Tuesday 11 June 2019

Healthy is not a number.

If you use Social Media at all then it's likely you will be aware of the storm that has blown up around the Daily Telegraph article about Nike's use of a plus size mannequin in their London store. Nike say that their intention is to celebrate the diversity & inclusivity of sport - acknowledging that people of all body sizes exercise and need appropriate clothing for that.

In case you've not seen the article, then below is the first section...

This article is, perhaps surprisingly, written by a woman - one Tanya Gold, according to the byline. Now read that second paragraph again, and ask yourself exactly what level of hatred is needed to make someone use language like that. I'm actually unsure what label is best applied to it - misogynistic? Almost certainly. Judgemental? Hell, yes. Spiteful, vindictive, hateful? All of the above. She humanizes the mannequin from the start, and then proceeds to talk about "her" in such vicious terms that it is almost breathtaking - what sort of person would even contemplate describing another woman (or indeed an entire group of women!) in those terms? For the avoidance of doubt, if you've not seen the picture of the mannequin in question and are now imagining some kind of grotesque caricature of a plus-size lady in plastic form, this is the (copyright Nike I believe) publicity shot that was put out:

Now go back and read the final sentence above again. "Heaves with fat"? Seriously? Gold is not done here though - having thoroughly offended any women of size 12 and above with her first comments, she continues...

Perhaps the first question here is what the "measure" that Gold might be using with her sweeping statement might be. BMI perhaps? That "measure" that has been proved already to be a terrible indicator for health, and that has been ditched by pretty much all forward thinking medics? (It makes most of the England Rugby team obese, for a start, because it makes no allowance for muscle -v- fat - so somebody with a lot of muscle mass and a very low body-fat percentage will still show as "too heavy" according to its very rigid structure.) "She cannot run" well, no Tanya, she's a plastic model, but a woman of that size and shape might very well be able to run....after you with a big stick, quite possibly, following those comments. A hoard of women of ALL shapes and sizes have fired up Twitter with an attack on this statement - triathletes, long distance swimmers, marathon runners and indeed ultra marathon runners too, all saying "Oh yes we bloody well can!" in incensed tones.

Prior to this Gold was most noted for an article whining about people judging her for being a heavy smoker, it seems, however a little dig back through her archives lead me to an interesting Daily Mail (sorry - I'd never normally do this and I'm certainly not linking to it!) item from 2008 in which she says, among other things "Yes, ladies and gentleman, I am fat. You want to know how fat? OK, I am a size 16 and I weigh 14 stone."  and "Here's a thought: what if the only barrier between me and my future happiness is not my tsunami of flesh but your giant prejudice? " Interesting use of the phrase "tsunami of flesh" there - not dissimilar to "heaves with fat" in some ways, it strikes me. She goes on perhaps to shed a little light on where things may have gone wrong "I have been overweight since about the age of ten, so I was bullied at school, naturally. 'You're fat!' the other (mostly female) children would say, 'and we won't play with you.' " Ahhh....OK, now bullying, as is well documented now, can leave mental scars far beyond the school playground, and it is also reckoned that some who were themselves bullied go on to bully others, so are we perhaps a little nearer to getting to the bottom of Miss Gold's vindictive comments in her more recent Telegraph article? 

As someone else said on Twitter, only the lady herself can truly know why she is so angry about this issue, and perhaps even she might not be able to put a finger on what has happened over the past 11 years to take her from hotly defending people who look not unlike that mannequin, to instead trying to undermine and destroy them in truly cruel terms, but is there just a chance that perhaps the person she is really lambasting here is herself? Could it perhaps be that it is she who is unable to run, and possibly struggling with health problems that may (whether truthfully or otherwise) have been linked by others to her perceived "unhealthy" appearance, and that a result she feels so utterly removed from ever being able to wear clothes like those produced by Nike, and modelled by their gloriously confident looking store display, that she has allowed her own resentment to flow out onto the page? Back in 2008 her entire Daily Mail article is littered with clues that even then, she didn't like herself very much - self-deprecating humour presides throughout and you firmly get the impression that she was taking swipes at herself before anyone else could - 11 years on though and she's turned that on others, and particularly those who she fears may be happier with their lot than she is, maybe? If so then she needs to address her own issues, and not take them out on those she resents for their abilities and contentment with their lot.

Ladies - no matter what shape and size you are, remember - Healthy is NOT the number on the label of your knickers. Fit is not whether you fit a societal visual "ideal". It is not for anyone - male or female, larger or smaller, to judge and criticise you, or to make a call that you are "unhealthy" because of the size of clothes you wear. Nobody can tell your state of health simply from looking at you. The Telegraph should be ashamed of itself for giving an article that potentially damaging page-room - and especially so soon after a Mental Health Awareness week which this year focused on Body Image. No subsequent apology can right the wrong that they have done to 50% of the UK population. 


Thursday 6 June 2019

Flying High...

A couple of years ago, for my birthday, MrEH bought me a flight in the same type of vintage aircraft I have flown in before - the DeHavilland Dragon Rapide. I looked into booking it that first summer - only to find there were no available dates that suited me. Then I looked into booking it again last year, only to find that the company running the flights did not, at that stage, have a secure website for taking card payments for bookings....sigh! I suddenly thought about it again a few weeks ago and decided to take another look, and to my delight firstly the website is now secured and secondly there were LOTS of dates to choose from - including to my delight one in just a couple of weeks time, on a Friday where I had nothing in the diary!

Last Friday I travelled to Duxford where I was admitted to the Imperial War Museum free of charge on production of the voucher I received when I made my booking, given a map of the site and dispatched off towards the "Classic Wings" enclosure on the flightline in order to register my arrival, get given my ticket for the flight and hop on the scales - everyone gets weighed so that Classic Wings know how to distribute people through the aircraft - apparently she prefers lighter people at the front, which was wonderful for me as that meant I got given one of the front seats, and being directed to board first meant that I got the one directly behind the pilot's doorway - meaning I could see directly ahead of me throughout as well as off to the side - wonderful! 7 of the 8 seats were occupied in the end - including the one behind me which was taken by the loadmaster from one of the American Douglas Dakota's that had arrived at Duxford ahead of the D Day commemorations which were shortly to be taking place - they weren't going to have time to do any sightseeing so when he'd seen the flight advertised on arrival he thought it would be a great way of seeing London!

