Friday, 24 September 2021

My favourite toy

No, it’s not Lucky Car.  (He’s far too important to be considered “a toy”.). It’s my 2016 iPhone SE.  

Why is my phone my favourite toy?  Besides being a phone, it’s  an entertainment device full of books, podcasts and audio-books, a digital radio and a portable TV (thanks to BBC iPlayer).  It’s my camera.  I can use it to talk to my sisters and friends in Australia for free via certain apps.  It’s my backup wallet; forgot my purse?  No problem, so long as the internet is accessible.  It gives me access to my bank, reliable news sources (the BBC and the ABC), my emails and my health records.  It’s the SatNav for the car.  It’s my tutor.  (I learn languages with it via Duolingo.)  It’s the loyalty card and shopping voucher holder for the supermarkets I use.  When I travel, it’s my ticket and my boarding pass, as well as my alarm clock.  I use it for research.  It fits into the front pocket of my jeans and into most of my suit-jacket pockets.  It’s the handiest piece of kit that I own and it’s always with me.

Last night, I was overjoyed to discover that my phone will run on IOS 15, so I can put off purchasing a new one for another year or so.  When I do, it’ll probably be the latest model SE, the one with the “home” button and 126gb of storage.  (I always go for the largest data storage available, since it’s so easy to fill up.  My current phone is 64gb and bursting at the seams with podcasts.)

What’s holding me back from upgrading now?  Well, if you read my last post, you’ll know that I won’t upgrade until I absolutely have to, because it’s a waste of resources.  Also, the new SE doesn’t have an audio jack, while Lucky Car doesn’t have Bluetooth.  Yes, there is a converter/jack you can buy, which will enable you to plug headphones/audio cables into the fire-wire slot but that means I can either charge the phone or plug it into Lucky’s radio, not both.  Not useful when I’m using it as my SatNav and it’s draining the battery.  I hope to find a Bluetooth converter for the radio, which will enable me to do both.   (With the current phone, I can charge it while I drive and listen via the radio at the same time, so don’t risk being stranded somewhere with a dead phone battery.) 

- Pam 

PS:  My second favourite toy is my 6-year-old iPad Mini 3 together with its Bluetooth keyboard, upon which this is being typed.  I’ll probably replace “Paddy” first because his IOS stopped at 12.8.something, so apps will eventually get more unstable/problematic to use.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Channelling my inner Greta Thunberg

Beyond the Pandemic, one of the biggest themes of the last two years has been Climate Change.  On the one hand, it’s not surprising.  The rising temperatures are finally impacting weather systems, so that politicians and the general public are beginning to notice.  On the other hand, NONE OF THIS IS NEW!  Before I left Australia in 1989, I attended the public session of a conference about the impacts of global warming and pollution.  Yes, 1989!  

A word about that conference.  I don’t remember who sponsored it - my flat mate got the tickets - but the session I attended was in the Dallas Brooke’s Hall in Melbourne and it was packed.  The speakers were from multiple universities and research organisations across Australia and the whole thing was conducted via video conferencing from conference halls in the various state capitals.  The items I remember:  the hole in the Ozone Layer; global warming and its impacts; plastic pollution; the damage done by the pollution from bleaching paper pulp with (?) dioxins; power generation - the big issue in Australia at the time was the flooding of the Franklin River for a hydroelectric power plant - and whether nuclear power was worth the risks.  The other thing that I remember being mentioned was how rubbish bins in Scandinavian countries were divided into into sections for recycling.  (When I landed in Denmark in May 1989 - my first stop in Europe - I remember being very impressed. It was 20+ years before Britain caught up.)

Fast forward to 2019 and, somehow, the wonderful Greta Thunberg captured the world’s attention with her School Strike For Climate Change.  All I can say is “good on you girl!  You rock!”.  What bothers me is that, in the intervening 30 years, so many things have got worse not better.  Why are more plastic bottles thrown away now than in 1989?  (Why did sales of bottled water skyrocket in those 30 years and why do people throw away the bottles instead of reusing/recycling them?) Why has the wild bee population declined, when we know how important they are?  Why is 25% of all food purchased by British households thrown away?  Why is it more difficult now to buy toilet paper made from recycled paper than it was in 1989?   Why is there so much litter in Britain and why hasn’t this situation improved in the last 2 years, when everybody was in Lockdown?  (Seriously, you can’t walk down a street now without seeing a discarded face mask.)

On the political side, I guess it all boils down to expediency.  Most politicians don’t think beyond their next election and their desire to be re-elected. Changing “business as usual” practices won’t get them headlines, whereas being seen to respond to disasters will. Sadly, changing “Business as Usual” is what needs to be done to save the planet but it needs some political will.  At the moment, the Government is a follower; it needs to lead and to put its money where it’s mouth is.  Here are simple things the Government could do:-

  1. Change building regulations so that all new builds have the latest version of  photovoltaic cells on their roof (which are 3x more efficient than the originals).  Every new house should also be built with a small S-shaped wind turbine, while blocks of flats/offices and business parks should have at least one large wind turbine.  All new builds need to have off-street parking - say, one space per bedroom - with vehicle recharging points incorporated therein.
  2. All Government paper products should be made from recycled paper, whether it’s toilet paper purchased for use in a hospital or a leaflet to be distributed to the general population.  Lead by example.
  3. Government procurement has long been driven by price.  Instead, the first factor to consider should be carbon footprint.  If xx costs a few pence more but is made locally, then that should be purchased instead of shipping it in from China.
  4. Ban the use of insecticides on state-owned land.  Organic practices only.  (I will permit weed-killers because some invasive species of weed just won’t die without them.)
  5. Invest in hydrogen technology and have all Government vehicles hydrogen powered.  Batteries can’t power everything and their creation/recycling generates a massive amount of pollution.  Battery powered lorries/trucks are impractical (very heavy) and battery powered vehicles can’t tow.
  6. Ban the shipping of recycling abroad.  Specifically plastics should be recycled “in country”.  Many British councils ship their plastic recycling abroad, where it is found years later, breaking down on a rubbish dump somewhere and hasn’t been recycled. This is a waste of resources, waste of shipping miles and creates another type of pollution problem..

