Monday, 24 March 2008

Making a Mockery of Green Living

There’s a group of people out there who get on my tits. Who? Eco-Yuppies, that’s who!

You know the type, twenty something female living a ‘successful’ life, clad in designer jeans and top whilst waving a hemp shopping bag in one hand declaring that she’d never accept a plastic carrier from a shop, and a Gucci bag in the other. Or the twenty something ‘successful’ male who drives his gas guzzling SUV home from the office to his solar powered pad in a new development that's been built on what was once beautiful woodland. You know the types, I’m sure.

“Hey!” they shout, “we’re trendy, we’re hip, and we’re GREEN!”

No they are not! They are doing a few things that are easily incorporated into their existing lifestyles because being green just happens to be trendy at the moment. And heck, they wouldn’t want to be seen as lagging behind, would they?

They aren’t all wealthy city types, though. No, far from it. Although they probably wouldn’t generally be described as yuppies, those who have to continuously live beyond their means in order to keep up with the latest trends are also jumping on the trendy green band-wagon. They don’t do much and what they do choose to do are invariably easy options, then they make sure everybody knows that they’re doing their bit for the environment although they’ll generally try to sound nonchalant about it.

“Well you’ve gotta try,” they say, smiling meekly. Try what? To sound sincere? Because you don’t, darling, believe me.

Yes, yes, yes… I know that every little helps and even if they aren’t sincere, losing the plastic bags and powering your home with solar energy is a GOOD thing, but I still have a problem with them because they’re giving a bad name to those of us who really DO care about the environment. People think we’re all either like them or we’re mad eco-warriors living in tents, eating only what we can forage for ourselves and joining every demonstration going without pause for thought.

They also do nothing to try reducing the impact of over consumption, either. Oh no… yuppies spend, spend, spend! Don’t they realise that this buy and throw culture we’ve developed is as damaging to the survival of the human species and every other living creature on this beautiful planet as plastic bags and wasted electricity? In fact, why don’t they realise that they’re deplenishing the earth’s natural resources every time they buy something made of acrylic, polyester, rayon and blends thereof? And that they’re supporting the plastics industry whenever they buy a new iPod, TV, computer, mobile phone, or one of the myriad other products they think nothing of acquiring and updating to the latest model?

Is it really any wonder that this has happened, though, when we live in a society where celebrities have become revered - deities to be worshipped - and so many of them are doing just this? What kind of example are they setting?

They jump on planes at the drop of a hat, their laptops, mobile phones and iPods at the ready, drive huge 4x4s or slick sports cars, spend their leisure time on huge power driven boats, and goodness knows what else. What are they really doing to reduce the effect of their footprint? It’d have to be a hell of a lot, that’s for sure.

Thankfully, there are a few celebs that ARE actually doing what they can for the environment. They’re driving hybrid cars, cutting their consumption levels, eating in more instead of frequenting the ‘right’ restaurants, buying Fair Trade, etc. These people are to be admired because, in the circles they move and work in, being faithful to an environmentally friendly lifestyle can’t be easy.

I’ve always said that we should all do as much as we can based on our individual circumstances but the very least we can do is be sincere about why we're doing it.

Sharon J


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Friday, 21 March 2008

How Green is Your Lawn?

Photo: Caribb

Late March is generally the time when most gardeners start giving their lawns some extra attention and no doubt many will be out now, during the Easter break, tidying up and getting things ready for the coming seasons. They'll rake, aerate, weed and feed as they look forward to a summer where they can enjoy the lush, green carpet laid out before them. But just how green are our lawns? Environmentally green, that is.

An average back garden lawn is actually one of the biggest culprits when it comes to the environmental damage we do whilst at home. In our quest for the perfect lawn, we use vast amounts of water, artificial fertilisers, pesticides and weed killers. Then there’s the energy used every time it’s mowed with an electric mower. Some still even use petrol driven lawn mowers!

A well-manicured lawn also offers very little to help sustain our wildlife.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that our towns and cities would be far less pleasing without any lawns but do they have to be so perfect? Does it matter that there’s clover growing amongst the grass, giving bees plenty of sweet nectar to drink? Will the odd dandelion really make a huge difference? If you cut their heads off as they appear, they won’t seed and spread so shouldn’t cause too much of a problem. And daisies look lovely in a lawn. In fact, my mum mentioned just the other day that you rarely see daisies growing in lawns anymore whereas when she was young…

When it comes to mowing, did you know that just one hour with a petrol driven mower is the equivalent of a 100 mile car trip? Although the energy usage from a small electric mower is negligible it all mounts up over time, and there’s no denying the noise pollution they create. If your lawn is small, why not switch to a manual lawn mower - you’ll be harming the environment less, saving money on energy bills, getting exercise outdoors, and you won’t be disturbing your neighbours as they try to relax in their own gardens. That’s gotta be good, surely?

Weed and Feed style fertilisers are harmful to the environment and really shouldn’t be used (I’ll be disposing of mine); there’s been enough publicity about herbicides and pesticides that we should all know the consequences of them and weed and feeds are no exception. A balanced, natural lawn fertilizer and no weed killers is the answer if you want a ‘green’ lawn.

Photo: Nutmeg66

But let’s say you really can’t stand those dandelions. Well digging them up won’t work. Just a tiny piece of root needs to be left for it to grow again and if you break the root in two, you’ll actually be propagating it. If only the plants we want in the garden were that hardy! Putting salt in the middle of the leaf rosette kills them but it has to be done before the plant starts developing its flower stem. Other than that, it seems we’ll just have to live with them. They’re actually quite beautiful when you stop thinking of them as weeds, and bees and ladybirds love them for their pollen.

Then there’s water. Apparently a modern lawn of average size accounts for a massive 30% of domestic water usage during the summer months. That’s a LOT of water!! Drinking water! If you must have a lawn, at least install a waterbutt so that you’re not depleting our precious water supply quite as much.

Thankfully I only have a very small front lawn and have no intention of ever having a well manicured lawn at the back. Until I can afford to pay somebody to come in and landscape my garden (mud pit), I’ll just chuck a load of grass seeds out there, mix in some wild flower seeds and let it do its thing. With some shrubs along the fences and a few climbers, preferably native ones, I think it’ll be okay. Who knows, it may even stay that way :-)

Sharon J


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Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Junk Mail - What a Bloomin' Nuisance!

Photo: YanivG

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably fed up with the amount of unsolicited mail that’s delivered to you every day, and all those take-away leaflets and such that are regularly pushed through the letterbox.

If I want a credit card, I’ll go online and apply for one. If I want insurance I’ll do the same. I don’t want to enter competitions to win luxury holidays in Tahiti or Brazil or buy a set of useless miniature china teapots. I’ve no intention of changing my bank and I don’t need another loan. I have a couple of take-away menus from places I know deliver decent food (decent as in edible, that is), the rest are of no interest to me. They can just go stuff their junk mail, but the place I'm thinking of having them stuff it most certainly isn't through my front door!