Our pilot - Brian - had a quick word with us before popping on his headset and getting ready for engine start - basically explaining that the exact route we took on the way down would depend on how we got routed by ATC for the three busy airspaces we'd be travelling through - Stansted, London City and Heathrow Airports - but that essentially we'd be going roughly through the Lea Valley before reaching central London, over the Olympic Park and then on to the river, before doing some manoeuvering over some of the main sights to make sure everyone stood a good chance of seeing them. Then it was engine start, taxi to the runway and before we knew it we were airborne and turning gently to the south to start our trip. I was looking out for Harlow on the way down needless to say, but the best I spotted was Hoddesdon, not all that far from us, and at that point I switched my attention to the front to see the Lea Valley appearing ahead of me, and Wembley visible way off to the West shortly followed by the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium.  It seemed hardly any time after that before the "Stadium hat-trick" was completed by the Olympic Park appearing, again off the starboard wing - amazing to see the whole park laid out below us like this!

On to the river, then, and a sweep over Greenwich and past the Isle of Dogs and the Millenium Dome - or the O2 as we're now meant to call it of course!  Amazing to see the iconic shape of the "bulge" in the Thames formed by the IoD & the Greenwich Peninsular clearly visible 

Look carefully in the one below and you can see the Cutty Sark (click on the picture and it will enlarge) as well as the Royal Naval College at Greenwich - this was a favourite section when we did the Themes path walk through this area.

Brian wasn't kidding when he said he'd make sure everyone got a good view either - we flew around the Shard several times from all angles getting great views - at times it felt as though we were almost on a level with it! 

These are a mix of pictures from my phone and some taken with the camera that yes, I inevitably had with me too! There are a LOT more photos to go through yet too and I may well do another post at some stage with some more - I've had a quick look at a few and it's fascinating spotting places that I'd not recognised from the air. Apparently we had a quite wide divert around Stansted airspace both ways which meant we got a slightly longer flight than sometimes happens - I think the only person even slightly complaining was the lady in the other front seat who did need to make use of a little white bag at one stage, poor thing! You get a lot of turbulence from an aircraft that size, and combined with the "vintage" smell of fuel that tends to linger, it can make you feel ever so slightly queasy - I found that making sure I fixed my eyes out at a distance if I started feeling even vaguely uneasy did the trick for me, thankfully. 

It was a fantastic experience and one I'd certainly be interested to repeat at some stage - Classic Wings are efficient and friendly and if anyone fancies a similar experience I'd strongly recommend them - there are also other companies doing the same thing on the same aircraft type elsewhere in the country, I believe. For a Londoner, the trip I did would really be hard to beat, however! 


Monday 3 June 2019

Planning and eating!

After another weekend where my feet didn't touch the ground (literally, where Friday is concerned - keep your eyes peeled for a post later in the week with photos from my epic flight in a 1940's biplane over central London!)  I'm reminded that hectic though things have been for the past few months, they are set to get busier for a while as airshow season is now underway, just to add to everything else I have going on! I have made a conscious decision that with a lot of work to get done for the beer festival this year I will need to step back a little with the aviation stuff - a few shows I'd usually attend I've made the decision to drop for this year - the show at RAF Cosford this coming weekend is an example - I've enjoyed the last few years from a social perspective - it's great to meet up with and spend time with some fantastic folk - but not so much from a flying point of view as I've felt that for the amount of effort involved it hasn't quite delivered as much as I'd have liked. Many of the same people I would usually see there have made the decision to travel to Yeovilton this year so my decision to drop Cosford was an easier one. Sometimes when life is really busy it pays just to take a step back and analyse how time is best spent.

In the interest again of good use of time I've meal-planned this week to keep some of our tea time meals to needing minimal prep. I really need to do a full freezer audit at some stage and plan using up some of the stuff from there - the lamb shoulder I bought at last month's farmer's market will get cooked this weekend coming so I'm already looking forward to leftovers last week in the form of Moroccan coucous salad, but beyond that I confess to not only having a sketchy grasp of what is currently lurking in there. As I didn't have the time to do the audit this weekend we have shopped minimally for just the bones of our meals this week - there will be a degree of inventiveness by the time Thursday comes along I suspect!

The best way of keeping in track of what you have and saving on food waste as I have regularly said before is to check what you have in store already before you shop for more. I try to always start my meal planning each week with a quick look at the fridge and the larder - currently I know I have sweet potatoes and parsnips that need using up so chicken portions went on my list to buy this week (bought by MrEH while I was out yesterday, in fact, in the interests of full transparency!) - those will get thrown into a big roasting tin tonight with all sorts of veggies that will happily roast alongside them and can then form the basis of meals for the week. I couldn't resist a little bag of Jersey Royal potatoes so those will go in the pan with everything else, take on a little of the chickeney flavour and will then be used in a frittata along with the final couple of rashers of bacon from a pack in the freezer. (Frittata is a truly fabulous way of using up small amounts of things - if needed it can also make less eggs than ideally needed to serve the number of folk you are feeding stretch further, too). The second half of the chicken pieces will get used as the protein component to a couscous salad later in the week - essentially just soaked couscous with whatever we fancy thrown in. (It also keeps well for a couple of days in the fridge, if needed) MrEH also found mangoes on sale for 39p this week and knowing how much I LOVE a mango he unleashed his hunter-gatherer instincts to grab me one - some of that will definitely find its way into the couscous this week for a lovely summery hit of flavour. (The rest will likely get eaten by me, as it is. Nom!) Add some chickpeas, spinach leaves and halved cherry tomatoes and hey presto, one quick, easy, colourful meal which will deliver several of our 5 a day in one go.

