Monday, 19 January 2015

Monday miscellany

Why the modern world is bad for your brain - this is your brain on modern technology; and it isn't pretty.*

How 'hygge' can help you get through winter

Fridge triage - a brilliant hack for cutting food waste.

I made this cake and sandwiched the halves together using this icing. It was good (and quick and frugal and whip-uppable with storecupboard ingredients) and I recommend it. 

*The irony of continuing this post after this link is not lost on me. The cake should make up for it though...

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The big delete

Happy 2015! I'm late to the party I know, but I've spent the past few weeks blissfully unplugging; and I want to encourage you to do it too.

Last week I had 1500+ unread emails in my primary inbox - not including spam, promotions, social media notifications and all the opened but not deleted stuff. Despite Gmail ridiculously generous inbox capacity, having so much unread mail is a shoddy way to start the new year. So, how to deal?

In the spirit of keeping it simple, I took a deep breath, selected all, and sent all 2000+ messages to the trash folder.

I haven't yet done a hard delete. Over the next month or so, should I desperately need to retrieve an email - say, an account confirmation - I will use the search function to find it and move it to an appropriately labelled folder. Come March, I will probably have built up the courage to push the 'empty trash' button; and my electronic clutter will disappear for ever.

In the meantime, I am able to deal with the new mail trickling in. Every morning I wake up and set aside my coffee time to checking my email. If it's a marketing communication I open it, follow the unsubscribe link; and then delete the email. If it's temporarily important, such as a shipping tracking number, it stays in the inbox and I star it as important. The rest is labelled and filed into appropriate folders. 

This all takes less than 5 minutes a day. Over the past week I have unsubscribed from around 30 mailing lists, and the number of new emails I receive everyday continues to decrease.

And once they are dealt with, they are dealt with until the next day. I don't keep checking in with my email; and I don't have push notifications set on my phone. If it's that important, call me.

Which brings me to my other electronic hoard. Bloglovin'.

Those 327 unread posts are just a few days worth of skipped over blogs. Some of those hundred or so blogs I subscribed to are no longer relevant to me. Craft blogs? I've given myself permission to not feel the need to handcraft everything in my life and many of them are a little too chintzy for my simple tastes. Food blogs? Most don't suit my new diet. A gradual cull is in order as they appear and I'm tempted to skip over them. Instead, I will take a few seconds to unsubscribe.

I check Facebook every few days; Instagram almost never unless I am summoned to it. Pinterest is a nice soothing distraction  if I am feeling anxious, but is otherwise ignored.

In the meantime, my domain name is up for renewal. I have toyed with the idea of not renewing, but think I derive enough use from it for £5 that I will keep it up for another year. 

I hope 2015 is being good to you so far.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


I've made good progress on my personal health project over the past month. Time for an update:

+ I've researched the ideal diet. Good news - there isn't one. There are instead a range of dietary patterns that are conducive to a healthy and long life. I've picked a fairly specific one, more on which another day.

+ I've made an effort to up my activity level every day. I'm not quite up to the recommended 150 minutes, but I am getting there. I have made an effort to incorporate it into my day - I run when I am out on errands, I dance around like a tit whilst doing the housework. We also traded my heavy clunker of a bike in for a lighter model which means I will be able to cycle here and there should the mood strike. As per the link, I am also trying to break up sedentary periods with bursts of activity, even if that just means offering to make tea every half hour.

+ I've roughly halved my caffeine consumption, despite all of the tea making.

+ I am back to taking a Vitamin D supplement each day along with Omega-3 every day.

+ Anxiety, after a huge uptick, has all but gone. It is partly the new regime but mostly I think it's living in a way less cluttered house. Messy spaces make me anxious, probably because it triggers memories of a childhood lived in a dangerously cluttered house. Decluttering for yet another win.

+ I have started a new cleansing regime. The acne which has been plaguing me for the past few months is in remission.

+ I am finally getting an impacted wisdom tooth pulled this week after years of avoidance.

This is the first time since I was a child that I can say I am heading into winter and I am not dreading it. Usually my mood takes a nosedive shortly after Halloween and doesn't start to improve until March. I usually feel tired, restless, grumpy and demotivated; this year it hasn't happened yet. 

I'm looking forward to Christmas and the new year. I never thought I'd say that.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Quality over quantity

I don't think I have ever talked about it here before, but I am the (now adult) child of a hoarder. Growing up with a hoarder, quantity over quality was the motto. It was all about the stuff. So much stuff that it was impossible to maintain any of it. If you haven't come from that sort of environment, you probably don't understand just how satisfying it is to be able to recognize when you have too much of something, to get rid of it without guilt; and to take care of the things that you decide to keep.


This is only five of them. There are two additional pairs on the draining board. We also own pinking shears, dressmaking shears, nail scissors and assorted children's safety scissors.

