushion farts and a pile of ice cubes are as good an entertainment as anything!

However, even with the more complicated birthday parties we've organised, there have always been ways of keeping it simple and keeping the costs down. Based on our experience here are my thoughts:

  • We've shared several parties with other children who have birthdays at the same time as ours, which spreads the cost and the workload.
  • We have had lots of parties at home. We haven't got a huge house or garden but if you don't invite the whole class and all the extended family, then you can fit quite a few kids in a small space. My kids have brithdays in April and October and we've often been able to overflow into the garden for both.
  • Choosing a theme can jazz a party up a bit, and make it easier to think of activities. Most of the usual party games can be adapted to fit the theme. Over the years we've had a Postman Pat party (Pin the tail on Jess...), a Star Wars party (Husband spray painted pipe insulating foam silver for light sabres and they all went home covered in flecks of silver paint...), a Spiderman party and a Pocahontas party (complete with a teepee in the garden made from bamboo poles and bed sheets...)
  • Bake your own cake. I'm not an expert cake decorator, but a simple iced sponge decorated with maltesers or chocolate buttons or hundreds and thousands goes down just as well (and tastes better) as a bought cake.
  • Once you've planned the amount of food you think you need to buy, halve it! Kids never eat as many sandwiches as you think they will. (The same rule applies to the length of time you think eating the birthday tea will take...you might think eating will require a civilised half an hour of the party but they'll demolish the food in ten minutes!)
  • Don't spend a fortune on party bag stuff. A bit of cake, a lollipop and a balloon, and you're done.
There were plenty of other birthday party tips on the Non Consumer Advocate last week.

And other bloggers have been busy recently blogging about their kids' birthdays too: check out how Jen tackled her two year old's birthday on My Make Do and Mend Year (and also her mum's and brother's all in the same week!), and Ted's nature walk party at Bradshaw and Sons.) Wondering how to organise a frugal 18th birthday party for twins? Check out Lili's blogpost last month on just that topic at Creative Savv.

What are your favourite frugal birthday party tips?

Friday, 26 April 2013

Food Waste Friday - Green Stuff.

It was not a zero food waste week.

There was green stuff - wilted lettuce, left over green beans and swiss chard.

There was tinned grapefruit that had been in the fridge for 10 days. I've become such a food waste nerd that I found myself debating whether to have it for breakfast or not, and trying to convince myself that the brown dots on it were something to do with the grapefruit tinning process and not baby mould spores. Oh for goodness sake! It had to go.

There was a tiny bit of toffuti (tofu cream cheese equivalent). Worth buying just for the name, but we must remember to eat it all up next time.

And there were almost lots of carrots. I've had problems with them in the past. A while back I promised you a Crecy* Plate Pie and here it is. The recipe I use is from my falling-to-pieces, ancient copy of The Cranks Recipe Book (my copy does not look like the one you'll get to via this link, but I think it's the same book, just a later edition), which I love and go back to time and time again. Good old fashioned, honest, vegetarian food.

It's essentially lots of carrots and onion, flavoured with thyme and marmite. An odd marriage of seasonings but the pairing works and it tastes really good. If you're in the 'hate it' rather than 'love it' camp when it comes to marmite, fear not, I don't think you can detect the marmite once it's cooked.

Crecy Plate Pie Recipe

350g carrots
350g onions
50g butter or marg
1 tsp thyme
2 tbspn wholemeal flour
1 tsp marmite
salt and pepper to taste

A 450g amount of wholemeal shortcrust pastry. (300g wholemeal flour (I use half wholemeal/half white), 150g butter or marg, 3-4tbspn water)

Chop the onions and grate the carrots. Saute the onion until transparent. Add the carrots and thyme and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (to avoid the 'caramelised' onion you can see in the picture above!)

Stir in the flour and marmite, and season to taste.

Roll out a generous half of the pastry and line a 20cm/8" tin.