With the "busy-ness" of the past few weeks I'm conscious that my activity levels and exercise have dropped a bit - not surprising really but I am starting to feel the effects both mentally and physically so this month I'm aiming to up the ante again. I've been off running for a few weeks with a sore knee but frankly it doesn't seem to be any better for not running on it so I'm going to ease myself back in gently and see how it reacts, I think. My habit in the past has been to just throw myself back into it at the level I was at before any injury-related break but of course that's pretty stupid really, isn't it (Yes, I can tell even the non runners reading this are shaking their heads in disbelief!) so this time I'll be starting with a 1km treadmill run tonight to see how things feel - if all OK that will be followed up by a couple of road miles tomorrow evening at a steady pace and then looking to increase that just a tiny bit each time I go out for a while. Hopefully if all goes well that will also gently get me used to running in the substantially warmer temperatures we now seem to have which while lovely I DO find a bit of a challenge to run in!

I'm also aiming to do a bit more towards my challenge this week by making some time on Friday to do the next stage of clothes sorting, and also hopefully get some stuff to the charity shop as well. I know there is a bag of stuff ready to go already - I'll be aiming to get together enough odds and ends to make up a second one also to take at the same time.  watch this space for updates on that one!


Thursday 30 May 2019

Plastic -v- the World - part 2!

Last time I did one of these posts I was talking about beeswax wraps, and wanting to find alternatives to some of the more "disposable" sorts of plastic bags that we use. Shopping bags are easy - both cars always have a stash of re-useable shopping bags, and there is always a pile of them at home as well, plus folding ones in my usual handbag - dead easy to grab one of several when needed and we just don't even think about taking a carrier bag in a shop, these days. Once actually IN the shop though, and wanting to buy loose fruit and veg, things get a bit less simple. Things like onions are easy enough - I tend to usually buy just a few at a time, so I just leave them loose. Mostly now I don't even have to stop the assistant at the checkout trying to put them into a bag for me, either! There are other things though that either I buy in greater quantity, or that are a little bit more likely to get damaged during handling or even just in the trolley or on the way home, plus things like loose potatoes which might well have mud or dust on them that the poor checkout operator doesn't want to be dealing with, so I have been on the hunt for some reuseable produce bags.

Last week, as if by magic, I spotted that Sue over at her Smaller & Simpler Life blog had posted about buying some that looked ideal from Lakeland (well, where else?!) - and so when we found ourselves near to the H-U-G-E Lakeland store at Windermere at the weekend, I couldn't resist popping in.

Here you go - a couple of pictures to give you an idea about them - Sue has a good shot of them all laid out showing the comparative sizes over on her post so I've not bothered recreating that here also, but I love that they come with minimum of packaging, and all pack neatly away into the smallest of the bags for safekeeping too. I've stashed mine into my work bag as that means that they will at least be somewhere "known" and readily available - the challenge will be remembering to grab them when I go shopping! 

The other challenge of course will be finding the things I can actually justify buying loose over pre-packaged. Tomatoes are a great case in point here - I can generally buy nasty tasteless watery Dutch or Spanish ones loose, or British ones pre-packaged. Frankly the British ones are always going to win as I prefer my tomatoes to actually taste of something (preferably tomato!) Mushrooms, too - often the loose ones are Polish, but I can easily get British pre-packaged ones (less bothered about that as we do at least re-use the punnets they come in!). I was deeply narked yesterday to find that Tesco value carrots, in a plastic bag and hailing all the way from Spain, are cheaper to buy per kilo than the British ones, sold loose - so we are paying MORE for a product that has travelled less distance, and had less done to it. Come on Tesco - time to sort this nonsense out. Had I wanted to buy my British Braeburn apples loose, rather than pre-packed I would also have paid substantially more for them. Courgettes are from the same place of origination but it costs 11p more per kilo to NOT have someone pre pack them for you. If anyone can explain the logic of this then I'd love to hear it! In the event last night I used just one of my new bags for my (loose, British) carrots, and for the other things I purchased I either couldn't justify the price difference, or chose British & pre-packaged over foreign and loose. 

Let me know if you've found any other ludicrous pricing in supermarkets - I'm sure it can't just be Tesco doing this! 


Friday 24 May 2019

Frugal Friday...

Ok people, you have Kendra at The Lazy Genius to thank for this rare appearance of a Frugal Friday post - reading one of her blog posts on kitchen essentials, and notably not buying stuff because everyone else has it/the internet tells you to/feeling like your kitchen should need it made me think about my kitchen, and the fact that these days, we have it pretty much as we want it, and that in turn made me think about the stuff we have, the stuff we use, and where we've found buying cheap to be a false economy.

I'm going to ignore the actual kitchen itself - I covered the rebuild, trauma and all, in a previous post I think. (I did, didn't I?) It cost us a lot of money. Was it frugal? Well yes, I'm going to argue that it was, for us. We saved every penny of the cost in advance, we now have a far more practical kitchen that it gives us joy to be in, and perhaps more to the point we learned where to compromise to meet a budget, and where to spend money as a long term investment. it also costs less to run as several appliances were updated to more energy-efficient ones, and replacement window, doors and door over the meter cupboard also mean that it suffers from far less heat-loss during the winter. What the full strip out and rebuild also achieved for us was to streamline the things that we use, that we find essential, and which make our lives easier day on day, and that is where I'm going with this post.