The above is OK for the Government but what about the rest of us?  What can we do?  In an interview last year, Sir David Attenborough was asked “What is the most important lesson you have learned?”  His answer was “Don’t waste.”  Don’t waste resources.  Reduce.  Reuse.  Recycle.  I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is for years, in an attempt to lower my footprint on the planet:-

  1. Where available, I buy recycled paper products (toilet paper, kitchen towel).  Everyone should.  Save virgin paper for books. 
  2. I’ll wash and re-use the plastic bags that bread/bagels comes in, before eventually recycling them.  
  3. Most of my clothes are bought to last, making me a follower of “slow fashion” and they get worn to death.  I look for classic designs, made from natural fibres.   (Today, I’m wearing hand knitted socks, a pair of jeans bought in 2018, a t-shirt purchased in 2003 and a cashmere cardigan purchased in 2019.  My bra is 5 or 6 years old and my knickers about the same.)
  4. When I can buy clothing secondhand, I will.  Three of my work suits come from charity shops, as do several t-shirts and my sheepskin jacket.  (I nearly bought another suit from a charity shop yesterday but the jacket was too tight.)
  5. When I do buy new clothes, where possible I buy natural fibres and wear those clothes until they die.  (I’d rather be considered classic than fashionable.)
  6. Make the best of what I have for as long as it lasts.  For example, my iPhone is 5 years old.  I won’t consider changing it until Apple stop updating the IOS.  Why should I?  It does everything that I want it to do and, last night, updated to IOS 15, guaranteeing me at least another year of use.
  7. Buy smart.  I don’t buy something because it’s the latest widget; I buy it because it fulfils multiple purposes and does exactly what I want.  This saves money as well as resources.  It doesn’t matter if it’s clothes, a kitchen widgets or IT kit.  If it doesn’t do what you want it to do, you’ll never use it and/or you end up replacing it three times.
  8. Years before electric vehicles were readily available, I went for a car that was fuel efficient, had good build quality and a low carbon footprint.  (When Lucky dies, he’ll probably be replaced by a hybrid.  Meanwhile, I’ll keep him running for as long as possible.  Pollution isn’t just about carbon; it’s about the other components he’s made from, too.)
  9. With the exception of weed killer, I garden organically.  (I’ll only use weed killer if the weed burner fails.)
  10. Buy local.  Consider where something is grown and/or where it’s made.  Most of the yarn I’ve purchased over the last 10 years was grown and spun in the UK.  Prior to the Pandemic, my veg came from a local farmer’s farm shop.  He also sold me eggs from his mate’s farm, about 5 miles away.      (Sadly, they closed due to the Pandemic.)
  11. Grow/make your own.  Not only will you appreciate it more, it cuts the carbon footprint.  There is nothing nicer than a just-harvested potato.
  12. Avoid buying food that is heavily processed.  Not only will your body thank you; all those “e-numbers” are chemical additives that have to be manufactured.
  13. If you eat meat, then eat the whole animal, offal included.  Anything less is wasteful.  There is more to a chicken than just chicken breast fillets!  Don’t like liver?  Do you eat pate?  Well, that’s liver.  Get over it.  Personally, I love Haggis but many people shy away from it because it’s made from offal.  They’ll eat that offal when it’s in boring, supermarket sausages, but not in something as nice as Haggis.
  14. Do the passive things that will cut your carbon footprint. Compost your vegetable peelings and grass cuttings. Wash your laundry in cold water and air dry it.  (We do.  We don’t own a dryer.). Walk to the shops, instead of driving.  (We walk the 1.5 miles to our local Lidl and lug our shopping home in backpacks.).  Use public transport where practical.  (Nobody in their right mind would drive into central London.)
I guess my message is:  do what you can, when you can, and try to mitigate the consequences.  Don’t waste.  If there is waste, recycle it responsibly.

- Pam

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Finished Frankensocks

As promised in my last post, here are the original grey socks that I finished knitting back in January 2013:





And here are the finished Frankensocks:-





You can see that they’re related.  The third sock yarn, used on the feet, was from these socks:





It’s James C. Brett’s Funny Feetz.  (I bought 2x100g balls, back in 2019, and have knitted 3 pairs of socks with it plus this pair.  Their quality control is appalling - one ball was full of flaws.).  On the second sock, I ran out of both colours of the Lang Super Soxx, so ended up working in the end of a fourth ball of yarn, alternating with it for about 10 rows.  No idea from which pair of socks it originated.

-  Pip





Monday, 30 August 2021

Frankensocks

  I’m currently knitting “frankensocks” for myself.  Years ago, I bought two 100g balls of Lang Super Soxx, one in blue shades and one in grey.  The blue became a pair of socks for DH and the grey a pair for me.  Beyond size, the only difference in their appearance is the colour.  (Sadly, today, I can’t load the photo directly to this thread.  I’m on an iPad and it’s always hit and miss for photos on the MSE Forums.)

