Catching up

Hello Friends,

I don’t know where the last month has gone – all has been a bit busy here on Frugal Hill. I’ve also been unwell on and off over the last few weeks – just overtired I think and ending up with a horrible cold over the whole of last weekend sandwiched between two two-day migraines.

I’m not really on top of anything as a result, but I’ve just been doing a few little bits here and there.  I’ve dug over a couple of the raised beds and noticed there are lots of worms in the soil.  This is a good sign, and as we are now on the third year with them, it looks like the soil is improving.

I’m going to limit the seeds I plant this year – I’ve not planted any seeds yet, as I’ve found planting seeds in March is a bit too early for where we live.  I found a plastic box with a load of seeds in from last year which are still in date, so I will use those.  I’ve just bought four packets of seeds one of which is sweetcorn at OH’s request.  I’m not sure if it will grow here, but we’ll give it a try.

Are you planting up already?  How is your gardening going?

Until next time, Tawney x

The Brain Drain

Hello Friends,

I’ve written a few times about having children at university and the costs involved, which in the UK are now colossal.  This summer, Edie graduates with her degree in modern languages.

Luckily she has got a job – in Uzbekistan.  She’s going to be working as a teaching assistant for a year.  She debated about whether to do a masters degree straight away or whether to go and work abroad for a while.  She’s only 21, has no ties and wanted to do something different.

I think it will be a great experience for her.  She had a fantastic year abroad, made lots of friends and learned to get on in a different cultures.  It also means I will have at least one year off from supporting two children at university.

I started thinking about other graduates I know of on Frugal Hill and whether they have been successful in gaining employment straight from university.  I then realised something odd – of 5 that I know of in our road (including Edie) all 5 have gone to work abroad, one in Japan, three in China and Edie in Tashkent.

Is this because of the difficulties younger people have getting into the job market here?  I don’t know if Edie would have found something here.  She applied for one job and got it, and had already decided she wanted to work abroad.

Have you or your children graduated and then worked abroad?  Was this because you couldn’t find work in your own country?

Until next time, Tawney x

Garden planning – again

Hello Friends,

I’ve got this great big list of things to do in the garden, and I don’t know quite where to start.  I know I will have to do something soon, or the garden will run away with me.

From experience, I know it’s a mistake to try and do too much.  There are some things I will have to do – cutting the very long boundary hedge.  I didn’t do it last year – it’s beech so quite slow growing, but if I don’t do something soon it will get away from me.

I do want to grow some veg this year.  I didn’t do very well last year.  Most things fell over, but I was a bit distracted with lots on.  I will have to decide what to grow – again, I’m going to limit myself.

What I really want to do this year is tidy the garden near the house.  There are lots of rambling plants which have rambled a bit too far over the steps and across the front path and it’s looking just a bit too untidy even for me.  I was given some nice blue pots for Christmas and I’d like to plant them up with something and have them standing on the steps.  I also want to sort out the rockery.  It’s full of weeds, and needs some serious attention.

Finally I want to re-establish a herb garden.  I’ve tried growing herbs in pots, but they’ve not done very well.  I used to have a herb garden outside the kitchen.  A few years ago, we had the kitchen done, and to save on landfill, most of the stuff which came out went under a new patio where my herb garden used to be.  I’ve got a little patch nearby which I’m thinking of turning into a herb garden.

What are you plans for gardening this year?

Until next time, Tawney x

Freecyling for the first time

Hello Friends,

As you will know if you’ve read this blog for a while, I really like making jam.  I made some marmalade a few weeks ago.  I have found on occasion that my pans, even my biggest pot, aren’t really big enough for jam making.

At work I mentioned to colleagues that I was thinking of buying a jam pan, and one of them suggested Freegle.  Another suggested I put an advert on the internal ‘Swap shop’ intranet message board.  So I did, asking if anyone had a jam pan they wanted to sell.

A couple of hours later I had an email from somebody who had an old jam pan in her garage and she was happy to let me have it for free!  Here it is:

IMGP3924I hadn’t thought of looking on Freecycle and similar sites before.  Now I will also be looking at what I can give away where I want it to go to a good home.

Have you managed to find something you wanted on Freecycle or similar?

Until next time, Tawney x

Computer stuff

Hello Friends,

I’ve been out of action on my laptop for a couple of days while I’ve been ‘upgraded’ from Windows XP to Windows 7.  We had a long discussion at home about whether to install Linux as the operating system when XP is no longer supported.  Linux is a free operating system and OH has installed it on one of the old computers which we just use to run the radio in the kitchen, but it doesn’t work with some programmes, and looking at the various applcations I run on my laptop, it wasn’t an option so we bought Windows 7.

I am, however, continuing to use Open Office which is free to download.  This has word processing and spreadsheets, and I first downloaded it when I first bought my laptop nearly 7 years ago.  I guess if you wanted extra features, you would probably invest in Microsoft Office or something similar, but I’ve never found that I’ve needed anything other than what it available with Open Office.

