Forget it! I am not being a domestic goddess this Christmas 

How are your Christmas preparations coming on?

I have got myself into a financial stew in the past, buying people presents I couldn’t afford on my credit card and feeling an underlying anxiety about the whole thing. Never again! I have scaled down my buying to small but thoughtful presents generally, and I have money saved to pay for them. I reuse all the decorations and I have had the same artificial tree for ten years. I am not throwing any extravagant parties, although I will be having a meal with my team at work. I will write a few cards for those I don’t see often and maybe for some of my work colleagues. I have a huge stash of these that I have purchased very cheaply over the years in the post Christmas sales so I may as well use them.

I am not stressing myself out this year making Christmas puddings, mince pies, brandy butter and cakes from scratch. I work full time and I am quite busy enough without forcing myself to be a domestic goddess as well. I have got a pudding and cake already from Aldi. I love baking but not when it becomes yet another thing on my already too long to do list. It is only me and Mr S for Christmas dinner anyway so no need for a fuss. I am thinking about buying ready made beef wellington from Iceland for a change. Anyone tried it?

We are all off to my sister’s to catch up with the family on Boxing Day so I will make something to take to share there. I don’t need a big Turkey as we won’t be around to eat up the leftovers. I have some time off so I am looking forward to having some family time. The student is leaving on 20th December so the house will be ours again – until the next one anyway!

Christmas is nice but it’s really only one day. I am hoping for some rest and relaxation and as little stress as possible. How about you?

Baby, it’s cold outside

Those of you based in the UK know that yesterday morning it suddenly got very cold! We have had a mild Autumn so far and it is feeling like a horrible shock to me. I have barely had the heating on up to now, but last night I had it on full blast and ended up curled up in bed with my fleecy pyjamas on at 9.30! It doesn’t help that I am full of cold and feeling sorry for myself I am sure.

So, what to do? I don’t want to spend ridiculous amounts of money on heating this year. But how to make Shoestring Cottage feel warmer without a major investment?

radiator foilWe have already insulated the house by getting the loft done with super thick insulation and the wall cavities filled. However, the loft hatch is not insulated. We have some spare so the first thing will be to cut a square of insulation material and tack it on to the loft side of the hatch. That should cut out some drafts coming down from the roof space.

I also think we need to get some reflective foil on the back of some of the radiators. This is available at £7 a roll (£1.40 a metre) from B&Q. I just You Tubed how to fit it and it seemed pretty straightforward.

I bought a lined curtain for the front door a few years ago but never put it up, mainly because the special hinged curtain rails that ensure the curtain rail opens with the door are quite expensive. I think I need to revisit this idea, as we get a lot of cold air coming in through this particular door. In addition, Wickes sell brush draught excluders for doors that you fit around the frame. I will  drag Mr S along to inspect those. They only cost £11.99 for a full door’s worth.

I would love to replace all of the very ancient and fairly inadequate double glazing, but that kind of expenditure is not an option. All of the curtains in the house are lined already. I could replace with thermal linings but that is going to be expensive and time consuming. I will do this but not immediately. It will have to be done bit by bit. I don’t have a sewing maching so I will have to sew extra linings in by hand. Wickes sell secondary glazing film which has good reviews on their website. This is only £6.89 for 6 square metres which is good value I think, although it looks as if it might be tricky to fit on larger windows. If it gets really cold this winter, I have a box of bubble wrap in the shed – I will be taping that to the coldest windows to reduce the draughts!!

I also need to invest in a few more rugs. There are very few carpets in the house which is practical but means the floors are quite cold under your feet. I will keep an eye out for suitable bargains.

I found a good body warmer recently on eBay for a couple of pounds. I knew it would be handy and I was right. I am wearing it now with my fur lined slippers. I also have a vest and a jumper on. As it gets colder I will be layering up rather than immediately putting on the heating and will encourage my family to do the same. DD3 doesn’t feel the cold like me though. I will be huddling under a blanket whilst she is walking about in her T-shirt! The benefits of youth I think.

I never have the heating on at night. The cats each have a domed basket to hide in (or they sleep with me) and we all have extra blankets on the beds. I also have a blanket on the sofa to hide under whilst watching TV.

