Dry Run With Friends

2016-05-14 19.24.44

A weekend of dry weather and friends wanting to wild camp in their converted camper locally meant we jumped in, with our nowhere near ready set up, for a single night test run.

It differed from the planned adventure in July in several ways:

  • Our car is far from ready
  • We are far from having everything we need
  • We have a foster dog at the moment, as well as our dog
  • The weather is nowhere near as warm as we hope it will be
  • It was only one night, and was very local
  • So we had a lot less gubbins than we will have – but that’s fine because the storage isn’t quite sorted yet

Despite these differences there was much value in doing it. It helped to spot things that were or were not needed as well as any pitfalls from what we already had – for example the carabiners for the bags were not big enough to go on the handles above the doors as planned.

The dogs loved the space, the training leads were ideal for hooking them up to the load D rings in the car (neither has great recall at the moment!). We took the foster dog (Gilda) in the car overnight, and our friends took our dog (Indy) in their van. Gilda slept fine in the bed on the front passenger seat, and Indy slept fine in the bed in the living area of the van.

2016-05-14 19.23.40

 

 

The beds fit in beautifully, and both of us found them comfortable and spacious.

There is lots of space under my bed for storage, and I have ordered a couple of Really Useful Boxes to slide underneath. One for kitchen bits and food, and one for dog bits and food.

There should also be enough space on top the the boxes to slide our camping chairs and the ‘bog in a bag’.

 

 

There is a fair bit of space in all the footwells, apart from the driver’s seat, and I have also ordered Really Useful Boxes for each of them – one each for mine and my son’s clothes and the third for ‘bits and pieces’ such as wipes, towels, bog refills etc. There will be space on top of these for other things too.

The cubby holes along the roof will be used for underwear, toothbrushes, toiletries and tablets etc. The door pockets will hold the curtains, sunshades and anything else not already housed.

All in all it was a resounding success, and very reassuring in terms of feasibility. We really had loads of storage space. We’re hoping the weather will be kind, and allow us another test run before our friends set off on the road early next month.

 

Non Diet, Food Replacement?

2016-05-16 12.24.31

A cousin of mine shared something on social media last week. It was an article looking at a meal replacement drink. She, and her friends, were adamant that the author had merely failed to read the instructions properly, or not tried the right flavour. In any case, I had never heard of such a thing before.

I’ve seen, and tried, diet meal replacement shakes (for the flavour, not the dieting qualities I might add), and they’ve always been quite yummy. I sometimes find I don’t have time to eat properly at lunchtime as I’m so busy herding the children in my house (not all mine, I’m earning a living as a childminder presently), preparing their nutritious meals, refereeing disagreements, and ensuring the food is actually eaten. I thought I might try the product in question.

I went to their website and ordered a trial sachet of the flavour recommended by my cousin and her friends, after almost passing out at the prices. It came, and I vowed to wait until I had the time to prepare it carefully and properly, to give it the best chance on the trial run – did I mention the price?!

So, taking heed of the article and comments on my cousin’s post, I started to prepare my drink. Cold water, powder and then blend for 20 seconds. I have a Nutri Ninja IQ, so just used that to blend the mixture, then stuck a straw in it.

First impressions? Not disgusting, but not particularly nice either.

I pressed on, determined to give it a chance. It had a bit of a powdery texture to it, and a really strange taste.

Still I continued. By now I was getting a really horrible aftertaste in my mouth, tasting a bit like sweetener.

I gave up at this point. I couldn’t finish the drink. The aftertaste lingered, and I had to find some chocolate to try and mask it. Some two hours on, and I’m still tasting it. All in all I managed about 200ml.

The sample cost me £4.99, larger packs are, obviously, much more expensive. I think it’s safe to say I won’t be parting with anymore money on this one!

En Route to…

francenatnlarea

This summer, I am ‘planning’ a road trip in France with youngest boy (biggest boy has asked to be excused, and will instead spend the time with his Grandad). I use the term ‘planning’ loosely, as, for the first time, this trip will not be minutely ordered with check points or an itinery. We know we will cross Plymouth to Roscoff, and we know we will spend just a couple of nights in each location, beyond that we will go where the wind, beauty and urge take us.

