Friday, 27 February 2015

Making a work-space that works - my dream work-space!

As a work-at-home writer and crafter (or working towards that goal) I would love to have a dedicated work space.  At the moment we're renting a home and my things are spread throughout the house:

  • In the kitchen is where I do large scale priming and varnishing of wooden shapes, and when I'm working on these they are spread out on the floor around the edge of the room
  • In the dining room I share a computer and desk with Hubby.  My writing files are piled up on the floor in the corner.  My sewing machine lives on the floor under the dining table.  Various half-finished craft projects are moved between the floor and the dining table and back again at meal times.
  • In the sitting room I have any knitting or hand-sewing projects in progress around my chair.
  • In the bedroom I have my craft books, my knitting wool and my fabric store.
  • In the hallway I have a chest of drawers full of crafting paraphernalia, paint, paper etc. and a shelf for all my writing books.
Not ideal, but only a temporary stop-gap.  

So now I get to dream about a potential dedicated work space in our new house.  It's difficult to guess ahead, as we don't know what kind of property we're going to end up with: 3 bedrooms or 4; an attic or cellar space; a conservatory; how big or small the rooms are.  We just don't know yet.

What I would like is one dedicated space where I can keep all my things and do my work and crafting, whether that's in the spare bedroom, in the attic with the model railway, in a cubby under the stairs, or in a corner of our bedroom.  Then I can make it work for me.  
Here's what it needs: 
  • a desk or table with a computer or laptop and printer;
  • my crafting drawers;
  • a small bookcase for all my files and writing and crafting books;
  • more storage for fabric, wool, sewing machine, Sunbow stock, packaging materials;
  • a little bit of floor space;
I've been searching on Pinterest for some ideas that I love and have created this board.  Here are a few snippets to whet your appetite:
25 Creative Workspace Ideas - Inspiration for designing a creative home office, studio or craft room.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Feed your family for under £50 in February - week 3

I'm now three weeks into my challenge to Feed the Family for under £50 for a week, and haven't yet managed, though this week is much closer (you'll see why shortly!).  

In my original post I talked about making more porridge for breakfast, making more home-made soups for lunch, making the meat go further, and cutting down on alcohol.

The porridge thing, well... we all like porridge, but just lately C and Bug (and I) have been feeling like cereal or toast instead so we haven't had porridge more than about once a week.

Home-made soups for lunch.  It's not so much that it's time consuming, as once you've chopped the veg you've pretty much made lunch for the week.  It's just that it involved forward planning - and I'm spinning enough plates at the moment.

Making the meat go further is working.  I've bought a pack of meat, and rather than using it all (because it's a pack), I've used only half, and bulked out with veg, bread, salad etc. to make the meat stretch for another meal.

Cutting down on alcohol is also working.

This week I've done small local shops and have spent about £60.  HOWEVER - this includes shopping for ingredients to make a birthday cake, and shopping for a birthday tea party.  IT DOESN'T INCLUDE the shopping that Hubby did because he fancied more interesting stuff in his packed lunches, and some cheese, and some cider.  NOR DOES IT INCLUDE the two meals out on the actual birthday.

I do feel that I'm wasting less food this week, and I'm being more mindful of using food that I already have, and what I need to buy.  Planning just a day or two in advance seems to be working better for me than the weekly shop, even if it does mean that I absolutely have to remember to stop and buy spaghetti at the shop when I pick up C this afternoon, otherwise we're stumped for dinner!

Are you trying to cut down your weekly food spend?  What hints and tips can you recommend?

Monday, 23 February 2015

What ever happened to the badger cull?

The Badger Cull was big news a couple of years ago, with an enormous e-petition calling on the government to stop the planned culls in England in 2012-13.  In a debate in Parliament 147 MPs voted to stop the culling, only 18 in favour.  Despite this overwhelming democratic STOP sign, the culls went ahead... so what happened?  What were the culls about anyway?  And did they work?

Why are we culling badgers?
Badgers - tubby, short, stripy woodland creatures who like to snuffle about after dark - why do we want to kill them?  It's all about bovine Tuberculosis (bTB).  Bovine TB can be transmitted to humans.  It very rarely is because we have a very effective BCG vaccine, and we also pasteurise nearly all our milk.  It also affects and can be transmitted by deer, pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, cats and dogs.  In fact, in recent years two cases of bTB in humans were shown to be transmitted by domestic cats.  

