Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Happiness Project

I decided to pull out my copy of The Happiness Project and re-read it over the course of this year.  I'm not particularly unhappy, but I am the sort of person who is always seeking to improve themself.  I don't know at what point this became ingrained in me, it just is and I don't think it's going to go away.

Not that I want to do 'a Happiness Project'; I'm not even exactly sure what one is.  I just think Gretchen Rubin proposed an awful lot of really good ideas that I want to read again.  For example, she listed her aim in January (that particular January, I guess, but why not every January?) as being 'to boost her energy'.  She aimed to do this by

Going to sleep earlier
Exercising better
Tossing, restoring and organising
Tackling a nagging task
Acting more energetic

This chapter of her book discusses the rationale behind this list and the ways in which she approached doing them.  I had to smile at re-reading about her de-cluttering efforts.  She identified various types of clutter that most of us have had at one time or another: 

-  Nostalgic: about her earlier life***
-  Self-righteous conservation:  keeping useful things out of the landfill, even if they weren't useful to her*
-  Bargain:  purchased only because of the low price, not one of her failings*
-  Freebie:  gifts, hand-me-downs and giveaways**
-  Crutch:  comfortable clothes that no one should be seen in***
-  Aspirational: craft, household or clothing items she only aspired to, but never did, use****
-  Buyer's Remorse:  mistake purchases that didn't get returned**

I could identify with everything on her list to a greater (****) or lesser (*) degree.  Of course, the way Gretchen writes makes it sound all very logical, straight-forward and even easy.  She was after all a lawyer who clerked for Sandra Day O'Connor and she is a very successful author, so she obviously has stacks of self-discipline.

I know I need to go to bed earlier even though it matters not the least what time I get up most mornings:  the later I stay up the more likely I am to eat food I don't need after a filling dinner.  My body says it's tired and wants rest, I want to stay up and so I feed it to 'give it more energy'. 

I started out exercising better but one running club day I had a slightly traumatic visit to the dentist and it threw me off my schedule.  I've never been as habitual since.  I'm apparently easily knocked off balance these days.

I made a start at filling some charity bags, but when Bill began re-decorating - as we planned - the resulting chaos, well, I don't want to talk about the rest of this.  Let's just say I haven't mastered January's list in spite of it almost being February!  Gretchen writes about having a checklist where she adds a new habit every week, but it just doesn't work that way for me.   Still, they are good ideas.  And I enjoy reading about her optimism.

Are there any books you tend to pull out at the start of a new year?

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Turkey Pie

A couple of weeks ago Bill made turkey pie for dinner and I can't begin to tell you how delicious it was.   Neither of us tends to use recipes as a rule, though he did consult his Mom's cookbook to make the pastry - and excellent pastry it was, far better than mine.  In fact, it was up there with the lightest, flakiest pastry I can ever remember eating.  I asked him about his methods ostensibly to write this post, but really because I wanted to know his secret!

For the filling he just threw some cubed cooked turkey and sliced mushrooms into some white sauce and filled the pie shell with this.  He consulted instructions for a sausage pie (yum!) and baked his for 10-15 minutes at 400 F, then at 350 F for another 30 minutes.

I have much to learn about photographing food, but you might be able to use your imagination to help me out.

Shortcrust Pastry
4 oz plain flour
pinch of salt
1 oz lard
1 oz margarine
4 tsps water (approx.)
Mix flour and salt together.  Cut the fat into small knobs and add it.  Using both hands, rub the fat into the flour between finger and thumb tips.  After 2-3 minutes there will be no lumps of fat left and the mxiture will look like fresh breadcrumbs.  Add the water a little at a time, stirring with a round-bladed knife until the mixture begins to stick together.  With one hand, collect it together and knead lightly for a few seconds, to give a firm, smooth dough.  The pastry can be used straight  away, but it's better allowed to 'rest' for 15 minutes.  It can also be wrapped in polythene and kept in the refrigerator for a day or two.  When the pastry is required, sprinkle a very little flour on a board or table and roll out the dough evenly turning it occasionally.  The usual thickness is about 1/8 inch; don't pull or stretch it.  Use as required.  The usual oven temperature is hot (425 F).

We ate half of the pie with loads of steamed veg on the side and we're just pulling the other half out of the freezer to finish it off.  I'm really looking forward to dinner tonight!

Do you ever have savoury pies at your house?

Friday, 27 January 2012



Bless him, Bill has spent most of this week patching cracks, lifting carpet and painting.  The goal is to redecorate the front hall, stairs and upstairs landing and all the doors of the rooms opening out from them. 

It's a big job not only because of the height of the stairwell but because of the masses of books we've managed to cram into two bookcases.  There are several other bookcases in the box room that I started clearing out to make room.

Once I started asking myself if I wanted to re-read some of those books in the next week I was amazed at how many I was prepared to ditch.  Also, how behind I am on reading the books we've acquired from the massive library sell off and from Christmas gifts Bill and I each received.  I may not need to visit the library for some time.

I've just finished being held hostage by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I'd put off reading these books because I thought the timing of the death of their author was so sad.  I saw it at the pub's trading library and plowed in as soon as I finished Truly Wilde.   I am not sure if I can recommend the book or not.  My dentist, seeing me carry it in from the waiting room, commented that the movie was said to be as brutal as the book, but as I was only on page 5 or so, I had no view.  What I would say is, don't start this book if you have anything else you need to help shift books and bookcases.