Fill with the vegetable mixture and top with the remaining pastry. Seal the edges and flute them. (I made a pie in a larger tin and didn't bother with the top, so I suppose it was a Crecy Plate tart rather than a pie)

Bake in the oven at 200 degrees c/gas mark 6 for about 30 minutes, until golden.

Serve warm or cold.

* If anyone knows how to insert accents in blogger, I'd love to know. (The 'e' in Crecy has an acute accent).

Thursday, 25 April 2013

A partial eclipse of the moon...

Tonight sees a partial eclipse of the moon. Or it doesn't. Depending on where you live.

From Yahoo News

It won't be visible to those of you in North or South America. But if you live in the Eastern Hemisphere you might get a glimpse of it between 20.54 BST and 21.21 BST.

According to National Geographic, this eclipse will be spectacular for being so unspectacular. It's the second shortest partial eclipse of the 21st century. There'll be no moon glowing red, nor will the world be plunged into impenetrable darkness. The full moon will have a small chunk missing from its disc, and that's pretty much it. If it's a cloudy night with an invisible moon the whole event be even less spectacular!

Everyday Life on a Shoestring celebrates the beauty of the unspectacular, so we think you should indulge in a spot of star gazing tonight if you happen to remember, whether it's cloudy or not! 

We've mentioned the night sky before here, here and here, and last year I pointed you in the direction of Mooncup's excellent free 2012 lunar calendar. I had trouble printing out the 2013 version, so I downloaded an alternative calendar here. It's slightly superior - the format is an A4 sheet per month, and it allows you to choose your location, with details of sunrise and sunset times and notifications of lunar eclipses etc. I'm old fashioned so I like a hard copy, but of course there are plenty of online equivalents, and smart phones probably tell you this stuff as a matter of course. 

Whether you track the moon or not, and however you do it or not, a partial eclipse is worth looking out of the window for. 

“With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” Wisdom from Oscar Wilde, hand-lettered by Lisa Congdon (previously), who knows a thing or two about illustrating timeless life-advice.
Hand lettering by Lisa Congdon
from http://exp.lore.com/
(Check out artist Lisa Congdon's wonderful 365 days of hand lettering here for more beautifully hand lettered quotes.)

Friday, 19 April 2013

Food Waste Friday - Old and crusty, like me?

I'm a year older tomorrow and the bread crusts have come out in sympathy.

It might look like nice fresh homemade bread but it's old and rock hard.

There is an excuse; Daughter had 6 teeth out last week in preparation for orthodontic work, so that was one person less eating crusts, and the food waste shows it. I was so busy warming up soup, serving yogurt, mixing salty mouthwash and administering pain relief, that I forgot to do anything useful with them so they're currently soaking ready for the chickens. The Food Waste Friday blog post here and the comments following it have lots of useful ideas about what to do with leftover bread.

When Daughter  tired of eating soft white rolls, there were even some of those getting drier and older, but by then my nursing role had eased off and I was able to turn them into a bread and butter pudding. The chickens are not laying very reliably at the moment so it was a bread and butter pudding without eggs. I found a vegan recipe to base mine on, which used good old Bird's custard instead. It wasn't quite as light and crispy as an eggy bread and butter pudding but it was palatable.

The other surprise entry into the food waste charts was an orange and some satsumas. They have featured before but since I've been using these (another Christmas present)...

...there hasn't been much fruit waste. 'Fruit and veg savers' are round paper sachets, filled with something compostable that discourages the production of ethylene, thus slowing down the rate at which fruit ripens and then rots. When I checked what was going on with the three mouldy fruits, I found that the sachet currently in use was 10 days past the date when it should have been replaced by a new one. Either that accounts for the withered up fruit, or they have joined the bread crusts in a symbolic representation of old age for my birthday.

The big orange was salvageable and was squeezed and frozen ready for a birthday cheesecake this weekend. I'm hoping that may be metaphorical too; there's life in this old fruit yet!

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by thefrugalgirl.com, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. This week you can find Food Waste Friday hosted by 
Simply Being Mum.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

My '30 ways to save £1' post!