As things stand today, stopping all that junk mail from landing on the mat isn’t easy. You need to sign up with the Mail Preference Service which will stop some of the unsolicited post that arrives (sadly, not all), put a sticker or plaque on the door to tell leaflet delivery people that you don’t want their junk and contact Royal Mail to let them know that you don’t want the leaflets that their postmen deliver along with your general mail, either.

In Holland they have a simple system. You sign up with one organisation that takes care of the whole thing. Apparently any company that intends to make an unsolicited mail shot must register with them, whether they’re sending their mail directly or via the postman in the form of leaflets or “to the occupier”. This is then controlled so as those who have opted out of having paper spam pushed at them won’t be bothered by it anymore. They also send every member a sticker to place on their mailbox, making it clear that they don’t want leaflets from private delivery services either, i.e. pizzas, taxis etc.

There’s a campaign at the moment that’s petitioning government to adopt a similar service in the UK. Why not nip over and sign it, and let them know that you’re also fed up with being bombarded with useless information printed on paper made from trees that have been wastefully killed. The shiny ones can’t even be easily recycled!!

You’ll find the petition here: Go Dutch Petition

Here's the link to the Mailing Preference Service, who you really should sign up with and if you want to contact Royal Mail to stop the postman bringing rubbish with him, contact the Door to Door Opt Out Service by email.

Another thing you should be aware of is whether or not you're on the 'full voting register' or the 'edited voting register'. If you're on the edited version, anybody can gain access to your details and businesses often use this for their mail shots. Next time your fill out your electoral registration form, make sure you tick the right box and at least some of that junk will disappear.

Here's to a clutter free life without masses of unwanted paper floating about!

And here's to a few more trees being left alone to do what nature intended them to do!

Sharon J


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Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Earth Hour

Have you heart about March 29th? For one hour between 8-9pm, the World Wildlife Fund are asking everybody across the world to turn off all of their lights, including the light from the TV and computer screen.

Our electricity usage has a huge impact on climate change so it’s import we start cutting back. If everybody over the entire planet were to participate in Earth Hour, the impact would be equal to taking tens of thousands of cars off the road for ONE YEAR.

Of course, not everybody is going to take part, either because they won’t know about it, because they don’t believe it really will make any difference, or simply because they’re too selfish to. But if enough of us do – and last year the whole of Sydney turned off its lights for an hour, including such icons as the Opera House – we can make a significant difference. A very significant difference.

It isn’t too much to ask really, is it? It’s just for one measly hour, after all. And just think how nice it could actually be. You could have dinner by candlelight; spend the time talking to the kids about global warming and what impact it’s having on our planet; get an early night; relax in a bath surrounded by candles… the list only really ends when your imagination runs out.

For more information about this, you can visit the Earth Hour website.

I’ll definitely be participating. Will you?

Sharon J


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Saturday, 15 March 2008

An Important Confession – Please Read This

Photo: **ste**

Before I start, I just want to say that what I’m about to tell you isn’t easy but I think – hope – it’ll help me, so I’m going to do it regardless of how ashamed it makes me feel.

The reason I lost my bowel was because for many, many years I was a heavy smoker. We’re talking about 50 a day kind of heavy. The smoking caused my arteries to fur and eventually led to a blood clot forming the artery that feeds the bowel. My bowel literally rotted away inside me leaving just a putrid mass to be found by the surgeons who saved my life. Another 24 hours, they said, and I would have been sent to the mortuary rather than HDU.

Since that day, I no longer smoked. Until a few months ago.

Even though I know it will eventually kill me.

My legs have constant pains because of all three arteries in the right leg are blocked (completely furred up) and two are blocked in the left leg. I have ‘sticky blood’ which means I’m more prone to clotting anyway, and the smoking is just making matters worse. A LOT WORSE.

Even though I take huge doses of heparin to keep my blood thinner, a clot still formed in my shoulder last year, and that was before I started smoking again. So I know that a clot could easily form in any artery – feeding my heart, my lungs, my brain…. and that would be the end of it.

I’m trying hard to quit but with all the problems I have at the moment, I’m finding it much harder this time around. So I’m hoping that by ‘going public’ it’ll be kind of like going to group therapy – kind of like Alcoholics Anonymous – and saying “I smoke”.

I could make excuses but I won't. Ultimately it was my decision to smoke.

I’m not sure there’s anything else to say, except that if I could turn back time… but nobody can do that.

Sharon J xx


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Friday, 14 March 2008

20 Uses for Vinegar

Photo: Frankfarm

I’ve been using vinegar for a good few years now and I don’t just mean on my fish n’ chips.

It all started about 20 years ago when my ex mother-in-law told me how to get a real good shine to windows and mirrors using the stuff. Then came the eggs, followed by the fruit stains and… well, take a look at the list of uses that I’ve put together and you’ll see what I mean.