Anyway, I had 20g left of the blue and 35g of the grey.  I’ve been itching to use it up.  My standard socks use 63g-65g of 4-ply.  Since I only had 55g, I thought that, if I shortened the leg by 15 rows, did the cuffs, heels and toes in the grey, then alternated between the two colours row-by-row, I should have enough to make another pair of socks.  I’ve just started the toe of the first sock.  It’s not gone according to plan. I began getting worried about the quantity of the blue, so stopped using it 15 rows into the gusset. (There’s 10g left.)  Ten rows into the foot, I started panicking about the grey...

Rummaging through the stash, I found the unlabelled end of another grey/black/white shaded sock yarn - maybe 5g - and alternated rows with that for 24 rounds.  I think I’ve got enough to do the same on the second sock, but I won’t know for certain until I finish the toe on the first one and can weigh everything.

Wish me luck.

- Pip (Hopefully I’ll be able to share photos at some point.)

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Pumpkin Bread

I keep telling myself that I must write down this recipe before I forget it or lose it, so here goes...

When we visited Miami in 2006, one of the things I brought home in my luggage  was a packet of Williams-Sonoma cake mix for “Pumpkin Bread”.  I made it; it was scrumptious, and for several years afterwards I tried to find a recipe to duplicate it.  The only recipe I remember  had “pumpkin pie spice mix” listed as an ingredient.  Fast forward to our next trip to Miami in 2014 and, this time, I fly back to the UK with several jars of “pumpkin pie spice”.



Do you think that I could find the recipe mentioned earlier?  No.  These jars remained unopened, in the pantry, for years.  Fast forward to the end of last year when, in a fit of inspiration, I decided to search the internet again for a pumpkin bread recipe.  On someone’s blog, I found a picture of a recipe, cut from an ancient magazine.  Oddly, they didn’t give directions, just the photo.





(Sadly, while I saved a copy of the photo, I didn’t make a note of whose blog or I’d credit them.)

We don’t get canned pumpkin here, but a month or two ago, I bought a couple of large butternut squash in L!dl and decided to have a go making it with them.  After three attempts, I think I’ve nailed it.  I’ve also swapped in oil for the butter.  You need to bake the pumpkin/squash the day before you make the loaves.  It freezes well, so don’t be put off by having to make two loaves:

Pumpkin Bread (makes 2 loaves)

Ingredients

1 medium sized butternut squash
2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (aka baking soda)
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups castor sugar
2 eggs
Spices
Either use 
1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
or use:
1 tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice

Method
  1. The day before, prepare your butternut squash:-
    • Preheat the oven to 200C.
    • Cut it in half lengthwise.  DO NOT PEEL.
    • Scoop out the seeds and discard them.
    • Place the squash, cut side down, onto a baking tray and bake for an hour.
    • Allow to cool before removing from the tray.
    • Once cold, use a spoon to scoop out the pulp.  Deposit it into a bowl and weigh it.  The original recipe requires a 440g can, but I’ve made it with 450g, 350g and with 530g of pulp.  All three versions have been successful.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line two loaf pans with baking paper..
  3. In a food processor or blender, combine the sugar, the oil and the eggs.  Blend.
  4. Add the pumpkin pulp and process until combined.  (It may be a bit grainy.  That’s OK.)
  5. Finally, add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
  6. Divide the mixture evenly between two lined loaf pans and bake for 65-75 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  7. Once cooked, remove the two loaves from the loaf pans and cool on a cake rack.
  8. If you are freezing a loaf, leave it in its baking paper, slide it into a freezer bag, seal and freeze. 


Enjoy!







- Pam






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Saturday, 20 March 2021

Lockdown 2020 - a year on....

 It's a year on Tuesday (23rd March), since Britain first went into full Lockdown in the fight against COVID-19.   The television is full of it this morning, which got me thinking... What have I done differently, since we went into Lockdown?  There are a lot of things that I did before, that many people have adopted during this time (cooking from scratch, baking, knitting, etc), but here are a few things that I do now, that I didn't habitually do before Lockdown:-

  1. Regularly walking to L!dl.  Our local branch is 1.5 miles away and it's become our primary grocery shop.  We walk there about once a week to buy toiletries, dairy products and fresh veg. (Prior to Lockdown, we bought our fresh veg and eggs from a farm shop 5 miles away and split our supermarket shopping between MrT's and L!dl, driving to both.  The first casualty of Lockdown was the farm shop - they are in the  middle of a National Trust property and were forced to close when the "big house" closed.  They haven't reopened.)
  2. Buy the Sunday paper from the local branch of the C0-0p.  Again, this is a walk, whereas previously we'd drive to MrT's.
  3. Going for a walk "after work" every evening.  We've both been working from home since Lockdown started.  This is the only way to get that mental space between work-life and home-life, which we'd normally get from a commute.  Another plus side is that, unlike many people, I haven't put on weight. 
  4. As you may have gathered, I'm not doing a lot of driving now.  The money that I've saved by not buying a tank of diesel every week is going into the "Car Account" instead, to be spent on services, insurance, road tax and the inevitable replacement car.
  5. Use my "morning commute" time to exercise.  Rather than get up later, now that I'm working from home - which might upset DH's daily routine - I use that time to exercise.  I've done the Couch-to-5K and now run 3 times a week.  On the other 2 mornings, I do some yoga stretches and I've started doing a bit of weight training.
  6. Learned French via Duolingo. (It's free.)  Today is day 296 of my current streak of lessons.  I'm spending less than 10 minutes a day and have learned considerably more words than I did in four years of French at high school.  I'm not sure I can string a sentence together and I doubt I'd understand if my French colleagues started talking in their native tongue, but I know far more than I did. 