I never intended that we own this many pairs of scissors, somehow we've just managed to acquire them over the years. By some serendipitous circumstances they came together on the kitchen counter  today, and it became stark fact that we had a scissor problem.  

Some of them are blunt, some of them are gacked up with sellotape residue and craft glue' - only a few of them are aesthetically pleasing. Who honestly needs this many pairs of sub-optimal household scissors?

Two pairs seems readily maintainable and storable. I've freshened up the blades on a whetstone, something I have never bothered to do because I've had so many pairs to choose from. The other five have been cleaned up and put into the charity bag ready for donation. The specialist snippers have all been put away tidily ready for use. 

Quality beats quantity every time. Genuine need trumps both.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Minimalism vs. the farm (vs. my brain) (part 2)

Part 1 can be found here.

The strange hybrid of writing for myself and for an audience that is this blog has proved quite useful. Most of these thoughts would never make it into my sloppily kept paper journals.  I've been rereading my old posts again.

This latest round of decluttering has been quite brutal. 'Useful' stuff that I thought I would never part with has been given away. Books have been given away. Tools have been given away. Everything is being pared back to the barest essentials that we don't mind paying to transport when we move.

I have learned many things over the years since I wrote that post. I know what I do want and what I don't want to do with my life. I have to balance my needs with those of my husband and kids, but thankfully many of them overlap.

I know that physical and mental health; and relationships; are more important than stuff. Anything that detracts from those two things needs to be jettisoned, yesterday. So much stuff you have no energy to cook good food or get up and exercise? So much stuff you feel you can't have people over for dinner? Time to get rid.

Ditching the aspirational clutter (gardening equipment in our case) and concentrating on the things we can actually pursue here and now (like spinning and tinkering with the car), is the way to a happy life. So often we collect things in anticipation of who we could be one day, instead of being the best we can be today.

Being prepared for emergencies is important to me, but preparedness is not about stuff - nor being prepared for every eventuality. I'm getting fit and healthy, because it will help me lead a better life. We live debt free because it makes financial and ethical sense. I keep a store cupboard and cook from scratch because - deliciousness (and healthy and financially savvy)! All of these things make us more resilient and are part of the fabric of our lives. Apart from a 72 hour bag, seasonal car kits, a torch and some water purification tablets - the rest of our 'preps' are invisible.

I recently read the advice to always consider whether something is useful before you toss it; but I have learned that way lies clutter and scattered energy. Almost EVERYTHING short of bits of broken plastic, can be put to use. It doesn't mean you have to keep it just in case. As a society we produce so much waste and surplus, it is fine to trust that if you need something at a later date, you will probably be able to find it. My life seems to have been a constant stream of 'useful' stuff, coming in, being stored for a while, and being passed on again. Better to pass it on to someone who may need it in the here and now.

Useful, beautiful, resilient - enough. That is my 'minimalism', not 100 possessions and a stark white apartment where everything is outsourced. Not a maximalist nightmare of preparedness for every contingency. Just a simple, sustainable life.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Slay your own zombies - corporeal edition

I have come to suspect that I suffer from a hormonal disorder. Cursory investigations were made a few years ago, before I started producing babies, but they were halted because well, I didn't seem to have a problem having babies, the red flag symptom of this disorder. I didn't bother with the follow up as I am in no need of any more babies. I have lived with the pain-in-the-arse but not life threatening symptoms since I was a teenager and so they are my 'normal'.

I recently learned that this disorder carries a few other risks for sufferers - a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, certain cancers - and early death. Pain-in-the-arse and life threatening to boot. Alrighty then, I should probably do something.

Of course, it shouldn't take a diagnosis of anything to make me want to 'do something'. I can self diagnose as an over-fed(on rubbish), under-exercised, under-rested westerner anytime and make the changes that doctors recommend to stave off the epidemic of preventable heart disease, cancer and diabetes that kills and disables so many of us.

And as someone aiming to be financially secure, aiming to be prepared for energy and resource descent over the next few decades, aiming to live lightly on the earth; and as someone aiming to live the good life from the fruits of my own labour - well, my physical and mental health is going to be my greatest asset in all of those scenarios. Also, what about the disappointingly slim chance of zombie apocalypse? You need to be fit to outrun those mofo's.

Nobody in the greener/simpler/frugaller living communities seems to be talking about health much; and in the prepper/thrivalist community nobody talks about their running speed half as much as they do their crossbow reload speed. They talk about medicinal herbs and first aid (nothing wrong with those by the way) - but not about ways to stave off the vagaries of the lifestyle diseases that, along with economic hardship - are the most likely disasters that will befall them.

'Doing something' in my case means eating a lower fat and lower GI diet with lots of fruit and veg, getting the recommended levels of exercise each week,  and reducing my stress levels. I will no doubt be talking about health a bit more here. There will be healthier recipes. There will be the occasional exercise post.

 Hopefully in six months I will be a lot healthier and my hormones will be balanced a little better; and the road behind me will be littered with the remains of now-dead undead maladies.