Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Christmas is usually a dirty word around these parts. I'm sure that you appreciate how much it grates on my anti-consumption sensibilities. As much as I like the giving and receiving of presents, there is nothing like walking into a supermarket in December to bring home just how screwed our economy (and ecosystem) are.

We are actually 'giving up' on Christmas this year and for the foreseeable future. We both do jobs that call on us to work at least every other Christmas; and we aren't Christians. Instead, we will be celebrating the winter solstice, which we are much more likely to have off together. I'm in preparation mode.

Over the course of the year we collect all of our 20 pence pieces in a tin. When it is full, we take a can opener to it and count it all up; before changing it into more usable currency at the post office. This years tally is £65. This will pay for our main roast dinner, our desserts, our cheeses, pickles, cold meats and other festive foods for the whole week of celebrations. We may have an additional modest budget for alcohol. You can't make an eggnog without cracking open a bottle of rum, after all.

£65 seems like a huge budget to me, but a visit to a supermarket flogging it's festive wares makes me realize just how little we spend - and we have a hearty feast too.

I've also started a gift chest over the past few months for Christmas and birthdays. I'm collecting gifts for everyone throughout the year instead of in a mad dash and spend come mid December.  I see a few upcycled gifts for the kids amongst their carefully chosen new ones under the tree; and some homemade gifts for family and friends if I don't run out of time and wherewithal. 

My favourite part of the whole thing (aside from the feasting) is the Christmas stockings. The eager ransacking of these little sacks of thoughtful, simple pleasures is the thing I look forward to most. We have been making do with some cheap Poundland felt ones fro the past few years that are due for replacement. I've been collecting brightly coloured thrifted fabric for the past few weeks and I've drafted a pattern. I just need to get sewing.

I'm looking forward to Thriftmas.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Mirror mirror on the wall

This certainly wasn't the fairest of them all...

I bought this large mirror last year from the local junk shop. It had a horrible blobby 'bronze' gloss paint job and looked truly terrible. Still, it made our very dingy dining room look tons better by dint of the fact that horrible frame or not, it reflects a lot of light back into the room.

I initially tried to strip it back to the wood, which was a mistake. The grooves were too intricate so I painted it in a blue-grey chalk paint and hung it on the wall.  I love mirrors and glass, and anything that reflects light, but the frame just dragged the whole room down with a different shade of dull. 

I researched metallic paint - and quickly learned that if you see beautiful lustrous silver furniture on pinterest, it hasn't been acheived with a specialist paint job, it's almost certainly some kind of gilding or foil wrapping. So I looked into silver leaf kits - jaw droppingly expensive for a £5 mirror. I looked into aluminium leaf kits - much cheaper but still over £20 and a steep learning curve.

And then I hit upon a thrifty but highly experimental solution. Kitchen foil.

I applied PVA glue, let it tack up a little, and set to work with an artists paint brush and cheap kitchen foil. The cheap stuff is thin, which makes it easy to work with. I applied the foil along the outside edge of the frame, and used the brush to gradually spread the foil inwards, pushing it down into each groove and up the other side again, avoiding wrinkles as much as possible (which wasn't very as it turned out. Still, they add character). After I was done, I removed the excess foil with a scalpel and gave it two coats of satin varnish.

I might tarnish it with some dark wax as it is, in the words of Mr Pumpkin, 'quite bright'. It looks a thousand times better than it did and I am quite smitten with my handiwork. It's funny how much difference the little things make. A few hours work and 50p worth of materials and it completely changes the room.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Pantry economy

Today Mr Pumpkin starts the new career he has been working towards for the past 7 years.The past few years of parsimony have hopefully paid off.

We have honed quite a good life for ourselves on a limited income these past few years. Once we were free of debt, life was pretty much plain sailing. We gathered our emergency fund together; and now we are saving for the big stuff. We are both very motivated to make this work. There will be a few extra treats along the way, but the frugal life goes on, and probably always will, by choice.

I work three days outside of the home, Mr P averages 5; both of us shift workers. The plan is to live off of his salary and shell mine into the ISA. I will try and bring in some extra income; and liquidate a few unwanted possessions via eBay. Part-timer that I am, I have much greater influence on our household economy, with every purchase I make - from food, to clothes to utilities. I think I can up my game a little and make my biggest contribution by managing our resources better.

First on my attack list is the grocery budget. I haven't been keeping a close eye on it in recent months; and our takeaway consumption has been a bit excessive too. We are getting into autumn and winter which is always cheaper - lots of pantry staples, vegetables and cheap cuts of meat.

Yesterday I withdrew my month's budget of £160 and separated it into weekly envelopes of £40 each. This is for fresh produce each week - meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables (... and chocolate). We get something of a subsidy each week in the form of a bag of fruit from nan each week.  An additional £20 each month is set aside to restock the pantry, something we do every few months. The booze budget is additional and discretionary and varies month to month - a large proportion of it is ploughed into our homemade beer and wine at certain times of year.

This budget will feed 2 adults, 2 children under 7 and a newly weaning baby, plus the odd dinner guest several times each month.

In addition to the envelopes, I keep a shopping list-cum-spending diary in a cashbook. I write my weekly list and add the costs as I shop. I also add any additional non-grocery expenditures at the end of the day. It helps me keep track of what I am spending.

One day in and I've done the first part of my shop. We still have some milk and veg left from last week's shop; and we have several portions of curry left over from a dinner party we threw. I am set to come in at least £15 under budget this week.