Bovine TB though is on the increase.  In the 1980s it was isolated to a few isolated pockets, but is now spread throughout the South West and West of England and Wales.  In order to comply with European Food Safety legislation and our own food health standards, cattle infected with bovine TB have to be slaughtered, and movement restrictions are put in place on the whole herd.  In 2010/11 25,000 cattle were slaughtered because of bTB, at a cost to the government (in compensation to farmers) of £91 million.

An outbreak in a cattle herd will cost the average farmer about £30,000, of which the government will recompense around £20,000 leaving the farmer with a loss of £10,000.

Clearly it's pretty important to try to limit the spread of this disease.
Badger cub © RSPCA photolibrary
from RSPCA
Is a cull the only way?
Cattle control measures to help control the spread of the disease within farm populations include movement restrictions on potentially infected herds, and there are also vaccinations being developed, though at present there are drawbacks to these, and they would probably need to be repeated annually.

Wild animal controls include culling badgers, or vaccinating them.

The Welsh Assembly decided to focus on vaccinating badger populations rather than culling them, and they are monitoring the results of this.

In 2008, Hilary Benn, then the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for England refused to authorise a cull, instead allocating £20million to develop vaccinations.

Adult badger at night © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary
So how did we end up with a cull?
Between 1998 and 2008 the Randomised Badger Culling Trials took place across England.  Ten 100 sq km areas were selected for culling.  In total 11,000 badgers were cage-trapped and killed, and the incidence of bTB in these and surrounding areas was monitored during and after the trial, and compared with the incidence of bTB in ten more 100 sq km areas where culling didn't take place.

The reports from the trials suggested that there was a reduction in the incidence of bTB in the cull areas, but there was a larger increase in incidence in the areas around the culling zones, suggesting that infected surviving badgers could be moving out of the area and infecting new areas.  Further evidence showed that any reduction in bTB incidence in the areas had disappeared after three years.  The cost of the cull was also calculated to be several times more than any economic benefit.  It was concluded that "badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain".

The incoming Secretary of State in 2010 decided to ignore this damning report, and promptly began her "Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England", which was to include a further badger cull in 2012/13 in two areas, which would be monitored and then rolled out across the country.

The monitoring was to assess the humaneness of the more economically viable "free shooting", not to assess the effectiveness in reducing bTB (that had already been demonstrated to be negligable).  Free shooting involves shooting at badgers as they go about their business above ground.  Unfortunately they have very thick skulls and a thick subcutaneous fatty layer, so the likelihood of them getting killed with the first shot is low, by which time the injured badger has bolted into the sett to die a lingering death below ground.  In the 2012/13 cull 6-18% of the badgers took longer than five minutes to die.
Badger Trust
The First Cull
The first cull took place from August 2013, intending to kill 70% of the badgers in two 150 sq km areas in Gloucestershire and Somerset over six weeks.  In the end the targets were not met, and the cull was extended by three weeks to allow more badgers to be killed.  In total 1861 badgers were shot, many by cage-trapping and shooting rather than free-shooting, as this was more successful.  Culling was not selective, and its estimated that as many as six in every seven badgers killed was probably healthy and free of bTB.

The second cull
Despite the evidence and public opinion against the random slaughter of badgers for no clear benefit, a second cull in the same areas began in September 2014.  It has not yet rolled out any further across the country.  The government is keeping very quiet about it.  

The Badger Trust and the RSPCA are not.
If you want to get involved and Back off the Badgers, then go to either of their websites for more information on what you can do.

Is there an issue that you want to find out about?  Comment below and I'll report on it in a future post.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Feed your family for £50 in February - week 2

I set myself a challenge for February to try to do all my weekly grocery shopping for under £50 per week for my family of 4.

We're now at the end of the second week and I think it's fair to say that I am failing miserably!

In Week 1 I did my usual weekly shop on the Tuesday (but did spend a lot less than usual), and then my usual top up shop for the weekend - totalling about £65.

I decided that for Week 2 I was not going to do a large weekly shop (with the waste entailed as things start to get a bit manky towards the end of the week).  Instead I was only going to plan the menu a couple of days ahead, using things that I already had in the kitchen as much as possible, and was going to do small regular shops using the town-centre, butchers and grocers a bit more and avoid the supermarket.

