Monday, 29 October 2012

A Bigger Life.

My blog and my musings therein are largely concerned with the three things closest to my heart, Craft, Thrift and Vintage.

Through these collective interests I strive to live the best life possible within my means and ability.

Lovely Mumtopian Alison has invited me to pass on a few of my top tips on how I achieve more for my money. I hope my ideas don’t sound too preachy, smug or obvious and I really hope you find them useful.

I want to be surrounded by stylish and beautiful things. I love good food and wine and I love the arts, culture and travel, especially travel. I want the best out of life, but who doesn’t?

Everyone - rich or poor - lives within a budget. Mine is fairly modest compared to most of my friends and family. But through effort and creativity I make my money stretch.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Simple Pleasures #4 : The Bucket Bath

Since I wrote about creating meaningful family rituals some months ago, I've had a number of emails asking for more detail about The Bucket Bath - mainly from fellow Home Front-ers or Eco-worriers like myself. As the clocks have gone back and the darker evenings are approaching, I thought I would enlighten you on the simple pleasures of The Bucket Bath. We tend to do this in the Autumn-Winter half of the year as it somehow needs dark nights and a chill in the air to be effective.
You will need:

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Five Ways to Embrace Your Inner Housewife

1. Wear a pinny in the house. Not only will this keep your clothes clean and dry when you are cooking, washing up and cleaning the bath, but it will keep you warm. It also has the added effect of making you look busy and efficient when someone knocks on the door. A pinny gives the impression that you are in the middle of something purposeful, even if it is, secretly, just trying to find Russell Crowe movies on youtube. 

2. Get a Dairy Diary (£6.99 from your milkman). Nothing says "organised and not to be trifled with" like a Dairy Diary. This year's edition has a lovely Autumnal cover, a recipe for virtually every week of the year - including Fruity chocolate squares and Farmhouse pie - and a whole host of information that I am finding startlingly relevant, from introductory Pilates exercises to Lunar eclipses. 

Spiral bound, with a week to view, it also includes Christmas card lists and Gift ideas pages for you to fill in, as well as a detailed section on travel, plus plenty of useful numbers and websites. There is so much in the Dairy Diary that I can imagine pulling it out to keep Prima and Secundus occupied while we're waiting in the train station and I have run out of ideas. You can order one from your milkman or online.

3. Learn to sew. Being able to sew is really empowering and useful. I used to lack the skill even to sew on a button, which meant that if clothes lost buttons, got torn or needed adjusting, I was stuck. Life is so much easier when attaching name tapes or taking up the hem on some school trousers is not a task you keep putting off. 

Sewing helps you save money since you can accept hand-me-downs and alter them to fit, and garments without buttons don't get banished to the back of the wardrobe. My dad maintains that it is impossible to run a household without a lathe - I would say the same for a sewing machine. If you can get your hands on one, it will open up a whole new world of Make Do and Mend.

If you're looking to get started fast, there is a good range of downloadable patterns here

4. Use a slow cooker. Slow cooking takes the hassle out of preparing hot meals every day. As long as you can get your ingredients chopped up and ready to go into the slow cooker about 4 - 6 hours before you plan to eat your evening meal, you can pretty well forget about it until it's time to serve up. We got one as a wedding present, twelve years ago, but it's only in the last year that I have begun to use it regularly. 

Easy Crockpot Recipes and MenusOne of the big problems is that slow cooker recipe books tend to be rehashed versions of 1970s cuisine - with overly brown colour photos to match - all devilled kidneys and pork chop hotpot - or are too complex and dinner party- focused, like pheasant with sage and blueberries.The best books, like Slow Cook Fast Food (£8.99, Spring Hill), include recipes that you would use anyway, like fish pie or mushroom tagliatelle, which can be cooked in a slow cooker or in one pot or pan. Sarah Flower's Slow Cook Fast Food made me realise there's a lot more I can do with my slow cooker than chilli or soup. I'd never thought of using it to concoct conserves and chutneys, but Flowers is so encouraging and clear in her enthusiasm for the slow cooker that the whole book is inspiring. 

5. Reclaim the word housewife. Describe yourself as such. Tick that box when filling in questionnaires. My friend "Mrs Forward" thinks it is terribly un-PC for me to label myself as a housewife, but that is, essentially, my role at the moment, and it is a label I have chosen myself. I'm doing this job out of choice. I've decided to start being proud of my household management skills, and stop apologising for being a housewife.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Tension Headache with Cash Envelopes

The Cash Envelope system is yet another example of the higher frugality credentials of our cousins across the pond. Along with extreme couponing and playing "the drugstore game" (yet to take off in the UK), the cash envelope system is one which is designed to help you gain control of your money and stick to shopping on a budget. 

There are numerous websites full of tips on how to use the cash envelope system, but essentially, you take your wages for the week (or month or whatever) and divide the cash into envelopes according to your budget. So you may put aside a certain amount for groceries, another sum for school trips, and mark another envelope "birthday presents". Then you only spend the money you have allocated in that envelope. Once the budget for entertainment is spent, that's it until the next payday. Google "Dave Ramsey cash envelope" for more information. 

