Tuesday 30 June 2015

June Round Up and Getting Tough on Stuff in 2015

June has been a bit of a mixed month with some really enjoyable things and some not so enjoyable things happening.  Financially, though, it has been another quite tricky one. I've had to get a bit creative to stretch the budget, but due to a few vouchers for both online and offline grocery shopping, I've done okay and in the process, have managed to acquire a cupboard full of staples to use in the coming months.

I've also enjoyed finally starting to harvest food from the allotment, starting with the gooseberries, rhubarb and lettuce.  Later in the month I began harvesting some potatoes and got a small crop of blackcurrants from the garden at home.

I did indulge in the purchase of a bikini this month and I also treated myself to an afternoon herbal workshop at a local museum, but it was money well spent and I enjoyed every minute of it.  It has inspired me to try to make several more homemade beauty items this month too, which has been fun.

As posted, I had quite a few problems with my new beauty regime this month and was feeling quite despondent after 3 weeks of skin breakouts.  I'm pleased to say that since returning to my usual Witch Hazel formula, these have receded and my skin is virtually back to normal, which is a huge relief. I've even gone back to using the Neal's Yard moisturiser, which I haven't been able to use for a few weeks as my skin was oily enough.  I've decided that I do actually quite like this moisturiser and find it does agree with my skin, even though I find the formula quite unusual, shall we say.

I bought OH a few small presents for Fathers Day.  Mainly consumables such as chocolate, toiletries, coffee, wine, etc. and I'm slowly converting him to bamboo socks too. I'd noticed that the two pairs I bought him for his birthday are now constantly in use, which is encouraging.  They're not cheap, but they are so soft, warm and comfortable to wear.

The decluttering has also gone well this month and lots more things have found their way out on to the decluttering pile.  I haven't as yet removed them to the charity shop, but it is on my 'to do list'.

The monthly total of items gathered is 141, taking my yearly total so far to 859. I'm getting close to the 1000 things I challenged myself to declutter and remove from the house this year. I think that once I've reached the 1000 items, I will continue with the challenge, but will try to remove at least the equivalent one item per day.  I'm hoping that this will help to keep me motivated to continue decluttering and prevent any build up of stuff in the future.

Sunday 28 June 2015

June Favourites

With summer well underway, this months favourites are going to include some of the things that I've been finding essential now that we've been having some hot summer days.  The first favourite this month has been these dark green mesh skater shoes.

I bought them from ASOS way back in February or March when they were on sale at £13.  I love flat shoes and these seemed to be on trend, practical (as there are no laces to tie), casual, but not too scruffy and so comfortable I can easily wear them all day.  What's not to like. I've been wearing them quite a lot since last month and love, love, love them.  Great with jeans, maxi skirts, hareem pants, cigarette pants. Definitely my favourite summer go to casual shoe. I might even be tempted to buy another pair before the summer is out.

My second favourite this month has been this bright orange/red lipstick by Illamasqua, that I received in the very first beauty box I bought a few months back.  It's not actually a natural or organic makeup product, but as I'd already received this before I started to pursue more natural beauty, I'm going to use it up, rather than just throw it out. (The same goes for all my lipsticks) Initially, when I tried this on for the first tme, it was quite dry on my lips and I wasn't sure I liked the formula.  After reading in a review that it can be used with a lip balm underneath, I decided to give this a try and found it felt much better on my lips when worn this way. As a result, its become a firm favourite this month and I've been wearing it a lot more.  I do like a bright red lip in the summer.

Talking of lipsticks, my next favourite is a small storage solution that I purchased from Tiger when we visited Brighton for the day last month.  It cost just £3 and is perfect to store my small collection of lipsticks, lip balms, lip pencils, etc., as they were starting to spill out of the place I'd previously kept them.  I love how this little rack looks and could happily buy other similar solutions for the rest of my makeup, but for now I'm just going to make do with what I have, as everything fits in perfectly for the moment.  In addition, I think that nine lipsticks, (the maximum that this holds) is plenty enough for me to own at any one point in time, so it should hopefully encourage me to keep things minimal and not to buy any more until I use one up and there is room to house it.

A floral favourite this month has definitely been my orange blossom bush in the back garden and how it beautifully intertwines with a lovely pale pink rambling rose that spills over the fence from next door.  The smell of the orange blossom is just delightful too and the sight of these two have been lifting my mood this month, every time I step into the garden and see them.  It doesn't flower over a long period, so it's good to appreciate it while it does.

Finally, this month I've started using a new face wash and I'm finding that it suits my skin very well. For most of this month I've been suffering breakouts, but since I've stopped using what I think was the cause, my skin is gradually getting back to normal.  I think this face wash has been helping, as it is very gentle with a herbal smell and it wasn't too expensive.  My previous face wash was one by Dr Organics, one of the first organic products I used.  It was okay, but towards the end I found it had started to sting my skin, especially when I was breaking out.  I'm very happy to stick with this one for a while and give my skin a rest.

I hope you enjoyed this month's favourites.  I'll be back with more next month.

A Few Frugalities - June

I think that now I'm getting back to more frugal ways, I'm going to start posting monthly about the frugal measures I do manage through the month.

There hasn't been much flexibility in the budget again this month, on account of certain expenses occurring that I wasn't expecting or that had slipped my mind, such as paying for Little Bird's Trampolining lessons, birthday party gifts, car park tickets for the gym, Father's day cards/gifts, postage costs to send gifts overseas, etc. etc.  Oh, and buying a buying a new bikini, of course.

Anyway, as a consequence of these and the fact that it is a month whereby I was already trying to pare back expenditure, I have been making lots more effort in the frugality department and below are a few ways that I've been doing this.

1)  I've been visiting the allotment more regularly to harvest 'free' food.

2)  I've been getting creative in the kitchen to use said free food and not let it go to waste, i.e. making Jackie's rhubarb cake using food already in my store cupboard. I've also made some gooseberry jelly and some small gooseberry crumbles for the first time, with the leftover pulp, so no wastage here. They made a change from rhubarb too. I also used the blackcurrants from the garden with the rest of the rhubarb, to make jelly and crumbles too.

3)  I ordered my groceries online one week, from a supermarket I've never ordered online with before, to take advantage of £15 off  a first order of £60.  This covered just about everything we needed that week, the remaining few items I bought from Lidl near the gym.