Have you used open source (free) software?  How have you got on with it, and what are you favourite applications?

Until next time, Tawney x

Old fashioned ways of keeping warm

Hello Friends,

I’m very gradually working my way round the house trying to find ways of keeping us warmer – and saving money.

I’m also beginning to find that we’re going back to doing things that worked when I was younger.  I get very cold feet at night – I always have done, so last year I bought a hot water bottle.  I don’t think I’d had one since I was a child, but when it’s cold I’ve now got into a routine of filling the bottle and putting it into bed a bit before we go upstairs.

IMGP3926OH was muttering about looking into electric blankets this evening.  I’ve never used one – I’m not convinced it’s terribly frugal, but would be interested in hearing whether anyone else has one, whether they work and whether they cost a lot to run.

So over to you – are you a fan of electric blankets or do you prefer hot water bottles?

Until next time, Tawney x

Marmalade marathon

Hello Friends,

I’m still busy tring lots of things for the first time, and this week it was making marmalade.

Last weekend, we were in the market when OH spotted some Seville oranges – I bought a big bag (2kg) for £3.50.  I had enough oranges to make two batches of marmalade, and used two different recipes from the River Cottage Preserves book.

I made the first batch using the whole fruit method – basically you leave the fruit whole and boil it up for a couple of hours.  You then scoop the pips out with a fork and slice the fruit (trying not to burn your fingers), return it to the pan and boil it until it reaches the setting point (about 20 minutes).  Unfortunately I misread the instructions didn’t let it boil for long enough and it didn’t set – I had to return it to the pan for another 10 minutes.

I made the second batch with the sliced fruit method.  With this, you squeezed the juice out of the fruit, slice it and then add it to a pan with the juice and water, leaving it to soak overnight.  You then boil it for a couple of hours, before turning the heat up for 20 minutes until it reaches the setting point.

IMGP3923Here are the results – I’ve got around 12 jars of marmalade.

IMGP3925The darker jars were made using the sliced fruit method and demerara sugar added – the lighter ones were from the whole fruit method and with ordinary granulated sugar.  As to taste, the lighter marmalade is quite sharp – the darker is slightly subtler, but still with a citrussy bite.

Have you made marmalade?  How did you do it?

Until next time, Tawney x

Spending a bit more for something which lasts longer

Hello Friends,

I’ve had my hand mixer for 20 years.  About a year ago, it began to fall apart and make some funny noises.  I bought a cheap mixer in a supermarket.  I never really got on with it.  It was very heavy and the switch was very stiff.  However, I’d spent my money and I wouldn’t replace it until I needed to.

The point of replacing it came rather quicker than I expected when it expired just outside the guarantee period.  I decided I’d learned my lesson and would look for a mixer similar to my original one.  It took a bit of hunting down but eventually I found one which was the same make and clealy just an updated model.  It cost £22, around £8 more than the supermarket equivalent, but to me that is worth it, particularly if it lasts for the next 20 years.

Do you think it is worth stretching to pay a bit more for better quality?  Or have you ever bought something you didn’t think would last and it’s gone on for ever?

Until next time, Tawney x

Over committed and learning to say no

Hello Friends,

When I look back over nearly 2 1/2 years of writing about life on Frugal Hill, I notice that at times I’ve been overcommitted with work, home life and everything else and I’ve been pretty frazzled.

Nearly a year ago, I was bounced into being treasurer for a group I’m a member of.  Now I’ve done quite a bit of volunteering over the years.  I’ve been a school governor, playgroup secretary, all the usual things, but these dropped off when I went back to work full time.  This time when I was asked, I had a funny feeling that I should really say no – I really don’t have enough time to do anything else.

Unfortunately at the time I felt under pressure and a bit guilty about saying no, so I agreed to do it.  At the moment it’s all getting a bit too much – I’ve got a mass of emails from people wanting this that and the other.  However, I have recognised that as this is a voluntary thing, it will have to take second place to more important things.  My family always come first and I’ve had to take Edie and Bee back to their respective universities this week, so rather than try and cram all this in to not enough time, I have said that I won’t be attending this week’s meeting.

I have learned my lesson that it’s ok to say no and not feel guilty about it.  I’ve realised that divesting myself of commitments is part of de-cluttering my life, so I’ve decided that I will do this role for one more year (then I will have served 2 years) and then I will step down.

Have you ever found yourself over committed?  How did you extricate yourself from too many commitments?

Until next time, Tawney x

The first Christmas cake

Hello Friends,

Apologies to all and thank you to Eloise for reminding me about the Christmas cake – here is a photo of the finished cake – or at least the part I haven’t eaten yet!

IMGP3922I’m hoping it will last a while yet.  One of my friends makes hers last until November, when it is time to make another one!

How long do your Christmas cakes last?

Until next time, Tawney x