Thursday, 26 January 2012


I can't believe it!  The other day on one of the very rare occasions when I watched TV and - even rarer  - watched the news and weather (I tend to just look out the window), the weather forecaster mentioned that the Northern Lights might be visible in Northern Britain.  I took this to mean the outer reaches of Scotland and did nothing about it.

Bill's very talented friend, Graham, spent hours at Whitley Bay, just up the coast from us - I've shown it to you several times - and shared his photo of Aurora Borealis on Facebook, the first we realised what we'd missed.  This led me to look on the internet and find these photos on The Telegraph website.

It's something I've always wished to see, though I've not booked a trip to Tromsø or anything (where the above photo was taken).  It needed not only the sun's activity producing the beautiful light but also a cloudless night, another rare event here in Britain.

In fact, I remember years ago camping out at Bellingham (in the wilds of Northumberland) at a friend's house with other members of my running club the night before a race.  There was an enormous BBQ - I've never seen so much meat or so much beer and wine - and at some point I wandered down to the riverside for a spot of quiet.  I looked up and saw so many stars I had to go fetch some of the others to share the beauty.  I was astonished at how many people my age remarked that they had never before seen the Milky Way. 

I may have to figure out how to get email alerts for when the Northern Lights might be visible again, not that I imagine Bill sitting outside for hours to wait for the possibility.  I also don't have a camera with the capability of capturing the beauty should it present itself.  So, perhaps I should settle for photos.

How we lower our sights...

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Calling Cards

I have enjoyed the variety of newer commenters who have found their way over to Shelley's House (not that I didn't appreciate the commenters I already had).  I have the impression that, with some bloggers, if I leave a comment on their blog they will respond by coming over and leaving a comment on mine.   It doesn't work that way with all bloggers, but I seem to have stumbled onto a group for which it does, which is a lot of fun!

Buy It Now for Only $399

Aside from all this gadding about, I've spent large parts of the last week visiting Susan Tiner's blogs, Style Made by Hand  and her old one Financial Organising Dreams.  I feel as though I've returned to university, being introduced to so many ideas I've never before considered.  Some of the concepts strike my simple mind as fairly subtle, so I feel a bit out of my depth, but I still enjoy trying to understand even if I don't quite.  She writes about many things that interest me:  sewing, finding one's own style, her experience of growing up in the 60s and 70s (she's two years younger than I), genealogy and the mysteries of family stories.  She also writes about and links to articles about social class in America and about American values about money.  One of Susan's posts about Money Taboo - Filthy Lucre was particularly interesting as it referred to Emily Post's book on Etiquette from the 1920's, a glimpse into another time and way of life that I always find fun, and because I'd just read about Carolyn's having second thoughts about writing about the cost of the outfits she was sewing.

A steal at $550

Reading in Post's book about the rules of etiquette around the custom of leaving calling cards made me think of this recent exchange of comments on blogs.  Oddly, however, I must admit that when I opened Blogger one morning to find 8!!! comments to be 'moderated' my first thought was to wonder if I was in trouble!  Had I offended someone who was now haranguing me or had I attracted the unwanted attentions of a persistent spammer?  Very happily they were all nice comments from real bloggers, returning my visits, just as returning visits, with the appropriate coding of cards, was done by some in the past.

The idea of social class and the British idea of 'knowing one's place' came to my mind some time back when I found myself reacting negatively to a comment left on a blog I read fairly regularly.  It seemed to me at the time that the commenter was being sniffy and dismissive about the blogger's frugal ways.  The blogger didn't seem to take offence, so I thought I shouldn't either, but I struggled with it all.  The commenter writes a blog of a completely different genre, about luxury items and such.   The comment seemed inapproriate in the same way that any lecture I might leave about being frugal on a blog devoted to celebrating the more exuberent end of consumerism would be.  It struck me that if one is going to cross class or culture online, one should be extra considerate of the different viewpoints.  I found myself mentally muttering about 'folks knowing their place'!    Isn't blogland crackers sometimes!?  Or maybe it's just me being a bit mental.

Of course the widespread opportunity to improve 'one's place' is why many Brits say that the class system has gone and why some American's don't believe there is a class system in the US; I'm not so sure about that now.   The New York Times articles on Class Matters are quite revealing.  (One can read up to 20 articles for free per month.  I'm looking forward to picking up my reading again in February!) 

Anyhow, reverting to an age old love, the origin of words, I found this explanation in Post's book about the source of the term etiquette, yet another reason why the French seem to exert so much influence on our ideas of elegant living.

To the French we owe the word etiquette, and it is amusing to discover its origin in the commonplace familiar warning—"Keep off the grass." It happened in the reign of Louis XIV, when the gardens of Versailles were being laid out, that the master gardener, an old Scotsman, was sorely tried because his newly seeded lawns were being continually trampled upon. To keep trespassers off, he put up warning signs or tickets—etiquettes—on which was indicated the path along which to pass. But the courtiers paid no attention to these directions and so the determined Scot complained to the King in such convincing manner that His Majesty issued an edict commanding everyone at Court to "keep within the etiquettes." Gradually the term came to cover all the rules for correct demeanor and deportment in court circles; and thus through the centuries it has grown into use to describe the conventions sanctioned for the purpose of smoothing personal contacts and developing tact and good manners in social intercourse. With the decline of feudal courts and the rise of empires of industry, much of the ceremony of life was discarded for plain and less formal dealing. Trousers and coats supplanted doublets and hose, and the change in costume was not more extreme than the change in social ideas. The court ceased to be the arbiter of manners, though the aristocracy of the land remained the high exemplar of good breeding.

