Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Catchy uppy blog post

Everyday Life on a Shoestring has been busy...

getting inspired...
  • by the free business advice that the Wessex Chambers of Commerce offers to the people of Wiltshire. We attended a free Become Your Own Boss seminar which was really useful for people without an entrepreneurial bone in their body (like us) and for the more entrepreneurial. In Wiltshire it seems much support is available, including a grant of up to £1500 for specialist advice on, say, building a website or marketing your business. We've got a couple of ideas for the future and the seminar really helped clarify the next steps.
  • by Peter White MBE (the BBC's Disability Affairs Correspondent) who was giving a talk as part of the local Arts Centre's Senseability week (which focused on the issue of disability and inclusion within the Arts). Blind from birth, Peter's positive, can-do approach and insights into his life and disability issues, made for a really interesting and inspiring evening. This event was free, and I found myself feeling paranoid that the Arts Centre staff will think I'm Corsham's ultimate cheapskate who rocks up for anything free. (True, of course, but I DO buy tickets for other stuff too!)
  • by the Bristol Big Green Week . Lots going on, including Bristol's biggest bike ride and lots of cycling stuff this Sunday.
  • our plants struggle! One cat likes to sleep in a plant pot with a (now very squashed) fuschia. The sunny wall against which my tomato plants are growing is also the wall that Son likes to kick a football onto. Football + tomato plants = more squashed plants. My bargain Magnolia tree/stick purchased last month, was sporting four healthy leaves. Turns out slugs like Magnolia leaves. I do hope it recovers.


  • frozen grapes. They were being suggested as a 'palate cleanser in between courses' or 'like a grape sorbet' at a local food festival. The sort of simple meals served up in our house don't generally call for 'palate cleansers' but in the recent hot weather we've decided we really, really like frozen grapes for an any-time snack or a pudding (using reduced price grapes obviously). Try it - they're scrummy.


  • Daughter's signed up for a World Challenge expedition to Iceland in 2015 and needs to raise the jaw-dropping £1600 costs herself. After a slow start, this money finding challenge is gathering momentum, with two supermarket bag packs recently, selling a load of her old toys, clothes and our clutter on eBay, getting paid for watering our neighbours' garden while they're on holiday, and a sudden flurry of local events involving mountains of cake baking and selling. Amazingly she's on target to meet her '£500 by the beginning of July' target.

If I'm missing from the blog over the next few weeks, you'll probably find me in the kitchen making cakes or supervising a cake stall...

Friday, 6 June 2014

My first (and favourite) simple living guru.

Recently Daughter read The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak which is set in Nazi Germany and narrated by 'Death'. The story of little Liesl and her foster family on Himmel Street, is both gripping and harrowing. 

After she'd finished reading it, unsurprisingly, Daughter felt her next book needed to be something light. We had a couple of visits to the library trying to find something that would fit the bill. If you're in the habit of browsing the teen readers section of your library, you'll know it's full of vampires, teenage love, and teenage angst. Well, ours is anyway. 'Grim stuff', pronounced the teen.

We gave up and went home.

Eventually I found Daughter had gone back to an old familiar.


Originally written in 1928 by Joyce Lankester Brisley, the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories have been popular ever since.

I adored them and re-read them many times in my childhood. Comfort reading at its best.

And so much simple living inspiration. 

Although Milly-Molly-Mandy lives with "a Father, and a Mother, and a Grandpa, and a Grandma, and an Uncle, and an Aunty" who, for the most part, fulfill the gender expectations of the era, Milly-Molly-Mandy herself will turn her hand to anything, be it knitting, baking, gardening, fishing or helping out with thatching.

The family are thrifty, self reliant and environmentally aware. When Milly-Molly-Mandy gets invited to a party, Mother and Aunty upcycle a party dress out of a silk scarf and a lace handkerchief.

Milly-Molly-Mandy is not just a pretty face in her stripy dress - she's entrepreneurial. My favourite Milly-Molly-Mandy story is 'Milly Molly Mandy spends a penny' where she finds a penny in an old coat and gathers suggestions about what to do with it from all the family. By growing and selling some mustard and cress and careful saving, she manages to achieve everything the family suggests from growing seeds, baking, learning to knit, buying sweets through to finally saving three pennies to buy a duckling.

She enjoys simple pleasures such as going blackberrying, having her friend (little-friend-Susan) to stay, going fishing with Billy Blunt and splashing in the sea.

