Saturday, 30 January 2010

A Zoo Day and Second Hand Books

I guess that a lot of families, "make plans for the weekend". Not us! We never much seem to plan what we're doing, just wander through the weekend, taking it as we find it.

Yesterday found us at the zoo. We are very fortunate to live a mile from Edinburgh Zoo, home to many endangered species. Edinburgh Zoo is on a hill in the middle of the city. In the penguin picture you can see how close the houses in the background are - just a stone wall separates their gardens from the zoo. It would be nice to live there, so close to the penguins, and be able to see them from your bedroom window, maybe with binoculars, or night vision binoculars even, lol.

The penguins are always a favourite at the zoo. They have a large enclosure, with a long, deep pond. At one end there is a viewing hut packed full of info on penguins - if you crouch down in front of the window, you are at penguin level. In the middle there is a pedestrian walkway over the pond, so that you can look down and see them swimming, swooping and diving from one end of the pool to the other. Sometimes a group of penguins dive into the water together and swim up and down the pond, very fast, together, swooping and diving. At the other end, you can walk down the hill and there are viewing windows, into the pond like the ones you get in some competition swimming pools, so that you can see the penguins flying underwater.

Edinburgh participates in breeding programmes, to help out species like the Koala Bear, now sadly threatened in its homeland. Edinburgh is fortunate to have two koalas in residence at the moment - "Teddy! Teddy" shouted the toddler.

I drive my husband crazy with my book-mania. Many a midnight has seen me wailing about not having anything to read, like an alcoholic needing a drink - I've got NOTHING to read - I shout. Fairly unlikely I think in a house with literally thousands of books, but there you go, and the long suffering lives-with-a-bookaholic husband goes with me to the late night supermarket to get me a book or two. So, just-in-case I need a book or two, I say, and ever mindful that I'm not allowed to buy anything unless it is thrifted, as they say in the US, or second-hand as we say here, I popped into my favourite bookshop. Shelter is a UK charity which helps the homeless and their local bookshop is excellent. Ten minutes, and five pounds later, and I'm out, clutching an F.Scott Fitzgerald, and a V.S.Naipaul, and a Spike Milligan for my dad.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Holidays and Frugality

I'm planning a trip to Paris and Brugge at Easter. "That's not very frugal", I hear you say, "How can you do that when you are supposed to be saving money?"

Frugality means different things to different people. I've lived on a very small income before, when I was a student, and when I was just starting out in my career, and also when I was made redundant a while ago, so I know what it means to have to count every penny just to be able to scrape by and pay for essentials like food and heating.

Now, I am very lucky in that I have a little bit of disposable income, which I have because I'm careful about what I spend money on. I'm happy to take sandwiches to work every day and would not dream of doing what my colleagues do and spend pounds every day at the coffee van. I have holes in my socks and I wear my clothes until they fall to bits.

I do this so that I can spend what little extra I have on the things which are important to me. One of those is being able to travel. I'm not a globetrotter. I don't go on expensive beach or ski holidays. What I enjoy is visiting Europe. We've had some great, cheap Euro holidays in the past, the cheapest and probably the best was when we back-packed between campsites in Northern Belgium with our then 8 year old daughter. Doesn't sound much, but we had never been to Belgium before and we got to experience a different culture, and best of all, it was a very cheap holiday.

So I'm planning a week at Easter in Paris first for a couple of days, and then on to Brugge, where we have rented a house with my parents and sister.

My only regret about visiting Brugge when on the Dottie angel challenge is that I will be able to look only, not buy in the excellent Dille & Kamille shop, which sells household goods, kitchenwares, baskets etc. Seen here - the shop with the plants outside. It is a bit like Habitat used to be 20 years ago, and well worth a visit if you are in Belgium. I shall look, but not buy.

Decluttering Weekend

Busy, busy weekend, and apart from a couple of little trips out, once to the library to stock up on craft books and once to do some grocery shopping, I spent the whole weekend at home.

There's nothing more satisfying than tidying out a room, forget cleaning it for the moment, just going through items, working out if I need them. If I don't, are they good enough for a charity shop, or should I recycle them? Is there something else I can make out of this. The Blue Peter spirit: What can I make out of this? Could someone else make good use of this?

We have lots of reasons for holding on to things when they have past their usefulness. Maybe we were brought up not to waste, and if feels wrong to throw things out. Maybe we're keeping something until it becomes useful - until some clothing fits, or until we time to pursue that hobby we haven't looked at for years. Am I really going to take up windsurfing again, when I barely find time to myself these days to sit quietly for 10 minutes with a coffee and not have someone shout "MUM!". And if I do find time, and I go windsurfing, will I want to use my 10 years out of date kit, or will I just spend a few pounds extra hiring something up to date? The latter I expect.