A bargain, at only $295

And just so I can have pretty illustrations to attach, I've visited eBay to share photos of calling card cases which, surprisingly, are more common on than on

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Bald Tree with Sticky-Out Limbs

A man rang our doorbell the other day, offering to trim the large tree in our front garden, one of many men who do.  Bill, for a change, recommended we take his very reasonably priced offer.  About 25 feet got whacked off the top, all picked up nice and tidy.  As they - looked like a husband and wife team - began wrapping up the job, the man told Bill they'd knock another £25 off the price if we paid in cash, so I walked into the village to the cash point doing the math in my head: 

a 20 minute walk round trip, to save £25 would equate to an hourly wage of £75, plus 20% tax not paid, so for the equivalent savings of a £90/hour paycheck I thought it well worth my time. 

Granted, nobody was offering me a job at £90 per hour, but I figure this calculation makes as good if not better sense than spending money just because something is 30% or whatever off (it was probably over-priced to start with).  The man told me having cash it would save him the trouble of going to his bank on the way home; I remarked that there were 'tax advantages' to being paid in cash as well...I'm ornery that way.

I came home from the dentist the next day and found my neighbour, George, trimming the plants in his front garden.  He said he'd noticed we'd had the tree trimmed, it looked nice.  I said I thought the tree looked embarrassed, but it will come around again in the spring.

We agreed we are looking forward to spring...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Fish Adventures

We were discussing at lunch what to have for dinner last night and Bill reminded me that we were out of tinned tuna.  It being reasonably early still, we decided to have a walk down to the fish quay.  I've talked before about the marvelous offer Taylor's have of a pound of fish for £1.  This time it was a box of fish for £5.   Bill pointed out his preferred box.   I noticed there was a little red one in amongst all the bigger white & brown fish.

I have to confess to finding this a bit of hard work this time.  There was a large tray on display of what I can only guess was fish tripe.  The place didn't smell bad at all, but my asthma was playing up and somehow with all the water on the floor and that tray of offal I was thinking longingly of nice neat frozen fillets or tidy little tins.  However, being a stalwart tightwad, I joined the queue and even instructed Bill to snatch up his chosen box before someone else grabbed it.   The woman behind the counter identified cod, haddock and the little red gurnard. 

I was thinking this was un-processed fish, like the sign said.  As we walked home along the prom there were swarms of birds:  seagulls, herring gulls and rooks.  I wondered if they would swoop down on the bag Bill was carrying but apparently they had easier sources from the cars full of folks eating fish and chips.  When we got home I put on my rubber gloves and took up a knife, mentally girding myself to gut each of the fish.   It's been years since I did this, but it must be rather like riding a bicycle.  As it turned out all but the small gurnard were already gutted, so I just did that one which was easy enough once started.  I'd never seen one of these before.  It reminded me of a small dragon with all the red spiny bits; his mouth was nearly like a bird's bill, a funny creature it was. 

I weighed up the fish and it came to 4.8 kg or 10.6 pounds; less than 50p per pound.  Sure, some of that is in the heads and bones and I'm afraid I'm going to waste the opportunity to make fish stock as it's completely out of my comfort zone to even consider what I might use it for.   I'm from Oklahoma, remember, I didn't grow up with a fishstock heritage.   I bagged three of the fish large separately, and put the smallest cod/haddock in with the gurnard.  That's four fish meals for future. 

We'll both have a fine meal off that single large fish and for about the same price as a tin of tuna.  You can't say fairer than that.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Stacking Up

LR at Magnificent or Egregious (interesting word, egregious) inspired me to pull together the books I got for Christmas by showing off her stack.   (Wait, that's not rude or anything, is it?)

I've read most but not all.  Does one actually read a cookbook?  Well, I've made a list of recipes to try from Frugal Gourmet.  The book about the Georgians took me over a week to get through.  Bill's working on it now.   He's just finished Hons and Rebels which I started but then got distracted.  He laughed out loud several times, so I must get back to it.  Currently reading about Dolly Wilde.

The Practical Princess book isn't about what to put in the wardrobe but how to organise one.  If you want a book to tell you how to fold your socks and bras, this is the one for you.  Interesting to read through once, but I don't see keeping this as a reference.

The Language of Clothes, I've already mentioned.  It's definitely in line to read again, but not til I've got through the rest.

I've flipped through the Cafe Society book, but not actually read the text.  There are some pretty amazing photos in there, but a good number of the 'photos' are sketches with cut-out heads glued on, which I think is cheating.  Still, it talks about some interesting personalities I've never heard of before, as does Truly Wilde

Nina Campbell's Decorating Notebook needs another reading I think, though I have taken away one potential idea for our living room.  I'd already had the idea for arranging pictures on one wall, but she shows my idea and says it's 'in the manner of an English Country House', so I'm feeling a bit more confident.  If I ever pull it off, I'll be certain to show it to you.

