Tuesday, 29 May 2012

De-clutter your inbox

It's the right time of year for spring-cleaning - with the weather we've had in the UK of late, I'd almost go so far to say it's Summer - but the challenge I have for you today is not to get the curtains dry-cleaned or the gutters swept out. Instead, may I suggest you de-clutter your inbox.

We all have our own particular "that does my head in" aspects of technology, and one of mine is my inbox. Even though I have set up different email addresses for work and "play", my yahoo and hotmail accounts regularly receive too many emails for me to be able to tell, at a glance, which ones are worth reading and which ones I can ignore. I soon find that even the emails I kept, to "read later" are deleted in frustration at the level of information heading my way on a daily basis. 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Eat Well Spend Less

Eat Well Spend Less – the Complete Guide to Everyday Family Cooking, Sarah Flowers, HowToBooks, RRP £9.99

Since I started secondary school in the late 1980s, and was already certain that I as a young woman could “have it all”, Domestic Science (a.k.a Cookery) lessons, were, I decided, completely irrelevant. Surely I would be running the country by the time I was thirty?

Although, as a mother of two, I have the diplomatic skills of a UN Ambassador, my skills in the kitchen are severely limited, not helped by the fact that I married a man who enjoys cooking and BAKING (!) and even “finds them relaxing.” 

However, since my husband works full time, I have made attempts to improve my culinary offerings, with small success. I plan the week’s menu, for a start.To make your menu planning easier, try using the Menus On A Dime e-books, which include lots of menus and recipes already prepared for you! My plan does, I’ll admit, still contain meals like tinned tomato soup, ‘though. When howtobooks asked me to review the revised and updated 2nd edition of Eat Well, Spend Less: The Complete Guide to Everyday Family Cooking therefore, I jumped at the chance.

Send a Postcard

Remember when you used to look forward to the post arriving each morning? (Remember when the post actually DID arrive in the morning?) Wasn't it brilliant to get a letter from a friend, loved one or relative, to recognise their handwriting, tear the envelope open, read it and re-read it! 

That doesn't happen very often these days. Usually if we've got something to say and we can't make time or energy for a phone-call, we send a text. But, while in the late 1990s, it was quite exciting to hear the beep of the text alert, nowadays we get so many, we don't even bother to check them, since it's probably a firm telling us we can get compensation for the accident we didn't have or recompense for the insurance we weren't mis-sold. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Art of Vegetable Inclusion by Stealth

“What’s this in my dinner, mum?” wails Prima, fishing an Unidentified Frying Object from the plate of pasta in front of her. “It’s a bit of onion, isn’t it? I don’t like onion!”

Bah, I think to myself, that one must’ve slipped through the net. Little do my children know that their meals are packed with vegetables most days of the week. This is because I practise the art of Vegetable Inclusion By Stealth.

I have learned the hard way that striking a balance between providing healthy food and providing food my children will actually eat is a problem that doesn’t disappear, even when they start school. As many mums will know, there’s nothing more frustrating than spending half the afternoon cooking from scratch (like the Government tells us to), dicing vegetables and braising meat only to have your family turn their noses up at it and request fish-fingers instead.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Think About Your Thinking

Think About Your Thinking: To Stop Depression A fast and simple system to relieve distress. Dr N Ridgeway and  Dr J Manning. RRP £9.99. Foulsham

Like many mums, I'm a self-help junkie; my bookshelves are groaning with tomes, from You Can Heal Your Life to Happy Housewives. Most of them are much bigger volumes than this small, neat, hardbacked book. This, coupled with the promise that the authors offer a "fast and simple" system to relieve distress, made me wary as to the value of its contents.

Before I opened the book, I thought it was going to be just another NLP/CBT gospel, written by clinical psychologists who have never personally encountered depression, who promise the moon and the stars if you'll only buy their hardback.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Confessions of a gymophobic

I was not one of those mums who snapped back into a size 10 weeks after the birth of my second child, were you? I never liked PE at school and regarded exercise as just another chore to get done, preferably without inducing an asthma attack. Getting fit and shapely again seemed yet another impossible goal, and was way down on my priority list for a number of years; it was a case of “nine months on, five years off”, in terms of the extra pounds I was carrying around.

What changed my attitude was the opening of a new gym, not far from my home. I passed it on the walk to school with my daughter and the walk to play- school with my son, so it was difficult to ignore. It was women-only, and promised to be unintimidating, 30-minute circuit-based and tailored to each member’s individual needs, offering regular re-assessments with instructors so that progress could be monitored and workouts revamped. No mirrors, no men…no more excuses. Gymophobics was its name.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Smart Mums Get Cashback

100% CashbackMost mums frequently shop online, whether it's the weekly grocery shop, buying presents on amazon or treating themselves or the kids on ebay. We all know about getting the best deals by using price comparison sites, but there's a further way to benefit from your online shopping habit: a cashback scheme. 

When I started looking around, I found a number of schemes that charged an annual administration fee or membership fees, and I didn't want to pay that in order to save money. For this reason, I picked Topcashback. It's one of the most popular schemes of its type in the UK and USA. Whenever you make an online purchase from one of Topcashback’s many partners, which range from the AA to Zara, a percentage of the money you spend, or a flat-rate sum is sent to you, either in the form of amazon vouchers, paypal cash or money into your designated bank account.

Feminine AdventuresAnother thing to look out for when choosing a cashback scheme is whether it seems to be a long-standing and legitimate website. You don’t want to make a large number of online purchases via a scheme only to find, when you try to “cash-in” your earnings, that the website has gone bust and your account is non-existent. Likewise, don't buy an item just because you know you'll get cashback; see it as an nice extra but don't depend on it.

I've got cashback on Ebay purchases, as an incentive for changing my gas and electricity provider, on my first purchase from Bon Prix and for recycling an old mobile phone. One of the best deals I've encountered is a trial subscription to Empire (three issues for £1), on which I got £1 cashback, essentially getting the magazines for free! 

This is just the type of thing I had heard about, thought "great idea" and never got round to it. So today's challenge, dear readers, is to quit the inertia and get signed up with a cashback scheme.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

£ or $ savings? They all add up.

As in so many other areas of life, the American frugalists are way ahead of us Brits; when it comes to money-saving, we have a lot to learn from our sisters in the Land of the Free. Their budgeting skills are super-sized and couponing is an art form. 

The risk with buying an American book about housework and money-saving is that much can - on the face of it - feel irrelevant to life in the UK. For a start, dollar conversions are constantly necessary. Recipes may be frugal but they are all listed in Fahrenheit and cups inside of Centigrade and grams or oz (see how contrary we are!), plus they involve mysterious ingredients like shortening and eggplant. I have a tendency to feel a little envious when I read of the complex systems of clipping coupons that American SAHMs have dreamt up, and when I notice the vast numbers of online offers and discounts all over the websites they frequent. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

Fly Lady? Pah

I cannot tell you how many times I have fallen off that bandwagon. I know it all starts with shining your sink but, for me, it ended with shining your sink too, and then after a while I didn't even bother to do that any more.

I shudder to think what my house must have looked like over the past few years - apologies friends and family - especially when Secundus arrived and I had PND, but things are a little better now. I have finally found a domestic routine I can live with. Just by chance, following a link from an ad on the Simple Mom website, which read: The Confident Mom Weekly Household Planner and was hugely appealing since it sounded like some kind of notebook or printed matter would be involved. I love notebooks, and lists, so a weekly household planner sounded just the ticket.
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