That's all well and good, but small children seem to do very odd things to toilet rolls, soap dispensers and toothpaste - and I always seem to need those things.  Supermarkets are the cheapest and most convenient source of those items, so instead of skipping the supermarket this week, I seem to have gone there every day or two for small shops instead!  Looking now at my receipts for the week (and because I've been doing small shops I've paid cash a couple of times) I've spent at least £65 this week.

I do like the just shopping for the next couple of days thing though, as long as I'm going to be passing a shop at some point each day, and am not having to make a special journey for it.  I do like a nice full fridge, it somehow tells you that you're not going to go hungry; but I also like that I'm not digging through manky salad and having to throw things out.  I can see what I've got and what I need.  This week, so far I'm doing okay.  I popped to the supermarket yesterday for things for last night and some other essentials, costing £22, and then I topped up for lunch today and dinner tonight for just £6.  I'm definitely going to take the children to visit a real greengrocer and butcher in the next couple of days too.  I'll let you know how that goes next week.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Getting kids involved in cleaning up

There are many charts out there in web-land showing lists of age-appropriate chores.  Here's one that I've come across.

I think that when they talk about age-appropriate, they are talking about chores that are safe for your children to undertake, and that aren't too demanding.

Here's what I've set up:

Each child has a "Daily Responsibilities" card which includes the tasks that I think the children should be responsible for doing every day, without too many reminders (my children are almost 4 and 5).
They also pick two or three "house tasks" cards each day.  All these jobs are things which I think they can do with little or no supervision.  Sometimes I'll do the job with them (particularly Bug - nearly 4 - who is very prone to distraction, but otherwise I'll just remind them what their jobs are.  Most days they'll do one before school, and one after school, though if we have a  busy afternoon they sometimes do both first thing.
I'm going to have a go at including these as printables below, lets see what happens!

If you click on this link, you'll find a printable of the Daily Responsibilities list, and here you'll find the House tasks cards.  I couldn't embed the printables properly, but hopefully I'll figure that out next time.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Craft Supplies you need to have for kids

If you want your children to grow up in a creative and crafty environment, that doesn't mean that you need to have your own branch of Hobbycraft in your house.  You can foster creativity with very little.  Or you can have a few basic supplies always on hand, and supplement them with a trip to the craft shops (also many bargains to be found on the internet) for specific projects.

Here's your basic toolkit:

  • Paper - a selection.  If all you can manage to get hold of on a budget is paper from the office that's been used on one side, then that will do fine, particularly for younger kids that go through SO MUCH PAPER!  Once they get older then it's nice to have different types, colours and patterns of paper, tissue paper, crepe paper and card for different projects.
  • Pencils / crayons / pens / paint - it doesn't really matter what you have on offer, as long as the children have access to mark-making tools.  Other alternatives are white board and pens, or chalk board and chalk.  As they get older and have experience of different projects and techniques you can throw pastels, watercolours, fabric pens and all sorts into the mix.
  • Glue stick / PVA / sticky tape - children will need to experiment with different ways of joining materials.  Bug (almost 4) is a bit of a nightmare with sticky tape, ending up pretty much wrapped up as a parcel herself when she tries to use it, and prefers PVA (lots) or a glue stick.  C is a bit more experienced with sticky tape, and uses it for many purposes, but hasn't quite got the hang of which sticking material works best for which uses.  As they get older, or for different projects, you can start introducing them to staples, split pins, glue guns, nails and screws and many other methods of joining.
  • Scrap materials - We have two types of scrap materials.  Larger materials are available in the recycle bin.  I collect jars, tin cans, plastic milk bottles, lids, plastic cartons, cardboard boxes, newspaper, egg boxes, old magazines and anything else recyclable in a plastic box in the kitchen and then take it out to the recycling dustbin whenever it gets full.  The children have free access to this plastic box for craft materials, have been taught to watch out for sharp tin edges, and can often be found sifting through for the right sized cardboard box or milk bottle lid for whatever they are making today.  If they have something specific in mind (toothpaste box or egg box) they sometimes have to wait, but unless the box has just been emptied, they usually find what they are looking for.  They also each have a plastic "zippy bag" A4 poly pocket.  In there go pictures we've cut from magazines or catalogues, bits of ribbon or trimmings from gift wrap, bits of shiny paper, lids, scraps of wrapping paper, foam, straws, felt, pompoms, pipe cleaners or in fact anything that catches their eye and they think might be useful later, and also any leftover craft materials from previous projects.