An early exponent of the positive psychology movement, Milly Molly Mandy turns a failed blackberrying expedition (all the blackberries are in a Trespassers Will be Prosecuted area) on its head by having just as much fun watching and stroking a baby bunny instead. When her friend Billy Blunt is somewhat begrudgingly weeding the family garden, Milly Molly Mandy joins him and it becomes an exercise in mindfulness, "Doesn't the earth smell nice when you turn it up?" Before you know it, Billy and Milly have not only weeded the garden but tidied the lawn, and painted the water butt and garden-roller.

Interwoven throughout the book are the gentle and warm relationships Milly-Molly-Many has with her family, peers and local community (such as Mr Rudge, the Blacksmith, Miss Muggins in the shop and Teacher, who is referred to throughout as just Teacher).

Best of all, the books have a wonderful map inside the front and back covers so that you can track the whereabouts of all the events in the book, see where everyone lives, and spot the difference between Milly-Molly-Mandy's summer and winter routes to school.

For me, Milly-Molly-Mandy, despite never putting a foot wrong, somehow manages not to be too twee. I think the ordinariness and hands-on-ness of all the everyday activities she participates in keep her grounded. All in all, a good choice for an uplifting read after The Book Thief and a charming must-read for anyone interested in frugal and simple living!

How about you: Who's your simple living guru or what's your inspirational book? Any suggestions for light reads for teenage girls?

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

We ♥ Birdwatching!

We're fond of our garden birds (remember Chirpy?) and always enjoy time outdoors, whether it's gardening, walking or cycling, but really, we wouldn't call ourselves serious birdwatchers.

However when it's one of the best times of year for birdwatching and you're staying next to a nature reserve you can't help but ♥ birdwatching and become serious birdwatchers for a few days. You don't need to wear special clothes or have expensive telescopic equipment or to 'twitch'; birdwatching can be fun for everyone.


That was what we found last week when we visited our Devon relatives in Seaton. Seaton's not just about its shingle beach and sharply shelving seashore (try saying that after a few Devon ciders). Or its tramline running alongside the river. It's all about the Axe Estuary Wetlands at this time of year.

View from the wetlands towards the coast

Not far from the beach and easily visible from the tram, the Wetlands consists of three nature reserves managed by East Devon District Council on the lower river Axe. The three reserves almost link up by footpath to make one huge nature area, and that is the long term goal. 

There is a lot to see and do there: saltmarsh, freshwater grazing marsh, ponds, a purpose-built Sand Marten habitat, birdhides, a classroom and information centre (currently with a live webcam streaming the latest news from a Kestrel and a Bluetits' nest - BBC Springwatch eat your heart out!). All this is accessible via a network of footpaths including some that are buggy, wheelchair and bicycle friendly. And it's all free.

We walked through the reserve a few times during our stay, but the highlight has to be the sunny evening we spent in one of the birdhides, anticipating the arrival of the local Barn Owl on its nightly hunting excursion. Whilst we were waiting, we enjoyed the antics of all sorts of water birds. At this time of year, many are sitting on nests (can you spot the Coot's nest in the photo above?) or looking after young. The goslings and ducklings were super cute.

Canada Goose and young

Just when we were about to give up hope of seeing the Barn Owl, it swooped over the shallow scrape in exactly the place we weren't looking for it (thank heavens for a knowledgeable, eagle-eyed local). Even with the Barn Owl, though, it would still have been a magical evening. 

Blurry barn owl shot
Yes, Barn Owl or no Barn Owl, we all ♥ birdwatching. Eco, frugal and simple.

Birdwatchers notes:

Check out a proper birdwatching blog by an Axe Valley birder - click here

Axe Estuary Wetlands information - click here

Seaton Tramway - click here

Information about Seaton (the poor relation of Lyme Regis, Sidmouth, Beer and all those posher places - but we think Seaton's much more down-to-earth and well worth a visit) - click here

Our favourite binoculars (Daughter was given a pair by Granmy and Grandad and we all fight to use them). They're really lightweight and portable, and we'd say they're not just for children - click here

Watch Springwatch on TV, by all means, but don't forget to take advantage of the light evenings and get out there and do some real 'watching'!

Many thanks to Daughter for all the photography in this blog post, except for the Barn Owl photo which was taken by Son.