  1. Cleaning Windows & Mirrors – I use a 30/70 mix of vinegar and warm water to wash windows, followed by a dry and buff with old newspaper. It brings them up a treat. If they’re really dirty, then up the vinegar proportion, using undiluted vinegar on the really tough bits. Brown or white vinegar – makes no difference.
  2. Boiling Eggs – By adding a teaspoon of brown vinegar (I just shake mine in and guestimate) to the pan when you’re boiling eggs, it’ll help stop them cracking. AND, if they do still crack (you could be boiling ‘em too hard) it’ll keep the white from running out into the water.
  3. Fruit Stains – My kids were always picking wild fruit in the nearby wood and would invariably come home with their hands covered in fruit stains. I’d just rub them in with vinegar – white or brown – the stains were easily washed off.
  4. Ease Stings Norway may be beautiful but it’s a country absolutely swarming with nasty little mosquitoes. Anybody who’s deal with the buggers will know that they itch to high heaven. However, if you dab some vinegar on the bites with cotton wool, the pain eases considerably. This also works on bee and wasp stings AND stings from jellyfish (yes, we had our share of those too!)
  5. Sunburn – Again, apply vinegar to the painful area to ease it. Or preferably, don’t get burnt in the first place – it’s very bad for you (yes, I know I’m sounding like your mother but I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone).
  6. Itchy Skin – Ahhh… you thought I was going to say “apply to…” didn’t you? No, this time you add a couple of tablespoons to your bathwater. It won’t cure eczema, psoriasis or other skin complaints, but it will ease the pain.
  7. Fabric Conditioner – Using white vinegar instead of fabric conditioner works just as well. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t leave a smell on your clothes; they just come out soft and smelling clean. It’s far better for those with skin complaints, too. Vinegar also works as a rinse aid in the dishwasher.
  8. Clean The Machine – Dishwashers and washing machines eventually get their pipes all gooed up with soap scum and once that happens, they don’t work as efficiently as they should. If you run an empty cycle once a month using one cup of white vinegar instead of whatever soap you use, it’ll keep it from clogging. However , if you use vinegar instead of fabric condition or rinse aid, as it the above point, you won't need to do this.
  9. Clean The Fridge – Equal parts white vinegar and water makes a great solution for cleaning the fridge, especially as the vinegar deodorises too leaving it smelling lovely and clean.
  10. Air Freshener – While we’re on the subject of deodorising, white vinegar makes a useful air freshener. Use neat in a spray bottle to eliminate all those nasty pongs.
  11. Clean Mugs Etc – Don’t you just hate it when mugs, cups and teapots get stained inside? They just don’t look clean, do they? If you pour a mixture of hot water and vinegar mixed at about 50/50 into them and leave them to cool down a bit, they’ll clean up a treat.
  12. Clean Your Glasses – You’re actually getting two tips in this one. The first is that rinsing your best drinking glasses in a solution of 50/50 vinegar will have them sparkling dead pretty. The second is that you can clean the lenses of your specs by wiping them with a drop of undiluted vinegar.
  13. Disinfect Wooden Cutting Boards – I love my wood cutting board but washing it in the sink with Fairy Liquid doesn’t really clean it, not in the sense of getting rid of all those nasty germs. Wiping it with full strength white vinegar soon kills ‘em, though! Well, I’m told it does and nobody’s got ill from using the cutting board here yet.
  14. Make Fluffier Rice – My rice always used to come out stodgy rather than fluffy like it does at the local Indian restaurant that we occasionally frequent. Why? Well I don’t know but what I’ve since learned is that adding a teaspoon of vinegar to the water just as it starts to boil will bring it out fluffier. No more stodge here :)
  15. Grease On Suede – I’ve only ever tried this once (we’ve never been a suede family and what we have had hasn’t generally got greasy) but it worked that time at least. I just dipped a soft toothbrush – the kind babies use – into white vinegar and brushed it over the grease spot. It got it off.
  16. Car Windows - Having lived in a country where winters were cold, keeping your car windows frost free was imperative. A tip I was given was to coat the windows with a 75/25 mix of vinegar and warm water the night before and they’d still be clear in the morning. Obviously, this was used when the car was in the garage during extremes of low temperature, but the average British winter shouldn’t cause any problems with cars left outside.
  17. Pet Fleas – I’ve only just recently been told this one but so far it seems to be working. Poppy, our little mutt, picked up some fleas so I started adding a teaspoon or so of vinegar to her drinking water. She’s not scratching anymore and I haven’t seen any so I guess it works. It’s said to keep them away, too.
  18. Cats – Fed up with moggy scratching at the furniture? Wish next-door’s cat would stop wandering into your kitchen? Apparently if you sprinkle vinegar on the area it’ll stop cats from wanting to go there. Not having a cat problem myself, I haven’t actually tried this one yet but I did get it from a reliable source. She has 6 cats so ought to know.
  19. Ants – If there’s one thing I don’t like it’s ants in the house. Until last year I’d used chemical stuff to kill them but then I was told about… yes, you guess it… vinegar! Just spray some undiluted stuff along the bottom of the door and across the threshold – or wherever they’re coming in – under appliances and on work surfaces and along their trails. Mine disappeared within a couple of days. Maybe it was a coincidence that it worked last year but I’m definitely going to give it a go again this year.
  20. Fish n’ Chips – There’s nothing like a good dousing of vinegar ;-)

There are loads more uses for vinegar but I wanted to stick to a list using vinegar without having to mix it with anything other than water. Maybe I’ll come back to a list of further uses when it’s mixed with bicarb and other stuff at some later date.

Sharon J

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Life’s Not So Simple

Photo: b3ni

I had the most awful night last night. I alternated between feeling insanely hot, throwing the duvet off and allowing the fresh breeze from the window to cool me, and feeling as if I’d just been run over by a bus. Every part of my body felt weak and painful, and the fact that I kept having to run for the loo didn’t help. All I can say is “Thank God for Tena Lady”.

I’m feeling a little better this morning, after finally settling down and getting a few hours sleep. Considering I first tried sleeping at around 8pm last night and wasn’t successful until about 4 this morning, I’m obviously still very tired. I’ll probably have a nap later.

I was supposed to see my specialist doctor at clinic on Tuesday but because of the nasty cold I have, I couldn’t attend, so I still have no idea why I’ve lost so much weight and feel as if I have to fight to take just a few steps. Admittedly, I’ve felt a little stronger this past week, but the improvement certainly hasn’t been enough to have any significant impact. I now have a new appointment in a fortnight.

My biggest fear is that they’ll keep me in hospital. I really don’t want that this soon after the last lot. Bills end up going unpaid, and that can lead to all sorts of trouble when you’re already in debt and have ‘agreements’ going. If only every company would accept direct debits or standing orders, but they don’t.

I’ve also found a letter dating back to February telling me that I have a liability order issued against me for outstanding council tax that I didn’t even know I had. Apparently they can send the bailiffs round now. Greeeat! That’s just what I needed. I’ll have to phone them this afternoon and find out what this is all about and, presumably, make some kind of offer.

It seems to me that while I’m doing what I can to improve my own life and, inadvertently, the lives of others through simplifying, everything else seems to be going against me, making life more difficult, instead.

I’ll just have to keep fighting though. It’s something I’ve had to do all my life so it’s not as if I’m not used to it. I just wonder sometimes where the energy is going to come from.

Sharon x


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Thursday, 13 March 2008

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Strange things are happening in the winter wonderlands of Scandinavia and they aren’t good.

Having spent 18 years of my adult life in what I consider to be the most beautiful country in the world, Norway, I can’t help but feel saddened by the fact that the amazingly snow-filled winters appear to be fast disappearing. Not only in Norway, of course, but over the entire Scandinavian peninsula.

I experienced my first Norwegian winter during 1979/80 and fell totally and utterly in love. After the miserable, wet, grey winters I’d experienced in London, what faced me every morning out there was everything I’d imagined a winter paradise would be. Crisp, deep, pure white snow covered the ground, tree branches and roof tops and turned every other conceivable object into an object of beauty. Even the ugly old rusty wheelbarrow by our shed suddenly took on the kind of splendour that only a snowy winter could give it.

The days were cold but the air was dry and snow doesn’t soak you through in the way that rain does. Being outside in a snowfall was magical.

Kids would play outdoors all winter long. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing” is what Norwegians believe. Unlike in England, there’s was as much outdoor activity during winter as during summer; they just found different ways of enjoying being in the great outdoors, associating with and respecting Mother Nature.

But gradually things started to change. Winters starting to become milder, meaning the snow would melt during the day then freeze at night. You had to be careful; walking on a polished, sloped skating rink isn’t easy. Remember, the countries right up north are mountainous – few roads are flat.

Gritting vehicles worked overtime to keep the traffic moving but if you lived at the top of a steep hill, as we did for a while, getting home was rarely easy.

Children could no longer be sure that the skating rink they’d played on today would still be usable tomorrow, or even whether they’d get to use those new skis that Santa brought them. Skating, skiing, sledding and various other winter tournaments were often postponed or cancelled and it was probably only by sheer luck that the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994 went ahead. It was definitely touch and go for a while.

This year? Apparently there have been reports of record temperatures from all over Scandinavia, and I’m not talking record lows. In Norway, February this year is said to be the second warmest on record since 1900 and although I haven’t been able to find out for certain when the warmest was, I wouldn’t mind betting it was February 1989. That’s when DD2 was born, y’see. The evening after she'd made her entrance I sat out on the hospital balcony wearing nothing but my pyjamas and slippers. That, believe me, was something that just wasn’t done. Totally incomprehensible. Mothers are told not to take their babies out if the temperature falls below -10 but it never did, even though January and February are supposed to be the coldest months. In fact, in the Drammen area we had no snow until April. The wildlife dependent on local streams and rivers suffered that following summer. There just hadn’t been enough melt off.