Doing so, also saved me the cost of driving the 10 miles to said supermarket to do my shopping on the Monday concerned, as well as the time and effort this takes, not to mention the temptation to put extras in the trolley and they supplied every item on my order, (I did state no substitutions) so I was very happy with the service.

4)  I purchased (very inexpensively) a foam dispenser bottle to ensure that the liquid hand soap that I made from a bar of castille soap, lasts even longer and goes even further.  I read or watched that the liquid soap could be further diluted 9:1 with distilled water when used with a foam dispenser and still provided lovely soapy foam for hand and body washing.  Instead of buying distilled water this time, I made my own by boiling a small pan of water and then leaving to cool before using.  I found that it was more like 1:1 or 1:2, but it still made it go a bit further and made it easier to use in the shower.

5)  After attending a herbal workshop one weekend in June, I have made some natural hand rub by combining rose water and glycerine. I know that this combination can be bought ready made, but it was fun to do it myself and use up some rose water that had been languishing unused in the baking drawer for quite a while.

6)  Inspired by Thrift Deluxe (again!), I ordered some products from Faith in Nature's own web site this month, and was able to take advantage of using the £5 worth of introductory loyalty points to cover the postage and get £1 off my shopping.  I will definitely consider buying direct from them in future, as I do like the ethos of this company and I really like their products.

I have to admit that I did buy 4 packs of multi surface wipes at £1 per pack, which although not very eco friendly cleaning products, come in very handy for cleaning the downstairs loo in a hurry when we have impending visitors or OH has clients or colleagues turning up. They should keep me going for a while. They also sell lots of gift packs and hampers of their toiletries, which will make great gifts for others or to receive myself this Christmas.

7) I managed to re-purpose quite a few glass jars from various parts of the house to organise my food storecupboard, saving me the expense of buying new, although I do still need to buy a few more when finances allow.

8) I borrowed some very interesting books from local libraries this month, to save me buying them. One such book had a fantastic glossary of the ingredients to be found in beauty products, which was very useful as I gleaned a lot of information about what to look for or avoid on ingredient labels.

9) I tried a couple of new to me classes at the gym, so got even more for my money from my membership and I also got on my bike a couple of times to get there, saving on both petrol and parking tickets.

10)  I made makeshift planters for some extra tomato plants in the garden from empty compost bags.

Saturday 27 June 2015

Current Favourite YouTubers

It's while since I've done a post about my current YouTube favourites and since my last post of this kind, I've found some really great YouTubers that I've been following. Most are in the realm of natural beauty or beauty in general, but for once there are the odd ones that are much nearer to my own age group than previous YouTubers I've mentioned.

Firstly, I came across Rachel who posts on her channel 'All Natural Aspirations'.  She posts some great product reviews of natural beauty products and is very watchable.

My next current favourites are Ash and Sarah who post on their channel Discern My Life.  They are into living very minimally and are a new breed of nomads who travel and work remotely from various parts of the world.  I enjoy watching their short videos that give you a taste of their everyday life, philosophies, lifestyle and travels.

Another current favourite is British beauty expert Caroline Hirons, who posts about all things beauty.
She is a more mature and established beauty expert who also does great product reviews. Recently she vlogged a trip to LA and the crazy amount of beauty shopping/freebies she did/acquired whilst there, some of which were more natural brands.  The LA vlogs were just my cup of tea.  She is honest, funny, extremely knowlegable about her field and very refreshing.

I don't know if I've mentioned YouTuber Em before, but her channel called Em's Channel is great to watch.  Again, she is very down to earth, does lots of plus size fashion and beauty reviews and posts lots of vlogs of her adventures with her husband Chris on weekends.

With regard to making your own natural beauty products, Ela does fabulous 'how to' videos on her channel called Ela Gale.  Check her out if like me, you want to branch out into making some products of your own.  She makes it seem so simple.

Likewise, Pretty Frugal Living also posts lots of 'how to's' on her channel, which are beautifully shot and staged, as well as her interesting videos about travelling in India.

Just a few gems I've found in recent weeks.  I hope you enjoy some of them as much as I do.

Friday 26 June 2015

The Bikini Dilemma

The issue of whether or not to wear a bikini on holiday, is one that has been circulating in my mind for a couple of years now.  Whenever we go away, out comes the trusty old costume (usually black or navy) and more often than not with stomach control, to help hold everything in.

I've always stated on this blog, that I'm no stick insect and am quite a large build, but fairly happy at that.  I range from a UK size 16 to 20 (US size 12 to 16,) dependent upon which brand I'm wearing and whether it is a top/skirt/trousers/dress, but due to going to the gym regularly, I'm not super excessively flabby. As a consequence, I've sometimes thought that maybe I could get away with wearing a bikini, providing I choose the right kind.

Last year, on our holiday to Italy, I noticed how Italian women appear to be quite happy to wear bikinis regardless of their size and have no qualms about showing their midriff on the beach.  I really quite envied their body self-confidence and remember thinking to myself that maybe I should throw caution to the wind and actually invest in a bikini myself.

I put it to the back of my mind and then bought myself a new swimming costume this year, again with tummy control and in navy blue (with white spots) and didn't think any more about it until, that is, I watched a video on YouTube about how to Wear a Bikini and Look Good.  The video in question was posted by a young YouTuber I admit, but one who isn't stick thin, but who is beautifully voluptuous and curvaceous and wasn't afraid to post a picture of herself wearing a bikini, albeit with a high waisted bottom.

The video itself was interesting. She talked about making sure that you find a bikini that actually fits and is comfortable to wear, even if it means buying different sizes for top and bottom. In addition, she gave various other tips for sizing your bikini, which were useful.

Inspired by her video, I decided to take a look on ASOS and see if I could find a bikini to fit the bill. The site lists bottoms and tops separately, to enable you to mix and match and also stocks some tops in large bra sizes for the heavier bust and has also some plus sizes in some of their ranges.

To be honest, a lot of the more interesting bikinis had already been picked over and were out of stock, but there were still some options, mainly in black, which was no bad thing for a first foray into the bikini market in a decade.  Prices were very reasonable too.  I created an order, ordering far more than I intended to actually buy, so that I could consider a few options (4 tops and 3 bottoms) and waited for it to arrive.  It was very exciting.