The Thoughtful Dresser did just what it says on the tin.  She makes a seriously good case for why clothing is not a completely silly, frou-frou subject.  She also points out that whilst fashion designers can demand that their models be dangerously thin, they themselves can be as fat as they like; and when they tire of being fat, they can afford a personal trainer and the best gyms.  See?  She's makes you think.

The End of Fashion was also an amazing look into all the set dressing that goes on around developing a brand's image, apparently far more important than the actual design or quality of the goods themselves.  The rise and fall of department stores, the laughable egos involved, it's altogether a very interesting read. 

Did you get any great books for Christmas?

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Becoming a Bag Lady

As I mentioned earlier, I made two more bags to give as Christmas presents, one for each of Bill's daughters.  As part of 'spending out' this year, I suspect I will give more attention to their respective wish lists, but I would hate to abandon making gifts as I enjoy it so much and I learn a great deal.

One of the best parts of making a gift is in choosing the fabric and the colours to use.  I end up thinking about the person practically the whole time I'm making their gift, which is part of the fun as well.  Helen is a redhead; they call it it 'ginger' over here, but in the States we'd probably call it 'carrot top'.  In addition she has very blue eyes.  I suspect in part because of her distinctive colouring she has very decided ideas about the colours in her house and in clothing.   I wouldn't dare give her anything that didn't fit into her colour scheme!  Fortunately, she seems to favour turquoise and I had some fabric that had been in my Aunt Rita's stash that I could use.  Helen may or may not recognise that this is a very 'South West' print and colour scheme.  In lined the bag in the cream coloured muslin (curtain lining) that I used for the two green bags I showed before.

I haven't observed the same distinct tastes in Sarah.  In the years I've known her she's had brown hair (her natural colour), jet black and currently she has very white blonde hair.  Her eyes are a very dark brown, almost black, so she can wear black, but she doesn't seem to favour that colour even when she had the Goth hair.  In the past she's gone for girly pinks and purples but the last time I saw her she was looking extremely polished in a soft grey sweater.

Bill's sister Jane lives in Sydney and Jane's daughter works at an upscale interior decorating business.  When Jenni discovered the shop was throwing away stacks and stacks of discontinued fabric sample books, she was aghast, which is another indication that I've finally joined the right family.  She began bringing the cast off books to Jane, who has made loads of skirts for little girls in Africa, fancy doorstops, and I don't know what all from the beautiful home decorating fabrics.  Jane has also given quite a bit of them to me, but other than pull them out and admire them periodically, I've not found a use for them....until now.  (JANE!!  JANE!!! I FINALLY MADE SOMETHING!!!)

I lined Sarah's bag with a sheer striped white fabric for added strength.  Because of the limitations of having only two pieces of this gorgeous floral pattern, I ended up being quite stingy with the width of the straps, something I came to regret.  So I pulled out a length of stiff lavender ribbon from Rita's stash, cut my stingy strips in half and edged the ribbon.  The back I made from some nice dress fabric that may have been one of my old purchases.  The result was a very girly bag for a young woman who now has a serious job in a bank.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

My Deluminator

My Christmas was mostly about books, which is only right and proper.  One other fun thing I got from Bill was a candle put-outer.  I've yet to use it  I just went and gave it a trial run and a neater solution you'll never find.  We haven't used candles much in the past in large part because of the mess they made on table cloths and place mats when blown out.  That's going to change now!

Did you get anything unusual for Christmas?

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Tightwad Gazette Revisited

I owe Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced decision) a lot, in fact I need to thank her for pretty much my entire lifestyle these days.  She's the one who taught me the game of frugality.  It started out as a means of survival (take a spend-thrift second husband with a good-weather dependent income; a surprise 20-month-old step-son - yikes! the price of diapers, not to mention daycare!; a secretary's salary; a recently deceased father who left thousands of bills at double-digit interest rates along with a house worth keeping; oh, and an ex-husband who let the house we shared go into foreclosure...with my name on the mortgage; did I mention I was working on finishing a master's degree in night school at this time?). 

Amy didn't just share tips about how to save money, she wrote brilliant editorials that helped me develop a different attitude.  She changed how I looked at money; at goals; at other people, particularly The Jones's; at other resources such as time, energy and various materials; at advertising and at the consumer society in general.  She championed the use and development of creative approaches and of tightwad experiments.  She taught me the guidelines of the game and made frugality fun.  There was also a hefty helping of respect for the environment and gratitude for the gifts of a loving family and being raised with a work ethic.    If you haven't ever read The Complete Tightwad Gazette, I can't recommend it highly enough, even if you don't feel you need to be frugal.  Interestingly, the used prices on suggest that people are taking her ideas more seriously these days.  Not that I've ever owned the book myself.

I still cherish my original, now tattered, newsletters.  In the years that I barely kept my head above water, I looked forward to receiving each issue like a drowning person welcomes the life raft.  

Beyond survival, tightwaddery became a means to get what I wanted (to own a home in my new city, Salt Lake City, where the rents were double those in OKC and house prices were soaring).  My mom died less than two years after my dad, I left my hometown of 35 years for a new job (I'd finished the master's) and my marriage was increasingly hard work; we didn't share the same goals at all.  Playing the game was a welcome distraction from sad realities. 