It's easy to get pulled along with the latest fads on kitchenware. Check out your local freecycle, freegle or similar site and you'll find countless kitchen gizmos being offered just because people bought them, used them once, found them a faff to use/clean/whatever, and they've gathered dust ever since. I suspect (non scientific basis of "a guess" being used here) that juicers are right up there on this one. Is a juicer a great investment? Well yes, if you regularly buy premium juices and have done for enough years to be confident you're not going to stop any time soon, it may well be. If however your routine buy is a smoothie, then get a blender instead - you can use it for all sorts of other stuff too, and it will be easier to clean. (Tip: if you want to use that blender for hot soups as well then get a glass one OR heavy duty plastic rated for boiling liquid). Second most popular item in the "gathering dust" stakes I'd just bet is a breadmaker. Mmmm...waking up to the smell of home made bread, or the ability to whip up a delicious airy loaf in an hour - amazing, right? Well yes, but it still requires the actual ingredients to be weighed and measured and put in the pan, and that "inside an hour loaf" is likely to be rather more weighty and brick-like than the fluffy cloud-like texture of your dreams. If you eat bread daily and currently buy a couple of loaves, or a loaf and rolls, weekly, then a breadmaker, if you have room for one, might be your new best friend. Ours gets used often twice a week, occasionally more (but almost never on the super-fast programme!), we've used it for bread, rolls, pizza dough, cornbread and it can also make cakes and jam apparently. We're now on our third one - the first didn't last as long as we hoped it might but number 2 did well, and has now morphed into no. 3 which is almost the same model, was snapped up for £5 from a charity shop, was initially butchered for its bread pan when the other one buckled - and since then body of the machine has been swapped into use and the bread pan replaced again by buying online - slightly in the manner of "Trigger's Broom". (Note: bread machine pans DO buckle after a few years use - fact of life). The first two machines cost around £50 each - and each time we make bread (or rolls) we save around 60% or more on purchasing a product of a similar quality in the supermarket. Each of the earlier machines paid for themselves inside a year. For us it's a no-brainer.

Other gadgets we have & use - food processor (the difference, for me, between "being able to make pastry" and not). Blender (came with the FP). Mini chopper/stick blender/electric whisk - all bits of this get used often enough to justify their cupboard space. Microwave (combi oven/micro - the oven setting used to get used a lot but less since we've had the main double oven - if I was replacing now I'd just buy a good quality regular microwave and save the extra cost). Electronic scale (gets used constantly - often several times daily). Slow Cooker - we actually have a large and a small one and both get used regularly through the winter months in particular.  Finally a coffee machine - it was a moving in gift from my parents when we bought the flat and is used by MrEH every weekend, pretty much. I occasionally have a mocha using coffee from it. Oh alongside that (neither in the kitchen though) is a coffee grinder which MrEH also uses pretty much every weekend! Other than the standard kettle/toaster/sandwich toaster that's it. Bottom line is we don't have space for any others, if we had them they would be stashed away out of sight and we'd never use them anyway!

In terms of investment - the single best thing I have ever spent money on in the kitchen is my knives. Yep - you read that right - they are indeed "MY" knives - they pre-date the existence of MrEH in my life by some years. They're quality ones scrimped and saved for and bought one at a time  - I have a carving knife, a chefs knife, a small veg/general chopping knife and a slightly longer and more flexibly bladed regular knife, and I adore them. The latter three have even been on our Hebrides holidays with us more times than I can count as I just can't be doing with cheap, blunt knives, even for a fortnights holiday! I also have a good steel for sharpening, which means that those knives are as sharp now as the day I bought them. A note on sharpening though - 1) a steel is superb but you do have to know how to use it and have a good technique. Therefore 2) learn how to use your steel - my Dad taught me years ago, but I just bet there are decent tutorials online too. Finally 3) decree that one person is your house is the official knife sharpener and they are the only person to do the task - knives "learn" how they expect to be sharpened, and crazy as it sounds because of the tiny differences in technique, someone different sharpening can take a knife from blunt to "seriously blunt" in a couple of sweeps, and thus seriously shorten the lifespan of the knife. I just had a quick think and I reckon my Sabatiers are around 24 years old now and still very much going strong.

Second best thing we spent money on was good pans. Anolon - hard anodised aluminium, and of a construction that will happily take intense heat and go straight from hob to oven, I've been through countless "standard" non stick frying pans prior to finding these and the coating simply peels off within months - turns out I cook at industrial rather than "home" temperatures - the Anolon ones cope fine though. The original set have now been replaced (after about 12 years I think) with set 2 - and have also been augmented over the years with added small frying pan, medium frying pan, a roasting tin (a huge monster of a thing which is awesome!) and a bun tin (christmas mince pie overspill - soooo easy to clean!) - basically if I see a bit of Anolon cookware at a bargain price, and I know I will use it, it IS going into the basket. I've bartered in shops, and struck a hard deal at food fairs to get the bits I wanted in the past - not an ounce of regret EVER - these pans do require hand washing (but then generally speaking good cookware does) but it's little hardship as they are so easy to clean) but they are a joy to use too. When set 2 are past their best there WILL be a set 3 - guaranteed!

Before spending money on kitchenware it pays to think through your own habits and the sort of thing you cook. As you're performing tasks think what might make that task simpler, or more pleasant, and then plan accordingly. Spend decent money on pans UNLESS you're going to put them through the dishwasher, in which case buy cheap (but heavy for better heat-conduction) and replace as needed. If you can't be bothered to learn to sharpen good knives, then buy cheap but be prepared for frustration. If you're prepared to care for them a good set of knives will repay your investment, but buy in a shop, handle them - a bit like buying a camera, if it's not comfy in your hand you'll never use it, so try before you buy. We use measuring jugs endlessly but always buy cheap plastic ones as they stack together in the cupboard and so are easy to store. The flip side of that is graters - I'm not a fan of the cheap but long-lasting knuckle-grating box graters so have spent more on the "bladed" style flat ones (Microplane is one make, but, showstopper coming up - Lakeland also do their own and they are equally good and sharp, and FAR more resilient than the branded equivalent) instead. I also own a mandoline - just a domestic use plastic one, but it's very good and very sharp (always use with the finger guard - I have the scars that prove why that lesson was learned!) and that makes things like coleslaw, home made oven chips, and sliced root veg for bakes an absolute breeze. That was bought on special offer at the food show. For chopping boards I'm a fan of the heavy gauge plastic "flexi" mats which also go straight through the dishwasher - we pay a few £'s for a set of 2 from IKEA and replace when they get manky, but I also have a big wooden block which I love and would not be without. Mortar & Pestle - mine is a great big lumpy granite one bought on clearance in Boots sale after Christmas one year because I liked it. It's stayed in use because of its weight (something that heavy ain't going anywhere while you're in full crushing mode!) and the fact that its slightly roughened surface makes crushing spices etc a breeze, yet it's still simple as you like to clean. My microwave rice cooker has been kicking around for years, gets used at least once a week, and it's as easy as pour in the rice, cover with boiling water, cook at full power for around 6 - 7 minutes (slightly longer for brown rice) and voila - fluffy rice with no difficult to clean pan.