As soon as the parcel arrived, I was upstairs and trying them on.  One of the tops didn't fit, but it wasn't one that was sold in a specific bra size, so I didn't really expect it to. I'd ordered it to match some bottoms I was ordering.  That one was a definite no.

The matching bottoms, however, were great and fitted perfectly. Although they didn't match the other tops exactly, being black and white spotted and the tops being plain black.  I couldn't see why they couldn't be mixed and matched print wise too though and definitely decided to keep these as they were just £8.

Of the remaining 3 tops, all fitted okay, but two of the designs were less flattering for one reason or another, than the one I decided to keep.  Again it is halterneck, and like one of my swimming costumes, it is quite plunging, but not altogether unflattering.  When paired with one pair of  the plain black bottoms (the other pair were too large - only the larger sizes were left), it looked okay.  I was very surprised.  (Even OH nodded his approval in passing!)

It's quite hard to post a picture, as there is absolutely no way I'm posting a photo of me in a bikini, but here's a picture of the top and bottoms laid out on the bed.  The plain black bikini was priced at £14 for the top and £16 for the bottoms, which I think was very reasonable.

So, I have now taken the first step towards wearing a bikini, for the first time in many years, probably since having Little Bird in fact and I'm quite looking forward to the prospect.  Thinking about it, there are a few obvious advantages, i.e. being able to wear a bikini top with shorts, not having to take the whole costume off to go to the toilet, getting a bit of sun to my very white abdomen, etc. etc.  It will mean using a little more sun cream, but I think I can live with that.

And yes, I know I 'm supposed to be avoiding any extra expenditure this month, but if I didn't order these items while they were still in stock, I might never have been able to get my hands on them. That's my excuse anyway.

Are you a swimming costume or bikini wearer? Or is that question too personal? I'd be interested to hear your views.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Allotment Tales

Wednesday afternoon and the allotment beckoned.  It was just about two weeks since I'd last visited. I don't like to leave it much longer than that between visits.  Doesn't time go by quickly?

This week I decided to take some of the plants from my mini greenhouse and plant them out at the allotment. I intended to harvest some potatoes on this visit, so knew that I would be able to make room for them and provide more room for my tomato plants to grow in the greenhouse. In the end I took the remainder of the cucumber plants, a couple of courgette plants and a couple of chilli plants.

The plot was pretty tidy when I got there.  I say tidy, but it isn't a regimented plot with things planted in straight lines.  When I say tidy, I mean no or very few weeds. I took a few pictures of the lettuce that are now looking good.

The sweetcorn which are putting on some solid growth now.

The onions were looking almost ready to harvest.  Maybe in a few weeks time I'll be pulling them up.

I did dig up a few potato plants from one corner of the plot.  The yield wasn't brilliant because the soil wasn't the best in this part of the allotment.  I'd planted them here specially to break it up a bit. Still I got a fair harvest that will keep us in potatoes until my next visit and the cucumber plants got put in in their place.

I  pulled up a few lettuces too.

Lastly there was just a little bit of rhubarb.  Maybe enough for another cake.

There was the odd disaster.  The broad beans have been completely ruined by blackfly.  No beans for us this year.

I actually made a little video tour of the plot, but I can't quite get it working.  I'll try again and put it in another post.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Eat. Nourish. Glow - A Review

I picked up this book from our local library the other day and within a few days I had read it in it's entirety.  I thought there may be bloggers out there who might be interested, so I'm doing an individual review.  I apologise in advance for the length of this post, but that is solely due to the book being so interesting and informative.

It's written by Amelia Freer, a nutritional  therapist and healthy eating  expert and offers '10 easy steps to lose weight, look younger and feel healthier', certainly things I would be quite happy to achieve.

I really enjoyed this book.  I liked the fact that the author admits to having had a terrible diet in the past, eating lots of carbs, sugar, etc. and feeling awful for it.  This made her seem a lot more human. Sometimes it seems like healthy eating experts must have sprung from the womb eating healthy food and it's hard to imagine yourself ever getting to a healthier place, especially if like me you are attempting it much later in life.

In this book, Freer suggests that you might like to eliminate several elements from your diet, the main one being sugar, as she considers it to be one of the least nutritional foods and one of the most addictive substances.   She admits openly to being a fierce critic of sugar and how it has been used in food processing, being added to many processed foods to add flavour with no consideration of it's consequences for our health.

She goes on to explain what is wrong with eating it and how you can give it up, save for eating small amounts of natural sugars, which she does with all of the items she suggests you avoid.

The second item is gluten.  Now I have in the past tried to avoid gluten in some products and have found this beneficial in terms of reducing bloating, gas, etc., but the thought of giving up gluten altogether, I'm not sure I could do this.  She does give some very interesting ideas and recipes to help you give up gluten and one section of her book does list gluten free alternatives, which is very helpful.

Third on the list is alcohol, save for an occasional glass of wine or white spirit such as vodka/gin, largely because of the volume of sugar it contains and it's effect on liver health.

The fourth item is dairy, but she does concede that if you are okay with dairy products and don't have any adverse effect from using them, then by all means carry on, but at least stick to organic products. She suggests that the calcium you get from dairy can be found in other foods, but I myself feel I prefer to carry on consuming dairy for now, but may reduce consumption in some areas.

Finally, she suggests giving up caffeine (in excess) due to what can be incredibly negative effects on the body.  She suggests one or two cups per day, taken with coconut butter instead of milk, prevents the insulin high that can set us off on a blood sugar rollercoaster all day.

It is this idea of a blood sugar rollercoaster, which is the main thing that resonated with me from this book and the suggestions that Freer offers to avoid this.  She suggests that many people (of which I am one) often start the day with carbs for breakfast, either in the form of sugary cereals or toast and tea with sugar.  This sets off a blood sugar rollercoaster which has them craving sugar and carbs at regular intervals throughout the day leading to excessive snacking and weight gain. This is me in a nutshell.  I always eat crumpets for breakfast with tea and two sugars and although I am loathe to give this up, I know that it is setting me up for failure in maintaining a healthy weight.

Freer also supports the idea of giving up snacking, which seems to contradict what several other authors advise, but instead suggests that when you reach for a snack you should alternatively ask yourself are you bored, thirsty, being sociable or just eating to suppress an emotion. Instead, make sure you eat proper meals that contain fat, protein and plants, as meals that are made up mainly or purely from carbs will play havoc with your blood sugar levels and leave you reaching for a snack within the hour.