We are taking our family car, a Ford Galaxy, and a tent. The tent won’t be used for single night stops, we will just sleep in the car. The car has a glass roof (to see the stars) so there will be no roofbox, and also no trailer. We will have to pack light… Very light! We might also take the family dog, if she can get over her travel sickness before June!

I have pre ordered a new Outwell Polycotton Air Tent (for cool in the hot (!) sun, and ease of erecting/striking over and over on my own), and today we spent much time outside two camping shops trying out combinations of camp beds and Self Inflating Mats (SIMs) to see what the best configuration was that would fit in the car.  We eventually went for a Outwell Posidas single camp bed, with lots of space underneath for storing essential gubbins, and a double layer of 3cm Outwell SIMs for littlest boy.

It’s starting to become a little scary when I think about how little space we will have for gubbins. We have large door pockets, cubby holes all over the place, and a central bank of boxes in the roof of the car (with glass windows either side). There will also be the footwells, and under the Posidas. That is it. Everything we take will need to fit in that. EVERYTHING.

There’s a dog crate, if the dog comes, which will go on the front passenger seat when we’re sleeping in the car. The tent, which will have to go in a footwell, under the bed, or on the driver’s seat. Clothes/towels etc. Toiletries (I predict these will end up in the boxes in the roof). Road maps and campsite directories. Cooking stuff, including the Cobb BBQ which I will make space for, somewhere – I expect we’ll take a Really Useful Box, at least one, to store cooking equipment and food in, this can be left outside if needs be.

Once the tent arrives in mid March, I can have a go at cramming everything in, with the beds in situ. I don’t do packing light. Fitting everything in is going to be the biggest challenge for this trip!

A Slice of History Project

historical bread

Having our interest sparked by the recent BBC series Victorian Bakers, we decided to look into sourcing some historical Victorian flour, with the view to trying our own Victorian bread and comparing to modern loaves. The series explains that flour back then was more nutritious and flavoursome, and behaved in a slightly different way to modern flours. This was probably just as well since bread made up most of the diet of the working classes.

On hunting for Victorian flours, I stumbled across an amazing website that sells flours from all sorts of periods in history, going way back to Neolithic times. There was born our new Home Education project!

We have made a list of eras which we have found historical flours for, ordered some historical baking/dining books and signed up for a introductory course in Artisan bread baking (I am no bread baker, I have a bread maker, which is used from time to time, but for this activity hands, and some basic knowledge, will be required!).

The plan is to work our way through the eras, month by month, making a loaf as traditionally as we can in a modern kitchen. Exploring what factors influenced the flour, bread and diet of the time, and comparing to modern breads and other periods.

We have ten time periods, including modern, some of which have different varieties of flour, for instance a peasant and standard. I hazard it will take us about a year to get through it all.

There are lots of local Home Ed families that are keen to get involved too, so a monthly baking session at our house is on the cards. I have also contacted our local museum to see if they can run a monthly workshop for us, covering that month’s era before baking day.

Rest assured, each experiment in bread making will be blogged!

Much thanks to Annie Gray, co-presenter of the series, for her tips, pointers and suggestions of suitable books!

Neolithic bread making, coming to a blog near you soon 😉

Neolithic food.jpg

Home Educators – Are our Children Really ‘Invisible’

2016-01-28 13.00.54.jpg

Apparently Home Education needs greater regulation, and compulsory registration. Apparently this is because our children are at risk and invisible from the watchful eye of the powers that be. This is apparently demonstrated by the tragic cases of various children who have lost their lives whilst being home educated by their parents.

But are home educated children really invisible? Are they really at greater risk of being missed when in need? Are there really no bits of legislation already in place to protect children who are home education? Will a compulsory register really change anything?

I would argue that the answers to these questions are NO, NO, NO and NO. Lets look at each in turn.