Books are especially difficult to throw out, especially academic books reminding us of things we studied at school or college, but being honest with myself, am I really going to go back and look at an old maths textbook from 10 years ago? With books I find that I try to justify keeping them, saying that they will be useful for my daughters. And some of them are, have been useful, and will be useful - but these are the classics - Brave New World, Day of the Triffids and other much loved and read and re-read again books. Let's face it, my daughter is not going to pick up some trashy novel in 10 years and have the same taste in books, and she's not going to be interested in a 20 year old diet book. I've recently taken a couple of hundred books out, and given them to charity. They were contemporary paperbacks and books of the moment, which will be saleable in the charity shop I gave them to, but I would never have re-read and they wouldn't have been read by anyone in my family. They were just taking up space in my already too small home.

I think that the main reason, if I'm honest, that I find it difficult to throw things out, is that it reminds me of how much money I wasted on the item. how much I didn't need it in the first place, and how indiscriminate I have been with purchases in the past. Did I really need that toy for my daughter that cost £40 and was like others she had, and didn't particularly play with? So, it is not fair now for me to clutter up her bedroom with it, when she didn't really want it in the first place, and will not play with it now 5 years later.

decluttering my house helps me not to spend money, since it makes me a bit sick to realise how much money I've wasted in the past, and reminds me not to spend on similar items in the future. It is also fairly tiring, and if you're at home decluttering, you can't be out shopping, lol.

And the main thing really, the best part, is that decluttering just feels so good. Not only does your house look bigger, cleaner, even if you haven't cleaned, but you get to feel good about giving, probably in a lot of cases, fairly valuable things to charity, in the hope that someone, somewhere can make use of it, and the charity can raise some money for a good cause.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Early Spring Cleaning

I'm sure you're nothing like me. I'm sure that you don't have to wade through half full bags of raisins, a packet of sushi rice you bought 2 years ago, and various bottles, jars and packets spilling contents, every time you try to find out whether you have a can of tomatoes in the provisions cupboard, only to finally find way at the back of the cupboard 6 tins of out of date tomatoes.
I'm sure you're nothing like me, and that your cupboard is perfectly organised, all food in-date, packets emptied into storage jars, and that you know where everything is.
That's why I'm going to try to be more like you, and I've just spent the last 2 hours cleaning out my kitchen cupboards.
I want to try to do a food menu and budget each week, and I just could not get my head around that when my cupboards were in such a mess.
Can't post a boring picture of tins of peas, so here's a picture of the rhododendrons just coming into flower in my garden.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

More Snow on the Way

More snow on the way for us, yipee! I love snow. We don't get it often enough, and even although it becomes a bit of a nuisance, it is lovely for a while. Here is a picture taken Up North at Christmas of just the biggest icicle I've ever seen.

Over on Luisa's blog: she is donating her first etsy sale of the year to Haiti. Please buy if you can. I'm afraid that I can't at the moment but what I am doing is looking out everything I can think of and donating that to Oxfam in the hope that they can make a few pounds for Haiti or another very worthwhile cause.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Little House on the Prairie

Galloping horses on the end of the bed, covered wagons on the pillowcases. I'm sure to dream of Little House on the Prairie tonight, which along with "The Waltons" was my favourite TV show
when I was little.
New orange penguins from the charity shop on the bedside table. "Why?", my daughter asks, "do you always buy orange penguins?" "Because I love them", I say, and that is good enough reason for me.
It has been a very difficult, sicky week, with my entire family sick with a stomach bug. I feel as though the washing machine has been going non-stop for days now, but at least now I have matching pillowcases, lol.

New Big Granny

Like many people, worldwide it seems, I've had a particularly nasty tummy bug this week, so haven't been at my most productive to say the least.

Have finally finished the big granny square, except for a couple of stray loose ends to weave in. Its an addictive pattern and very easy. You start off small, and just keep going, adding rounds until the square is big enough. Calling it a pattern is a bit grand: if you can do a little granny square, you can do this. By the end of this, my big granny measures about 5 feet across, and is taking just over a 50g ball of wool for each new round. What I like about patterns like this which change colour every round, or in the case of the ripple or vintage stripe: change each row, is how the colours interact.
And no, the unmatched pillowcase is not a homage to 1980's "pairs" of unmatched socks, one blue, one red. It is simply the fact that I am now completely out of clean bedlinen, having changed all 4 beds I'd guess maybe 2 billion times this week, lol.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Toxic Information and Penguin Birthday Parties

There's just too much bad news around. I don't think that in itself is a new thing. Bad news has always sold newspapers. When did I change from being someone who bought a paper every week or so, and listened to the news if it happened to be on while I was in the room, to being the person I am now.