If you think 108 years isn’t such a long time to be worrying about high temperatures, let me also tell you that Stockholm has had its warmest winter this year since 1756. That’s 252 years. I could be even longer but there are no earlier records.

Even the Baltic ferries have been operating without any pauses to clear ice and local fisherman around the Oslo Fjord are shaking their heads because the ice was just too thin to venture out on.

The glaciers have been melting at a record rate and if this continues, people will no longer be donning their skis but walking in what was once a winter wonderland.

So is all this just part of nature’s own cycle? Should we just accept that we’re still coming out of the last ice age and that there’s nothing we can do about it or are we humans to blame?

I’m not about to give up hope. We must be able to at least slow this down, even if we can’t stop it, so that maybe, if we slow it enough, somebody in the future will find a way of stopping it altogether and the planet will be able continue to sustain life as we know it.

Sharon J


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Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Chicken Out

Are you one of the good guys and gals that only eat free range chicken and eggs? If you are, well done because you're amongst the still very small minority.

Believe it or not, 92% of all chicken products bought in the UK are still intensively farmed! Isn't that shameful? I mean, it's not as if we can't hide behind lack of knowledge because unless you've been living on another planet (there is one? You mean we don't have to save the world, after all?), you'll know exactly what goes on in the lives of those poor chooks.

Tesco are currently selling whole chickens at £1.99 per bird and, quite honestly, anybody buying them really ought to question their values. Are we really happy to treat other living creatures to a lifetime - albeit a short one - of misery for the sake of saving a few pounds? It doesn't make sense to me at all. Nike trainers £59.99 - a whole chicken £1.99. Nah. There's something wrong there. Folk must have their priorities mixed up, surely?

Anyway, enough of my waffle. If you'd rather see chickens running about on grass, enjoying the feel of the sun on their backs and being fed appropriate food at regular times, nip over to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's "Chicken Out" campaign and sign the petition.

Sharon J

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Would You Miss The Buzz?

Photo: Andreas

Albert Einstein is rumoured to have once said:

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

Whether or not he actually did say it, we don’t know. The jury’s still out.

Now I can’t be absolutely certain that it would only take four years as I’m neither a bee, nor or bee-keeper, nor a person who’s studied bees. I have, however, always known that we’re dependent on them to pollinate our crops. That’s our fruit, veg, corn etc. Yes, science is making lots of progress when it comes to self-pollinating crops, but is that really the answer? Wouldn’t we miss the gentle buzz of bees during summer? What was that you said? You hate them because they sting? Noooo! Just leave them to get on with their business without swatting at them and you'll be fine.

Anyway, back to the point in hand.

Apparently we could be facing a bit of a bee disaster this year. According to Scotland’s Sunday Herald, thanks to the extreme mild temperatures that February brought with it, queen bees were emerging early this year. That’s two months too early!

When the article was written there was fear that these Queens would be killed off should temperatures drop during March, which they have done. I don’t know about where you live but here in South Cheshire we’ve had some very nippy nights. LM (that’s DD2) had to keep scraping ice from her car windscreen in the mornings!

Considering there’s already been a decline in the numbers of bees in this country over recent years – thanks to destruction of their natural habitats and chemical pesticides etc - this isn’t good news at all.

This is something I think we all need to take action on.

  • Instead of planting flowering plants that have little or no nectar at all, find nectar rich - preferably native – plants for the bees to feed on instead.

  • Let the clover grow in your lawn. It’s an excellent source of food for bees whereas lawn grass offers nothing at all. The scent of clover also entices them into the garden, as does cat mint (nip).

  • Make sure there are safe and warm places for them to spend the winter. Special bee houses can be bought but I’ve seen some simple home-made versions that have worked just as well. A pile of old dried logs can be useful too, but remember they like to nest up relatively high.

  • Unless you have a pond or bird bath, put out a tray of water so that the bees can quench their thirst.

  • And for goodness sake stop using chemical pesticides in your garden. A ‘perfect’ garden without insect life just isn’t worth the environmental risks that go along with it.
Photo: Andreas

Plants that are good for bees include:

  • Heather
  • Primroses
  • Snowdrops
  • Crocuses
  • Poppies
  • Borage
  • Thyme
  • Foxgloves
  • Cornflowers
  • Marigolds
  • Sunflowers
  • Honesty
  • Aquilegia
  • Lupins
  • Hollyhocks
  • Campanulas
  • Lavender
  • Salvia
  • Old fashioned roses
  • Honeysuckle
  • Jasmine
  • Any flowering berries and fruits

Before you go dashing off to the garden centre, one thing to bear in mind is to avoid double flowering varieties. They may look pretty but they’re far less useful to the bees. In fact, some aren’t of any use at all because the nice, plump bees just can’t get far enough in.

I’m definitely going back to a wildlife friendly garden. One day, my mud pit will be transformed, until then I shall put out plenty of pots and plant a new honeysuckle. Oh, and I do plan to throw a packet of grass seed around, mixed in with some wild meadow flower seed. It's gotta be better than it is now :)

Sharon J


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Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Free Yeast

Photo: Queen Roly

Just a quickie.

I picked up this tip from The Old Style Forum over at MoneySavingExpert and thought it worth sharing.

Apparently, shops aren’t allowed to sell ‘live’ foods so if you need fresh yeast, just pop into any supermarket that has a bakery and ask whether they have any. Usually they’ll just give you some.

Some people were saying that they were given quite big blocks that they froze so it’s worth trying. I’m definitely going to ask next time I find myself in a suitable supermarket.

Sharon J


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Grocery Shopping - 20 Money Saving Tips

Since deciding that enough was enough and that I really had to pull in the purse strings, I’ve managed to cut the amount I spend on groceries by half, and what’s more, I know I can cut it back even further.

If you’re in the same boat as I was, generally finding yourself left with too much month at the end of the money, the following tips for saving money on grocery shopping may just help.

  1. Use a list. As obvious as this may seem, take a look next time you’re at the supermarket and you’ll see just how few people actually use one. Keep a list handy and write down the things you need as and when they occur to you. By doing this you’ll find your weekly grocery shop will not only be cheaper, but easier too.

  2. Check your stock. Check what you already have available. I find it’s easiest to keep a running list of everything I have and then tick it off once it's used, adding it to the list if I need more for the coming week or so. Staple supplies such as coffee, sugar, flour, yeast etc are always added as I start to get low.

  3. Clear out your fridge. Do this before you make your final list. Get rid of anything that’s past its use-by date or that looks/smells as if it ought to be. Check these items off of your stock list and add what needs replacing to your shopping list.

  4. Plan a menu. Using your stock list, plan a complete menu for the week ahead, adding to your list any items that you don’t have available. Browsing the aisles for meal ideas just leads to impulse buying and unnecessary doubling up on stock.