When the marriage finally ended, I wanted to keep the house I'd scrimped and saved for.  This meant saving up again to pay out half of the equity, almost half the original price in only a couple of years.   My ex had a small house in OKC we'd re-mortgaged together for a better interest rate.  I'd learned from my first experience and required that he take my name off that mortgage before I paid him the $17,000 equity I owed.  It took him a while to arrange that, giving me just enough time to save up.    

When I moved to the UK,  my rent income was useful in helping to save for a deposit on a house here.  I lived in one room near work for 10 months, while saving and searching for another house.  I eventually paid off the SLC house in 8 years, not in the 15-year life of the mortgage (I saved $44,000 in interest by chosing a 15 rather than a 30 year mortgage).  In the UK I took a 30-year mortgage but paid off the house in 10.   Can you see why I like Amy's game

The game of frugality eventually allowed me to leave an increasingly stressful job and to retire at 51:  I had a paid-for home, some rental income, a sizeable savings account and zero debt.   Mind, I don't discount Bill's contribution to my retirement, providing a backdrop of added security in the event my resources failed (rent income/expenses are not entirely reliable).   Also, one of the best of Bill's many sterling qualities is that he understands and likes to play the game.

I'm now in a position where I need to re-evaluate my goals.  I have reached most of the ones I've had in the past.  I think I'm in a pretty secure position, but I want to check.   My finances are a bit scattered - chasing interest rates here in the UK could be a full-time job - and I need to pull myself together a bit.  Amy also wrote about reaching this point.  I want to go find that editorial and remind myself what she had to say.  Gretchen Rubin talks about 'spending out', something I have been trying to do a bit of lately.  In a conscious way.

In addition to doing this stock-taking, I have pulled out my dear old newsletters and re-organised them by month.   Instead of doing the chronological journey through Amy's publishing career, I have all of January's advice together.  There are many of her ideas I've yet to try. 

Some have to do with raising children, buying fuel for stoves or buying and maintaining cars.   These aren't for me (Bill has decided ideas about what car he wants to drive and I leave that entirely to him).  I've never much pursued the pie and cake ideas before, but Bill would enjoy eating these.   As the mother of six children, Amy's ideas about efficient organisation and use of time were always practical and why I still read some mommy-blogs these days.  I will look forward to re-reading her advice about tightwad decorating (start with cleaning and re-arrange what you already have).   I may not incorporate a great many new ideas into our routine, but I'm certain to come away with my frugal habits shined up and my happy resolve strengthened.

You see, it's not a game for me anymore, it's part of how I am.   And whatever words some people like to throw around like 'cheap' or 'dreary', today I have a relatively comfortable, low-stress, contented life in a place I love, with people I love.   I'm pretty certain I wouldn't have been able to do that without the tools Amy gave me.  Making careful, conscious choices about money made me focus on what was important to me.  Whatever unhappiness there was on the road to here, I'm very pleased and grateful to be in the position I am today. 

Thank you, so much, Amy.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Cards & Envelopes

I went through my stack of Christmas cards, making notes of where we received cards from people not on our sending list.  It occurred to me (again) how silly it seems to send a greeting to someone - particularly local people - we can't be bothered to see during the year.  So I resolved (again) to do more entertaining / socialising, if only to meet up for a coffee or a meal.  My main reason for going through the stack however was to make sure there weren't gift certificates or the like inside (it has been known).

It wasn't just this year's cards in the pile, sadly.  I have been cutting cards into gift tags for years now.  It was only this year when Bill and I set up separate gift wrapping centres and found we had an ample supply (read ten years or so) of said tags that I decided enough was enough.  Given that we will receive more Christmas cards well in advance of running out of gift tags, I can actually discard the present supply with gay abandon (or something like that)..

In the same box I also found a few cards that I'd put aside because they had no envelope.   My plan was to figure out how to make envelopes for these.  I found this excellent tutorial showing how to make envelopes from scratch and how to trim larger envelopes to a more useful size.  She makes it look really easy.  With a bit more patience and practice (and a decent glue stick) one could probably do a pretty good job of replacing cards.  However, after a couple of attempts, I added those orphaned cards to the others for recycling!  Sewing is my priority, not cards

I divvied the pile into two roughly equal quantities and bagged them up.  They went to Dorothy and Joan, the two card making ladies at the sewing group who always give me stunning hand-made birthday and Christmas cards.   It was fun watching them all pore over the collection and very satisfying to pass it on to good homes.

What do you do with your old Christmas cards?

Friday, 13 January 2012

New Grey Skirt

As of this writing, I can report that I have spent 238 minutes running so far in January, a number that is better than for the same time period in the previous five months and beats the monthly total for two of those.   Given a lack of snow/ice almost any of my January numbers look good at this point but, fingers crossed, the trend will continue.  I promise not to bore you with these details very often.

On perhaps a more interesting note, I have boxes of clothing put aside for alteration.  It is my intention to work through more of those, either to improve my wardrobe or to learn from the attempt if it doesn't turn out well.  Fortunately, this one was a dawdle.  This is a skirt that Bill bought for his mom in the last year of her life.  I remember admiring the ribbon insert and the embroidery when we bought it, though I certainly wasn't thinking about it coming back to me at the time.