What about you?  What are you doing differently since you went into Lockdown?

- Pip

Sunday, 7 February 2021

It’s all about getting the biggest bang for your buck

How’re is your February going?  Are you coping with the bad weather, the never-ending Lockdown and the inevitable tightening of belts?  I’ve always found February to be a tougher month, financially, than January.  In January, you run out of cash early because you were paid before Christmas and end up in debt/overdue on payments; February is when those debts have to be paid back.   (You may remember me mentioning that tough February 30 years ago, when Dumbo left me with little more £20 to get through the month. It was the inspiration for several years of the “£50 February Challenge”.)



We  went to the Butchers’ yesterday, spending £55.70 from the Meat Fund.  Since our meat shopping is all about getting the biggest bang for our buck, I thought I’d share what we bought, what the plans are for it and how many portions we’ll get.  The butcher doesn’t do an itemised bill, so I’m only recording prices where I saw them and can remember them.  Remember, there’s only two of us in this household.


  • 1 large roasting chicken - £7.99 - dinner tonight (we’ll eat the legs), chicken fajitas on Tuesday and chicken risotto on Wednesday.  That’s at least 10 portions, plus stock.  
  • 1kg minced beef - at least 16 portions when padded out with veg, lentils/beans, etc
  • 1 rolled, stuffed, boned breast of lamb 1.2kg - £13.60 - minimum of 4 portions of roast lamb.  The butcher cut it in half for us, so we have two roasts.
  • 8 chicken breasts, average weight 200g each - between 16 to 32 portions, depending on whether I double up in a recipe.   I usually only use one in a stir fry or chicken pasta dish that serves 4.
  • 8 large chicken thighs - 8 portions of chicken tray bake.  
  • 4 pork chops - two will definitely be served as chops, while the other two may get chopped up to make pork-and-beans and a stir-fry.  Either 4 or 10 portions, depending on the outcome.


That’s between 54 and 80 portions of meat-based meals.  As I said, it’s all about getting the biggest bang for our meat-buck.


With the exception of tonight’s roasting chicken, I have just finished shoehorning it all into the freezer.  Everything has been “bagged and tagged”.  I had to do it in stages to maximise space/freeze things in shapes that will stack and fit together, especially since the freezer was pretty full already with lunchboxes, tubs of soup/cooked pulses/homemade ready meals and sauces, not to mention the haggis that threatens to leap out at you... The mince was divided into 4 and carefully stuffed into freezer box to form 4 rectangles.  The chicken breasts and chops were bagged separately and frozen to be as flat as possible.  The chicken thighs were bagged in fours, while the lamb was stood on its end, to freeze upright.  






As you can see, once again, I win at freezer Tetris.


- Pam


Thursday, 31 December 2020

SitRep 2020: Review of the Year

What a strange year was 2020.  It started normally, then was sideswiped by Covid-19.  It feels like we spend a good six months in Lockdown.  We’re back there now, although it’s called “Tier 4” instead.   There were so many things planned that fell by the wayside because of Lockdown: concerts, international cricket matches at Lords and the Oval, a trip to Rome in June, Normandy in April, multiple football matches (including 2 at the Euros), a day at Wimbledon, the Proms...  Some events were postponed; others cancelled completely.  

There were some good things.  We didn’t get sick.  We managed a few days in Gloucester, before going back into Lockdown.  I’m still employed.  Treasured but fleeting visits with friends, when we were allowed to meet up.  I got my sewing machine repaired just before the first Lockdown.  I have plenty of yarn.  My choir started meeting through Zoom - rehearsing is pretty awful but it’s great to see people. Duolingo tells me I’m on a 219 day streak of learning French.  I started running again on 13th July, doing the Couch-to-5K; a week ago, I ran for 18 minutes. 

Regarding my 20-in-2020 Goals, here’s the Sit-Rep.  I reckon I achieved 9 out of the 20:-

  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 41/20 - I finished the jumper I was knitting (5 balls), completed the next one (finished on 13 balls), finished the third (8 balls), fourth (9 balls) and fifth (9 balls).  Also completed are three pairs of socks.   
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. 31/20 weeks.  Absolutely smashed this, thanks to Duolingo.
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks. Walking 30 weeks, weight training 5 weeks, running 20 weeks.
  4. Read 20 books. 6/20.  These are listed In the sidebar on the right..
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes.  5/20.  I am a cook!  How can this be so difficult to achieve?  I’ve made Chicken a la King, a chicken tray bake from New Idea and Lidl’s Mediterranean Meatball Bake, Slow-cooker barbecued pork, Lamb Moussaka. 
  6. 20 gardening sessions.   14 proper ones plus a couple of minutes mucking around with seeds.
  7. Explore 20 new places 7/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux, Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucester city centre, Cheltenham city centre, Great Witcombe Roman Villa, Painswick Rococo Garden, some of the back streets near home.
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum, Chelsea vs Leeds (after Lockdown).
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 60/66 coupons used.  These are listed in the sidebar on the right.
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 20/20.
  11. Lose 20lbs.  10/20.  (To be honest, I’m just glad I haven’t put any weight on given the “Covid Calories” everyone is eating.)
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 3/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.  Repaired the pockets on DH’s shorts.
  13. Declutter 20 items.
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once) 20 miles (started running again on 13.7.20 - doing couch-to-5K).
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400) £400/£400
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  29/20.  
  17. Write 20 blog posts.  25/20 
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds).  37/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps, 21.4.20 10524 steps, 3.5.20 11,196 steps, 4.5.20 13,956 steps, 17.5.20 14,066 steps, 18.5.20 15,046 steps, 19.5.20 11,567 steps, 30.5.10 10,079 steps, 31.5.20 11,160 steps, 13.7.20 11.287 steps, 18.7.20 15,001 steps, 20.7.20 10,005 steps,  22.7.20 14,830 steps, 16.8.20 10,954 steps, 17.8.20 10,952 steps, 24.8.20 11,823 steps, 26.8.20 11,402 steps, 2.9.20 10,757 steps,  7.9.20 10,714 steps, 13.9.20 10,604 steps, 18.9.20 10,946 steps, 20/9/20 11,653 steps, 21/9/20 11,374 steps, 23/9/20 10,069 steps, t5.10.20 10,355 steps, 6.10.20 13,074 steps,  9.10.20 11,012 steps, 11.10.20 10,301 steps, 18.10.20 16,786 steps, 20.10.20 16,212 steps, 21.10.20 10,341 steps, 22.10.20 11,729 steps, 23.10.20 10,298 steps, 6.11.20 10,366 steps, 11.11.20 10,100 steps, 12.12.20 11,181 steps, 30.12.20 10,061 steps.
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends.  Do singing exercises for 20 weeks to rebuild my voice. 2/20.
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  14/20.
How about you?  What did you achieve during 2020?