This might not be the first blog post you've read in frugal blogland recently sharing 30 frugal pound saving tips, and it may well not be the last one you'll read either! Apologies if you're all frugal tipped out!

To celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the £1 coin, MoneySupermarket.com are offering bloggers £30 for sharing their top money saving ideas (thus generating a bit of publicity for the company along the way). The News and Community section of their website offers lots of money saving ideas and is worth checking out.

Several bloggers have already blogged their tips and I cottoned on to the idea from Frugal in Bucks who discovered it via the Mean Queen a.k.a. Ilona at Life after Money. Ilona was contacted by MoneySupermarket.com, so she heard it from the horse's mouth! Have a read of her blog post about the scheme if you want to find out more. Thank you to both of them for sharing the details and explaining how it works.

As for my 30 ideas, I'm splitting them up into three sections:

1) 10 Frugal Things that we do that I have already blogged about:

1 Use a family railcard (or other type of railcard if you're eligible) to cut costs on train travel.

2 Keep a close handle on food waste to ensure money isn't wasted on food that is not getting eaten.

3 The great outdoors is one big fantastic frugal resource! I've lived by the sea, in various cities including London, and now in Wiltshire and wherever I've been there's always been green space in some shape or form not too far from my doorstep. We like to walk, cycle, get out in the garden and fly kites!

4 Take time to enjoy small things like the night sky, a bowl of soup or even a pretty bookmark!

5 Bake cakes and treats rather than buying them.

6 Keep chickens. The set up costs have been covered several times over in the amount we have saved buying eggs over the last 3 years.

7 Take frugal holidays. Stay with family and go camping.

8 Use local markets as much as possible.

9 Buy secondhand. We're regular shoppers in our town's charity shops and on Ebay.

10 Cut waste and save money at the same time. Since joining in with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Slim Your Bin project we now always make our own washing powder and dishwasher powder.

2) 10 Frugal Things we do that I have never blogged about:

11 Try to remember to always turn light switches off when leaving a room.

12 Buy ink cartridges for the printer online.

13 Avoid (new) branded goods, non-branded are often just as good.

14 Entertain at home and rarely go out for meals.

15 Don't buy books. This year I have not bought any books (book buying is a weakness of mine!) for myself, but am enjoying the ones I already have, have borrowed books from friends and used the library.

16 Enjoy DVDs (borrowed or found in charity shops) at home with homemade popcorn rather than expensive cinema trips.

17 Put up heavy curtains for extra insulation in front of the front door (which is completely glazed) to help reduce energy bills.

18 Put silver foil behind all the radiators to reflect heat back into the rooms.

19 Read the news online rather than buying a printed newspaper. Print off my favourite cryptic crossword on a Sunday from the newspaper's website. When we do buy a newspaper at the weekend, we make it last for the next fortnight!

20 Make do with fewer kitchen appliances. We don't own a tumble dryer or a microwave.

3) 10 Frugal Things, some we haven't done but might try one day, and some we haven't done and probably never will...(thanks to the Spend Less Handbook by Rebecca Ash and the interweb for ideas!)

21 Gone on holiday to Thailand and had clothes made there.

22 Sold current home to buy something cheaper.

23 Become a house sitter for free accommodation or a free holiday.

24 Got rid of the TV.

25 Sold things at a car boot sale.

26 Rented out the drive. See www.parkatmyhouse.com

27 Made ice cream.

28 House swapped.

29 Used conkers as mothballs.

30 Hung up dental floss to dry so it can be used again. (Thanks to Extreme Cheapskates for that one!

Have you got any favourite tips to share? If you've tried any of the frugal things that we haven't tried, how did you get on?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A spring in our step, at last.

Each month we've been out on one of our favourite local walks, partly because we like it so much, and this year, just for fun, to track the seasonal changes. You can follow our previous months' walks by clicking for January, February and March if you want to. We were a little later walking it this time, in April, but perhaps the extra week provided more of spring than if we'd headed out at the start of the month when it was still absolutely freezing.