Throughout the book, Freer stresses the importance of fats, good healthy fats, such as oily fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, certain oils and red meats and poultry.  She purports that you should make good fats your friends and sugar your enemy.

Freer puts forward the idea that eating healthy fats and proteins with your breakfast is a far better way to start the day, as it avoids setting off this rollercoaster of cravings by the body, and she suggests a myriad ways of starting the day in a healthy way and giving yourself a chance at being the healthy person you want to be. This is one of several very important ideas that resonated with me from this book.  I particularly liked the idea of eating chia seeds with almond milk and fruit and have found myself doing so several mornings per week in order to try to reduce my urge to snack all day.

Freer also suggests that it is useful to carry out a kitchen detox and rid your kitchen and your life of certain products that fall into the above categories and also consider the utensils and storage containers you use to store items i.e glass being preferable to plastics or tins, that can secrete toxins and chemicals into the food.

Whilst I haven't done this for all the products she suggests, I have disposed of some items that I am no longer happy to use and may do the same with a few more in the future. i.e. table salt, vegetable oil, balsamic vinegar.  She also suggests a few utensils or gadgets that are essential to help you prepare healthy, happy food and gives a few tips on smart shopping and avoiding the lure of advertising and convenience food.

Finally, in addition to discussing the issue of what you eat, she also has chapters devoted to drinking (water preferably), supplements (she only suggests a couple for use without consulting a professional) and exercise or movement (essential) and how ensuring that you do or take sufficient of these is also vital in achieving better health.

In conclusion, I found this book highly informative on a whole raft of nutrition issues, well written, with comprehensive alternatives for the things she suggests you eliminate from your diet.  She also uses examples of clients she has treated and these offer insights into behaviour and how you could change it.  She doesn't suggest you give up everything all at once, but just one thing at a time until a healthier habit has formed around that item, so that it doesn't seem too overwhelming.  To me this made absolute sense and is helping me to try to tackle one area of my diet at a time.

As a consequence, I would quite like to keep this book on my shelf for future reference as I change habits that I have had for many years.  As it is a library book, it needs to go back, but I would however, definitely consider buying it to help keep me on track with living a healthier lifestyle.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

A Series of Events

Isn't it great how a simple blog post by someone else can trigger off a chain of events.

Firstly, it was great to see other bloggers joining in our little nosy into each others' kitchen cupboards. I always love reading posts where bloggers offer us a glimpse into their everyday lives.

Secondly, I was reminded that I had several more jars elsewhere in the house and by shuffling things around a bit, I was able to free up a couple more jars to put in the kitchen cupboard and store more food items.  This had the added benefit of saving me a little money, as I then didn't need to go and buy any more.

Thirdly,  the whole discussion of jars and storage got me back on track with my kitchen declutter, which had ground to a halt.  With a couple more jars to fill, I had a good sort through of my food cupboards and re-organised virtually all the food into just one cupboard.

This one.

It's so much more organised and yes, I do have a preponderance of tins on the middle shelf, which I bulk purchased from an online company to benefit from their free postage on a certain spend.  They are all regularly used items though so will be worked through in the next month or two.

I don't intend to keep so well stocked up permanently, so eventually there will be a little more room on this shelf, but still with savoury items on one side and sweet on the other.  Having overstocked does bode well for this week's shopping though, as there will only be fresh food to buy.

Now, store cupboard food is only kept in this cupboard and the cereal cupboard, (plus a few bits in the baking drawer, spice rack, bread bin and on the counter tops) which keeps life simple and streamlined and has freed up the top shelf in this cupboard where I kept any overflow of food items bought in bulk.

Consequently, I've now been able to thin out this cupboard, so that most of the regularly used things in there are much easier to find and reach for.

So, once again, thank you Mum, for setting off a very productive series of events with your post.

Monday 22 June 2015

Shopping Locally

On Thursday last week, I had a few errands to do locally, a prescription to pick up from the chemist and some items to post, so I headed up to a local high street on my bike.

I'd noticed on previous visits to the Post Office concerned, that they had recently started stocking lots of whole foods and I was quite intrigued, as it was a relatively new and unexpected departure. Whilst looking around I realised that they actually had a really good range of organic foods and the prices weren't ridiculous.  Not much more expensive than the big supermarkets, if at all.

I was in a bit of a hurry on the Thursday, so when I had to return to the chemist across the road from the Post Office again on Friday (my prescription hadn't been sent through!), I promised myself that I would go and take a look, as I had seen one particular item in there that I'd been looking for for quite a while with no luck. I took my time on this occasion and had a really good look around the shop.

As a consequence of having started to read this book,  (sorry it wouldn't rotate)

that I borrowed from the library and which is very interesting, there were a few things I was interested in trying out, as I'd heard they were good alternatives for things we're currently using.

I also wanted to buy some chia seeds which they sold and some almond milk, as this with fruit and nuts added was recommended as a good breakfast option to prevent daytime snacking.   I have subsequently tried it and really like it. The seeds can be sprinkled on salads too.

I digress, anyway, I was really pleasantly surprised at the choice that they had in the Post Office shop and came away with a bagful of things, plus a bottle of wine for OH for Fathers day and spent far too much money if I'm honest.  I don't really actually mind too much though as they were all useful storecupboard items, and it was all very reasonably priced.

In addition,  I was very happy to give my custom to a small store instead of always shopping with the big national and international supermarkets, especially when they have obviously taken a lot of time and effort to branch out into the wholefood/organic market in order to keep their customers happy.(Such is the way of our neighbourhood).

Here's a picture of some of the things I came away with. (You'll notice the sneaky bar of chocolate to last me the week(end?))

On my way home, I also popped into our local SPAR, which having featured as an example of how to do things properly in a Mary Portas series, isn't just any old SPAR.  It has an artisan bakery, sells locally reared meat, lots of organic products and I was interested to see that they have barrels of wine, so that you can refill an empty wine bottle for the reasonable price of £5.50.  I don't drink wine that much, and we do tend to get most of ours in France where we do a supermarket sweep once a year, but it is very useful to know from a reducing waste point of view.

Now, I don't very often venture into this particular store, as the prices seemed very inflated on previous visits, but having changed my shopping habits recently, some things did compare well with the other big supermarkets, so maybe I won't rule out the odd visit there in the future, and they did have a good selection of stock too, for a relatively small store.  I am really hoping to more regularly frequent the small stores owned by individuals or families, rather than large chains, where possible.