The much loved hanging rack.

In terms of regular utensils I love metal ones that hang on my wall rack (I've talked about this before) and so are easy to grab - but then my cookware is sturdy enough to take it. If you're using standard non-stick then silicon or plastic are probably your best way forwards. Stuff that sits out on the worktop in a utensil tub (next to the knife block!) are my everyday wooden spoons plus a single hand whisk - another utensil pot inside our pull-out unit has spatulas, the tin opener, serving spoons and the odd sort of scoopy spoon thing that's just perfect for stir-frying.

Your "perfect kitchen stuff" may look very different to mine - and that is the whole point. The stuff that adds value to your life should be personal to you, and nobody else, and should be chosen with your own needs and requirements in mind. What one thing would you not want to be without in your own kitchen? And if there anything that you'd really love if only you had space/money/need for it?


Tuesday 21 May 2019

#CCC - one week in

I'm not promising regular weekly updates to this, but I do plan to try to update it on at least an irregularly regular basis, preferably when I feel we have something to say.

We've long been fans of ensuring that not only is our money used wisely, but so is our time, and sometimes a compromise between the two things is needed, or just chosen. MrEH was away over the weekend doing preparation stuff for the Great British Beer Festival (August, Olympia, be there or be less full of really good beer!) so I had the need of finding a couple of lunches just for myself for a change. I already had an idea in my head that I fancied something vaguely burger-y, but also vegetably-y. We had some brioche buns in the freezer, and I had a vague thought of making some of Jack Monroe's 9p burgers (you know, the things with kidney beans, and carrot, and onion) but then while shopping on Saturday morning I spotted a couple of packs of yellow stickered Falafels, and rather than the time taken to make the burgers, they seemed like a good option, also saving me from needing to buy additional carrots for the burgers too. One pack went straight into the freezer, the other was used across the two weekend days stuffed into the buns with mayo and salad. I also really fancied some cheesy nachos - and that again played into the hands of "stuff we already had" as a pack of tortilla chips had been sitting in the storecupboard for a while, and we have rather an excess of cheddar at the moment thanks to bringing half a block back from holiday with us to add to the half block already in the fridge when we went away. While "too much cheese" isn't a phrase that ever bothers us overmuch, it did seem to be a plan to actually use some of it, and I never need much of an excuse to eat cheese. A little ceramic pot stuffed with tortilla chips and grated cheese, and popped into the oven for the last 3 minutes or so of the falafels baking time to melt the cheese, absolutely hit the spot. My lunches on both days were completed with some greek yogurt along with more yellow-stickered bargains - some reduced price British strawberries and some blueberries - both checked carefully to be sure that they were worth the price being asked for them.

As well as trips to one of the budget supermarkets and a larger one featuring the letter "T" in it's name, we also popped to our most local farmers market on Saturday morning. Always enjoyable - we've been going there long enough now that the stallholders we buy from regularly recognise us and always have a chat, and we trust their quality and know what are the best bargains to look out for. This time £19 was spent - we pounced on the lamb man's last pack of sought-after liver, and also nabbed a half-shoulder from him for a roast in a future week as yet unspecified. The beef stall netted a pack of their delicious haslet, for lunchtime rolls, and a piece of beef skirt which will get lobbed into the slow cooker at some stage with assorted veggies for a delicious stew which will probably feed both of us for two nights. The lamb, too, will be used for several meals after being slow-roasted for long enough to ensure that the meat gets an almost "pulled" texture.  Unusually for me I'd not meal-planned in a particularly structured way, opting to wait until after we had seen what was available at the farmer's market - but a plan of sorts was sketched out verbally on leaving there and so my shopping list was formed from that. Without question shopping from a list saves us money and cuts waste - and I like the feeling of knowing when I reach the end of a week "everything has been accounted for" or will carry over to the following week to make meals then, in some cases. So the pack of bacon that was part used for Friday night's fry-up will also feature again as co-star alongside that liver tonight, and in an omelette for MrEH tomorrow. Half of the pack of sausages that were also cooked for Friday's tea have been set aside in the freezer and will  make sausage & onion pasta along with the last of this week's mushrooms and tomatoes, on Wednesday. The last of the YS'd fruit will be eaten after tea tonight with yogurt. The lettuce that was bought on the Aldi Super Six offer will be added to lunchtime rolls through the week. Nothing will be wasted.

I also seized some time over the weekend to go through my wardrobe, musing over the contents. A few bits were selected to add to the charity shop pile - a skirt which is an unflattering shape and length, a top which just feels "wrong" on in spite of being a shape and style that should really suit me. A dress which is just plain too big now - it gapes under the arms and doesn't flatter in the least. For now everything else has gone back - there are a few more items which I have earmarked as needing an eye kept on them - if they don't get worn in the near future then they will also be joining the charity shop pile, and one shirt which I have worn today has helpfully reminded me that the reason I was considering getting rid was that it's really not comfortable, so after a wash that will be heading to the charity pile as well!  Some more wintery items will be making their way to storage in the large plastic box in the top of the wardrobe - it will be interesting to see if I actually remember they are there when Autumn rolls around - if not then those too will be able to go. At some stage I need to reflect on what items I might need for the summer, and what needs replacing ahead of next winter - those will make it to a list and then I'll make a plan for purchasing as I see the right item at a decent price. I already know that winter boots will be on that list - my knee-highs are fine, and one pair of ankle boots are still OK, but my second pair are past the point of redemption and will certainly not see me thorough another winter. By planning ahead now I stand the best chance of getting something that I really like, at a good price, ahead of the point when I need it.

Also last week I made good use of a freebie - I buy a monthly gym pass for the gym I use close to where I work - and that pass is cheaper bought through a third party (Hussle) than if I bought it direct from the gym. Hussle have recently re-branded and as a result were offering a click-to-enter competition with the chance of winning various prizes - but just for entering I earned a free day pass to another gym of my choice, which I decided to use on one local to home - the fitness centre of one of the local hotels has a nicely equipped small gym and a little half-length 4 lane swimming pool which I visited at zero cost on Friday morning.  It fitted in nicely as I had missed a regular gym visit earlier in the week due to plans changing at our end - so great timing and always nice to get something for nothing!