I read four national news sites and one local site, sometimes "checking the news" every few hours, or even more. Sometimes if I'm crocheting or browsing the web in a room with a television, I leave the news programme on, and it spins round and I realise I'm listening to the same news as an hour ago. I think that it is the result of September 11th - the images of that horrible day are seered into the minds of so many. And I think because of that I have to "check the news" just in case I need "to do something". You see, at 3am, that "do something" becomes "fleeing the city with my children" or some other unlikely scenario, that plays itself over and over in my head. I wasn't even there and that is the long term effect on me: I hate to think of the trauma of people who were directly involved.

There are several things I've seen or heard in news programmes or seen on news websites, or even read in fiction books that have stayed in my head for a long time, some maybe forever, and they're not very positive. I could really have lived my life without seeing or hearing them. I'm not going to give examples or go into detail because then they would be in your head, but I'm sure you have your own examples.

I'm not advocating an ostrich stick your head in the sand approach either. It is impossible not to hear of any big events, but so many of the news items we hear about, I can personally do nothing about.

I don't want to get philosophical about the reasons : I've just come to the realisation that there is too much bad news getting into my head, so I'm going to try to stop watching TV news and browsing newspaper websites, and buying those paperbacks in the supermarket which always have a gruesome death or incident on the back cover to draw you in. That should save me: I would guess - yikes £100 a year - considering all the times I'm buying my groceries and I just have to have a book, and they're cheap so might as well get two. I'm not an unhappy person, but surely all this bad news must take its toll - no more.

So in a completely unrelated kind of way, here's a picture of two gorrillas turning up for the baby penguin's party on the back of reindeers :) Otherwise known as : Don't buy lots of expensive toys - a box of plastic animals can have hours of fun playing with children of all ages.
Another great way I have found of keeping a toddler busy for free, is to let them play in the sink. All little kids love this, and will happily splash around in a bubble enfested sink with whisks and measuring spoons and funnels for ages, whilst Mummy sits with her feet up on a chair watching, eating a big cream bun and drinking a coffee (in my dreams). Just make sure they can't turn the hot tap on and don't take your eye off them in case they fall in and drown, or more likely: try to eat the bubbles. Health and Safety advice courtesy of my dad who always likes to remind us of all eventualities.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Frugal Living - Cleaning Cloths

What am I doing? I thought, as I made a list of things to buy at the supermarket, including cleaning cloths, and a list of things to do, including taking old clothes to supermarket rag bank.

When did I become so susceptible to marketing that I would throw away old clothes which could be easily turned into cleaning cloths. Then I would waste time and money buying packaged cleaning cloths from the supermarket. And, if I'm being honest with myself, although I think I reuse them by throwing them in the washing machine, they fall to bits after a couple of washes and get thrown away. I buy about one packet of cloths a month, so that's about £25 a year I can save: not much in the grand scheme of things, but every little counts.

And then I read the packaging on the ready made cloths : "Made in China" and I got really annoyed with myself for buying these. I've nothing against the Chinese - the ones I know through work are hard working, decent people, just trying to make a living for themselves and their families. But what am I doing spending my money and time buying something which has been shipped from the other side of the planet when I already have a free solution in my own home. I should know better than that.

So, I've spent the last couple of hours, whilst watching TV, sorting through the clothes I was going to put in the clothing bank. Anything which looks new and good enough to wear, goes to the charity shop, hoping that it will be of use to someone. Anything else: stained, torn, or too many washes, gets put into the rag recycling.

Many of us will remember our mothers and grandmothers having a rag bag for cloths. Ours was in the bottom of the clothes drying cupboard and contained a not very exotic mixture of old pants, vests and shirts which had seen better days. A call for a cloth resulted in someone running upstairs, fishing about behind the boiler, and then trying to rip something resembling a cloth from an old piece of clothing. If you were lucky, you would find something which had been ripped up a bit before since it was difficult to start a new tear.

I've folded my new cloths up nice and neatly (won't stay like that for long, lol) and put them in a little basket under the sink. Now when I reach for a cloth, I'm reminded of clothes my kids used to wear, which is nice.

I realise that it is a bit obsessive to cut them up like this, and it is something my mother would never have done. However in our house, laundry just doesn't seem to be the organised affair you see on TV, and I don't want to see my kids wearing something I previously used as a wash cloth and then threw in the laundry. Best to cut them up to look more like cloths, and less like clothes.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Frugal 2010

Like many families, we're worried about the credit crunch and what it might mean for us. Already hubby has lost his job, but thankfully found another. I work for a large corporation and know due to past experience that the axe can fall with little warning.

We're very fortunate to both have jobs at the moment, and I know that a lot of others are not so lucky, but it doesn't pay to be complacent.

Because of this, we've decided to try to live as frugally as possible this year.