Have the temperatures fallen where you are? How do you keep your house warm and cosy?

Jane’s War on Waste!

Has anybody seen Hugh’s War on Waste on BBC1 at all? I watched the first one on catch up over the weekend and I heartily applaud what he is doing. 

Seeing a parsnip farmer going out of business because the supermarket they supply to will only accept parsnips of equal size and shape was painful and frustrating. This means tons of perfectly good fresh produce is being thrown away because the supermarkets insist that we, as their customers, will only accept perfect looking vegetables free of blemishes. The sad thing is I think this may be true for many people. Unless we grow our own produce we have been conditioned to think that misshapen veg is odd, when actually it is quite normal.

I was not surprised to see the amount of food that some of the households featured threw away each week. In the UK this averages £15 a week! That’s almost £800 a year -a holiday perhaps or at least a small pay rise. Our grandmothers would have had a fit – in the war it actually was illegal to waste food. It was a scarce and precious resource. They used every scrap and stretched every morsel and we were all the healthier for it.
  I don’t waste as much as the average person but have been known to forget the half a pot of hummus lurking at the back of the fridge, to chuck the last bits of the salad bag because they are looking a bit the worse for wear, to let the cereal go stale and to leave dry goods such as sugar and flour too long before I use them up.

Inspired by Hugh, this weekend I made sure we started to use some bits up. I made a banana cake with some rather brown bananas and some flour near its end date (not that I take much notice of that with dry goods), I made everyone have salad in their sandwiches at lunchtime, I made soup from the leftover cooked veg that I have been collecting in the freezer, I forced the last of a bottle of red wine down Mr S’s neck (surprisingly easy that one) and I made a large batch of apple purée from the windfalls that have been hanging around for a few weeks. 

I still have the Halloween pumpkin to use in some way but there is no rush since we went out and never actually got the chance to carve it! That will probably go for soup too as I love it and it’s good for work lunches.

It makes me mad when food is wasted, but if makes me madder if the person wasting it is me!

Steamy windows! Or more like streaming windows…

I am surprised to find a whole week has slipped by since my last blog post. Does anyone else find that they get much less productive when the clocks change and the evenings get dark so early? It takes me ages to adjust. My energy levels seem to plummet and I start to sink into hibernation mode. It’s hard to be motivated to get on with things.

The condensation this morning before i put the dehumidifier on…

This winter induced malaise, combined with us being so busy last weekend, meant Shoestring Cottage was a mess! I can only cope with so much dirt and disorganisation before I start to twitch so yesterday I got up and straight on to a thorough clean and declutter. 

I cleaned and polished and hoovered. I scrubbed the rug and the dining room chairs – the cats sit on them and make them really grubby. I cleaned the windows, washed the bathroom tiles and even tackled the debris under our bed. That was dusty! I store lots of bits and pieces like presents. Cards and wrapping paper, party stuff (bunting, paper plates and the like) and my paper files under there but other things get shoved there too and I had forgotten some of it existed. I had a clear out and have a bag for the charity shop.

Laundry out and dehumidifier in action

I am fighting the usual battle with condensation here. We have super insulated and maybe just don’t have enough ventilation anymore. I have had the windows open as much as possible, but it has been so grey and damp outside that hasn’t really helped. We have a dehumidifier, which is really effective, but I am conscious of the cost to have it on constantly. But the damp, mild weather means we haven’t had the heating to dry out the air. On top of that there is no chance of drying the laundry outside at the moment, so that is hanging in the sitting room – and the dehumidifier is currently on full blast! If you look at the pic you will see the problem. 

Still, it could be worse and I just need to keep wiping the windows, allowing some ventilation when I can and using the dehumidifier in spurts.

We are taking my mum out this morning. She had a hip replacement a month ago and can’t drive yet, and my dad is waiting on a  cataract op so he can’t drive either. As they live in the sticks a bit they are getting a little stir crazy! We will visit the little antiques unit they run and help them choose a few bits for my mum to sell on eBay. Despite being 80 she is quite a dab hand at this new technology!

Whatever you are doing have a great Sunday!