The HE Invisibility Cloak

The term ‘Home Education’ is a little bit of a red herring really. It implies that education only happens at home, perhaps in the cupboard under the stairs, or at the very least classroom style at a desk, with workbooks. In reality, for many, this is not at all the case, far from it. Only today I had an email from a company I’d contacted about an educational session, they were surprised I was asking for two spaces, they had thought I would only want one and then return home to teach my son the information.

Generally, in my experience, our children are out and about most days, mingling with wider society. Socialising with other humans ranging in age, in a range of environments and from a range of backgrounds. We have meet ups with other Home Edders on a regular basis. We tap into Home Ed trips to museums, aquariums, zoos, lifeboat stations and many other places, much like schooled children. We have workshops with other families, sometimes run for us, sometimes run by us. We go into town and run errands, have lunch, visit the library, talking to a range of people, young and old, as we go.  In fact, often it’s a case of turning down activities so we can have some down time. Then there’s the usual ‘after school clubs’ that they access: swimming, cubs, gymnastics, drama, football, and so on.

My Home Ed son has a far more vibrant social life than he ever had whilst at school. The vast majority of families, really don’t hide their children from society simply because they’re not educated at school. They really are not Harry Potter wannabees 😉

Home Education – The Welfare Risk?

I briefly mentioned that there have been a handful of very tragic cases where children’s lives were lost. These children were being home educated at the times of their deaths. For each, home education has been blamed for putting this children out of sight, making them invisible, resulting in them being missed by authorities. But, is this really the case? If you look at each case (pretty easily found with a quick google search), in every single one, the child was known to the authority prior to their death. Concerns had been raised already by other parties. The authorities failed to follow these concerns up properly. NOT ONE was missed, or invisible, because they were home educated. NOT ONE.

But Home Education Prevents Investigation by the Authorities

No, it really doesn’t. There is plenty of legislation in place already that allows authorities access to a child where concerns about their education or their welfare have been raised. Social Services have just as much power to access home educated children as they do schooled, or pre school-age children.

Section 47 of the Children Act. Each and every Local Authority has a Social Service department with the power to visit unannounced and demand entry into homes, provided they have a warrant. They can see children, and interview them without the parents present. This is a universal power, regardless of age and mode of education.

Your Name’s on a List, You’re Safe From Harm

Really, who honestly believes that a register of all HE children will serve to protect them from harm? I would hazard there are very few HE children that aren’t registered in some capacity already: at birth, for tax credits, for child benefit, with GP surgeries, with dentists… The list is endless.

Schooled children already have their names on a register, they are still at risk of neglect and abuse, at home, at school and in wider society.

The source of your education (teachers at school, or parents at home) does not determine whether you’re at risk of neglect or abuse or not. Being named on a list does not protect you from neglect or abuse.

If anything, having a compulsory register, or worse still regulation, of all HE children will make matters worse. It will be harder to find the children that really need help, it will cost the UK much more money to implement and maintain.

So, what exactly is the purpose and benefit?!

Positive Intention of Cooking from Scratch

New Toy 011 (2)

So, at the turn of the new year, I expressed several positive intentions, one of which was to go back to cooking more from scratch. To help me along this journey, and give me the best chance of success, I subscribed to a cooking service. The one I chose was Gousto. I promised to report back on how I was finding it.

I am very impressed. Since starting we have had home cooked food most days, with take away just twice, and ‘easy food’ a small handful of times since starting.

Today I received my third box. We have so far sampled five different recipes, across two boxes. Here’s my review.

The box arrives at some point during the day selected. Everything is well wrapped, in appropriate measures. Insulation is provided by sheep’s wool, which seems to do an amazing job of keeping everything nice and cold; suggestions are provided to re-use the wool, I am saving mine to construct a cool box for the summer. In fact, most of the packaging is recyclable in some way.

 

All the ingredients are there, apart from the odd splash of oil or knob of butter, all fresh and many organic. There are clear recipe cards provided, with step by step instructions, and a letter listing your meals and the ‘best prepared by’ date.

So far we’ve tried five different meals, over two boxes, there is only one recipe we disliked. There has been the odd issue with a couple of things, but these have been dealt with quickly and appropriately by the company, who appear to have fantastic customer service.