Our neighbourhood is changing very rapidly.  Almost monthly, new shops are opening up on the high street. I am beginning to see it in a completely new light, which is no bad thing and hope to try to shop locally more often in the future, but I do recall having said this before on several occasions.

My life will be complete should someone actually open up a weigh store.  Some great thinking person did temporarily, as a pop up, but by the time I realised it was there, it disappeared again and the builders moved in.  Just my luck!  Who knows what  will be opening there once they've finished?

Sunday 21 June 2015


This Saturday was a little different to our normal Saturdays, whereby we spend most of our time at home.  We got ourselves out and about a little more and in all honesty I really enjoyed it.

Saturday started with LB working on a special gift she had prepared for OH for Father's Day.  She'd found the idea on YouTube and I must admit I was quite proud of her. She made some flapjack, and bought and bagged up some of his favourite treats and snacks, packed them into a shoe box and then made special labels for everything. It looked so cute.  Here's a picture of her little hamper gift.

OH loved it.  It was definitely his favourite gift.  She's promised to do something similar for me sometime, so I'll look forward to it.

Later that morning OH and LB headed off on foot to the Olympic Park to take the dog for a walk.  I meanwhile, had time to leisurely shower and get ready and drove over to meet them there.  We all then walked around a little which was nice, before LB and I headed to the big shopping mall nearby, to buy a gift for a friend's party she was attending later that afternoon.

As we were out over lunchtime, I got to treat myself to my favourite lunch, namely sushi from the Japanese store in the mall.  I love the sushi here, it's made fresh daily, is very flavoursome, and according to the label has nothing in it that shouldn't be there. Here's a picture of the sushi I got, with some pickled ginger which at £4 was really reasonable.  Don't ask me what they were called, some sort of avocado and salmon roll.  Definitely very scrummy.

In the past, I've sometimes bought sushi packs from supermarkets for lunch, but since tasting this sushi, other sushi just doesn't compare and I can no longer bring myself to eat it.  This is the best I've tasted so far.  I made sure to tell the girl on the till, who seemed very happy.  Sometimes it's nice to tell people when you really like something they do.

Anyway, we did the bits of shopping we needed to do, and I managed to pick up some reduced ticket half the carb and organic bread from Waitrose, which was a bargain. I have squirreled them away in the freezer for now, as we currently have a loaf in use.  I also found a new natural/organic shop that I've never noticed before. I will be back. Then it was home and OH came to pick us up, after continuing his walk with the dog.

Saturday afternoon, I decided to have a bit of a re-organisation of my kitchen cupboards.  It felt great to get them better organised.  (More in another post)  I then picked the blackcurrants that were growing in the garden, topped and tailed them and then set about making a rhubarb and blackcurrant jelly, to use up what was left of the rhubarb from the allotment.

It was another new departure for me, but it seemed to work quite well.  I added a sliced orange too and then left it in muslin to drip through  for a while, before using the pulp to make some more crumbles (minus the slices of orange), so no waste again.  I made up the jelly the following day and it looked and tasted great.  I'm really becoming a fan of making jellies, they're a bit messy when sieving the juice through and I've now got a purple muslin cloth, but I love the super clear results you get, especially when using rhubarb. Much better than a stringy looking mush that no one will eat but me.

An enjoyable and productive day.

Saturday 20 June 2015

#What's in Yours? - Part Two

I completely forgot when I posted the other day about the glass storage jars I have in my kitchen, that I have a whole other set of glass storage jars that I keep in my sewing room.  So here goes with part two of What's in Yours?

The thing about sewing, is that there are lots of bits and pieces that you use when pursuing such a hobby, i.e. lace, ribbons, buttons, velcro, name tags, embroidery thread, elastic, fastenings, patches, more buttons, etc. etc.

Glass storage jars just seemed an ideal solution when I set up the sewing room, as I could see exactly what was kept in them at a glance. So here's a picture of my little sewing room collection.

I think I'm single handedly propping up the sales of IKEA jars!  In fact, I may even have a bit of a sort out here and see if I can free up a jar or two to use in the kitchen and save myself a little bit of money into the bargain.

Thanks Mum, for inspiring me to get resourceful.

Friday 19 June 2015

#What's in Yours?

Inspired by Mum's blog post yesterday, entitled What's in Yours?, I thought I do a post by way of a reply, showing what's in mine.  Here goes.

Like Mum, I too have been gradually putting store cupboard ingredients into jars from IKEA, for the much the same reasons.

-  They look nice.

-  They are very inexpensive.  I pick up a couple each time I visit our local IKEA store.  I still need a few more, but it'll have to wait until finances allow.

-  They're glass so are healthy for storage purposes, clean easily, are more sustainable and you can easily see exactly what's in them.

-  In readiness for when I get my backside into gear and start buying things without packaging.  (I still need to run up some lightweight cloth bags and find a store that sells by weight).

I've also recently been using the french style glass preserve jars to store some items in too.  It's better than them being sat in another cupboard unused. They're good for nuts, dried fruits, seeds, etc. which I purchase regularly in smaller amounts, especially now I've been eating and snacking more healthily. I need a few more of these too. (A good excuse amongst others, to sneak in a quick day trip to France at some point over the summer or later this year)

Mostly, I do admit to keeping them hidden away in cupboards.  This one mainly.  There's rice, pasta, vegetable suet, sugar, couscous, pastry mix, coffee whitener, rock salt and popping corn in these.

There is the odd one in other parts of the kitchen.  This one by the condiments, contains table salt.

And this one in the cereal cupboard (it won't fit in any other cupboard) contains spaghetti.

I am now getting a bit short on space in the cupboards, so I may have to start putting a few out on the worktop or on shelves where I can reach them quickly and easily, and judging by Mum's kitchen, they look great.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Getting in a Lather

After making some liquid soap the other week from a bar of castille soap, I discovered that this or any liquid soap could be made to go even further by using a foam dispenser to dispense it.  I understood that that the liquid soap could be diluted 9:1/distilled water to soap for this purpose, which sounded great.

I ordered a couple of foam dispensers online from a packaging company in the UK called Ampulla. They were very inexpensive, costing less than £3 for a 160ml bottle, plus another smaller bottle for travel purposes. Postage did bump the total up, but these were the cheapest that I could find and I didn't have any already that I could repurpose in this instance.  I even considered buying a bottle with a product in it from the supermarket, but didn't want to have to use what was inside if it wasn't a natural product, so ended up buying new.

