Sunday 29 November 2015

Unplugging the Christmas Machine

Twelve years ago I purchased the above book.  Put simply, it changed everything for me.  On the outside it looked like I had the perfect life.  We lived in a beautiful 5 bedroomed house that had been expensively interior decorated from top to bottom (it was the ex show house on a small exclusive estate), we drove 2 new cars (a 4x4 and a sports car), we had a holiday house on the isle of Arran, we had an extensive social life of entertaining and being entertained.  But I wasn't satisfied with it.  I was living the life that I had aspired to since I got married at 20 and yet I wasn't happy with it. 

It was a few months before Christmas when we were planning our festive season, trying to 'co-ordinate our diaries' with family and friends to make sure we had lots of 'fun activities' planned.  I was bored of the usual round of drinks parties and full on dinners with people that I only saw once a year.  People who were 'useful' to my ex's career.  People who weren't really interested in who I was or what I thought or anything I did.

I was browsing online for alternative Christmas ideas and this book popped up.  Like I said, it changed everything.  Definitely recommend it if you're caught in a Christmas maelstrom. We dropped out of the social whirl and just had a simple Christmas.  A few months later we took the huge leap of buying an old house with some land in the Perthshire countryside and set out with the intention of leading a much simpler life.  I loved it and embraced it but the ex didn't. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!!

But back to Christmas.  Over the last 10 years or so it has gradually become a much quieter affair and I like it that way.  In fact I'd be quite happy to skip it altogether but my 3 boys still like to celebrate so I go along with it.  But on my terms.  I refuse to go shopping in an actual store, preferring to buy any gifts needed online.  I make a lot of edible gifts and I craft some too.  Sadly not as many as I used to as I just don't have the time atm.

All the young people (my kids, his kids, my nephews and niece, ages 28 to 14) all get money.  It would be lovely to be able to buy them an actual gift but I'd rather they were able to buy whatever they wanted themselves than buy a gift that lies unused in a cupboard or drawer.  Sad but true.

The older generation (parents, aunts, uncles) usually get something edible.  We've all agreed that we don't actually need or want material things so everyone's happy.  I don't spend a lot of money but I do spend time and effort sourcing nice jars/bottles/baskets etc that can all be recycled or repurposed.  Sometimes I even get them back to refill!

I've kept very few traditions from when we were a 'family' preferring to start new ones instead and deliberately doing something different each year.  This is the third Christmas in my own wee house and already I know there will be a different routine this year.  The Teenager will be working on Christmas day, my middle son will be at his dad's and my eldest has chosen to spend it in his own flat.  And that's all fine with me.  I'll be at OH's house making new traditions.

Nothing is perfect but at least I can say I'm happy with my life. I have a Christmas on MY terms and not some commercialised version big companies tell me to have.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Bread and purple hair

Following on from my efforts to minimise my supermarket use, I had a go at making a gluten free loaf without using the Helen's Bread mix.  It's the recipe on the Doves Farm Free from Gluten White Bread Flour bag.  Wee bit more of a faff but the results were good.

I think next time I'll use a bit less sugar as it was a bit sweet for my taste but the texture was okay.  I expected it to be more cakey but was pleasantly surprised.  The test now is to see if it keeps well and freezes.  It would work out at just under half the cost of the Helen's Bread mix loaf if I bulk buy flour directly from them so worth doing.  I also need to see if OH likes it! :-)

Last night it was my staff Christmas night out. A bit early but we left it too late to book.  I really wasn't sure if I should go or not as it was £32 per person for a 3 course meal plus half bottle of wine. In the end it actually turned out to be a fab night.  Lovely food (dairy and gluten free for me), great music and good company.  As you can see I dyed my hair purple for the event! (I had a bargain box of dye in the cupboard).  Just a temporary one much to my boss's relief.  The only new item I purchased to wear was a pair of sparkly tights at £3.50, everything else I had worn several times before.  In fact I wore the same dress as last year and nobody commented!!  I guess everyone was looking at my hair ;-)

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Pot luck lunch

It's half term for the kids tomorrow and Friday but not for teachers.  We have 2 staff development days, aka sitting in kid sized chairs in a classroom being talked at for hours.