The most apparent thing this month was the curious combination of winter and spring - sprinter perhaps? Maybe climate change will bring more of these seasonal combos.

The trees are still bare.

The view up the Bybrook Valley is resolutely remaining much the same as it has for previous months this year. You could be forgiven for thinking that I am reusing the same old photo.

The Bybrook Valley, 7 April 2013.

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

Thankfully there are signs of new life. 

The woodland floor is carpeted with wild garlic or ramsons, and thanks to our handy Onya bags, we picked a bagful for our supper. It's virtually impossible for any foraging foul-ups on this one - the smell of garlic wafts through the air where it is growing, and if you're still not sure, breaking a leaf will release a garlicky aroma. 

Primroses are growing.

Son's favourite 'lying on the ground' style of photography.

My more traditional style...
The daffodils are out.

And the birds are singing. We saw a willow warbler and a dipper flying down the river. I was especially pleased to see the willow warbler as I had only just read here that although the cold weather may result in a spectacular late spring, it may also have resulted in many summer migrants, including willow warblers, perishing on arrival here in the UK.

Best of all, it was finally warm enough to linger. Warm enough for playing Pooh Sticks.

Warm enough for some members of the party to have an extended paddling session.

And warm enough to sit by the river for a cup of tea and a piece of Simnel cake.

"...and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea." (Mole sitting by the river in The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame).

Thursday, 11 April 2013

How many chocs can a choc chick chuck?

Last week when my sister and my nieces were staying, it seemed the ideal opportunity for having a go at the Choc Chick raw chocolate making kit that I'd been given for Christmas. I mean, it wasn't as if any of us had eaten many Easter eggs in the preceding week or anything...

It's much easier than I imagined it would be. The cocoa butter (there was 100g in my kit) is melted:

You then add 6 table spoons of the raw cacao powder, and 2-3 table spoons of the Sweet Freedom natural sweetener that comes with the kit (or Agave Syrup). The raw chocolate enthusiasts amongst you will not be pleased to hear that we also added some golden syrup, as it was just too cocoa-y or cacao-y for the young palates that were helping me.

By this point it is a runny chocolatey liquid and can be made into chocolates by filling ice cube trays. We added mini marshmallows, nuts and cranberries to some of ours. (NB The Choc Chick company people pride themselves on their gluten free, white-sugar free, vegetarian, organic, generally all round healthy recipes, so probably would NOT endorse the addition of golden syrup or marshmallows...)

Chocolate making is so simple it can even be done in your pyjamas or onesie!

A good suggestion by one niece was to use some of the chocolate to coat strawberries (which kind of made up for the syrup/marshmallow aberration).

Then the choc chicks had to wait for the chocolates to solidify. Which doesn't take long in the fridge. Our mixture made 27 chocolates plus several chocolate coated strawberries - it's surprising how quickly 7 people can eat this many. No chocs had to be chucked!

There is plenty of the raw cacao powder (ethically sourced from South America) and Sweet Freedom syrup left so I can purchase more cocoa butter (from the Choc Chick website if I so wish) and make some more chocolates.

When my kids evaluate things, they use a method they have learned at school: two stars and a wish. (Two positive things and one area for improvement).

So, my two stars for the chocolates? Delicious and really quite professional looking (even though the photo of the finished product is, as ever, not very professional at all). And my wish? If only I had not got muddled up and had not told my sister that it was such a wonderful gift to receive from my lovely sister-in-law, at which point my sister looked rather crestfallen and pointed out that actually she, herself, had given it to me. Oops! Sorry sis! I obviously need to eat more raw chocolate with all those memory improving anti-oxidants and flavanols...

Save the earth it has chocolate!

Any chocolate making tips to share? Any ideas for sourcing ingredients?

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Slim Your Bin - the Grand Finale!

A couple of people have been prodding me to confess...

What was the weight of our week's rubbish at the end of the Slim Your Bin project?