My sister has been using this method for several years, literally using brown envelopes to divide up her cash for bill payments, clothes etc. She is pretty savvy like that. However, using brown envelopes for money would be a risky move in our house. The King would probably use them to write telephone numbers and wood measurements on. Prima would want to play "secretaries" with them. Secundus would transform them into paper aeroplanes.

Before adopting the cash envelope system, then, I needed an alternative to plain ol' envelopes. I was pleased to find a pattern on Etsy and felt sure that if I went to the effort of making my own cash envelopes wallet, I would actually use it. Besides, the project required lots of zips, something I avoid at all costs and therefore a skill in which I need some practice. Walter and Veronica's pdf pattern was extremely well priced, at only $1.61 with colour photographs to tie in with the instructions. Looking at the 13-odd pages of the pdf download, I knew this would be a project with a steep learning curve, especially as I had not used oil cloth very much before and didn't know whether I had a zipper foot. But working in imperial was no problem and the tone of the instructions was encouraging and amusing.

Armed with a fabulous printed oil cloth by Lucie Summers, clear vinyl and a length of velcro from Beyond Fabrics, I began the careful process of cutting the materials according to the instructions. I was lucky enough to find a handful of zips on sale at my local charity shop at only 25p each. Although they were too short, at 7", I decided to adapt the project to save money. 

The pattern was certainly one to get my teeth into. I think it may have been aimed at more proficient seemstresses than me, as I took a long time to get my head round certain parts of the instructions. Of course, not being at all familiar with zips made it quite a challenge. After a while I felt I had to ignore Walter and Veronica's advice not to pin the oil cloth, as I was getting lots of slippage and lines which were far from straight. I also encountered so many problems with tension that I got a headache. But this was neither the fault of the pattern not the fabric - it was just my inexperience.

The major mistakes I made were inserting two zips the wrong way up, using the wrong coloured thread on more than one occasion and stabbing my finger with the unpicker. However, I was very pleased with my choice of oil cloth and I think that the end result will certainly do the job of helping me budget the housekeeping money, even though the finish could have been better. For a functional item like this, I think it's not too bad as a first attempt. I am going to use it to make sure I always have money to pay the milkman, window cleaner etc and also to save up for a proper haircut one day! 

We have also been given a 15% discount code for Beyond Fabrics! Enter the code MUNTOPIA (if that doesn't work try MUMTOPIA, I'm not sure if it is a typo) at checkout to get 15% off everything.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Goody Bag Giveaway (ended)

It's my birthday a week today and so to celebrate this momentous occasion I am launching a goody bag giveaway, open to all Mumtopia readers, wherever they live. So please enter the contest, whether you're reading this in Rugby, Rockville, Belfast or Budapest.

Treats inside the goody bag will include the retro styling inspiration My Cool Campervan (£14.99, Pavilion) so that even if you, like me, can only dream of owning a campervan, now you can make your daydreams extremely design conscious and historically accurate. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Dragon Legends from the House Fairy

The House Fairy paid a visit last night. This is quite an event in our house because it means one of the children has a reward chart full of stickers. Last night it was Secundus’ turn to take down his completed chart and place it on his bedroom floor for the House Fairy to exchange for a gift.

The House Fairy can be a little sporadic in her visits. Like her sister, the Tooth Fairy, sometimes she forgets. The gifts she brings can vary in quality – sometimes they appear to have been saved from a Christmas cracker - but it’s the thought that counts. And every six weeks or so Prima or Secundus get a soupcon of that “Father Christmas Has Been” feeling when they wake up.

Secundus, therefore, woke the King and I this morning by calling “I’ve got a book!” which didn’t seem terribly worth shouting about until I remembered that the House Fairy had delivered it overnight. Moreover, Secundus announced at 6.55 am, it was a Book On Dragons.

When the alarm clock finally sounded at 7.30, Secundus paraded gleefully in, brandishing Dragon Legends (£5.99, Pavilion Childrens), an anthology of myths, legends and folklore featuring dragons. David Passes re-tells stories from as far back as 2000 BC and as far away as China, with a sense of wonder matched perfectly by Wayne Anderson’s fantasy illustrations. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Typewriter knickers

What better way to move on from a previous job role than to make a pair of knickers out of your old work t-shirt?

Turn Your Back
To truly turn your back on your previous career choice, regretful pressure group membership or unfortunate record collection, take a t-shirt you no longer wear and transform it into something for your underwear drawer. No more slodging around in baggy tops with "Team Building Exercise '99" on the front (thank you, Flight of the Concords). Essentially, you will be making your smalls for free, which is awfully self-sufficient.

Many websites offer instructions for making your own pants out of jersey fabric, however, the majority suggest you "simply draw round a pair that fit you well" and use the resulting paper pattern. I have tried this with limited success. Far better is to track down a printable pattern, such as the one created by Birgitte of Indigorchid, which is not only comprehensive, size-adjustable and clear to follow, but it costs nothing.