- Pam

Friday, 16 October 2020

Lightbulbs

Guess what one of the highlights has been for this week? 
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Any ideas?  I bet you won’t guess it.
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We had to change a lightbulb on Tuesday.  These days, it’s a big event.  Seriously.  It’s the first time in forever.  I can’t remember the last time a lightbulb went.  They all have low-energy bulbs that last for years.  This one has (probably) been in place for 5 or 6 years.  I’m trying to remember when we bought the light fitting it’s in.  It was bought specially for it.  (The light fitting only takes screw bulbs, instead of the more usual bayonet fastening.)

Unlike some of the older low-energy lightbulbs, it didn’t gradually brown out, getting slower and slower to obtain full brightness. It’s always stayed bright.  Instead, when I switched it on in the morning,  it started flickering really fast.   Naturally, I turned it off and put on a side light. (It’s dark when I get up.).  Tuesday evening when DH tested it, it flickered for a few seconds and then stabilised for an hour or so, before flickering again.  That was enough for him to dig out the spare lightbulbs and swap a new one for it.

When I think of how often we used to change the old, incandescent lightbulbs, this one was worth its money.  In six years, we’d have probably used 6 incandescent bulbs at £1-ish each, so this one has saved us at least as much money as it cost to purchase (£3-ish), as well as whatever it has saved in electricity.

The old one is now sitting in a box in the hall, along with other things that need to go to the local “recycling centre” (otherwise known as the tip or dump).  It’s going to be there a while.  Thanks to Lockdown, you can’t just drop in there on you way to somewhere else.  You have to book a slot in advance and each slot is only 10 minutes long.  When one of my colleagues booked her slot, she had a two week wait!  Imagine if you had a car full of stuff?

- Pam

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Looking for the silver lining

Something I don’t discuss often here is work.  You know I’ve had jobs that I’ve loved and made some fantastic friends in the process.  Well, I was expecting to be out of work right now.  I’m a contractor - not by choice - and I was told in July that my contract wouldn’t be  renewed when it expired at the end of September.  Looking the inevitable firmly in they eye, I polished up my CV, consulted a friend who wrote CV’s for a living, and started applying for jobs.  I even had an interview.

Then the unthinkable happened.  Over the August Bank Holiday Weekend, one of my Finance colleagues had a serious accident and spent three weeks on a ventilator in Intensive Care.  (She’s conscious now, thank God, and breathing on her own, but weak as a kitten with a long recovery ahead.).   When the news broke, I messaged our Financial Controller, “If you need another pair of hands, count me in”.  The rest is history.  I’m now responsible for the cashbook, credit control, cash flow reporting, work-in-progress reporting and trade debtor reporting, together with half-a-dozen balance sheet reconciliations.   With the help of some lovely colleagues, I’ve just survived my first month end. They’re talking about extending my contract to March.

I’m lucky.  I know that.  It doesn’t mean I haven’t faced tough times.  I’ve had to work hard to build a career and a good life.  “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst” has long been my philosophy.  It’s how you face the bad times that define you. You make your own luck.  When I was made redundant in 2016, I gave myself a week to wallow in self-pity - oh how it hurt - and then I deliberately chose to act positively. “Pick yourself up.  Dust yourself off, and start all over again.”    I choose to keep trying and keep seeking ways to do better.  

Everything life throws at you, gives you choices. You can’t control what happens to you but you can control how you react to it. You may be the victim of something horrible, an assault or long term bullying, but you can choose whether you define yourself as a victim or as a survivor.  You control the messages you feed to yourself; that’s what defines your self-worth, not something external.  Sure, people want to be liked and valued by their peers, but if they don’t like themselves then they’ll never be happy.  How many people do you know who are still beating themselves up over something that happened 10, 15, even 25 years ago?  I can name a few.  They haven’t forgiven themselves for an event that everyone else has forgotten.  It’s just another reason to hate themselves.

There are so many people who measure their self worth by Facebook or Instagram, needing the constant affirmation of “likes” to feel whole. The most self-obsessed people are usually the most insecure, too wrapped up in what is happening inside their own head to notice what is happening to the people around them.  A year ago, someone complained to me that their boss never spoke to them and how hurtful it was.  Knowing this person, I wondered how many times they’d actually initiated a conversation with their boss and asked the boss about themself.  (I occasionally give this person a lift to events.  They never ask me about myself or events in my life, and I’ve known them to sulk if they don’t get complimented on their outfit.)