Finally for now and also related to the gym, the water bottle I've been using for the last 9 months or so gave up last night - the drinking spout pulled straight out of the top so it wasn't fixable, and rather than taking it home I popped in into the bin at the gym where it will go for recycling. As it's been used multiple times a week since I've had it I do rather feel I have had my money's worth from it!  Instead of going to buy a replacement I will find a spare one at home and put that into use.

Are there any areas that you are trying to focus on being more conscious about currently? If so what are your goals in that area, and how are you working towards them?


Friday 17 May 2019


I HAVE AN AMAZING BODY! Five words I never imagined I'd start a blog post with - and anyone who knows me is probably wondering who's hacked the blog by now, too! Before you all decide that I must have got wildly above myself - or possibly taken a nasty knock to the head - let me explain.

It is currently Mental Health Awareness Week - and the theme this year is Body Image. While I've never been someone who'd describe myself as hating my body, it would be fair to say that for a good many years I didn't particularly like it, either. I looked in the mirror and saw the things most women see, and my internal voice came up with the same negative thought patterns that an awful lot of people do, I'm guessing. Of course you don't realise that the thoughts are forming patterns, repeating as a habit, so you never question it. Boobs too big, could do with losing a bit of weight, legs are too chunky, bingo wings, lumpy bum...until almost without realising it that's all your body is to you.

Generally speaking bodies pretty much just work without us thinking about it - the heart pumps the blood, the lungs provide the oxygen, the muscles move you about and the skeleton keeps the whole show on the road - all without the brain ever needing to give it any conscious thought. Pretty astonishing, eh? No batteries or external electrical supply required. It's only when things go wrong that we have cause to stop and think, and stop taking things for granted. The point at which I had my little brush with mine damn nearly shutting down altogether at the end of 2017 was my warning siren, and possibly for the first time I started appreciating all the things that lumpy, too big, chunky body could do. It wasn't immediate by any stretch of the imagination, but over the course of the last year and a half, rather than thinking about negatives, I've tried remembering about all the reasons why actually, my body is pretty damned special. It can walk or run for miles at a time, those "chunky" legs can leg-press nearly 30kgs more than my bodyweight in the gym and take me up hills so my eyes can see the view from the top. My arms can propel me through the water in the swimming pool, and can carry heavy bags of shopping. I've even started feeling a little more positive when I look in the mirror as a result of those conscious, positive thoughts - I'm never going to end up on the cover of vogue, right enough,but actually, for 46 years on the planet and a fair amount of fun had, it's not so bad - indeed I can't think of too many things I own that are any older and in better condition!

Next time you find yourself running through a silent list of criticisms about your body when you're getting dressed in the morning, or trying on clothes in a changing room, try to turn just one of those thoughts to a positive one instead. Look how you can balance to stand on one leg to pop the other neatly in to your trousers or jeans! Think how cleverly your hands can go from dealing with a zip, to a button, to slicking on some lipgloss all in the space of a few minutes. Focus on the fact that you can brush your teeth, have a conversation with your significant other and all the while still be listening with half an ear to the traffic news, or the weather forecast. Think about all the things your body can do without you ever needing to instruct it to perform those actions - and remember that you too have an amazing body!


Wednesday 15 May 2019

#CCC - virtual decluttering

I decided that there was no better place to start blogging about my Conscious Consumption Challenge than by talking about some decluttering on the blog itself!

I love my "cloud" of tags on the right hand side here - it makes it easy to find posts on a particular theme easily, but over time the cloud had become rather more widespread, let's say. Sometimes I blog something that needs a particular tag because I'm joining in with others. Sometimes I start a tag thinking I'll do more round it, then in my usual style get utterly distracted by something else and never blog about that thing again. Sometimes I forget exactly what tag I might have used before for something and use something that seems about right - only to realise afterwards what the "standard" tag for the subject was. Either way it has meant that I had quite a lot of tags over there that had only one or two posts on them, and quite a lot of others which while they had a good few posts, duplicated almost totally with another, similar tag. So in a few minutes of spare time I sat down and began methodically working through the tags, getting rid of quite a lot, and adding additional tags to some posts where I felt they would fit better. It's a bit of a work in progress really - there is more to do, but already it is starting to look a bit less cluttered.

In the process of working through the tags I also found posts with expired links which I have deleted, and even a few full posts which for various reasons are now irrelevant, so those have been deleted as well. Again - a work in progress, I suspect there is more to do, there is after all 10 years of posts on here, even if some of those years have been less prolific than others!

Another task I undertook while I was at it was to go through my reading list - some of the links on there were to old blogs that no longer exist and look unlikely to ever make a reappearance. Others are from people who stopped blogging some time ago, or now blog elsewhere. Then the real nitty gritty and where the value in this exercise lies - those blogs that I still have on my list because I enjoyed them at one stage but now I just skim past. Some others that I followed out of duty to particular people who were in my life at the time, but who I have now drifted away from, removing the need for a "loyalty follow". That done I added a few new ones that I had gleaned from the sidebars of other blogs that I DO still follow, to add value to my list. This should mean a less cluttered reading list and blog feed, and not missing stuff that I actually want to see amongst a tide of stuff that sparks no joy or interest whatsoever.

It's another step towards remembering that decluttering can happen on all sorts of levels - a while ago a friend told me how she manages a "zero inbox" for her emails - and while I've not managed to get mine to zero, I drastically cut down the amount of stuff sitting in both my personal and work emails, and do a weekly "filing session" tidying up both and making sure that anything that needs attention, gets it. The result is far less clutter, less stress over the possibility of missing something that needs a reply/action, and items being put in folders meaning that they are easier to find later if needed.

While the classic perception of decluttering is about physical "stuff", the virtual clutter can also serve to drag us down mentally, and should probably be considered as worthy of attention as the books, CD's, clothes etc that we usually picture in our minds when the concept comes up. when was the last time you undertook a virtual spring clean?