This is your basic crafting kit, and with this children can get very creative.  You can then add materials for particular projects and optional extras.  Here are a few other ideas that might inspire projects of their own:

  • googly eyes
  • buttons and beads
  • sequins and shiny bits
  • fabric trimmings, ribbons and rick rack
  • fabric scraps
  • needles and thread (and some basic sewing skills)
  • wool scraps
  • feathers
  • air-drying clay, plasticine or play dough
  • off cuts of wood (and some basic woodwork skills)
Once you get crafting the options are endless and a quick glance at Pinterest with for example "dinosaur crafts" in the search box will provide plenty of inspiration using any number of different craft materials.

The key here is to get crafting and have some fun.  Don't go out and buy a "project kit", just get hold of some materials and let your imaginations go wild and foster real creativity.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

February - From Stay-at-Home-Mum to Work-at-home-Mum - Diary of a Transition

This has been a weird month from the point of view of the business.  I've honestly not got much more made.  I think I've got enough for my craft fair stall so that it doesn't look empty, but also not too crowded.  I've a few things to finish off, and ideally I'd make a few more things to sell, but in reality I don't think I'm going to get around to much.  

  • The washing machine has now been out of action for a fortnight, so I'm spending at least an hour of each child-free day at the launderette.  
  • It's half term next week.  
  • I've also committed to making a few other things which aren't for the business.  It's Bug's 4th birthday next week, and while we've got her a gift voucher for an experience for her present, I want her to have something a little more exciting to open as well - I'll post more about this when I have finished the make and can show!  I'm also making two more gifts for people, but I'll post about those another time as well, with pictures.
  • I'll be focusing after half term on getting everything ready for the stall to make it look great, pricing the items, getting business cards etc. (which also means I need a website up and running!)
The writing has been going okay.  I had a bit of a revelation at the beginning of the week.  I was getting a bit frustrated because Hubby seemed to be faintly amused by my business efforts, rather than being supportive and really believing in what I was doing.  He smiled and said 

"I just think you're funny.  I thought you wanted to be a writer."  

He's right of course (he always is).  That was always the plan.  

I liked the idea of making things and selling them, and that really came through when other parents at pre-school started commenting on the things that I'd made, and suggesting that I should sell them.  I worked at the making, to build up the quality, and once I put things on my on-line shop I found that people were actually buying them, just a few here and there, but enough that I got the whiff of success.  

Writing on the other hand, comes easily to me and I love doing it.  When I day-dream, I'm not dreaming of spending my days in front of the sewing machine, I'm dreaming of tapping away at the keyboard, I'm dreaming of the letter from a publisher telling me that they want my book, or the editor commissioning an article.  I'm dreaming of a royalty cheque.  I'm dreaming of being a writer.  

Writing isn't just about writing though.  It's about sending off ideas and them being accepted, and there will be an awful lot of rejections before there are successes.  So not only do you need to be ready for that, but preferably you need to be able to concentrate and work at the computer for a couple of hours, and that is extremely difficult at the moment.  

He is right though.  

So, my priorities over the next couple of weeks are to 
  • prepare for my first craft sale
  • set up a website that combines everything - my blog (yes, I may be moving - watch this space for more information on that), my crafting and my writing, all under one headline brand, and order some business cards.
  • Up the ante on my queries to various writing contacts.
The crafting needs to be something that I enjoy, and a sideline.  
The writing needs to be something that I enjoy, and the headline.

The parenting is still obviously pretty high on the agenda too, and we have lots of exciting plans for next week.

My running and swimming has taken a complete backseat.  I didn't do much the when my dad visited at the end of January, then I did something to my back, then I trapped a nerve in my elbow, and now I have a cold.  I'm just about to go out for a quick bike-ride with the dog, so I'm still exercising, but after the last couple of weeks, especially the very sore arm and back, I'm easing back into it. 