  5. Use raw ingredients. It’s always cheaper to cook from scratch so try to avoid pre-prepared foods.

  6. Keep a quick-meal stock. Sometimes life gets in the way of even the best laid plans so keep a stock of supplies that can be used to make a quick meal when the planned meal isn’t suitable. Far cheaper than nipping out to buy a frozen meal or a take-away.

  7. Have a budget. Decide beforehand how much you intend to spend on your groceries and stick to it. Make a tally of your list and should the items needed for your menu bring you over budget, re-jig the menu.

  8. Don’t shop while you’re hungry. We’ve all heard this but like many others, I did it and I paid the price every time. It’s just too easy to pick up a little something here and little something there because everything looks so darned delicious! And then there’s the snack for the journey home. Avoid it if you can.

  9. Stockpile. The one and only time you should deviate from your list is if the store is offering a product you use regularly at a discounted price. Don’t buy discounted items just because they’re cheap though – you actually have to need them.

  10. Keep receipts. I use a spreadsheet to keep account of the cost of every item on my grocery list. That way I can easily compare prices and check where I’m getting the best deal. One supermarket may say they’re cheaper than another, but that may not necessarily be the case for the products you’re buying.

  11. Use less meat. Not only is meat production bad for the environment (see my earlier post on the subject here), it’s also expensive. If you eat meat every day, try to ration yourself to two or three times a week instead. Fish makes a healthy meal and there are plenty of veggie recipes around.

  12. Stop making one-item trips. By planning ahead, those one-item trips should all but disappear. If you find yourself constantly heading to the shops for more milk, consider having a milkman deliver instead. Few people actually buy just one item once they’re inside the store. I know I rarely did.

  13. Watch the till. Cashiers regularly make mistakes so keep an eye on what’s being rung up. If you see a mistake being made, catch it. Why should you give your money away? They're making enough profit as it is.

  14. Use your freezer. Contrary to what many believe, freezers aren’t just for storing shop-bought frozen meals, ice-cream, and bags of chips. Use the space to store freezable items that are on offer and home made food like pasta sauce which works out much cheaper than buying it ready made.

  15. Don’t take the kids. Not one I need to worry about any more, granted, but I remember it well. When children are with you, they pester for the latest cereals, turkey shapes, ice-lollies and goodness knows what else until you finally relent and buy something to keep them quiet.

  16. Make comparisons. One jar of mayonnaise may appear cheaper than another but packaging can be deceiving. Check the volume/weight to make sure you really are getting the better deal.

  17. Use cloth bags. Once again, this is better for the environment but now that stores are gradually starting to introduce payment for plastic carriers, it makes economic sense too.

  18. Use club cards. Remember that those club card points are already built into the store's prices so you may as well get them back. Don’t use the money-off vouchers on products you wouldn’t normally buy though.

  19. Shop around. You don't necessarily have to buy everything at the supermarket. If you have time, visit your local market, farm shops, or Asian stores (particularly good for rice, pulses, spices and the likes) and similar.

  20. Shop online. Although it’ll cost you between £3-5 extra for delivery depending on where you shop, if you really aren’t able to stick to a list once the lure of shelves lined with every mouth-watering delight under the sun meets you, it might be worth shopping online instead.

Once upon a time, Richard used to be in charge of the household grocery shop and did it on a more or less daily basis. It was his ‘alone’ time, he said. I could understand he needed to get out on his own, but I’m sure it was costing us much more in the long run than by sticking with a plan, and him popping down the pub for a swift one and a game of darts instead ;)

It took a while for me to get back into any kind of shopping routine but I got there in the end. I’m still trying to keep some kind of check on my dry goods but with the lack of storage we have at the moment, it isn’t easy when things are piled on top of one another and kept in various parts of the kitchen. But as I’ve said before – I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. I have saved money, but I’ll save even more.

Sharon J


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What's In The Freezer?

Once upon a time I had a freezer full of food but absolutely no idea what was in there. Then I decided enough was enough. It was time to empty it out and get organised.

I found food in there that I really didn’t know we had. I think they may have been there since OH actually lived here in the house with us because I can’t remember ever buying them. A half full bag of pilau rice; a bag and a half of ‘smiley faces’; a bag of mixed veg of the kind we don’t eat and a few more things. There were also several half eaten tubs of ice-cream, several half used bags of oven chips and an apple pie that must have been there at least a couple of years. Disgraceful!

As this was before the wormery was even considered, most of the unwanted and outdated stuff had to be binned. It always seems such sacrilege to throw away food when there are starving people in this world but I could hardly just kick it around until it disappeared, could I?

Anyway, as I put the remaining contents back I made a note of everything that went in. Two mince and onions pies, a full bag of oven chips, 500g steak mince, 1 fillet steak, 12 meatballs, 1 meal of leftover chilli etc etc. I tried to be as precise as I could but without being finicky and weighing everything.

I then found an old ring-binder and a few plastic sleeves and popped the list inside. Now, whenever I use something from the freezer, or add to it, the list gets updated and I know exactly what I have. Things are so much easier that way. I no longer double up on freezer supplies and don’t have to delve through to see what I have that I can make a meal out of.

The folder is also used to keep recipes from the net, notes of any household tips and tricks that I pick up, my list of gifts that I need to make, and all sorts of other bits and pieces.

Once I have the energy I’ll start sorting out the rest of the food supplies and listing them, too.

Organisation really does simplify life. If only I could be as organised in the rest of my house. One day…

Sharon J


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Monday, 10 March 2008

Help! I'm All Boxed In!

Photo: ahhyeah

Every fortnight I have a delivery of medical supplies, and every fortnight I’m left with several large cardboard boxes that I then have to take to the recycling centre. Because I have limited mobility and sometimes just going from the living room to the loo is just about all I can muster, this is a chore I could easily do without. But I have to get rid of them and I’ve no idea what else to do with them, unlike some imaginative, inventive people.

Take a look at this link and you’ll see what I mean.

If only I had the talent (and energy) to put my boxes to some really good use instead of chucking them in the dumpster at the tip!

I did ask my ‘daughter’ (not my natural daughter, but a girl I took under my wing a while back) whether she’d like some for her 18 month old son to play with but her partner said no, they’d rather have ‘proper’ toys for him than rubbish, thanks. Oh well…

I'm planning to rip a small one up now and then to feed to the worms but they can’t have too much because they simply can’t handle it. I've tried giving them away on Freecycle but there have been no takers there either. I thought perhaps if somebody was moving... but no.

I can’t store them because I don’t have the space so I’m stuck for ideas. Anybody have any ideas as to what I could do with them?

Sharon J


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Sunday, 9 March 2008

No Spring Chicken

I woke this morning at about 6.30 to a deep blue sky, tinted golden in the east as the sun rose across the roof of the railway works that’s Crewe's only real claim to fame. Not the most picturesque view, granted, but watching the sky turn to a dazzling blue as the sun rose higher as I listened to the birds sing from the branches of the trees in the street brought a smile to my face. No matter where you are, if you look for it, nature has given us beauty to be enjoyed.