Let Go of your Old Stuff
Finally embracing my role of Home Front housewife, I sacrificed the t-shirt I had had printed when I used to be a computer coach. Using a ballpoint needle on my trusty sewing machine, a length of elastic and some stretch lace unpicked from a pair of pants that had "seen better days", I turned it into a rather fab pair of typewriter knickers.

A euphemism if ever I heard one. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

BrocanteHome Life Audit #5

Today I am: procrastinating about the housework, in two minds about whether to have the heating on and looking forward to my birthday. 

Feeling: pleased that I took the plunge and asked a fellow SAHM round ("Emmerdale") for coffee; we had a good stitchin' and not bitchin' couple of hours this morning. It's always exciting, starting a new friendship and Emmerdale and I have got as much in common as I expected : lots.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

A Terribly Middle-Class Fadge

I had a really successful wartime-style cookery drive yesterday (yes, a "cookery drive" equals "A Meal"), inspired by a cutting from “Food Facts no.432” which was written by the Ministry of Health in the late 40s/ early 50s when rationing was still in place in the UK. Friday is Soup Day in our house, because by that time of the week we just need something quick, easy and nourishing for tea.

My WEA tutor had actually tried a few of the recipes from Food Facts and said that the one entitled “Fadge and Fried Green Tomatoes” was actually quite tasty. Fadge. It just does sound awful, doesn’t it? However, as its main ingredient is cooked mashed potato, and we had some left over, I decided to give it a try.

Friday, 12 October 2012

A step towards a clingfilm-free kitchen (or a trampoline for a mouse)

My dad was born in 1940. I am studying "The People's War" every Thursday afternoon with the WEA. We are a single income family. Ergo: Make Do and Mend is taking over my life. 

Not content with making my own sanitary protection, infinity scarf and cloche hat during the past month, I have now moved onto kitchen-related content. The new enemy is clingfilm. You have to buy it and it isn't easy to re-use. You can't mend it when it tears but you need something to cover food in the fridge and none of the tupperware has lids. The plastic film we buy isn't biodegradable or fair trade, sorry; it comes from a cheap supermarket range and the King uses it like it's going out of fashion. 

The first step towards a clingfilm-free kitchen was to make snack bags for the children's lunchboxes, picnics and so on. There are numerous patterns available online and huge debates about what fabric to use, how to wash them and whether they will poison your cat, so I will leave it up to you to decide if and how to make them.

This week I have taken the second step to replacing clingfilm. I have made a dish cover. I stumbled across the pattern when checking out Mamma Can Do It's tips about caring for washable sanpro, and decided to take the plunge. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Give in to PMS

Ladies, we may be superwomen, but PMS is not something we can beat. Indeed the menstrual cycle is not a battle to be won. Unfortunately PMS can’t be eradicated like smallpox. It is something we all have to live with, to a greater or lesser extent, but it can be managed and – some radicals suggest – even welcomed, as part of the mysteries of womanhood.

Change Your Mind
Attending a Women's Quest workshop on Menstrual Health was for me, a first step towards accepting and living with PMS. The main aim of the workshop was to increase self-knowledge and awareness of the menstrual cycle and the way it affects us, with a view to changing our general feelings of hostility and negativity about menstruation.

Friday, 5 October 2012

BrocanteHome Life Audit #4

Today I am: basking in the satisfaction of spending five hours as a carpenter’s mate in the King’s workshop today. Aching muscles, Rosie the Riveter outfit, plenty of chat with my husband, no injuries, lots learned and a good honest five hours’ work.

Feeling: so grateful that my children are tucked up in bed, safe upstairs. Overwhelmed when I think about the losses other parents are suffering.

Reading: the King’s grandfather’s autobiography (self-published in the 80s)

Eating: We nearly always have soup and French bread with cheese on Friday, and today we also had cake for pudding.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Cold Feet Over Halloween

The web’s full of tricks and treats for Halloween but I’m just not buying it. While I appreciate a well-crafted ghost story as much as the next neurotic, I just don’t make the connection between gory masks, walking the streets, an overindulgence in sweets, and fun. I don’t even like walking down the Halloween aisle in Asda. I am expected to pay for the privilege of my daughter resembling the Living Dead? Pointy horns, tail and pronged fork are a good look for a five year old? Halloween for me is less about dressing up in a bin bag and donning a pointy hat, and more about switching off all the lights and creeping around the house all evening in an attempt to convince trick-or-treat-ers that we are not in.

Opting out of Halloween means that there’s not an awful lot to celebrate in October. The clocks go back and I start looking forward to March. I spend many a blue-footed hour in-doors, the only person in the house, feeling that it’s hardly worth putting the central heating on.  It’s my birthday, but that hasn’t been made into a National Day yet.

So if pumpkin carving and sausages cunningly disguised as amputated fingers don’t warm your heart either, here are a few ways to get through October a-glow.

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