You always have a choice.  You choose how you face the day.  Another thing I choose to do is to treat other people with kindness.  They may be really grumpy, but I’d rather think that they were having a bad day and treat them with civility and kindness.  No, I am not a doormat.   Anger and aggression are defence mechanisms born out of pain.  Sometimes just asking “are you ok?” can diffuse a situation and, if you are prepared to watch and listen, you’d be amazed what you can learn about someone.

- Pam

Saturday, 12 September 2020

What did you achieve during Lockdown?

What did you achieved during Lockdown, Pam?  This is a question I’ve asked myself a lot, recently.  We've both worked throughout Lockdown so, at best, have regained a couple of hours a day from our commutes.  As you know, at the start of 2020, I set myself 20 separate challenges (updated below), but what have I actually achieved in the six months since we were all told to go home and put our lives on hold?

Here's what I have achieved during Lockdown:-

  • Knitted three jumpers and started my fourth.
  • Completed 109 days straight of Duolingo French and learned more in those 108 days than I did in 4 years of high school French.
  • Decreased my podcast queue from 357 to under 180, even though between 12 and 15 new podcasts are added each week by the podcasts to which I'm subscribed.
  • Become a runner again.  In July, I dusted off the Couch to 5K app and started running most mornings.  I've had to repeat a couple of weeks because I was really unfit, but that's OK.  I'm now running more than I'm walking, and I'm happy with that.
  • Published 9 recipes.  At the start of Lockdown, I set myself the goal of putting my cheapest recipes online, so that those struggling financially could find and use them.  While some of my recipes were already on the blog, I've added others that are really cheap to make.  There's also been a couple of cake recipes.
  • Finally finished the sock I started knitting in February and am part of the way through it's pair.
  • Grown and harvested 8 bulbs of garlic, 3.2kg of potatoes (with more to follow), multiple courgettes, a dozen pak choi, a forest of mutant carrots and a handful of broad beans.  (What can I say?  We planted out 6 broad bean plants but they just didn't deliver.)  There are still 5 heavily laden tomato plants to harvest - the tomatoes are only just starting to turn red - and, maybe, a dozen red or yellow peppers to follow.
  • Harvested two huge batches of rose hips and made 10 jars of Rose Hip Jelly.
  • Harvested enough sloes - 541g - to make one bottle of sloe gin.  These are from one bush from the tangle of plants at the end of the street, which fell over in August's high winds but has managed to stay alive.  Until it collapsed onto the pavement, I never knew it was there.
Yes, there are things I’ve missed due to Lockdown: choir, meeting friends face to face, attending live sporting matches, the Osterley Park Farm Shop (closed due to Lockdown), the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, the sheer joy of just driving off into the sunrise and visiting new places...  But we’re healthy and solvent and happy, and that’s the best I can ask for right now.

Regarding my 20-in-2020 Goals, here’s the Sit-Rep:-

  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 28/20 - I finished the jumper I was knitting (5 balls), completed the next one (finished on 13 balls), finished the third (8 balls), commenced the fourth (1 ball) and lined up the fifth.  Sadly, I have still only clocked up one complete pair of socks this year (ending a ball of yarn in the process).   
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. 16/20 weeks.
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks. Walking 22 weeks, weight training 5 weeks, running 8 weeks.
  4. Read 20 books. 6/20.  These are listed In the sidebar on the right..
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes.  5/20.  I am a cook!  How can this be so difficult to achieve?  I’ve made Chicken a la King, a chicken tray bake from New Idea and Lidl’s Mediterranean Meatball Bake, Slow-cooker barbecued pork, Lamb Moussaka. 
  6. 20 gardening sessions.   10 proper ones so far plus a couple of minutes mucking around with seeds.
  7. Explore 20 new places 1/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux.
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum.
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 40/66 coupons used.  These are listed in the sidebar on the right.
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 14/20.
  11. Lose 20lbs.  8/20.  (To be honest, I’m just glad I haven’t put any weight on given the “Covid Calories” everyone is eating.)
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 3/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.  Repaired the pockets on DH’s shorts.
  13. Declutter 20 items.
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once) 1 mile (started running again on 13.7.20 - doing couch-to-5K).
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400) £400/£400
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  29/20.  
  17. Write 20 blog posts.  24/20 
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds).  20/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps, 21.4.20 10524 steps, 3.5.20 11,196 steps, 4.5.20 13,956 steps, 17.5.20 14,066 steps, 18.5.20 15,046 steps, 19.5.20 11,567 steps, 30.5.10 10,079 steps, 31.5.20 11,160 steps, 13.7.20 11.287 steps, 18.7.20 15,001 steps, 20.7.20 10,005 steps,  22.7.20 14,830 steps, 16.8.20 10,954 steps, 17.8.20 10,952 steps, 24.8.20 11,823 steps, 26.8.20 11,402 steps, 2.9.20 10,757 steps,  7.9.20 10,714 steps.
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends.  Do singing exercises for 20 weeks to rebuild my voice. 2/20.
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  11/20.
How about you?  What did you achieve during Lockdown?

- Pam

Saturday, 22 August 2020

The little things add up

As every knitter knows, it’s the little things we do that add up to something big.  In the case of knitting, the “little thing” is creating one stitch after another, which eventually add up to a jumper.  It’s incremental.  The British cycling coach, Sir Dave Brailsford, makes a big thing about incremental gains.  It was concentrating on the small things that took British cycling from mediocre to world class.