Sadly, the weather soon started to change as thick grey clouds rolled in from the north, laying themselves like an old feather duvet over the gardens and rooftops. A cold breeze picked up and crept in through the open window; I pulled my own feather duvet tighter around me. I was snug as a bug in a rug.

These changes came about quickly and for some reason they got me to thinking about how our own lives change.

At 47, even without my medical problems, I’m sure I wouldn’t still be able to do the things I did at 27. Even if I were physically able, would I really want to be visiting night clubs, having children, and rushing off on some new adventure at the drop of a hat? No, I wouldn’t. My priorities have changed.

Each age holds its own doors of opportunity open and as one shuts, another opens offering new and different possibilities. Our values change as we grow and learn, as do our needs, and our knowledge of life, both human and otherwise, gives us a greater depth of understanding.

But I look around and see so many people – women, mostly - fighting desperately against the natural cycle of life. They’re afraid of getting older. They try dressing trendy even though it’s obvious to all and sundry that they really don’t have a clue, they have their hair cut in the latest styles, they wear far too much make up in a bid to hide the lines and wrinkles that are nature’s statement of experience, dance to the latest music embarrassing everybody but themselves, and now they’re even participating in extreme sports in order to prove that they’re still fit enough (and only the young are expected to be fit enough for that so they must still be young, surely?).

Isn’t it better to just grow old gracefully in the way we were meant to? Everything that Mother Nature ever developed was designed for a specific purpose and with a cycle to fit that purpose. We’re designed to grow older, draw on our wealth of experience and knowledge, teach those who come after us, and lead the way through the path we’ve helped shape. What purpose is there in continuing to strive to be one of the young forever?

Again, a lot of this can undoubtedly be blamed on our economic system; a system based on enticing us to spend as much as possible and what better target than feminine insecurities?

You won’t be a valuable member of society if you don’t look young and healthy (read: able to reproduce) so buy this cream, that cream, this hair dye, that mascara, this lipstick, have surgery, join this gym, buy, buy, BUY!

You know the score. Those ads scream at us every time we open a magazine, turn on the TV, or visit the supermarket. We can hardly do anything these days without being told we aren’t good enough unless we buy loads of crap that’s overpriced and doesn’t work. Are we really that gullible?

What’s wrong with a face that’s glowing from being in the outdoors, a body that’s fit through regular walks, and hair that’s taken on a moonlit glow?

I may not wear purple and I’ve yet to start running my stick along railings but I wear my wrinkles with pride, my tits point south and that’s fine – they did their job of feeding three children adequately when they were meant to - and when I do turn grey, I shall wear that with pride too.

Sharon J


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I’m Thrifty But I’m Not a Cheapskate

I’ve noticed that a good few people tend to think that being thrifty means spending the least possible amount of money but that isn’t strictly true. What it means is getting the best value for your money.

For example, when our shopping arrived recently there were two large jars of powdered milk, half a dozen tins of mushroom soup, four bottles of shampoo and an organic fillet steak.

“I thought you were supposed to be saving money”, DD2 said, pointing to these things.

“Yes”, I replied, “I am indeed saving money. That’s why I bought them.”

The first three items were all on offer, either 25% off by buying two or they were on ‘buy one get one free’. By ordering more than we immediately needed, I was saving money because I know that these products will be used and all have long shelf lives. The steak is my treat. If you’ve read my post about meat production you’ll already know about that, but a fillet is a luxury I afford myself now and then and as I try to buy organic when I can, I chose the organic steak over the cheaper one. Of course, I could have bought an altogether cheaper cut but I know I wouldn’t get the same enjoyment from it so that just wouldn’t be good economy.

Sometimes you actually have to spend more to be thrifty, either because it will save you money in the long term through stockpiling or because you’ll be getting much better quality for your money.

Being frugal isn’t synonymous with being a cheapskate.

Sharon J


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Friday, 7 March 2008

Why Do I Cost You This Much?

The only reason I’m able to write this today is because I’m kept alive through an artificial form of nutrition known as Total Parenteral Nutrition, or TPN for short.

In early 2003 a massive blood clot led to me losing the majority of my bowel and as you no doubt know, without a bowel the body simply can’t absorb nutrition and without nutrition it's over and out.

TPN is fed to me intravenously through a line in my chest that goes directly into my subclavian vein. I need to feed seven nights a week and each bag costs around £120. On top of that are various vitamin and mineral additives that need to be injected into the bags along with heparin to stop the fluid from clogging in either the line or my veins, the syringes needed to do so, giving sets, individually packed sterile gloves and a sterile pack containing swabs, cotton wool, galley pots, forceps and sterile sheets. I also have alcogel, iodine, Mepore plasters, two types of sticky tape and tinzaparin injections, all of which are used on a daily basis, most twice daily. I also need to infuse a litre bag of saline daily. Every three days I use a morphine patch, I use a moisturising cream to prevent my skin dehydrating, a barrier cream when my bottom gets sore and I need Tegaderm whenever my entrance site – the place where the line enters my body – is likely to get wet. That would usually mean daily, but as I don’t have a shower and am too weak to get out of the bath, at the moment I’m managing with an old-fashioned strip wash so they’re not used as often. I can keep the water clear of the site when washing myself that way.

Anyway, all of this costs the tax payer HUGE amounts of money. My home care company once estimated that the total cost per day is around £200 – add that up and we’re talking £73,000 a year! On top of that, so far this year I’ve cost Mr and Mrs Tax Payer an extra £36,000 because I spent just over three weeks in hospital. According to the charge nurse on our ward, each bed costs around £70 an hour – yes, for ONE HOUR – to run and maintain.

Of course, I’m not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of people all around the UK receiving high-cost specialist treatment and millions more using the more conventional drugs, medicines and medical peripherals.

So why am I telling you all this?

Well what really started me thinking about it was an article in yesterday’s ‘Guardian’. Apparently, the company manufacturing Gaviscon, a remedy for indigestion that’s prescribed to tens of thousands of people, have been accused of deliberately stopping another company from launching a competitive product at a lower price, even though the government have long been calling for a cheap generic version. Apparently Gaviscon is cheap to produce but is marketed at a high price, making Reckitt Benckiser huge profits.

This isn’t the first time something like this has been highlighted, either, and begs the question of just how much tax money is being spent by the NHS in order to feed the rich and greedy pharmaceutical manufacturing giants through inflated prices.

I’ve never quite understood how a simple 2 ½ litre bag of fluid could possibly cost £120 and how can all those other things add up to £80 per day? They’re mainly just small plastic or paper items and a few fluids. Yes, they need to be sterile packed but even so, surely it doesn’t cost that much?

I hate being such a financial burden on our country, especially as I also have to accept living on state benefits AND drive a motability car, but I have no choice. Without the feed and medication I would die. Without money I wouldn’t survive long and without a car I’d have no means of getting out of the house. I have PVD too, y’see, so I can’t walk far.

I was angry yesterday and am still peeved today. That drug companies can do this with no thought for what that money they’re creaming off of our taxes could be otherwise used for is selfish and socially destructive.