It has really taken the hassle out of cooking from scratch, the ingredients are all there without planning, in the right amounts, all you have to do is assemble them. There is a wide range to choose from on the website each week, although as a fairly fussy family, there has been one week where it wasn’t possible to choose anything we would likely enjoy.

The whole meal is provided, so no sides to sort out. We have tried ingredients and types of food we normally wouldn’t eat, and enjoyed them! It’s like having another cook in the house, bringing their own tastes and flair to the table.

Tonight we have minute steak cheese melts… Yum!

To give Gousto a try go to: http://www.gousto.co.uk   To get up to £25 off your first box enter code: NEVIN99744

New Year’s Positive Intentions

images

A positive intention is as good a resolution. right? Especially if it’s a bid to improve the health of the whole family.

Resolutions are renowned for being made at this time of year, and swiftly forgotten or broken. There’s a surge of good intentions expressed and shared every new year, how many are realistic, and still ongoing come March? I don’t normally bother with resolutions myself,  for this very reason, the feeling that I am merely setting myself up to fail not so very far down the line…

This year is different. For several months I’ve been a bit lazy with many aspects of family life, something I’ve noticed and resolved to fix. But I want to succeed, so I have striven to find the most foolproof way possible to start out in the new year. To have the best chance of success, surely a helping hand, even if just at the start, is a good thing?

So what are my positive intentions for the family this year?

1     Cook more from scratch again – something I used to do a lot, but have got out of the habit in the last few months, and have been struggling to get it back.

2     Bake more – I home educate my youngest (10) and he loves baking, as with cooking, I used to bake regularly, I have hardly baked anything in the last 6 months.

3     Get outside more – I have done a lot of this in the last year, but for work, not for pleasure. I hope to change this for the future, getting out with one, or both, children for leisure.

4     Use my breadmaker more – another thing that used to be common in our home, but has been neglected in recent months.

Making life as easy as possible, at least in the beginning, will hopefully increase my chance of maintaining these positive steps for as long as possible, into the new year and beyond.

I have found some subscription services to help me out with 1 and 2, and take some of the hassle out of them.

Gousto ( https://www.gousto.co.uk/refer/Nevine/NEVIN99744 ), will send me all the ingredients, and instructions, to cook from scratch. I have the first order arriving tomorrow, with two meals in it, after that I can choose from 2-4 meals each week, fortnight or month. I expect to have a monthly subscription, and will be sure to report back on how I’m finding it! I can cook, but am hoping this will take the hassle out of remembering to take meat out the freezer, and then deciding what to create with it.

Baked In ( https://www.bakedin.co.uk/ ) will be sending us something to bake once a month, again everything is included (apart from fresh ingredients) so all we have to do is bake… and EAT!

Number 3 will hopefully be covered by our new dog, daily walks in all weathers are already feeling refreshing and becoming a normal part of daily life.

Number 4 I’m still working on a way to realise, having failed to find a subscription service similar to the baking. Perhaps I will make my own plan of a new bread a month…

I also have a new toy, a bridge camera, which I intend to learn to use properly…

Watch this space for updates on my progress, and how we’re finding the subscriptions.

Whatever your New Year Positive Intentions, good luck with them 😀

 

The Neapolitan Way

image

The first leg of our journey is over. We left Naples and arrived in Rome yesterday afternoon.

Naples was amazing. The first thing we noticed when we got off the train last week was how like Egypt it was. The hustle and bustle, the traffic, the buildings, the warm weather.

We wandered the streets of the old town and strolled down to the Port as well as seeing Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplonti. The boys ate obscene amounts of pizza, tried buffalo mozzarella (and hated it!), sampled various sweet pastries and did a lot of walking. We heard about a world famous (?) pizza place, supposedly the best in the world (well, the best in Naples, which is the best in Italy, which is the best in the world 😉 ) and just about managed to find it, with a little help from a local, it was indeed delicious. A couple of helpful boys on the table next to us were happy to show the boys how to eat pizza like an Italian.

image

image

The atmosphere was all around, all of the time. The tall apartment buildings, complete with row upon row of shutters. A real mix of dilapidation and we’ll looked after buildings. Traffic mayhem in every part of the city. Traffic lights? Pedestrian crossings? Road laws? Forget them all! A new way to cross the road had to be learned, pretty quickly! Crossing the road was so draining, the complete concentration required, in both directions, the whole time.