I was thinking about this incremental effect on Thursday morning, when I put another 700g of dried kidney beans on to soak.  We didn’t need the beans immediately for dinner, but since there were none left in the freezer, there was space available and I had a few seconds to spare, it seemed sensible to put them on to soak.  Thursday evening, I took a minute to drain the beans, spoon them into a recycled bread bag and shove them in the freezer.  I’ll probably cook them next week in the pressure cooker, use a third for dinner then box up the remaining 2/3 and freeze for two more meals.  (700g dried beans gives 3x500g boxes of cooked beans. Approximately the same as 2 cans of beans from the supermarket).

What does this have to do with incremental gains?  By planning ahead, not only do I save time but I also save money.  It costs the same to process one can’s worth of dried beans as it does to process 6; about a penny’s worth of gas for 30 minutes in the pressure cooker.  The cheapest tin of kidney beans is 30p in Tesco, whereas they sell 2kg of dried beans for £4, which gives me the equivalent of 17 cans-worth for 24p a can, a saving of 6p.  That 6p/can saved can be utilised elsewhere.  It adds up, quietly, in the background of day to day life*. 

Small things add up.  The principle of incremental gains works whether you’re trying to keep your living costs low or attempting to tread lightly on the earth by keep your petroleum pollution down.  Dried beans aren’t just cheaper, they need less energy to ship and store than the equivalent weight of cooked, canned beans.  Plus there’s the energy saved from not having to manufacture the cans or mine, ship and smelt the metal.  Remember the recycled bread bag?  It’ll be washed out, dried and reused until it starts to fall apart, when it’ll go into the recycling.  (It’s labelled “can be recycled with shopping bags at bigger stores”.  Our council recycles shopping bags, so will recycle the bread bag.).  

“What’s the cost of one bread bag?” you might ask. Not a lot, but that’s not the point.  It all adds up.  Just as you can’t learn and become fluent in a language in a day, so you can’t expect everything you do to create an immediate “Big Bang” impact.  You hear people muttering “why bother? It’s only...” but if everyone does it, then it’ll have a big impact.  

- Pam



* In the UK, there’s at least two, rival television programs that demonstrate how much of an impact these small savings have to your grocery bill,  Eat Well For Less and Eat Shop Save. The participants always look shocked when the savings are added up.  (Schadenfreude TV, I love it.)


Thursday, 13 August 2020

The Joy of Stash


One of the pluses of working from home during Lockdown is I’ve been listening to a lot* of podcasts while I work: some knitting-related, some not.  For the knitting podcasts, two of the recurring themes during Lockdown have been finishing WIPs (works-in-progress) and utilising stashed yarn.   Some have been furloughed; some have lost jobs or fallen between the cracks of economic support.  Some podcasters are open and up-front about it - there is one podcaster who only has her part-time wage coming in to support her family of four - while others are less so.  

Nobody knows what will happen to the economy before the COVID-19 Pandemic runs its course - I’m half expecting to go back into Lockdown in October - but the UK economy declined by 20.4% in Lockdown. It’s generated a lot of economic uncertainty and the knitting podcasters are worried.   Most won’t openly discuss their finances but the message is clear:  having a yarn stash is a bit like having a woolly insurance policy.  Finished your latest project and want to start something new?  No need to go shopping; just raid your stash.  Got a pile of WIP’s haunting you?  Either knit them/finish them or frog them (unravel) and use the yarn for something else.  Look at all that money yarn you’ve got tied up in something that you’re just not enjoying!  What a waste!

Since I’m on the sleeves of “It Cannot Fail To Please”, last week, I did my own bit of stash diving.   As you may be aware, most of my stash was acquired at yarn shows.  Because you can’t predict what will be sold there, I don’t usually go shopping with a project in mind.  Instead I’ll buy a sweater’s worth of whatever takes my fancy and find a project to fit it.  Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.   In July 2011, I scored 18 balls of “Palette Vintage Series 120/219” worsted weight yarn at a bargain price; nine balls in Red Bud and nine in Macadamia (white).  Hobbycraft were selling it off for £1/ball and I purchased everything they had in both colours.  (At that price, it would have been rude not to.)  However, it’s always been a problem.   It’s never had a viable project.  At 125m a ball, I have 1,125m of each colour which was never quite enough for what I wanted to make.  For years, I’ve fancied using the Red Bud to make Norah Gaughan’s Drift cardigan:


It’s lovely, but the smallest size calls for at least one ball more yarn than I have in either colour and my size probably needs two.  (I never had a plan for the Macadamia.). Finally, last week, I accepted that I would never make this cardigan in that yarn.  I did a pattern search on Ravelry: must be a sweater; in worsted weight yarn; require between 1,000m and 1,200m; and the pattern had to already be in my library.  It turned up Trott (aka Carmine) from issue 25 of The Knitter, which will be perfect for the Red Bud









Another search turned up something for the Macadamia:  the Interlacement Sweater, a free pattern from Universal Yarns.  I’ve never had a jumper lined up for that before.




On 4.5mm needles, both jumpers should go quite fast, much faster than the 4-ply jumpers I’ve knitted recently.  Hopefully, I’ll get both of them done by Christmas.  Finally, two solutions for yarn that has been hanging around in the stash since July 2011.

- Pam







* Prior to Lockdown, the podcast queue on my iPhone was 354.  As I type it’s down to 185.  I’ve finally reached episodes released at the start of June 2020.  Given that between 10 and 20 new episodes of shows are released every week, that means I’ve listened to 300+ episodes!.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

SitRep: June update


How was June for you?  Are you coping with Lockdown?  