I ran across a bag of her things in the loft one day and set this skirt aside for further consideration.   After taking making sure Bill was OK with my wearing his mother's clothing, I took some measurements of me and of the skirt.   I decided that removing two panels would do the trick.  This would also allow the up and down pattern of the decoration to continue uninterrupted.  All I had to do was take apart two seams and then re-construct one to join the edges.  Piece of cake.

It appeared that someone, I'm assuming a carer at Ella's residential home, had sliced the lining out of the skirt, presumably because it was not cut sufficiently large to allow the full movement permitted by the stretchy wool of the outer skirt.   I spent quite some time hand-tacking the trimmed lining around the elastic at the waist and I marked the newly joined back of the skirt with some red embroidery - nothing fancy.  I have half-slips that will suffice in place of the lining, if one is needed.  The fabric is fairly heavy, has a nice hand, it is warm, the skirt hangs nicely and it's very comfortable.  I can't think of anything else one could reasonably ask of a piece of clothing, but in addition this will remind me of Ella. 

I am very pleased with the outcome and have already worn the skirt.  My winter uniform tends to be calf length skirts or dresses with jackets or cardigans and tall boots and warm socks.  I find I can put more warm layers under a skirt and boots than under jeans or slacks and still enjoy freedom of motion. 

Certainly all the potential alterations aren't this simple, but I thought it best to start off with the easier projects rather than get discouraged early on.   Frugal Scholar wrote earlier about the joys of 'making do', which prompted an interesting discussion.  Rather like 'making something from nothing' this sort of 'making do' gives me a great deal of satisfaction. 

Is there anything you do to 'make do' that makes you happy?

Thursday, 12 January 2012


I think I mentioned some time back and I would like to have flowers in the house more often.  People have brought flowers with them when they visited at Thanksgiving and Christmas and so I've had this pleasure with little effort on my part.   The last of Helen & Martin's bouquet have gone now though and, with the dull greyness of winter, I'm starting to miss the colour and the lift of spirits that beautiful flowers provide.  I did find a blogger in Wales, I think, who was aiming to keep cut or wild flowers in her house each month...but I've lost her again.

Mike & Christine brought these at Thanksgiving and they
seemed to last forever.

I did some reading on the internet about what cut flowers last the longest and ended up with some ideas,  also with a list of tips and techniques for making flowers last longer.  My reading sources suggested that the best lasting flowers were orchids, but I can't see these as 'cut'; surely this refers to the plants?  I know I can buy orchid plants for £8-10 each at the supermarket and they are said to live  almost indefinitely. 

The next longest lasting flowers are chrysanthemums, carnations and gladioli.  Again, I have to wonder if this refers to a chrysanthemum plant, but perhaps it doesn't.  I think glads are very dramatic, but they annoy me in the garden when they can't stand up by themselves.    I know people look down on carnations, but I love them and their scent.

The next group of most reliable cut flowers are pretty exciting:  peonies, roses and lilies.  Unfortunately peonies are out of season.  I think of roses as pretty expensive but I've not priced them or lilies lately.  Might be worth looking at.  Also in this group are 'flowering branches', but nothing specified.  I might know one when I saw it.

Gerbera daisies (not your plain white, but what I would have taken as zinnias - same family) and tropical flowers like heliconia are the next longest lasting.  Finally, iris are best left growing as they don't survive well as cut flowers.  This is disappointing, as they are some of my favourites, but I may have to experiment sometime with bulbs in an indoor pot.

The advice I found about techniques for making flowers last longer was legion.  Some of it I knew:
  • Remove any leaves that will be below the water line, as they decay and add bacteria to the water.
  • Keep cut flowers out of direct sun, preferably in cool conditions, after all flowers keep their flowers in a refrigerator.
  • Trim the bottoms of the stems, cutting at an angle to provide more cut surface through which water can be absorbed.
  • Change the water often, cleaning the vase as well, to prevent growth of bacteria.
  • Use the flower freshening sachet that usually comes with purchased cut flowers, else substitute sugar or aspirin.
Other advice I'd not encountered before:

  • Don't mix daffodils with other flowers, they are toxic.
  • Leaves also absorb water that is travelling up the stem toward the flower, so remove most but not all the leaves.
  • Condition flowers (remove leaves, trim stems and place in clean water) at least one hour (up to overnight) before arranging.  I tend to count conditioned flowers as sufficiently arranged, myself.
  • If there are white bits at the bottom of the stem, cut up to the green part (this may only apply to tulips).
  • Tulips and apparently roses like ice cubes in their water.
  • One person claimed that flowers prefer bottled still water to tap.  I'm not likely to follow this advice.
  • Also, best to trim cut flowers while held under water.
  • The shorter the stem, the longer the flower will last, as the water has less distance to travel.  I would need new ideas about containers for this.  It may have been an untested hypothesis.
Other additives recommended besides sugar and aspirin to keep flowers fresher were:  caffeine containing drinks (with food colour to hide the discoloured water (more advice I'm not likely to try), Sprite (presumably because of the sugar), Panadol (?), a penny (for droopy tulips), bleach (but not for colourful flowers) and vodka!

Writing this all the sudden reminded me of Sarah's Christmas present, a white amaryllis that needed planting, so I've done that.  I'm 'only' four days past the deadline and it was out in the cool back porch, so hopefully it will work out OK! 