This is a crazy ride, a bit on the bumpy side.  I hope you're holding tight.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Ways to play in a rented garden

People who rent a property are always in a bit of a dilemma about their garden.  Landlords may stipulate that the garden must be left in the same state in which the property was rented, or that it must be returned to that state before you leave.  They might state that you are responsible for keeping the garden in a good state and that they will or will not provide the tools for you to do that.  Or they might let you do what you like with it, as long as the changes would be viewed as an improvement, particularly if you are a longer let.
We're in a situation where we are hoping to be renting for as short a time as possible, so we need to leave the garden exactly as we found it.  This is what it looks like:

We have a square of lawn at the front,

and a square of gravel at the back.

This is clearly a low maintenance garden, but here's the thing:
  1. It looks horrible and dull and boring.
  2. I like gardening and growing things
  3. This really isn't a very inspiring place for the children to play.
I'm going to come back to how you can garden in a rented space in a future blog post, so for the time being... how can we make this a better space to play?

Over the winter months it hasn't been much of an issue.  When they've played outside the children have just wrapped up warm and ridden their scooters or pushed the prams up and down the concrete paths.  As the weather warms up though, they are going to want to spend a bit more time outside.

Given that we are hoping to move as soon as our house in Scotland sells, we don't want to be installing a playhouse or large play structures (the house a couple of doors down has an entire playground in the garden), because everything will have to be moved.

Here are my thoughts:
  • put up a tent for a couple of days every couple of weeks, or even better...
  • make a teepee - if I bought a whole bunch of old curtain fabric from a charity shop this could be quite inexpensive, then just requiring five wooden broom handles at £2 each and some time at the sewing machine.
  • get hold of some unwanted bits of plank or pallet and create some roadways for toy cars
  • use scrap wood to make some small houses to dot around the garden (if these go okay they'll be appearing on my Sunbow Designs shop too!
  • maybe get a rubbish scrappy coffee table and combine with a grow-bag tray to make a water or sand play tray;
  • make a small wooden small world structure (rough design below) to house anything from dolls, fairies, dinosaurs or toy animals:

It doesn't sound much, but that's quite a lot to get around to doing at some point over the next couple of months, and could transform the garden into a much more playful space, where the children want to spend more time

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Family photos - how to take them and how to keep them

I feel a bit of a fraud writing this post, because in all honesty I'm not a great photographer.  It's one of those things that I'd really like to be better at.  I do, however, love to take pictures of my little ones, and I really need to get more of them too.  Two key things hold up my photography - light and a dog.  My current home has quite small windows for the size of room, so it's difficult to get good light for photos, which is why so many of the ones that I do take are outdoors... but when I'm outside, I often have two children and a dog and all the related paraphernalia, which means that I don't always have space in my hands for a camera.  Nevertheless, here goes:

  • When taking photos of kids with a digital camera don't be afraid to get in close.  True, you'll have a few messed up ones where they moved out of shot, but the close up ones of their gorgeous faces are the ones you'll love.
  • Use the "sports" function.  It means that your camera will take a quick series of photos as your child runs around, most will be poor, but you might get that one awesome shot.  Better than trying to get a shot of them sliding down the slide and missing because they slid past before the camera shot.
  • Try to get plenty of natural light for your photos rather than bleaching flash light, but don't be afraid of a bit of shadow either for some moody effects.
  • Get the children doing silly poses or telling jokes, or looking at something funny, or just catch them being natural - natural smiles are so much better than those fake photo grimaces.
  • If you're always the one taking the photos, do give somebody else the camera and get on the other side of the lens.  When your kids look  back at the photos in ten years time, they'll want to see you there too, to spark all those memories of the fun things that you did.

What to do with your photos?  How to store and display them?