They arrived the other day, so I set about filling them with the liquid soap and distilled water.  Instead of going out to buy distilled water, I decided to make my own by boiling up some water and leaving it to cool.

I did have to experiment a little with the ratio of soap to water. The original ratio was far too watery and the soap didn't lather up as well.  I think two thirds water one third soap  or even half water half soap works better, but you could make it an even smaller ratio of water to soap to suit your preferences.  Please note that the soap/water solution needs to be vigourously shaken to make it mix properly.

I tried out the foam soap the same evening and found using a foam dispenser does makes the soap much easier and more appealing to use in the shower (above is a picture of how it lathers) and it will hopefully make the liquid soap go further. I must admit though that I did seem to use quite a lot of it in one sitting. Here's a picture of the bottles once filled.

By transferring some liquid soap that I was using in the bathroom into one of these bottles, it freed up a coloured plastic lotion bottle to allow me to refill it with my rosewater and glycerine hand rub, which is now much easier to dispense.  I have decided to thicken up this mixture too by adding more glycerine as it is a little runny.

It's a bit of a trial and error process trying to make your own products, but I'm finding it quite interesting.  Once you get started, it gets quite addictive, so expect more on homemade products in the future.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

More Pott(er)ing

Tuesday afternoon pottering in the garden is fast becoming a habit. This week, some of my tomato plants were getting a bit big to sit on the greenhouse shelves, so I decided it was as good a time as any to get planting them in growbags, where they will reside for the rest of the summer.

Unfortunately, this meant that I had to go and spend some money at B&Q on two grow bags, a large bag of compost and some tomato/plant feed, as I'd run out.  It didn't turn out to be too expensive as I got everything for just under £10, so I was pretty happy.

When I got back I reduced the growbags down to a size that would fit in the greenhouse by breaking up the soil inside, redistributing it and folding over the end.  I punched some holes in the bottom and then planted the tomato plants into two holes that I cut into the bag.  I always put bottomless plastic pots into the growbags and then plant the tomato plants into them. This just stops the water running off and also gives them a bit more depth to grow in.

I then removed the lower shelves in the  greenhouse and put the growbags into place.  As you can see from the photographs, I didn't put out my spare plants for people to take on Sunday at the Jumble Trail event, mainly because I decided to hang on to them and donate them to the local primary school fair which is coming up in a few weeks.  This way they can make a bit of money from them. I'm sure they'll still be glad of them, even though LB has now moved up to secondary school.

This does leave the greenhouse rather crowded for the time being, but I will be removing some of these plants to the allotment soon, so hopefully it will thin out eventually and whilst the tomato plants are still small, it doesn't matter so much.

I did make some makeshift planters for some of the tomato and one courgette plants, out of some small used compost bags.  Theyr'e not the most asthetically pleasing sight, but I don't have any large planters to use and I didn't want to buy any more as they just end up being more garden clutter in very small garden, so these bags will suffice for this season, and will enable me to grow a few more tomato plants to full size and perhaps get a slightly bigger harvest.  We'll see what happens anyway.

Another productive afternoon.  I like that I can do a bit of gardening here and there in the summer. It's good to have an excuse to get outside and enjoy the sunshine.

Homemade Hand Rub

One item that we learned to make at the herbal workshop I attended the other weekend, was a Rose Water and Glycerin Hand Rub.  We got to try some on our hands in the workshop and it felt and smelt beautiful.  I decided when I got home that I'd definitely give it a go, as it was the simplest of recipes.

50ml Glycerine
50ml Rose Water

Now I know that you can buy these two ingredients ready combined, but I don't know the proportions of each when in a bought preparation, so I endeavoured to make my own.

I already had a bottle of rose water lurking unused in the baking drawer and bought a bottle of glycerine from the chemist. Unfortunately, they didn't appear to have vegetable glycerine, which I would have preferred, so any vegans out there might like to substitute this.

It took me a week to get around to this simple make, because I needed the right bottle to put it in.  I assumed that as glycerine came in an amber bottle, it needed protection from daylight.  By the following weekend I'd finished using my Neal's Yard Witch Hazel Water, so I used the pretty blue bottle from that to make the hand rub.

The next difficulty I had was actually decanting the glycerine and rosewater into the bottle which had quite a narrow neck.  Don't do as I did and spill both ingredients over your worktops, but as I didn't have a narrow funnel, I just had to persevere and  mop up, until I managed to get the correct amount in the bottle.

Once combined the two ingredients need shaking together to mix them properly and then just a small amount on your hand is sufficient to leave them feeling smooth and smelling of roses. (Too much and they feel decidedly greasy).  I may decant this rub into a lotion bottle when I have a coloured one available or alternatively put a dropper in the neck of the bottle to enable me to control how much comes out.

A quick simple make that I will use instead of a hand cream, just as soon as my current ones run out.

Monday 15 June 2015

Swapping and Changing

After posting in my monthly favourites that I was excited to find a new more natural shampoo and conditioner to use, I have subsequently discovered via another YouTube video, that some of the ingredients in this particular shampoo we have been using, are not ideal. In addition, this particular brand isn't on the list of cruelty free companies that I recently received from Cruelty Free International. (Thanks Thrift Deluxe for the recommendation)

As there are plenty of products out there that don't contain the ingredient in question and are classed as cruelty free here in the UK, I've decided to look again for another option.  I took a look on a couple of websites, as I find the reviews very useful, and came up with a couple of options that are easily purchased from health food stores or supermarkets. I have purchased one of the options, am currently awaiting delivery and will be using it very soon when our current bottle runs out.

There currently seems to be a recurring theme in my attempting to find suitable natural/organic products within my particular budget. I found a recent purchase of a concealer did not seem to agree with my skin, and this has set me back a bit until the resulting breakout has fully resolved itself.

I'm not entirely sure if the breakout was due to the aforementioned concealer or the Witch Hazel Water from Neal's Yard.  All I know is that my skin became very oily and I had three weeks of constantly breaking out, mainly in my T zone.  I couldn't wear a moisturiser as this seemed to increase the oiliness and I felt like a teenager again.  I have now finished using the Witch Hazel Water and gone back to the original distilled witch hazel I used to use and am already noticing a difference after two applications.  I may go back and try the concealer again if my skin now clears up, as I suspect it was the latter of the two products causing the problem.  Needless to say, I won't be purchasing it again.

