Lovely day out today using our RHS cards for free entry to Hyde Hall gardens near Rettendon in Essex.

There was a great sculpture trail:

Superb displays of summer flowers:

The pond lilies were beautiful and such a restful place to eat our picnic.

Their vegetable garden was very productive, as you would expect:

Such a nice place to spend a pleasant Sunday! Next week we will have two students to entertain so we thought we would make the most of our solitude.

Adult education can improve your prospects

One of the big regrets of my life is not going to university and getting a degree. I kept putting it off and before I knew it I had a husband and a mortgage! It most definitely restricted me in my working life. I went into magazine publishing but found it difficult to move on as everyone wanted a graduate, even though I had experience. Later, when I had children, I wanted to become a teacher, but 4 years of study wasn’t financially viable. If I had got a degree it would have been just a year. Yet it is never too late for some adult education.

Give yourself more options

I did feel the benefit of study later. I became a yoga teacher, which was a useful source of income when my children were small (and also proved to be the saviour of my sanity!). When I struggled  to find an office job I enrolled in the ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) with my local Learning Shop and started getting interviews straight away. I got a part time job with the local council which eventually led to the job I have now.

I really believe that, to improve your chances of getting the best possible career and giving yourself more options and choices, you need to get trained and qualified.

But if you have little money, what to do? If you are unemployed or on a low income the first place to go is your local Learning Shop (most towns have them). They will tell you about all the courses available to you, many of which will be at a hugely reduced cost and some could even be free. They tend to focus on English, maths, IT and employability skills and can also give careers advice.

Find your local adult education centre

You should also check out your local adult education centre. These are great for vocational courses such as hairdressing, beauty, complementary therapies, languages, IT and basic skills. Some of these can be very expensive normally (£1000 plus) but a fraction of the full price if you are on a qualifying benefit.

There are also loads of free courses online. Just google it. For example, I have been exploring Future Learn, where I can learn Dutch, how to start a business or – a great one for this blog – Financial Planning and Budgeting. I have sent my daughter this site as they have useful looking courses on cv writing, applying for jobs and interview techniques.

Older people can explore the University of the Third Age which offers subjects as diverse as history, yoga and singing. The members share their hobbies and skills and become teachers as well as learners, not for qualifications but just for fun.

I now take as many opportunities to learn as I can, and encourage my daughters to get all qualifications possible. Do you do any learning and how has it benefitted you?

Come on ladies, don’t be fooled by that pseudo science!

pseudo scienceThe skincare and cosmetics business is a racket! Wild claims of eternal youth using pseudo science to back them up means companies can charge a lot for a pot of cream. On the very rare occasions that I venture into a department store I am always stunned by the cost of products on sale. £45 for tiny tub of miracle moisturiser? I could feed myself for a week for that.

I don’t buy them anymore, but I know the pages of the high end glossy women’s magazines are full of impossibly beautiful, photo-shopped models and celebrities selling products claiming to reduce wrinkles, to revitalise your skin, to ‘replenish, hydrate and protect’, to ‘firm and lift’. One product I found claims to renew cells overnight; I’m sure that happens anyway!

A pseudo science racket

My daughter worked as an assistant in the beauty department of a national newspaper as a student. They were sent hundreds of such products to review and she brought me some to try a couple of times. One was an anti-aging serum which retailed at, wait for it, £120!!! I used it a couple of times but i didn’t rate it. I truly prefer my £1.99 Aldi face cream. Another freebie was a ‘natural’ moisturiser which was so highly perfumed I could only stand using it as a hand cream. This one would have cost £48 to buy.

I wonder if the pseudo science claims of the companies producing these items have ever been scientifically tested? I doubt it.

I do think it is a good idea to use some form of moisturiser and also sun protection. But you can purchase these things for less than a fiver. I have been using my Aldi creams for about five years now and I swear I don’t look a day over 25 😉. Don’t waste your money on moisturisers backed by pseudoscience.

There are lots of ways to be beautiful on a budget. So ignore those fancy ads and take a holiday with what you save!

World gone mad

Two things that prompted the title of today’s post…

I did my usual weekly shop in Aldi this morning and was stunned to see them selling drones for £70. Really! I didn’t feel I really needed one….I did give in to a nice looking paella pan for £5.99, however. I doubt it will often be used for paella, but is a useful and good size pan to have. I use a wok much of the time for cooking but one of mine had started to rust so time for it to go. This is the perfect  replacement. 

I am busy today or I would have rushed into town. Apparently there is a naked bike ride organised to draw attention to climate change. I rather think the message is likely to get lost in the style of transmission! I am totally in agreement about getting people to understand about the issues of climate change but I would rather spread the word without showing off my bits! Still, it made me chuckle. 😀😀

I am actually going out tonight – a rare event as pubs are just too expensive and town is full of drunken youth here at the weekend. However, it is a friend’s 60th so we shall make an exception for her.
Darling daughter no 3 is cooking loads at the moment now her A levels are over and it turns out she is a great cook! Last night we had creamy veggie bake which was delicious. I will eat the leftovers for lunch. What a little star!

Whatever you are up to today, mad or not, have a great Saturday!