Just think where that money could go. Improved education, better and increased social housing, improved home services for the elderly and infirm and so the list goes on. Just take your pick. But no…. social homes are difficult to come by, state education is in a dreadful mess, and the elderly no longer get free meals on wheels or home helps while the big bosses at the companies that are charging ridiculous prices for simple drugs and medical supplies are laughing all the way to the bank.

Sharon J


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Bargains - Be Warned!

Photo: Welshwitch

I love a good bargain and if you’re a thrifty kind of person, I’ll bet my Sunday hat that you do too.

Scouring charity shops, boot markets, eBay, closing down sales, collectors fairs and antiques shops is something I get a whole lot more pleasure from than browsing the rails in designer outlets or even lazing on the beach in some exotic, far off location. Yepp, that's true. And even when I am away on holiday I find myself looking for equivalent places there, too!

But all this bargain hunting can have a downside, especially if you’re just starting out on your journey towards a simpler way of living. It can become an addiction. I know, because it happened to me. Thankfully, I’ve learned my lesson.

Suddenly you find yourself buying stuff just because it’s cheap. I had an all-singing, all-dancing food processor that I very rarely used because it was so damned complicated that it was easier to just do things by hand, but it was heavily marked down in a sale so I bought because it was a ‘bargain’. I had clothes I never wore, books I never read, CDs I never listened to, films I never watched, pictures that were never hung, yarn that was never knitted up, and… well, need I say more? My house was bursting at the seams with ‘bargains’.

This is one of the things that those who are just starting to build a more simple, frugal lifestyle need to be aware of. It’s easy to become so preoccupied with bargain hunting that anything that’s cheap seems to shout ‘buy me’ in much the same way more expensive things did before. The urge to spend is still there – it takes a while for your mind to adjust to your new situation - you just use your money on ‘bargains’ instead.

No matter how cheap something is, it’s only a bargain if you actually need it. If you have a perfectly serviceable vacuum cleaner, the one in the shop that’s marked down by 50% isn’t a bargain; you’ll still be spending money unnecessarily, money that you could spend on something you really do need, or add to your savings. And while stockpiling food is a good idea, those packs of cereal on BOGOF aren’t a bargain if you’ve never tried them and may not even like them.

Being thrifty with your money is as much about thinking about why you’re spending your money as it is about what you’re spending it on. Before parting with your cash – or handing over your plastic – always ask yourself “do I really need this?” and be honest with yourself when you answer. With so much media pressure around us it’s easy to confuse needs and wants, but deep down inside us we all know the difference.

As I said, I’ve made these mistakes and would hate for others who are just starting to change their lives around to do the same. It just makes things so much more difficult. Please try to be aware of your spending and don’t let bargain hunting become an obsession. It’s simply part of your new lifestyle, not the be all and end all to it.

Sharon J


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Thursday, 6 March 2008

I’ll Have Mine Medium Rare, Please - Sod The Greenhouse Gases!

Photo: paige-eliz

I love a good steak. For me, tucking into a medium rare fillet steak is one of the great pleasures in life. It’s not that I don’t like cows and think they ought to be slaughtered and end up on my plate, it’s just that when they're chopped up and pieces of them are fried, they taste so damned good. Especially with dauphinoise potatoes, or rice and béarnaise sauce. Oh cripes, I’m starting to salivate just thinking about it and it's only 8 am!

BUT… and here comes the voice of the little guy who sits on my shoulder and reminds me of the bad things I’m doing… aside from the question of whether or not it’s cruel to keep animals that a bred purely for slaughter and whether or not they’re transported and slaughtered in a humane way, there’s the fact that meat production is one of the main contributors to our present environmental problems.

On average, one meat based meal is equal to chopping down 55 square feet of rain forest. Now I for one sure as heck wouldn’t go to ANY forest and chop down even one tree unless I knew for sure it was going to be replaced but even though I know how important the rain forest is to life on this planet, I’ll still happily devour a good steak. Talk about conflicting values! And if the tree issue still doesn’t grab you and make you think, let’s put it another way: producing 1kg of meat - just one measly kilo - generates the same amount of carbon as a three hour drive in a petrol fuelled car.

Then there’s the issue regarding land usage. A massive 80% of available agricultural land is used to grow food for livestock. Just think how much food could otherwise be grown! There are people starving in this world, people who could be fed by grains and pulses grown on some of that land but instead I’m stuffing my face with fillet steaks and other meat products. I should be ashamed of myself.

And did you know that in the US alone, farmed animals produce 130 times more excrement
than the whole of the human population? That’s a lot of dung and the run off from it often ends up polluting the waterways. Yuk!! I doubt it’s any better here, although I haven’t been able to find any facts relating to it.

Cattle are the worse offenders; they omit methane every time they belch and apparently that’s something they do a lot! All ruminants do the same - that includes sheep and goats - but cattle are the worse offenders because a) they are larger and therefore produce more gas in their ruman (one of their four stomaches) and b) there are far more of them. Also, being extremely thick they're not clued up on social etiquette so never hold their hooves to their mouths before having a good burp.

According to a Swedish study carried out five years ago, raising cattle on grass instead of the feed that's used now would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% but our government has done nothing to try to change the way cattle’s raised here. Surprise, surprise! Not that a 40% reduction would mean no more cause for concern but at least the situation would be better than it is now.

There’s absolutely no doubt that eating beef is a HUGE contributor to my carbon footprint so I’ve decided I need to do something about it. I’m not going to give up steak entirely but I’m going to severely limit how much meat we eat in this house. A few sausages maybe, but no bacon, no more chops (well... maybe the odd one chucked on the barbie... they're so darned tasty), no more joints, and I’ll try quorn mince instead of beef mince. As for the steak, just one a fortnight at the most. It’s not perfect but it’s better than nothing at all.

Finally, just to give you something extra to think about, did you know that when we eat meat alongside food containing starch (i.e. potatoes, rice, pasta) the meat ferments and putrefies in the bowel?

Sharon J xx


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Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Tightening the Belt - 12 Ways To Save Money

[photo: Bashed]

I’m in debt.

Until I started sorting my life out, I had bills coming out of my ears and no idea how I was going to handle them all. What with the maxed out credit cards, store cards, bank loan and catalogue payments and a drastically reduced income, I found myself struggling to keep my head above what felt like very stormy water. I had to tighten the belt, of that there was no doubt.

I knew I’d let my lifestyle get out of hand and by simplifying things I was sure I could get a better grip on my finances. When it came to spending, my main priorities had to be to get rid of the debt and to get my kitchen remodelled and decorated (the latter's a practical need... my kitchen really isn't functional enough for me).

Things I’m finding are really helping me save money are:

1. Keeping track of spending. Knowing exactly what’s going where can be quite an eye opener. Since tracking my spending I’ve cut my grocery shopping bill by almost half (and, as a consequence, am no longer wasting anywhere near as much food), haven’t spent anywhere even close to what I usually would on clothes, cosmetics, hair products, and the likes, and have learned to really think about where my money’s going.

2. Using cash. Each week I take out a fixed amount and that’s what I have as purse money for the week. Bills, groceries and other important stuff are paid out of my current account, but the cash has to pay for personal items, craft supplies, and any small bits and bobs that might be picked up in charity shops, at Wilkos and the likes. Using cash instead of a card feels more like real spending and gives you a better idea of how quickly your money’s disappearing (or not).