I've also been having a little difficulty finding a more natural deodorant and had a very nasty rash reaction to one product I used, which unfortunately had to be discarded.  I think the problem may have been caused by the fragrance element, as I have read reveiws where others have had a similar reaction to other products in the range.  I've replaced it with a less natural one for the time being and have ordered another product that I hope I will be able to use.

I am looking forward to a time when I can stick with a regular beauty routine whereby all the products I use make my skin and body feel good.  I know I will get there, it just takes a bit of trial and error.  It does make me appreciate more, those products I have found that do work for me.

This is, of course, is no different to problems one might have finding non-natural products to use, as not everything suits everyone. Although my current search is turning out to be quite expensive, in the scheme of things, skin breakouts and making the occasional unfortunate choice of product are a very small price to pay for finding animal kind and healthy products to use.  I'll keep you posted on the progress of my journey.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Sunday Musings

Today, I was all set to go to the gym, then got a call to say the class was cancelled.  As a consequence, I thought I'd sit down and write a blog post.

Little Bird is away this weekend, at a Birthday Camping Party in Kent. We are heading out later today to pick her up.  It's probably a 3 hour round trip, but we'll have an afternoon out.  The camping party is being held in some woodland owned by her friend's parents, which is quite exciting.  We'll take the dog along and probably have a nice walk.

Today, is also the day of the Jumble Trail event, which on account of Little Bird requiring our taxi services, we will be unable to attend or take part in.  It would have been a great opportunity to possibly sell a few things or even to buy a few, but we won't actually be around to do so. In all honesty, I could go and have a wander around for an hour this morning now, before we head off to Kent, but do you know what, I don't think I will.  My house is already still far too full of stuff, I just don't want to add to it.

As I was out walking the dog this morning, I saw the odd stall already set up, but unfortunately, the weather is looking a bit grey and it looks like rain is on its way.  I hope it holds off for participants. At least their stalls will be on their own doorsteps, so they don't have far to go to seek shelter. There appears, from the number of emails I received, (I got one every time someone new signed up) to be over 200 people participating this year, which in a couple of square miles is quite a lot.

Not wanting to bring more things into our house, is a far cry from how I used to think.  Any opportunity to attend a jumble sale, charity shop, table top sale and I was there and would usually come home with some huge haul that had cost only a few pounds.  I was a sucker for recreational shopping, albeit second hand.  That's how I got where I am now.  These days, the only hauling I'm interested in, is hauling things off to the charity shop or to give and take events locally.  How things change!

I do admit to sometimes placing online orders for clothes and other items, that is probably my worst habit these days and one I do need to curtail, but other than this I very rarely go out shopping anymore, unless it's for food or there are specific things I need to get.  I do like to go shopping with Little Bird occasionally, as a mother/daughter outing, but save for this, trips to the mall seem to almost be a thing of the past, save for nearer Christmas when there's shopping for presents to do.

Talking of Christmas, I know it's a bit early to mention this word, but some of us do like to do our shopping early.  This year I seem to be a little behind on buying presents in advance.  I have got a few things stashed away from the January sales, and I have added the odd item here and there, but not nearly so much as in previous years. I think this is because I have been out shopping less and seen less things whilst out and about.

I'm going to try to take extra care this year not to buy presents that are not likely to get used.  I'm sticking to consumables mostly or very practical usable items, preferably natural and ethically sourced, where possible.  Also, several of the children we buy for have got to the age where they would prefer the money or a voucher, to be able to spend it on what they want. I'm happy to go along with this, as it keeps things simple and is often better received than things they didn't actually want.  I think I will be turning my attention more towards this in the next few months, if there's any spare cash, to spread the cost.  (More likely, this will be after the summer holidays, as there will be expense enough before then with a possible holiday and school items to purchase for Little Bird).

Anyway, I'm going to go now and put a few plants outside the house for people to take for free if they want them. Call it garden decluttering if you like.  What are your plans for today?

Saturday 13 June 2015

Decluttering Update

I got back on the decluttering wagon this week and did a bit more towards finishing the kitchen declutter, the main job left being to tackle the broom/tall cupboard. As usual, I forgot to take a photo of the before for this cupboard, but there were a quite few more things in there when I started, that made it difficult to remove the things that I needed, when I needed to use them.

Anyway, the top shelf was gone through with a fine tooth comb and I relocated a box of ceramics that I had stored in there, to another cupboard in the hall.  I also decided to donate an old shopping trolley, which freed up lots of room and allowed me to actually put the ironing board in the cupboard.  I doubt that I'll use it again, even if I didn't have use of the car, I think I'd order my shopping online these days and get it delivered.

I threw out a few smelly old floor cloths that were lurking in this cupboard and then went through the shoe cleaning basket, removing and disposing of any empty polish tins and badly soiled dusters, etc.
The interior of the cupboard now looks like this.

Whilst concentrating on the kitchen I also sorted through my seed collection and threw out any seeds that were well out of date.  This accounted for over half of the ones in the box, which were mostly use before 2010/11.  I could try to use them all, but to be honest I have run out of patience, as several I have tried to use in recent years, just have not germinated.  There comes a point when you need to just give up and start afresh.

I also decided to donate this tea set, that I remember purchasing at an auction for £1 many years ago. Although I do like it, in all honesty, I can't actually remember ever using it and I have another tea set that was my mum's, that I would much rather keep, so it was time for it to go.

Later, whilst up in the sewing room, I also decided to donate this box full of wool.

It's mostly double knit acrylic.  I really don't knit very often, am unlikely to use it and have decided to keep just a few balls of  wool that I really like and will probably use.  Most of this wool for donation, was originally purchased very inexpensively from eBay or charity shops, so I'm happy to pass it on, as it is currently just sat under the bed.  I'm sure that someone who is a much better and more creative knitter than I, will be able to make good use of it.

It feels good to be making progress again..

Friday 12 June 2015

Making Jackie's Rhubarb Cake

After to my visit to the allotment this week, as promised, I had a go at making some of the rhubarb I harvested into Jackie's scrumptious sounding rhubarb cake, although I did have to adjust the ingredients slightly, according to what I had in the house.