At the beginning of the project our bin featured here, and our weekly waste (that is, everything destined for landfill) measured precisely 850g.

The last week of the project (3 weeks ago) was a Zero Waste week, aiming for as little waste as possible. It was also a week of much excitement. There was the screening of Trashed, the environmental documentary, with a panel of bloggers and environmentalists, honest) answering questions from the audience at the end. Knowing that I was going to be feeding these doyennes of recycling before we watched the film, added extra impetus to aiming for an empty rubbish bin...

Image result for Trashed the film

The outlook was really positive, after all the changes we've made to our waste habits, on top of the recycling that we were already doing. All that saving of packaging for reuse and discovering a host of things that we didn't know we could recycle such as rigid plastics, stretchy polythenes and biscuit wrappers. All that brewing our own cleaning fluids and grating soap for home-made washing powder.

Yes, I could pretend that implementing those measures did indeed lead to an empty bin...

But that wouldn't be honest. The bad news is that there appeared to be no change whatsoever in the weight of our waste. Yes really, none whatsoever!

The good news is that the lack of change can be attributed to a visiting baby depositing two full nappies* in the bin, highlighting the fact that 'waste happens'! That's waste that we wouldn't usually create as we haven't got anyone of nappy-wearing age living here, so if you take the nappies out of the equation, our final weigh-in was 450g! That's better. Not zero waste, but better than 850g. We have got better at avoiding non-recyclable food packaging but it still accounted for most of the 450g waste. 

If you haven't already read about the changes we made to reduce our waste, the blog post here is a pretty good round up of our experience of the project. Although the Slim Your Bin project is officially over for us, we haven't stopped waste watching by any means so there will be more recycling blog posts here in the future! And the Rubbish Diet, on which the Wiltshire project was based, is about to kick off in Suffolk, Shropshire and Powys. (You can find more info on the Rubbish Diet blog.)

(*Disposable and real nappies both have an environmental impact. Read these top tips from Which Magazine which provide suggestions on how to minimise the impact of either kind. And the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust has a guide to the benefits of using real nappies here.)

Friday, 5 April 2013

BYO food waste Food Waste Friday!

When Sue, who blogs at Our New Life in the Country, pictured this book, which she picked up in a charity shop on her recent holiday...

...it reminded me that I picked up the very same book in a charity shop during my summer holiday last year. I haven't read it cover-to-cover, and I'm already familiar with lots of the tips, but there are a few new ideas and I've always thought it might be useful for inspiration if I ever start suffering from bloggers' writing block.

After reading Sue's blog post, I dipped into the book at random and found Tip No. 198 which is 'Don't overspend on dinner guests - If you're trying to live on a tighter budget, then don't spend too much money on making meals for people when they come round for dinner. The most jubilant responses I've ever got from dinner guests was by serving them a really good shepherd's pie or a roast dinner with crisp roast potatoes, roast parsnips and yourkshire puddings.'

That might have been useful advice for us this week when we have had guests to stay for a few days. Aunty and her daughters are model guests though. They have made it almost impossible to overspend on meals by arriving with their own food waste to contribute to meals, and chipping in with various goodies that they have purchased whilst they have been here!

They arrived bearing half a leftover love heart cake, amongst other things!

With all the fun-filled family time together the food waste accounting has been a bit more chaotic...

I know for sure that four children polished off all the fairy cakes:

And I know that the chickens have been busy polishing off a little more leftover supper and breakfast cereal than usual:

A vegetable finger and cornflakes!

But aside from that, it's all a bit hazy! We all need a break from strict food waste accounting once in a while!

Food Waste Friday was dreamt up by thefrugalgirl.com, to encourage people to use up food instead of waste it. This week you can find Food Waste Friday hosted by 
Simply Being Mum.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Simple Things - Easter lambs

This Easter we've enjoyed...walking to see our local lambs...

...and more time to laze around watching Shaun the sheep...

Shaun The Sheep - Life's A Treat (Karaoke Version) by orchardmusic

What simple things have you enjoyed this weekend?