My ten best cheap and easy dinners

cheap and easy dinnersWhy do we need cheap and easy dinners? Well, June and July have been financially taxing months, with seven family birthdays, including my daughter’s 21st, a new car that had then to be taxed and insured and our recent holiday to Wales. I had money put by for all of these things but now I have completely used up my reserve and need to start saving straight away. So I am tightening the belt!

Fortunately I have some language students booked in over the next six weeks and yesterday I sold four dresses in one day on eBay – kerching! It will all help but I need to stop any inessential spending and stretch the groceries as well. I always revert back to a few cheap and easy dinners when I am saving money.

My top ten cheap and easy dinners:

Jacket potatoes with tuna and salad or veg from the garden.

Chick pea curry and rice.

Omelettes filled with cheese and whatever is sitting in the fridge – I often have mushrooms or sweetcorn lurking that need to be used up.

Vegetable bake – again this uses up the veg in the fridge or freezer. I add cheese sauce to cooked veg, cover with cheese and breadcrumbs and stick it under the grill to brown, or I might stick some cooked sliced potatoes on top and out it in the oven.

cheap and easy dinnersLiver and bacon casserole. I enjoyed this Hairy Bikers one recently.

Sausages and mash – easy comfort food. I use Aldi sausages and serve with beans or peas.

Macaroni cheese. I will add bacon to this if I have any.

Red dragon pie from my old Vegetarian Kitchen cookbook by Sarah Brown. I found it online here. It’s not quite so quick so I would make this at the weekend rather than after work. It’s really tasty!

Smoky chicken and chick peas, recipe here.

Vegetable paella or risotto. This Slimming World one is nice.

What are your go to cheap and easy dinners?

That Monday feeling

After a week off I have a mere 285 emails. A lot of them can be deleted but there are a fair few that require some kind of action. I still say emails are a curse!! Some of them are conversations between 4 or 5 people who all work in the same office!! This has strengthened my resolve to only send an email at work if it is strictly necessary. A phone or face to face conversation can actually save time I find. 

I definitely have that Monday feeling. This is the problem with holidays – you have to come back!!

Credit: SimonDale.net

As a diversion, I have been looking back at Simon Dale’s hobbit house, a fabulous eco home built in the Welsh countryside. Can you imagine living in such a totally perfect house? It was built by hand for just a few thousand pounds, so mortgage free as well. I would love to quit the rat race and build my own place like this. Have a look on his website to see what it looks like inside: www.simondale.net.

Simon and his family have since moved on to Lammas, an eco village in North Pembrokeshire. A whole community of like-minded souls living a simple low impact lifestyle. It looks wonderful! Have a look: http://lammas.org.uk. 

I can but dream…in the meantime my PC beckons and probably a few more emails!

Incommunicado – almost

One thing staying in a very basic caravan in the middle of nowhere with no phone, tv or wi-fi tends to remind me is how little I really need these things. I think this is why I love coming here. It is so quiet and peaceful and the endless chatter and noise of every day life – the TV programmes, the lure of the Internet, emails, the radio – just don’t exist. We don’t have even a phone signal! I find I miss them very little, although we have had a fix of wifi on our travels most days for a quick check on Mr S’s business and have been able to text the kids and our parents.

It also reminds me how much time I waste online! Facebook, Instagram, blogs – and I sit in front of a PCs all day at work so you would think I would want to get away from technology when I am home. It’s never that easy, of course, as the world is run by the Internet these days and it is a wonderful tool in many respects. 

A root around the charity shops

As I say though it is great to have space from it. I remember a time before the Internet – yes, I am getting on a bit – when you went on holiday and your only communication to anyone at home was a postcard! You knew what was happening in the world by buying a newspaper. My girls would think that a bit antiquated!

We have another sunny day here in Wales so need to make the most of it. This is a quick stop for a coffee and a bit of free wifi in the library. But I’m throwing technology aside now – off for a blow along the beach and a root through any charity shops we come across. Yes, some things don’t change just because we are on holiday! 

Beautiful north Wales

North WalesForgive the lack of blog time recently. I had a busy work week and then a mad rush to get us ready to come away on holiday to stunning North Wales.

North WalesWe are back in Wales. I love this beautiful country. I am sitting looking at Caernarfon Castle as I type this on my phone and we are about to head off to Anglesey Island. It is a rather grey day today but the rain has held off so far. Yesterday we had a glorious sunny day and drive up the stunning coastline to another castle at Harlech.

North WalesLow impact life in North Wales

Our base is once again at a  permaculture small holding near Machynlleth, the fourth time we have stayed – it is starting to feel like a second home. Our accommodation for the week is in a caravan next to a stream with ducks and some ponies for company. It is amazing value at £180 for a week and our hosts Tom and Liza couldn’t be friendlier. They also have a tiny campsite with a covered kitchen and compost toilet which is even cheaper. Check it out here.

There is a freezing pond too and Mr S loves to take the plunge. Not me – I am a wimp and prefer yoga on the veranda.

North WalesPeace and relaxation

It is just the peace and relaxation we need at the moment as life is so busy at home. I will breathe in the green and the quiet and take it back with me. Wish I could bottle it. Will blog again when I find some Wi-Fi but in truth it is lovely to have a break from technology too.