With digital photography there have never been so many photographs, and yet they are often tucked away on the computer or phone, and so few are deleted that it's difficult to see the good ones among the rubbish.  
  • transfer your photos to one place, preferably organised by year and month, so you can easily find what you are looking for.  If you can also label them with key words that will also make searching easier, though can be time-consuming.
  • DELETE - pleeeeassse delete the rubbish photos right away.  Go through those photos and get rid of the ones that don't mean anything to you.  The photos you took for an ad on e-bay, the blurred or too dark or too light ones, get rid of them.  If you took 20 photos of the same sunset, choose the best three and get rid of the rest... you DON'T NEED THEM ALL!
  • BACK UP - yes.  You're left with your most precious and wonderful photos, the ones that you'll want your kids to see when they are grown up.  So back them up.  You can use online storage facilities like clouds and drop-box, but I know that some people have concerns about their security, so if you're not comfortable with that, then save them to a pen-drive and keep it somewhere safe.  Keep adding a back-up of your favourite photos to that so you've always got them.
  • PRINT - I know you can get digital photo frames, and people have their photos as screen savers and wall-paper, but nothing beats a real photo.  Real photos can be put in a wallet, sent to a friend, or put in a frame.  Now that we can print at home or from machines in supermarkets, you only need to print the very best pictures.
As for display, here are a few ideas:
  • photo albums - every year I create a photo book using the best photos from the year, arranged chronologically.  We can look back and see the children growing, and each album tells the story of the year.  I use the 30cm x 30cm books, about 30 pages, from Bonusprint.
  • poster or canvas - there are some great photo websites out there who turn your photos into posters or canvas for a very reasonable price.  This picture shows the huge photo collage poster I made for my Dad's 60th birthday, with all his family on.

  • other display ideas - you can turn your photos into keyrings, cushions, t-shirts, or bags.  I also made these photo blocks of our family (and made a set for each of my sisters' families for Christmas too), as a novel way to display photographs.
Just a small note to point out that this post was not sponsored or endorsed by anybody.  Any mentions of a particular item or company are just because that's genuinely what I like or use.  If any company would like to sponsor a post - I'd be more than happy to discuss it, please get in touch!

Friday, 6 February 2015

Honey Bees Under Threat - Protect our Honey Bees

Honey bees are pretty important.  As every Winnie-the-Pooh fan will remember:

That buzzing noise means something.  Now, the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know of is because you are... a bee!  And the only reason for being a bee is to make honey.  And the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it.

Classic as this wisdom is, bees also have another very important use, and that is as insect pollinators for our food crops.  One in three mouthfuls of food that we eat is dependent on pollination to grow and produce.

The problem is that honey bee (as well as other insect pollinators) numbers have halved in the last twenty-five years.  Nearly all wild colonies of honey bees have died out.  This is due in part to virulent viruses against which they can't defend themselves, but also to a reduction in habitat and food because of our more intensive agricultural practices, and there is also strong evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides are involved (fortunately there is currently a Europe-wide ban on their use).  This reduction in numbers, coupled with the fact that big agri-business in Britain is shifting production from cereal crops which rely on wind pollination, to bio-fuel crops which are more reliant on insect pollination, and we have reached a situation where we have a massive pollination deficit.  In the UK we have only enough pollinating insects to pollinate one quarter of the crops which rely on insect pollination.  Professor Simon Potts of the University of Reading, who has been researching the connection between insect pollinators like honey bees and food crops, suggests that "we need a proper strategy across Europe to conserve wild bees and pollinators through habitat protection, agricultural policy and farming methods, or we risk big financial losses to the farming sector and a potential food security crisis."  

This sounds pretty apocryphal - is there anything we can do to help? 

Fortunately, yes, and lots of people making small changes can make big differences:

  • Buy local honey, this supports local beekeepers so that more colonies of bees will be kept locally. 
  • Plant bee-friendly plants.  Bees like single-garden flowers (not too fancy).  Daisy shaped flowers like asters are good, and also hollyhocks and foxgloves, and willow and lime trees.
  • Keep bees.  Its a great hobby, and you get to eat your own honey.  The British Beekeepers Association provide plenty of courses, support and training.
  • If you see a swarm of bees, don't panic.  It's the bees' natural method of splitting up the colony to allow an increase in numbers.  Just contact the British Beekeepers' Association on the link above, or call your local authority, and they'll send a beekeeper to collect the swarm.  Provided you leave it alone, the swarm poses no danger.
  • Lobby the government - the UK government opposed the ban on neonicotinoids, and are being encouraged by agri-pharm companies to attempt to get it over-turned.  Lobby them to retain this ban, and also to do more to conserve and protect our insect pollinators and all biodiversity.
So do you have a bee in your bonnet about an environmental or political issue?  I'd love to explore more issues like these, so do let me know.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Feed your family for £50 in February - week 1