I used one of OH's Hornsea Pottery coffee cups to measure the cup sizes, as I didn't actually have anything to measure this way, but I figured that proportions would be virtually the same whatever sized cup you used.

I used the following:

2 cups wholemeal self raising flour
1 and a half cups thinly sliced rhubarb
1 and a half cups of soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
Half a cup of margarine
1 egg
1 cup of milk (instead of sour milk)

I threw all the ingredients into a bowl as instructed and gave them a good mix with a spoon until they made a lovely cake batter and then this was put into a loaf tin lined with parchment paper.  Here's what it looked like before it went into the oven.

I cooked it on 175 degrees centigrade in my fan oven for 45 minutes, which is a bit longer than Jackie's suggested 35 minutes, but I think this was due to the change in ingredients, which may have made my batter a little wetter.

And here's the finished cake fresh from the oven, sprinkled with a bit of sugar and spread with a knob of butter (I didn't have any cinnamon I'm afraid Jackie).

I had a piece with some custard for lunch (sorry, you can't see the cake for the custard in this photograph) and it was as scrumptious as I thought it would be.  If this doesn't get everyone in our household eating rhubarb, then rest assured nothing will.

Thank you Jackie for this fab recipe.  I can see it becoming a firm favourite and I've already written a recipe card for it.

Thursday 11 June 2015

Allotment Tales

Tuesday was the day for getting up to scratch in the garden at home and Wednesday this week was the day I decided to get myself down to the allotment and do some work.  I'd not been for over two weeks and there'd been quite a lot of sunshine since, so I was hoping things had come on a bit.

When I got there, here's how it looked.  Still no broad beans, they're a bit behind as I was very late sowing them.  Onions coming along.  Potatoes flowering. Lettuces re-established after transplanting, but not very big yet.  There were a couple that were worth bringing home, as if I leave them they have a tendency to bolt when the weather is hot.

For the first time since I've had this allotment, (6 or 7 years) there was actually still a crop of gooseberries on the bush.  For some reason every year they mysteriously disappear as I'm waiting for them to get bigger. (Birds I think)

This year I decided I wasn't making that mistake again and I have removed them all from the bush, whether they're ripe and ready or not.  They'll still make good jam or jelly, even if they don't ripen up at home. I didn't actually have anything to collect them up in so I had to get creative.  The nearest thing were these plastic gloves that I had in my bag to try to stop my nails getting so dirty when I'm gardening.  I literally took two gloves full home.

The gloves also came in handy for harvesting some rocket.  It was on the verge of flowering so it is very strong tasting, but I'm still going to try to use it up in my salads.  A bit of dressing and it won't taste so bad.

There was quite a bit of rhubarb to harvest.  My first harvest of it this year.  I'm going to look back at Jackie's Rhubarb cake recipe to use some of this up, otherwise no one in the household will eat it but me and there's only so many small crumbles I can stomach.  I also thought of making some rhubarb syrup, which I've seen somewhere.

I did a bit more clearing whilst at the allotment today, mainly because some of the weeds were obscuring the light from my cucumber plants and they needed freeing up so they will grow a bit better.  I was pleased with the progress made, but my arms are nettled and scratched to pieces.

Here's a picture of the area I cleared.  I didn't really take a before shot I'm afraid.  There's still a bit more to do, but it's looking a lot better.

I also thinned out some swedes, turnips and broccoli seedlings before giving all the plants a really good water.  I think everything was desperate for it, as there hasn't been much rain in the last couple of weeks.

I grabbed a handful of mint before leaving, which is now sat in a vase on the windowsill and smells lovely. Another productive afternoon and it was good to finally bring some free food home with me.

Tuesday 9 June 2015

An Afternoon in the Garden

Tuesday afternoon, I decided to do a bit of pottering in the garden. There were quite a few plants I'd grown from seed in the greenhouse, that were outgrowing their pots and needed potting on. Unfortunately, I'd also run out of compost, so as I already needed to go to ASDA for the dog's favourite dog food, I decided to pick up a large bag of compost whilst there.

When I got back I set to work. There were 2 or 3 pots of tomato seedlings that had multiple seedlings still bunched together in one pot, as I hadn't had enough pots or compost to pot them on.  I decided that as the Jumble Trail is this coming Sunday and I wanted to give away any excess plants that I needed to get on and do it.

Firstly though, I decided to plant all of the runner bean plants into a large growing bag.  I don't currently have any room at the allotment to put them in there and they were getting quite large, so I thought I'd keep them in the garden at home.  I have to keep them on the table for now though, as the dog keeps chewing them.

As there were rather a lot of ridge cucumber plants that were also growing well, I decided to put four of them into the grow bag too and see what happens.  As you can see, it's now quite a tall structure with the long canes added, which were the only ones I had, but hopefully it won't fall or get blown over.

Next, I started to pot on some of the tomatoes. They are probably not as far on as they should be due to my neglect and sowing them quite late this year, so I thought that putting them in more roomy pots should bring them on nicely.

There's definitely going to be quite a few spares here, as I can only really fit 4 in the greenhouse in growbags, and I don't tend to put them in the allotment as they fall victim to blight every time.  I may decide to grow some in pots around the front and back gardens though, so I will keep a few extras.

I also repotted some small chilli plants and some courgettes, which did eventually germinate, despite my being convinced that they wouldn't. I can now save the new seeds I bought for next year.  I will keep all of these (there's 5) as they will be good gap fillers at the allotment, when the potatoes, broad beans and onions come out next month.

Here's a  couple of pictures of the seedlings now potted on.

I also potted up some french marigolds ready to put on the window sills at the front of the house. Pots used to get stolen from our window sills before we had the light well for the basement built, but now it will be difficult for anyone to do this, so I figured it was safe to put some plants out there again.

Whilst out in the garden this afternoon, I took a look in the shed, mainly in an attempt to find some shorter bamboo canes and some extra garden chairs that we keep in there. Our current garden chairs are rapidly succumbing to the weather and I am having to dispose of two of them, as they are rotting and falling apart.

Anyway, on looking in the shed I was totally put off delving in, by the large cobwebs and spiders I could see on opening the door.  I might save that job for a day when OH can help me.  Here's a picture of the contents.  You can now see why this is on my list of places to declutter.

I was pleased to get outside today or I might have totally missed this poppy flowering, which would have been a shame.  As it is it's a little past it's best, but hopefully I'll get to see the other buds open out.