Pompeii was busy and really interesting, it’s so vast. Next came Oplonti, a Roman Palace, nestled in the middle of a residential area, not far from Pompeii. Oplonti is huge. Finally we saw Herculaneum, on the same day as Oplonti. Wow. Our favourite of the three, without a doubt. Herculaneum is much smaller than Pompeii, but so well preserved. Many of the buildings are almost intact, some with tables and statues still in situ. Herculaneum is also much better signposted around the site, so you can actually work out where you are going, Pompeii was not.

On our last day in Naples, we also visited the archaeological museum. There they have truly stunning mosaics, so much detail it’s like looking at a photograph.

Hundreds of pictures were taken, but mostly on my camera, so, I can share those at this time. I can share a few of what I have on my phone though.

First impressions of Rome are it’s very different to Naples, so quiet and calm, much less traffic mayhem, fewer people on the streets. Altogether calmer.

image

Trying to keep the household costs down

OK, a follow on from my previous budgeting blog post. How exactly can you reduce the monthly outgoings on your household bills?

1 – Shopping

There are a couple of potential ways to tackle this one. I will suggest some, but there may well be others.

The way it works in my house is this: Firstly we use a fortnightly meal plan. Just a piece of paper with the days of the week on, and then I write a meal for each day.  This works brilliantly for me, as my biggest problem has always been deciding what to cook for the evening/main meal. This way it’s already decided, so I just look at the planner the night before and take out whatever I need meat wise from the freezer to defrost.  It also means, when I do the shopping I only buy what I need, as I’ve already decided what ingredients I will need for the next fortnight. We have far less takeaways this way too!

I have a weekly budget for my household shop. For us (one adult, one teen and one child) that is £70. This includes EVERYTHING that the household might need (cleaning products, shampoo etc and food). I tend to do the shopping fornightly (see above), so that gives me £140 to spend each fortnight, I never go over.  Some weeks may cost more than £70, you know those weeks where everything runs out AND you need washing powder AND toilet rolls etc, but others cost way less. Overall it balances out pretty well on a fortnightly basis.

Going fortnightly also means less impulse buy opportunies, half in fact!

Online shopping can work out cheaper, even if you are paying for delivery. You can see all the offers clearly, and have plenty of time to compare the prices of different products. It also removes the temptation of walking past something you really don’t need but jumps into your trolley anyway, or suddenly appears out of no-where on the conveyer at the checkout! However you do miss out on the reduced sections found at the supermarket.

Reduced sections are great, and work really well with a meal plan. Buy the meat on offer and freeze it as soon as you get home. When you make your next meal plan, check what you already have in the freezer and use that up first. It might be ‘use by’ today, but if you are freezing it right away it’s good to go!

2 – TV, Broadband and Telephone

Check that you really need what you’re paying for. Can you reduce the bills at all? Perhaps with less channels or less data on your internet. Try calling your provider and seeing if there is a current discount they can offer you. Threaten to leave if you need to, and do so too. You are bound to find similar or cheaper elsewhere – but you may be more comfortable checking this before you jack in your current provider!

3 – Mobile phone

Check if you are out of your contract period. If you are you can get a much better sim only deal through your current network. If not, check that your plan is suitable for what you are using your phone for and change plans if you can.

If you are on PAYG, shop around for a new network, or product type with your current network. Many networks have deals these days, including free texts with a top up and/or free data. Look at what most of your credit is spent on and go from there.

4 – Utilities

Shop around and get cheaper tariffs if you can.  If you are on a prepayment meter, and can trust yourself to budget (see previous blog post on budgeting), it is far cheaper to switch to a standard meter (although the utility company will make a one off charge for this). For many families, a water meter can offer large savings too.