Tuesday 14 May 2019

The Conscious Consumption Challenge

I'm feeling a little in need of a non activity based challenge at the moment - so far this year a lot of the challenges I've set myself have been around exercise, or specifically running, but this time I wanted something different, and it feels like a while since there has been a food/home/money type challenge on here, so that steered things a bit too.  Also I have recently discovered that Sue formerly of Our New Life In The Country is blogging again - and blogging ALL about challenges, in fact, so I'm further inspired by that!

We've had a few fairly big but very necessary expenditures recently - electrical works on the flat, followed by a long outstanding and fairly chunky bill which has been being argued over becoming payable as the dispute was resolved, and then my 12 year old car started showing signs of some nasty corrosion so needed replacement - and while we bought pre-loved, obviously, to get what we needed going forwards with things like Ultra Low Emission Zones creeping across London over the next few years required a spend of just over £8,000 - ouch! Some of that spend was cobbled together from surplus in our car expense account and elsewhere, and a chunk got put onto a 0% credit card to be paid off slowly over the life of the deal, but there was still a big lump taken out of our emergency fund to cover it. Of course this is why we HAVE an emergency fund - but it still leaves us feeling a little vulnerable as the level in there has fallen so much, and is one of the reasons for the challenge being, at least partially, money focused.

My challenge is not going to be "rule driven" but instead goal driven. Some of it is about using what we have, so saving money on not buying things that aren't needed. Some of it is about making better choices and getting back to the basics on stuff that we used to do, and have drifted out of the habit of a little. All of it is about trying to stop and think, and make better, more conscious, choices not only for our pockets, but also for the environment and even for ourselves.  I intend to scrutinise what we spend again, tackle any frittering that has crept in (not much I don't think, but generally when you start looking, you find odds and ends!) and look to target the money we do spend as well as I possibly can. Any surplus in our joint account at the end of each month is going to be directed at the ISA to start the rebuilding process on our poor depleted EF, so anything saved will speed the process up. Again I have no hard and fast figures in mind about where I want to be with this - indeed the challenge itself isn't really one with a fixed end point, either!

We actually made a start on this process before we went away, when I firstly checked our electricity use against our suppliers projection and discovered that the direct debit could be reduced a bit, and second got on the phone to Sky to tell them (again!) that our TV/Phone/Broadband was too expensive (again!). That resulted in a reduction down to pretty much a "bare bones" package at £33 a month, which does everything we need and more, and saves us a good chunk of money each month. The savings from both of those, rather than being transferred to the "money we didn't know we had" account, as we have traditionally done, will instead be left in the joint account to form part of any surplus that is there at the end of the month, and will then be transferred on to the ISA, where our EF lives.

Several of Sue's challenges on her blog have been about using up stores of goods, and as we seem to have been caught in a never ending cycle of that for a rather long while now that was also a natural focus, so we will be turning our attention to the larder, fridge, freezer and cupboards as well. I'm also intending to do some decluttering - items that have been stored "in case" we need them for too long, food items that either need using or binning, clothes that realistically I'm not going to wear again because in many cases they are too big, books, CD's and DVD's that can go to the charity shop to do someone else a turn for some cheap entertainment. In many ways this is going to be fairly similar to some of the challenges I've done before so don't expect anything ground-breaking here - you might get some reminders of stuff that makes you think "oh yes, I used to do that, too!" though!

Another thing I'm not setting any targets for is how often I update this on here, either - all I'm going to say is that I DO intend to update on here,. So while the blogging mojo is strong, there may be a lot of posts, when it wanes again, or life gets busy, less posts. If that happens though feel free to give me a nudge on twitter (@Essexhebridean) and I'll at least reassure you that I'm still alive!


Thursday 10 January 2019

Plastic -v- the world...

I mentioned in my last post that one of our "big challenges" for this year was going to be to reduce our consumption of single use plastics still further. We've already made good progress on this - on the rare occasions that we buy a bottle of water (or more often, get given one free when MrEH purchases his newspaper in a location that offers a bottle for free) that bottle will be refilled many times before it finally goes into the recycling, effectively turning it into a reusable bottle. Mostly we use one of our  purpose-bought re-useable bottles - I permanently have one on my desk at work, and we have others for the gym, or for taking on days out. Similarly although not a "buy a coffee on the way to work everyday" people we do use refillable cups on occasions when we know we're likely to buy hot drinks out - I've got a couple of the bamboo keep-cups, and we both have insulated mugs which get used regularly on longer car journeys, often with the back-up of one of our trusty thermos flasks!

Within the home it can often be quite tough to break the old plastic habits - we have made a start here by re-using plastic takeaway containers for freezer storage, not purchasing cling film at all, and using our RSPB magazine wrappers as compost bags for green waste. We also always take our own bags to the shops, and indeed I have invariably got a shopping bag or two neatly folded in my handbag also. It's been bugging me for a while though that each working day we bring lunches from home, and each working day that is 2 plastic food bags, and 2 wire ties, used between us. We re-use the wire ties, in fact they often get used until they literally fall apart, but I bet when they DO end up in landfill they're not great, and as for the bags, well...! So we turned our minds to alternatives, and solutions...

Firstly we started thinking through alternatives that we already had. Things are complicated by the fact that standard sandwich boxes tend not to fit our home made bread well, and that sometimes we have sandwiches and sometimes we have rolls (also home made - so again, non standard sizes). Fruit we just carry loose in our respective bags, so it was just the question of transportation of bread-based food that we were looking into initially. Of course it wasn't that simple as having thought about it we then started seeing all the other places that we use the flimsy food bags we habitually buy, too... Cheese gets wrapped in them, opened packets of crackers get put in them to stop them going stale in the tin, we use them in the freezer for portioned out raw meat, and sometimes for blanched vegetables as well, The last few slices from the loaves of home made bread get put into a bag in the freezer as well. Greaseproof or waxed paper came to mind immediately for at least some of our applications, but they wouldn't really solve the issue of wrapping sandwiches as there would be no way of ensuring they stayed fastened, plus waxed paper doesn't recycle, and greaseproof is the subject of a whole other minefield on the compostable/recyclable/biodegradeable questions (It might be, but then it might not, basically covers it so far as I can find). Foil - no, not really - firstly it tears too easily and secondly it's just creating more waste, albeit recycleable waste. Then we found these:

Beeswax wraps. Available in a variety of sizes, positively recommended for cheese, sandwiches, veggies etc...not cheap, mind, but worth the trade off of NOT putting possibly over 400 plastic bags into landfill every year? Well, that has to be worth a try! Of course they should also work for cheese, random bits of veg, for covering leftovers in the fridge and maybe even for those random ends of loaves in the freezer too? A pack has been ordered and we will report back.