I can’t remember where I first heard the sentence:  “Do three impossible things a day before breakfast”.  It may have been on an episode of Mr Ed, when I was a child - that’s what springs to mind.  Anyway, it’s the motto that I spent June trying to live by.  I think the point is to start your day having achieved something, so that the rest of the day doesn’t look like such a mountain to climb.  My 3 impossible things are muscle building exercises, learning French via Duolingo and singing exercises.  

You may notice that I’ve changed challenge 19 from having a party - not going to happen until after the current epidemic has run its course - to singing exercises.  I had a dreadfully sore throat in December and my voice hasn’t really recovered.  It gets hoarse after speaking for a couple of minutes.  A fellow chorister mentioned warm up exercises from Deborah Miles-Johnson, with whom we’ve done workshops.   I’ve downloaded them from Choraline and am working my way through those each morning.

  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 20/20 - I finished the jumper I was knitting (5 balls), completed the next one (finished on 13 balls), started a third (currently 1 ball down)  and have still only clocked up one pair of socks this year (ending a ball of yarn in the process).   
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. 5/20 weeks.
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks. Walking 15 weeks, weight training 4 weeks.
  4. Read 20 books. 5/20.  These are listed In the sidebar on the right.  The most recent books: This Golden Fleece, finished while sitting on the patio in the warm June sunshine and Not Quite Mastering the Art of French Living.
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes.  3/20.  I am a cook!  How can this be so difficult to achieve?  I’ve made Chicken a la King, a chicken tray bake from New Idea and Lidl’s Mediterranean Meatball Bake. 
  6. 20 gardening sessions.   5 proper ones so far plus a couple of minutes mucking around with seeds.
  7. Explore 20 new places 1/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux.
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum.
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 33/66 coupons used.  These are listed in the sidebar on the right.
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 10/20.
  11. Lose 20lbs.  8/20.  (To be honest, I’m just glad I haven’t put any weight on given the “Covid Calories” everyone is eating.)
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 3/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.  Repaired the pockets on DH’s shorts.
  13. Declutter 20 items.
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once)
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400) £240/£400
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  29/20.  
  17. Write 20 blog posts.  20/20 
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds).  11/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps, 21.4.20 10524 steps, 3.5.20 11,196 steps, 4.5.20 13,956 steps, 17.5.20 14,066 steps, 18.5.20 15,046 steps, 19.5.20 11,567 steps, 30.5.10 10,079 steps, 31.5.20 11,160 steps.  
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends.  Do singing exercises for 20 weeks to rebuild my voice. 1/20.
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  9/20.

- Pam

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Recipe Tuesday: Carrot Cake

It’s cake, Jim but not as we know it....

If there is one story about me in Lockdown, it’s that I seem to be baking cakes, tweaking a lot of recipes to get what I want.  Well, this is another one of those recipes.  You may remember back to April, when I talked about all the mutant carrots we’d unearthed?  At the time, I went looking for my carrot cake recipe card.  I’d made it several times before - but not recently - and it was a really great cake.  Do you think I could find it?  It wasn’t in the binder together with the rest of the set.  It wasn’t tucked inside any of the recipe books...  Thinking back, the last time I remember seeing it was in the old kitchen, pre 2013 makeover, when it was on the top of the bookcase that was tucked in beside the fridge.  All I can tell you is that it was for a carrot cake made with oil not butter and had a cream cheese frosting.

I never did find the recipe and, if 2012 was the last time I’d used it, there was no hope that I’d remember the quantities.  Eventually, I turned to Google.  This recipe from Rachel Allen turned out to be the closest to the one I remember, but the first time I made it, I combined the carrots and sugar in the food processor, turned around to measure out the other ingredients and turned back to find the carrots swimming in water.   The sugar either dehydrated the carrots or sucked moisture out of the air!  The mixture came out very wet, resulting in a cake that was more like fudge.  The next time, I left the sugar until the end and made a rather dry carrot cake.  A couple more experiments later, I’m happy with the results, so thought I’d share them with you.

I’ve changed a couple of other things, too.  Decreased the oil slightly, since I found the original quantity made the cake greasy.  Also, I tend to use sunflower seeds whenever a cake requires nuts. They’re cheaper and I always have some in stock.  (I add a tablespoon of sunflower seeds to my breakfast each morning for additional protein.). On the oil front, I use rapeseed oil, which is a) cheap and b) monounsaturated like olive oil.  Flour, in this house, is always Atta Flour aka Chapatti flour, which is a strong, light wholemeal, plain flour.  This recipe doubles up well or can be used to make carrot cake muffins (at step 5, divide the mixture between 12, lined, muffin pans and bake for 25 minutes at 180C).

Carrot Cake - makes 1

Ingredients

125ml/0.5 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
300g carrots, cut into chunks
200g soft, dark muscovardo sugar
75g sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts
100g raisins or sultanas
180g plain flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder (or use 180g self raising flour)
1/2 teaspoon sodium bicarbonate
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a loaf pan with non-stick baking parchment.
  2. In the food processor, combine the oil, eggs and carrots.  Process until the carrot is chopped up small.
  3. Meanwhile, measure out all your remaining ingredients.  (You can put them all into the one bowl, if you want.)
  4. Add all the other ingredients, in one go, to the food processor and process until combined.  You should have a slightly lumpy batter.
  5. Pour into your lined loaf pan and bake at 180c for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 
  6. Once cooked, remove from the loaf pan and cool on a cake rack.  When cool, you can ice it if you want. (I don’t.  I’m not a huge fan of icing.)



Enjoy!

- Pip