I also know that if things stay the in the same place long enough, I stop seeing them, so moving flowers or plants around more would help me get the most benefit from them.  

Do cut flowers - or house plants - figure very high in your priorities?

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Tale of Two Bags

I expect I'm pretty weird in this, but I really like tote bags.  I  often  need to carry things from one place to another or to keep things together.   Some of the places we shop have started charging for plastic bags, while others only encourage the use of reuseable bags.  Whilst I have a use for many plastic bags, our collection is now under control only because we started taking fabric bags that allowed us to bring home fewer plastic bags from our shopping trips. 

I have a book just about how to make various tote bags and I hadn't really done much with it.  When my friend, Vivien, gave me her old curtains, after I'd made curtains and pillow covers for the motorhome, I still had enough fabric to do some other stuff.

For one, the guest bed has no dust ruffle but there are boxes of fabric and ribbons stashed under it.  When I knew Sarah was going to stay over on Thanksgiving, I pulled out these wide strips and tucked them under the mattress to hide all the junk underneath.  The room instantly looked tidier!

That was a short term use, however.  From the time I had that fabric I knew that Vivien was going to have something for her birthday made from it.  Her birthday comes just after Christmas, so I often end up making something similar for her as I have done for others' Christmas gifts.  In looking at that fabric I couldn't help but think it would make a nice bag for a man as well, so I started with making a bag for my Uncle Pat.

The book's instructions show two ways of attaching handles without giving any pros or cons for either.  I'd already sewn, wrapped and shipped Pat's bag to him when I realised the limitations of my strap placement.  Straps going across the bag opening limit the width the bag will open to the length of the straps and may interfere with placing things inside the bag.  Sorry about that, Pat.  I promise I'll do better next time. 

Armed with this understanding, I decided to do Vivien's differently and even splashed out and put an inside pocket onto the lining.  Both bags were lined with the curtain lining fabric, which seemed only appropriate to me.  Once I'd made the bag a couple of times, it got easier.  The bag itself, with a squared, flat bottom, is pretty easy compared with constructing and placing the straps and those are even easier for me than figuring out where to put the inside pocket!  I didn't try the pocket on the other bags I made.

Still, they are pretty straightforward:  take a piece of fabric about 24 x 36 inches and fold lengthwise.  Stitch up the two sides with right side of the fabric together.  To square the bottom corners, line up a side seam with the bottom crease and sew across the bottom of the resulting triangular-shaped fold.  Ironing after each step makes for a better finish, even with bags.  The further in on the seam one stitches, the wider the bottom of the bag, in fact twice as wide as the distance.  For example, if the stitch line is 2 inches from the corner, the width of the bottom will be 4 inches.  Repeat all this for the lining if there is one (and I think lined bags are not only stronger, they look much nicer). 

For the outside, turn right side out, turn the top down a 1/2 inch or sew and stitch.  Insert the lining.  I lined up the corners on each end and pinned them, also in the middle on each side, so I could see where the lining would line up at the top.  I trimmed it just below the hemmed top.  Then fold down the top of the outside of the bag again, about an inch, making sure the top edge of the lining is caught in that second fold.  Stitch around the bottom edge of the new hem.   If a pocket is to be added, the instructions say to stitch a patch pocket to the lining while it is still flat.  I would try stitching it after the lining has been sewn, but of course before it is attached to the bag.

The straps should between 3 and 4 inches wide and can vary from 20 inches to longer.  One way is to sew a tube twice the desired width (plus seam allowance) and turn.  Instead I cut the straps and stitched the side under, then cut lining fabric the same width, turned one end under and stitched it to the underside of the strap.  I trimmed the remaining fabric leaving enough to turn under the other side of the lining and stitch it to the other edge of the strap.  I thought lining the straps also added strength and a more finished look. 

A strap can be positioned with both ends on one side of the bag (probably preferable) or with the ends across the bag (for a longer, narrower bag that needn't open very wide); they can be positioned either outside or inside the bag.  I mitered the corners to finish them neatly, as they would be on the outside of the bag.  One could also turn the ends inside and hand-stitch closed; this would probably work best on the tube approach, rather than the lined, depending upon the thickness of the fabric.  The bottom ends of the straps should be placed just below the lower hem at the top of the bag.  I stitched a square and a cross in the area of the strap that overlapped the bag, to insure its security.  My guess is that the fabric would rip before the strap would come off.

Of course a neatly finished product needs to be ironed and all the threads tied off and clipped. 

I got a lot of pleasure from making these bags and so continued with a couple more which I'll show you later.  I even plan to stitch up a few more for our own use.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Remember to Attend

I'm a very internally-focussed person.   I've often driven somewhere and then realised I didn't remember the journey.  Bill can tell you which airports we flew in/out/through for many of our journeys; I might remember one in five after he's described the whole thing to me.  I think I'm a lousy housekeeper because I simply don't see the mess until I shake myself out of my daze and focus.  It gets worse if I'm stressed:  I've been known to place the unopened tin of soup into the heated saucepan, the package of panty hose into the fridge, the peeled and chopped fruit into the compost bin and (nearly) the peelings into the bowl with the rest of the cake mix.  I'm not quite sure why all the examples happened in the kitchen.  It's probably the place I still need to think about what I'm doing to have a successful outcome.