Best part of these days is our pot luck lunch where everyone brings in something to share.  There's no real planning involved and it usually works out.

My offering above is a 3 bean salad with a honey and mustard dressing (fat free) and Mexican chicken.  I had 3 tins of beans in the store cupboard (red kidney, cannellini and chickpeas), onions in the veg basket and a bag of frozen chicken fillets in the freezer.  I always have honey, mustard, cider vinegar and spices kicking around so no need to buy anything specially for the lunch (unlike some of my colleagues who were going to the supermarket after work tonight!!)

I haven't skimped on ingredients but still managed to make something nice :-)

Monday 23 November 2015


Finally, after leaving school 5 months ago The Teenager has finally got himself a job.  To be fair, he did fire in a few application forms but in reality he could have tried a bit harder.  But we live in a university town and if you're not quick off the mark then you don't stand a chance.

So, relying on a wee bit of nepotism his big brother got him an interview with the place he used to work at when he left school.  Credit where credit's due, he did well in both interviews and was offered a job :-)  A casual contract at first but all going well he should be offered a full time permanent contract.  They are aware he is going university and will help him transfer to a Hilton in Glasgow if he wants a part time job while studying.

No idea what he'll be earning yet but anything is good after having zero money!  We haven't discussed dig money yet and we need to be very careful about the effect it might have on maintenance from his dad.  But he's really happy :-)

Now here's the eye opener.  His initial interview lasted 35 minutes followed up by a second interview several days later lasting 15 minutes.  Total interview time 50 minutes, for a waiter position.  My last interview for a teaching post lasted 25 minutes.  Something not quite right with that...

Sunday 22 November 2015

Saving money v principles

Despite a busy week at work (2 parents' evenings) I have been giving a lot of thought about using supermarkets.  I really want to stick the fingers up to them but my purse would be a lot lighter.  As a rule I'm not swayed by their BOGOF offers mainly as it's never on anything we eat.  But I do enjoy scoring a yellow sticker bargain or two!  For example yesterday's Apple and Plum Chutney was a result of scoring punnets of plums in the summer for 19p. And this morning I got a large joint (2.5kg) of British beef reduced by 50%.
I didn't have any apples for the chutney so I popped into Blairmains Farm Shop which is just a few miles from my front door.  I got some Braeburns at £1.95 a kilo (they're £1.85 a kilo in Sainsbury's this week). They have a policy of stocking local and Scottish products as far as possible including chickens and eggs from the farm next door.  A whole free range chicken was about £10 and included the giblets.  Pricy but I can see exactly where they roam in the fields next door!  And when was the last time you got giblets with your chicken??

Since getting chickens I am more determined that I will pay a fair price for ones that been scratching around freely in the dirt like mine (see above for yesterday's garden trashing!)  I must admit that I wondered if I'd be put off actually eating chicken but no I haven't!! Although I am eating less but of a higher quality.
As well as trying to find out practical alternatives to the supermarkets I've been investigating buying directly from some of the brands I use.  For example if I bulk buy Doves Farm gluten free flours I can save money and get free postage but then I have storage issues.
Yeah, I need to work some more on this but I could maybe rely LESS on the supermarkets and use MORE independent food producers to find some kind of balance that satisfies my need to spend less without compromising principles.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Can't live without them?