I've just done my first weekly grocery shop in February.  If you're new to this, check out my Feed your family for £50 challenge post here.  Here's how I got on:

Local greengrocer
Fresh fruit and veg - just under £10

Remainder of shop at Morrisons supermarket
Meat - whole chicken, minced beef and chicken fillets - 3 for £10 offer
Other refrigerated items, including ham, cheese, milk, quiche etc. - £12.68
2 packs cereal and some pain au chocolat for breakfasts - £4.92
snack and packed lunch items - £4.68
sliced bread, bread rolls and bread flour - £2.60
other - jam, kidney beans, frozen pizza for lunch, raisins, chopped toms and eggs - £8.35
Supermarket total - £43.15

Grand Total - £53

The meals I intend cooking are: burgers in baps with wedges and beans (already got all this); spaghetti bolognaise with plenty of veg - only use half the bolognaise; chicken and chorizo paella; chilli (add kidney beans and chilli to remainder of bolognaise sauce); roast chicken with mash and veg; fish pie (already have ingredients); chicken casserole using remainder of chicken from roast; plus breakfasts and lunches for everybody for a week.

I made the mistake of shopping while hungry, which meant that a few more snack items were added than should have been.  I did go past the local butcher this morning, but chose to buy my meat at the supermarket simply because I'd already planned my menu based on the 3 for £10 offer - next time maybe I'll shop in the town more frequently, rather than a once a week supermarket shop, and see how that impacts on the cost of my groceries.

As you can see, I did go over my target of £50, but have let myself off the hook on a technicality... I had two £5 Match and More vouchers from the supermarket!  This means that I can do a small top up shop on the weekend for milk etc if required, without feeling TOO bad!

So next week I'll only plan my menu a couple of days in advance, and shop more frequently in local shops (especially since I've now found where I can park for an hour for free in the local town) and see how I get on with that.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Crafting in chaos

Just a notes on some of the creating that's going on here lately.  My blog posts have been about all sorts of things, but there hasn't been much evidence of what we're up to.

Well, we're still waiting for that longed for call from the estate agents in Scotland.  It would be great to even have a viewing - nobody's going anywhere near the place!  We're confident that the details are great, the photos are good, the price is right, and the estate agents work their socks off, we just don't seem to have the right people for our property yet.  I'm sure that they'll be along eventually, and then it will all fall into place.

In the meantime, we're not looking at properties here.  We're aware of them, but aren't looking any closer than internet details, because we don't want to fall in love with a property only for it to disappear before we've sold.  C is very happy at school, his topics this half term are Space and Fantasy, and it's his class assembly on Friday, so apart from the space song I've been practising with him at home, I can't wait to see what else he's been up to.  Today he told me he'd made a model of his own fantasy land, with a fizzy lake and bouncy lily pads.  Bug is going to be four in less than three weeks now, and is forthright, decisive, stubborn and argumentative, but also loving, kind, imaginative, clever and helpful.  It's a heady combination which leads one from cuddles to tears and tantrums, arguing and back to cuddles with alarming speed.  She is fast outgrowing pre-school and is ready to make the leap to school.  I'm having to make sure that as well as keeping her well rested on the days that she isn't at pre-school, I keep her well stimulated as well, and give her plenty of time to embrace her creativity and imagination.

Here are a few of the things we've been making this week:

Mum gave me this gorgeous clay snowman at Christmas, so I've painted him ready for next year - he might end up gracing the cake!

This map box was a bit of an experiment.  I love the result, so it will go on my craft stall, and I'll also make some more to sell in the future.

My first craft sale will be just before Mother's Day, so I've made a few potential gifts to tap into that market.  Three are these free standing wooden "I Love Mummy" mantlepiece ornaments, the others are for hanging, but they aren't quite finished yet.

This is a bit of an experiment in progress.  If it turns out okay I might show you the final result in the next couple of weeks and see if you recognise it!

This milk bottle is going to be a dog penny-box (I know - it's a blue dog - it's Bug's!)

C spent his pocket money on this sailing ship model on Saturday - so I spent most of Sunday afternoon putting it together.  I was supposed to be helping him, but he lost interest quite quickly!  He's going to paint it though, watch this space for a picture of the finished article in a couple of weeks.

What have you been up to lately?