3. Using the envelope system. My mum always did this and even though she was on a very tight budget, she never fell behind with anything. When she suggested I did the same, I decided to give it a go. You simply designate each envelope to a specific area (i.e. groceries, fuel, clothes & personal items etc) and spend from each. When it’s empty, it’s gone. That’s that. If there’s anything left at the end of the month then half is carried over to the next month and half is put into my savings jar.

Instead of using real envelopes I leave my money in the bank and use a spreadsheet where each page is an 'envelope'. Money is designated to each and I view each in the same as I would an envelope. I do it this way because I find it both easier and safer to leave the money in the bank rather than have cash at home. Money that's left over is transferred into my savings accounts - my virtual jar - and marked for either the emergency or kitchen fund.

4. Piggy Bank Saving. I have two piggy banks, one for the kitchen fund and one for holidays, Christmas, etc. Every time I've been to the shops (or anywhere else where I've used cash), I put my silver change into the pigs. If I feel I can afford it, I'll pop a pound coin or two in too. When they're full, they're changed up and the money's banked and designated to its "envelope". It's surprising how quickly the money mounts up - I've already saved over £70 in just a few months - and you really don't miss those few coins.

5. Staying home. When you’re out and about it’s easy to spend money. Special offers are everywhere, lunch is often bought out, you buy yourself a drink and if you’re driving you’re also using fuel. Apart from online shopping, there’s little to spend money on at home.

6. Getting the best utility deals. There are so many companies vying for your business these days, you'll probably find one that's cheaper than your current supplier. The same goes for car/home/pet insurance etc. I switched my home contents insurance and went from paying over £15 a month to £9.60 and the deal I have now is better than the original one! Six pounds a month may not sound a lot but that's £72 a year and when that's combined with all other savings, it can mount up to quite a bit. and can help with most of this.

If you make a lot of calls to mobile phones or abroad, it's also worth signing up with a company like I use them and pay just 6p per minute to call mobiles during the week and 3p at weekends. I can also call my daughter in Norway for just 5p per minute. Believe me, my phone bill has been cut dramatically since signing up!

7. Saving a little each week. Few of us will notice the difference if we transfer £10 a week into our savings account every week but those £520 that accumulate can make a big difference. I certainly don't notice it and I'm on a low income. It's important not to keep dipping into your savings though or you'll never build up a decent emergency fund.

8. Snowballing debts. If, like me, you have several credit cards, store cards etc that need to be paid off, concentrate on one first. Make the minimum payment on the others but throw more (as much as you can afford) at one of them, either the one with the highest interest or the smallest one. My smallest also happens to be the one with highest interest so it was easy to make the choice.

Once you’re clear of these debts, you’ll save huge amounts in interest and will be able to put that money into your savings instead. Unless you pay off your card spends immediately, credit is, without doubt, the most expensive way of spending money.

Photo: keltannen

9. Making food from scratch. Home-made food made from raw ingredients will always be cheaper, not to mention healthier than ready-made meals and the likes. Because of my health, I can’t always make a meal (neither do I need to) but whenever I can, I use raw ingredients as much as possible. I bake my own bread using a bread-maker (well I did, before it conked out, but I'm on the look out for a replacement), and bake my own scones, cakes and the likes. Not always, admittedly, but when I can.

10. Buying Second-Hand. Just because something's been used before doesn't mean it can't be used again. When I was a kid, hand-me-downs were perfectly acceptable but these days it seems that even those who are struggling to pay their debts etc are only happy with new stuff, and often the best of the new stuff, too.

I've picked up loads of things from charity shops, boot markets, eBay and Freecycle - in fact, at least half of what's in my home must have come from those places. By keeping my spending as low as possible I'm able to buy things that I like (no, I don't just buy any old trash because it's second-hand) and still manage my debts. What's more, some of the stuff I've picked up in charity shops and the likes has been brand new! I even got a cooker through Freecycle. It works, it's clean, and it was FREE. Excellent!

Photo: sunspark58

11. Giving frugal gifts. Some things are really easy to make yourself, like bath salts and foot soak (see Donna’s recipe here). If you can sew or knit or do other crafts, all the better. If making things isn’t your ‘thing’, how about giving a gift card offering the recipient dinner at your house, or maybe an evening of baby sitting. There are lots of possibilities. I once gave a friend a weekend’s use of the caravan we had and she was thrilled to bits! A cutting from one of your garden or house plants is also a nice gift to give. I've already set up a list of gifts I need to give this year so that I can prepare them in advance, that way there will be no (hopefully) last minute frantic gift shopping.

12. Finding happiness elsewhere. It’s a fact that people - women especially - use shopping as a way to cheer themselves up so by learning to find pleasure in what you already have (and that doesn’t necessarily mean what you own, but what’s in your surroundings), you’re less likely to spend money. I know that when I'm happily sewing or watching the birds in the garden, the last thing on my mind is whether or not to buy a new pair of shoes or an x-box. Men tend to buy to impress. If Joe's got a nice car, Jim'll want a better one, even if he has to get it on credit (which Joe probably did, too).

All of these methods have worked for me in the past and they certainly seem to be working again so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t work for you too.

Time and time again I hear people say “I really must tighten the belt” then do nothing to change their spending habits. I’ve been guilty of it too. But until you actually make some changes, nothing’s actually going to change is it? Frugality is as much a state of mind as anything else.

Sharon J

Cannot people realize how large an income is thrift? ~ Cicero


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Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Cross Cabbages

Just a quickie that I thought might be useful for the veggie gardeners amongst you.

If you grow cabbages, make a cross in the stalk that’s left in the ground and new, small cabbages will spring up from it.

I don’t grow them myself but my mum said my granddad always did that when he grew his own vegetables during the war, and the little cabbages were often better than the big one.

It must be worth a try, at least.

Sharon J


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Energy Saving Light Bulbs – A Conundrum

I have a problem.

Like most, I’ve long since switched to CFLs (compact flourescent lightbulbs) – the energy saving light bulbs that we’re all told we should be using these days. The trouble is, I’ve no idea how I’m supposed to dispose of the used ones.

I’ve phoned the council to ask whether they have any special recycling facilities but apparently they don’t (I say apparently because the person you speak to doesn’t always know the answer, they often just think they do) and I can’t see what other options are open.

I’d heard that US branches of IKEA take back these light bulbs for recycling so I checked with my nearest branch but no, the service isn’t available in the UK. The person I spoke to seemed to be surprised that I’d even asked about such a thing and had no idea why they didn’t. I also checked their website and there’s no mention of it there either, even though they really push how environmentally friendly they are.

So here I am with a few burned out lightbulbs and expecting the rest to start burning out any time now but without the foggiest idea as to what I should do with them. I know they mustn't go in the normal household waste because of the mercury they contain – we don’t want that leaking out and potentially causing more environmental damage than burning extra energy with conventional light bulbs would have done, do we? Mercury really isn’t something to be scoffed at.

Anybody have any ideas on this? What do you do with your old energy saving lightbulbs?

Sharon J


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