Reduce your usage where possible. Make sure all your bulbs are energy efficient. Encourage household members to switch lights, TVs and computers off when not needed or the room is empty. Only put the water you need in the kettle each time. If you are gathered in one room in the evening, shut the door to keep more heat in. Make sure your home is as insulated and draught free as you can. Put a heavy curtain over front doors or large windows, for example. Use a water butt to collect rain water, tumble dryer water (if you have a condenser type) and shower water whilst waiting for it to heat up. You can use this water for the garden and washing the car.

5 – Babies and Small Children

Breastfeeding can save a fortune over formula milk. Obviously it may not be possible for you and your little one, but there are so many reasons to give it as good a go as you can if it’s not too late already.

Making your own baby food is another way to save large amounts of money. An inexpensive hand blender and some ice cube trays are all you need. If you are not adding salt, many of your family meals may be suitable to whizz up and freeze. Otherwise use fruits and vegetables as well as some meats once your little one is old enough. Cook without salt and freeze in sterilised ice cube trays. Simply defrost and heat as many cubes as required for each meal in the microwave – taking care to mix thoroughly and check the temperature before feeding. Try ready brek instead of baby cereal too. It’s far less expensive for a much larger box AND doesn’t have any of the additives found in baby cereals!

Re-usable nappies can also save a fortune. They do require a larger initial outlay, but that is a one off payment. Or find a Real Nappy Library close to you.

There are many other ways to keep costs down, these are just a few that are easy to implement.

Budgeting and clearing debts.

I have worked with my own finances and that of my mother in great detail. I helped my mum to get out of the debt spiral she had fallen into and entirely change the way she dealt with her money.  Since then many friends have asked me for advice on how to begin to achieve the same for them, so I thought I would share a few tips. When better to start to get a handle on your finances than the new year?

Firstly, know what your essential bills cost. All of them. Work it out on a weekly basis for everything, whether paid yearly, monthly or otherwise. Include groceries, travel (fuel/car tax/insurance/mot/service/public transport/car repairs) as well as everything else.

Secondly, know what your total income is, from all sources. Again work it out on a weekly basis.

With any luck, the second figure will be the same or larger than the first. If not you may need to look at cutting down costs or increasing income (I will write a blog about this in due course).

Lets say the second figure is larger by £50 a week (or whatever figure it was), you should then allocate a portion of this to savings or paying off debts (overdrafts/credit cards etc). In this example, lets say we’re going to keep £20 a week for that.

Set a particular day of the week, Monday is good, and on that day you will withdraw the remainder of your weekly income (in this example the remainder is £30). That is your ‘extras’ budget for the week. That’s it. No more. The rest is already accounted for, for bills etc.

Have a safe or money box at home, anything left from that ‘extras budget’ goes in there each week, this becomes your ‘extras savings’.

Be strict when doing shopping, take the budget for groceries out each week/fortnight/month and only spend that in the supermarket. Anything left can either go back in the bank for savings, or into the ‘extras savings’ pot.  Some find it cheaper to shop fortnightly instead of weekly, or online instead of instore, either way the same rules apply. Again, I will talk more about groceries budgeting in another post.

Open at least one savings account with your bank, all of your extras left in each week should go in there so you can see it building up.

It depends on the difference between figure one and two, but you may find you have sufficient to ear mark a certain portion of your savings for a holiday or big treat. It’s best to also have a separate savings account for this.

Make sure the weekly portion left for savings or debts is not squandered or used and general spending. If you have an overdraft or credit cards use the extra each and every week to pay a bit off. If you have 4 such debts, each week pay a bit off each (this is in addition to any minimum payments). Or choose the one with the highest interest and clear this first.

Be strict with yourself and your budget. Keep savings separate from bill money. Make sure you factor in yearly bills as well as a reasonable amount for clothing/birthdays etc. Pay what ever you can monthly (unless it will cost you more). Things not paid monthly to the company, pay monthly into another ‘bills’ account if that helps you to keep it seperate.

Do seek help from a debt charity if you are struggling or your income is smaller than your costs.