So, one of the big benefits of this blog for me is that it causes me to use my camera more often and consequently to notice my world more.  

I like the way the word 'attend' has so many positive uses, particularly definitions 2, 3 , 5 and 6:

attend [əˈtɛnd]  vb 

1. to be present at (an event, meeting, etc.)

2. (when intr, foll by to) to give care; minister

3. (when intr, foll by to) to pay attention; listen

4. (tr; often passive) to accompany or follow a high temperature attended by a severe cough

5. (intr; foll by on or upon) to follow as a consequence (of)

6. (intr; foll by to) to devote one's time; apply oneself to attend to the garden

7. (tr) to escort or accompany

8. (intr; foll by on or upon) to wait (on); serve; provide for the needs (of) to attend on a guest

9. (tr) Archaic to wait for; expect

10. (intr) Obsolete to delay
[from Old French atendre, from Latin attendere to stretch towards, from tendere to extend]

Bill asked if I had made resolutions this year, given I mentioned a plan to do a long run in the next couple of days.   ('Long' is a very relative term, but I have to start somewhere).  I said I had only gone so far as some good intentions:  exercise, sew, un-clutter.  All of those require me to use various definitions of the verb attend.

I sat down with these photos intending to write about remembering to notice beauty, but all by itself quite a different post developed.  Perhaps this is something I'm supposed to 'hear'.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Daily Lit

I've been enjoying the use of a website I thought I'd tell you about, in case you don't already know about it:

You can choose from a fairly large range of books (The Bible / Little Women / The Count of Monte Cristo / Shoes, Handbags & Tiaras) and the website will send you bite-sized selections of them on a daily basis.  The catch for some of them seem to be that you may not get the whole book, the point being that they want you to buy books, but if I only saw a portion of that last book, I still enjoyed what I saw.  And if the first 1/3 to 1/2 is really gripping, a good number of these books are available online or at the library and one could finish the story in that way if necessary.  I've not had any problems with interrupted reading to date.  Then again, I've mainly chosen non-fiction and I've been well pleased with this website.

What book have you alway meant to read, but haven't yet made time for?

Friday, 6 January 2012

Vogue and I

I've mentioned a few times before about my magazine addiction.  In fact, I think I bought three magazines last year.  It will have been at the airport on our way to the States.  Long haul flights are so punishing, I give in to the bookstore to ameliorate the pain.  My selections were Good Housekeeping, Oprah and Woman and Home (it's official: I'm middle-aged).   I think I spent about £12-15 £11.25 (there's a reason to keep all those bits of paper after all and !yea! now I can pitch it!)  Magazines aren't cheap, at least not by my definition.  There was something of interest in each, but on the whole I was fairly disappointed.   There was more advert than substance.

I know magazines survive through their adverts, not the purchase price, but these days most of the articles are adverts as well as the adverts.  In my book, anything that names a product - with or without the price - is an advert.  I counted the pages in the three magazines and then the pages of what I considered to be more about selling than informing or entertaining.  The result was no surprise:

Woman & Home (£3.50):  94 / 210 pages, or 45% ads

Good Housekeeping (£3.50):  98 / 202 pages, or 49% ads

Oprah (£4.25):  176 / 284 pages, or 62% adverts

So, Oprah, though I quite like some of the content, comes out the worst on price and percentage of ...stuff (there is a reason why that woman is rich!).  Of course, someone else might look at these magazines and disagree with the pages that I categorized as being advertisements.  I suspect, however, that the industry is sufficiently clever that they got a few product placements in that I missed. 

This exercise was really helpful in helping me curb my magazine addiction, that and still owning a few dozen gross of glossy pages yet.  I have given over most of the Runners' World mags to Simon and Martin, Bill's son and son-in-law, both now interested in running.  Between about 10 years of RW mags and a shelf full of books on the topic, I think it's safe to say that Bill and I know most of the theory behind running.  He's just better at practicing it than I am.

So what has all this to do with Vogue, the magazine I am least likely to purchase at the news stand?  Well, I read it - and several others - in the library a couple of months ago, the October issue to be precise.  I feed my addiction at the library, at the hairdresser's and at various cafes I frequent.  What's more, I take notes, crazy as that sounds.  At the library I found I had no paper on which to write so I pulled out the camera and snapped photos of a few ads from Home and Antiques (see I'm not altogether anti-advertisement; I just don't want to pay for the privilege of seeing them); I also took pictures of a couple of articles from Vogue that mentioned personalities I wanted to look up. 

I've never heard of Diana Athill.  I've added her to my author list on Evernote.  There was an interview of Jane Birkin who made the endearing comment that the heels are all worn out of her cashmere socks.  Also, an article by Lisa Armstrong (I'm pretty sure I have a book around here she wrote) talking about the English woman's style.  I found this quite refreshing given that it seems that most of the blogs I read these days are Frankly, Fantastically, Franco-phile.  I give the French their due, but not to the exclusion of virtually every other country in the world.   Because of these three articles that I know I will enjoy re-reading and the fact that my photos are unsatisfactorily incomplete, I have purchased the October issue of Vogue off of - for £2.98. 

I'll get back to you on the percentage of adverts data...