Lovely as it would be, the wraps won't work for everything - so we set our minds to a bigger plan. We'll continue to have some of the flimsy bags available for the time being - things like raw meat are difficult to store well for the freezer - often a portion is too small for the re-useable containers we have, and we don't want to be using electricity essentially freezing empty space. We will buy a supply of sturdier, heavier grade plastic bags for use with dry goods, where they can be re-used. Where we can use plastic tubs that we already have - or those that we get with takeaway foods - we will do so. I'm looking to source re-useable produce bags instead of picking up those annoying flimsy bags for loose produce in the supermarket, too. So far I'm struggling to find many options on those that tell you the individual weight of the bags themselves - as I often buy quite small quantities of loose items this is not an insignificant point! More research needed!


Monday 7 January 2019

Now for 2019...

So time for a new page, a fresh year, and also a good time to make some decisions about what I want to achieve this year. Last year feels like a tough act to follow in some ways - and indeed this year's aims are going to be loosely based on what I set out last year with some additional bits thrown in for good measure. 

Personal/Health & Fitness:
- I will aim to keep up a good level of activity, averaging at least 13,000 steps daily across a year.
- Continue with eating well, using the FitBit to log foods some days to keep on track.
- Exercise at least 3 x per week - more is fine. Gym, running, swimming, circuits, HIIT Sessions - all good, also a brisk paced walk of at least a mile/15 minutes counts.

- Stretching - I had one injury last year partly as a result of not doing enough of this so an area to focus on.
- Bullet-ish journal - weekly lists, monthly planners, general to-do's.
- Aim for 500km total distance run in the year - I'm signing up to a virtual challenge for this one!
- Assuming they do the series again run 3 RunthroughUK "Chase the Sun" events
- Sign up and run a full 10k
- Bring running distance up to 10 miles
- Either get back to cycling or get rid of the bike
- Run the Dartmouth Regatta Road race in August - a terrifying 5 mile course with some horrific hills!
- Run/walk up Rueval - my favourite hill in the Hebrides

Home: We need to get back to sorting out the remaining works on the flat this year - from the more major stuff that still needs doing, to simple decluttering:

- Establish whether the electrician we were planning to use still wants the work, and if so get a firm start date from him.
- Find a new plasterer - lovely Geoff has retired!
- Plastering in Hallway and around windows - investigate whether we can do smaller areas ourselves?
- Hallway to be refloored/redecorated
- Decluttering at a low level - focus on seeing items within the house that we don't use
- New coffee table for front room - put measurements for this on the phone so I have them to hand and research and actually buy something.


- Start to look towards replacing Ben's car - either just "at some stage" this year or earlier depending on MOT result.
- Joint savings to continue as they are
- I will keep a good eye on interest rates - if good deals come up we will switch money around to capitalise
- The "extra" savings will pay for a short holiday with friends in the spring - and will probably subsidise the holiday savings a little too as we have a short gap between the 2018 & 2019 Hebrides trips and had moved a previous surplus in that account across to long term savings
- Keep the focus on not frittering, and getting best value from our money


- Continue social stuff as last year
- Learn from the lessons I learned last year on friendships, and people who add value to my life rather than sucking the vibrancy from it.
- Try not to feel hurt or upset when other people behave unpleasantly or unkindly - I can't control their behaviour, I can control my reaction to it. (This one stays - SUCH a good life lesson!) Sometimes my reaction to it may be to simply step away from them as a regular part of my life - this works exceptionally well!
- Be conscious and mindful. Try to stop and think through choices and choose my path accordingly
- Brutal tidy and organise of laptop
- Sort out new power cable & battery for laptop
- sort out problem with desktop
- Keep up the momentum with the Beer Order stuff and don't let the workload pile up
- Another "big" walk - perhaps done in stages 
- Finish the Thames Path walk
- Finish the Jubilee Greenway walk

We have also agreed on some joint things to focus on for the year :
 - avoiding products with non-sustainable Palm Oil
 - Breaking the habit of procrastination (We're BOTH guilty of this!)
 - Working on cutting use of single use plastics even further

That seems like some good stuff to work on through the year, and a nice mix of "quality of life" stuff alongside building for the future. Social stuff will take a different turn this year in any event as there is likely to be less airshows partly due to taking up more responsibility within the National beer festival - the role we have taken on is a big one and there is absolutely NO room for not doing it well, so other distractions will need to take at least a bit of a back seat this year I think. There will also be meetings off the back of that too - which as a flip-side means more time spent with friends from that area of our lives which is great! 

My mantras for this year then:


There WILL still be challenges - and I'll still be looking to see what I can achieve, but the focus this year will be more on maintaining the things I've achieved already within the running/fitness stuff. Last year started forcefully on the exercise front but tailed off later in the year - I found running in the heat of the summer quite challenging and as a result took more of a step back from it than I really wanted to for - this summer will be about finding a way of keeping going - hopefully the Dartmouth Road Race might be a way of keeping the momentum there!  

Feel free to join in for the ride - I'm starting out as I did last year with a challenge to do some form of exercise every day of January and so far, so good on that one. I think Frugal February will not be happening this year but I am intending to keep a focus on spending as I've said - we have more works on the flat to pay out for and lots of social stuff planned and intend to compromise on our longer terms savings as little as possible for those things. 

Has your last week been about planning challenges and goals for the year ahead?