I really wish I could live without supermarkets.  I've long avoided Asda (due to the Walmart connection and how they treat their staff), rarely visit Tesco (dominating in some towns resulting in small shops losing business) and now will avoid Morrison's thanks to their treatment of farmers highlighted in HFW's programme War on Waste plus the revelation that British dairy farmers are NOT receiving all the extra money from the sale of their milk.  How did we get to the point where supermarkets have so much power?  We're tempted by the 'convenience' of getting it all in one place.  In other words we're too lazy/busy to visit more than one shop to get everything we need.  They know this and encourage us in with the promise of making it easy.
And I hold my hands up.  I hate food shopping now I have to go at the weekend or after work. So doing most of it online seems like a good idea.  I know lots of people who've had a terrible time with their deliveries but in all the years I've done it I never have.  Until now.  I'm currently in dispute with Sainsbury's over an undelivered order that they took full payment for.  A total of £83.25 to be exact.  That's a huge chunk out of my food budget as I was stocking up at the start of the month. I've made several phone calls now and have been assured it will be refunded in the 'next few days.' That was a week ago. It should never have been taken in the first place and I'm still waiting to get MY money back *sighs*
Could I live without a supermarket? It's doable and would take a lot of effort/time but it's something I want to give some serious thought to.  I could support local farmers and stick a finger up at Tesco/Asda/Morrison's/Sainsbury's!! Watch this space ;-)

Winter weather requires soup!  I didn't have any chicken to make my favourite Chicken n Rice soup (chicken stock, rice, carrots and leeks) so knocked up this veggie version using whatever was lying around.
Vegetarian 'Chicken' n Rice soup
3/4 bag frozen chopped carrots/onion/celery (it was all that was left in my freezer)
3 'handfuls' rice
2 'handfuls' red lentils
6 teeny tiny leeks from my garden
1 carton of butter beans (only 5 months past the use by date!)
enough veg stock to cover
No real recipe, just put everything in the pot except the leeks and butter beans.  Bring to boil and simmer until rice is cooked then add leeks and butter beans for last 5 mins.  That's it.  The Teenager declared it 'delicious.' I had mine with some GF home made bread.
OH and I managed to sneak away for a night in the campervan.  We both have sole custody of our children with very absent exes and rarely have a night where it's just us being a couple. We ended up in Stonehaven, a lovely place I'd never visited before despite having a family connection to it.  We wild camped in the car park to Dunnottar Castle, full of history. We do like our ruined castles ;-)

Sunday 8 November 2015

When you should listen

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on my last post :-)  I haven't talked much about the events that changed my life 5 years ago and for newer readers who don't know the reason behind my blog I hope it gave you an inkling of how I got here.
It was good to see other women who have come through a similar thing and are enjoying life on the other side.  To Mrs G, no one can tell you what to do.  Only you can make that decision.  I ignored that voice telling me something wasn't quite right for years and then let him make the decision for me when I was least prepared.  Good luck with whatever you decide to do.
Today the weather is awful.  I put the heating on early as the house is so cold.  Since we're stuck indoors I'm getting on with finishing the kitchen.  Yep, that saga is still on going!!  My middle son is still here and he's quite handy so hopefully by the end of today I'll have some photos of finished stuff to share :-)

Friday 6 November 2015

Another picture says it all

My ex husband got re married today.  To the woman he left me for (who was actually a friend).  It's her 4th marriage.  Nuff said.  My children (ok, they're all technically grown up) now have a stepmother ;-)

It really doesn't bother me any more.  At the time I was devastated especially as it was all very public. But I truly haven't spent the day moping or thinking about it, my life is full enough!  They really are 2 people who truly deserve each other.  I don't wish them any harm but neither do I wish them well. And I'm comfortable with that :-)  

Sunday 1 November 2015


AKA National Novel Writing Month.  I've been taking part in this for years.  Basically you write 50,000 words in 30 days. I've done it every year for the last 8 years except last year (cos I was in Singapore for the wedding)  I've never achieved the 50k although one year I did get to about 30k.  You aim for 1667 words a day, no editing, no re writing.  You just write.  I usually write a Mills and Boon type of romance novel. People can be scornful of romance novels but it's a bulti million dollar a year industry!
This year I'm trying a semi autobiographical woman's fiction book about a woman who has to deal with the breakdown of her long marriage and how everyone has an opinion it and what she should do.  They say write what you know!!! It's funny as well as downright awful in places.  Bit like my life really ;-)