Next week I will clean out and inventory the freezer and store cupboards; and write a list for a bulk shop, to ensure that I don't end up throwing food and (money away).

Monday, 25 August 2014


I have a new toy tool:

An Ashford Traveller spinning wheel, picked up for a modest sum from  a local junk shop.

Freya has had to go away after her scotch tensioning was broken once again by a certain preschooler (we can't have nice things, unless they stow nicely away in a lockable cupboard). I like to think that this was meant to be, because within two days of my deciding to pack Freya up and start my new wheel search, I found her.

Apparently she was stored in a garden shed before rescue and is in a bad way. All of the metal fixings were rusted; there was water damage to the finish, which luckily hadn't gone so far as to damage the wood itself - and dust. So much thick ingrained dust.  The silk spun cobwebs were a nice ironic touch though.

I spent a leisurely Friday afternoon in the garden assessing the damage. The rusty metal fixings have all been removed and a repair kit ordered. I've taken her almost completely apart, into easy to renovate pieces.

After a quick dust to remove the cobwebs, I set to work with rags and white vinegar, which removed the surface muck and a surprising amount of rust from the permanent metal components. After that I tried white spirit, rubbed in and left to dry; and removed with a rag soaked in white vinegar. This lifted so much grime I couldn't believe it. It took most of the patchy wax finish with it too.

This little fella (a shield bug?) came and distracted me for ten minutes before I packed up shop for the day.

I now have a box of spinning wheel cluttering up my kitchen whilst I impatiently await the spare parts. Bloody bank holiday weekends, grrrr.  

Some of the parts, including the beautiful wheel, have come up nice and even. A coat of wax and a polish will do. The rest is getting a coat of paint, colour yet to be decided. Exciting!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Homemade Laundry Liquid

My homemade laundry powder post is one of the most popular I have ever written. It is very good recipe, but I find that I tend to be unnecessarily heavy handed with it. It also compacts together if made in large batches.

Recently I've been on and off alternating cheap commercial non-bio powder from the corner store with homemade powder. I've also used up ends of shampoo and shower gel that were hanging around the bathroom - as long as they are soap or detergent based, they will clean laundry; and remarkably well. Last week I ran out of everything.

And then I found this in the local hardware store:

Falcon Household Soap. £1 per bar, which is very reasonable. If you can get hold of it, it lasts a long time and has a multitude of uses. I use it neat on dampened stains and shirt collars to remove ingrained dirt. Most importantly, it comes in my favourite colour.

They also had borax substitute and soda crystals in stock. The trinity of homemade laundry soap, all in stock at the same time. The planets must have aligned favourably. Or perhaps it was the supermoon?

* * * 

Homemade Laundry Liquid 

(For hard water areas)
Makes 4.5 litres

1/3rd bar household soap, grated (about 30g)
1/2 cup soda crystals
1/3 cup borax substitute

In a large pan, heat 500ml of water. Add the soap flakes and continue to heat gently and stir until all of the soap has dissolved. 

Stir in the soda crystals. The fluid will thicken into a thin gel. Stir until the soda crystals are fully dispersed. Remove from the heat. 

Stir in the Borax. The gel will thin again at this point. When the Borax has fully dissolved, gradually stir in 4 litres of cool  water.

Pour into storage bottles (two 4 pint milk cartons work well). The liquid tends to separate into two layers, shake to recombine before each use.

* * *

If you live in a softer water area (you lucky things), you can reduce the amount of soda crystals and borax in your recipe. If you cannot find household soap use a harsher body soap, such as coconut, with no moisturizing oils or glycerin added. Different soaps may affect the consistency of the recipe at different stages however.

This recipe makes around a gallon (4.5 litres) and costs less than £1. Next time, as I collect more storage bottles and clear some shelf space, I will make a larger batch. However, 'next time' is some months away, as this batch is sufficient for around 150 loads. I use around 1/8 cup (30ml) for a normally soiled large load (yes, that really is sufficient). This is also sufficient for a load of heavily soiled nappies, with some nappy sanitizer added. It works at 30C too.

At a load a day, less than three batches will take you through a whole year. A whole years worth of laundry for less than £3. Minimal packaging, minimal waste, minimal cost. You can't beat that.


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Sunday, 10 August 2014


Because I'm a bit of a weirdo curious by nature*, I put this box out to see just how much rain would collect at the west-facing front of the house during the promised storm. There were showers over night, but the main event hit at about 9am. We sat with the door open as it literally fell in sheets from the sky;  and listened to the thunder. We do this every time there is a storm. The kids get to watch the show; and to know that they are safe, that there is nothing to fear from the loud rumbles that used to terrify me as a child. We kept the door open until the wind changed direction briefly and deposited a full bucket of rain in the hallway. Oh well, I needed to wash the floor anyway.

The box was full by 10am. Admittedly some of this overflowed from the guttering, but the majority of it fell from the sky in the space of an few intense minutes. And then as soon as she came, Bertha left.

A quick perusal of the garden suggested that the damage was limited to a bit of soil splatter - and some very wet washing that some idiot had left out overnight. The rest of the day has looked something like this (which was handy for drying out the laundry again):

One watering can at a time I carried the water collected in the box, through the house to the back garden; and refilled the water butt. It has been empty for most of the past month - five trips later and it's almost half full; which should see us through another dry spell before summer is out. 

Thank you Bertha.

* The first of David Holmgren's Permaculture Principles,' observe and interact'. It's a good thing, being a weirdo.