How to enjoy life's simple pleasures

How to Savour the Simple Pleasures of Life

Although we all enjoy celebrating and anticipating the big events in life, such as birthdays, Christmas, holidays away from home etc, it’s important to be present in the moment and enjoy the simple luxuries that we can partake in the everyday, too; the petits plaisirs as the French would call them.

In one of my favourite films, the French movie Amelie, I love the way that each character is introduced by listing three simple pleasures that they appreciate in life. It’s prompted to make me compile a list of my own simple pleasures. Here they are, in no particular order:

Hot showers with a lovely scented shower gel. A perfect way to start the day and help wake me up up properly. My current favourite is Black Orchid scent by Palmolive- all the better that it’s a bargain! (See post on my favourite bargain beauty buys here).

Slipping into clean bed linen– all the better if it’s been air dried outside.

Listening to the sound of the rain drumming onto our Velux windows in the bedroom while I’m tucked up in my warm bed. The rhythmic sound often sends me to sleep.

The huge old oak tree at the bottom of our garden- at a guess, it’s 200 years old. I love watching it change through the seasons, the different coloured leaves, watching different birds rest on the branches and make nests within it. Every time I look at the  many branches and the thick, sturdy trunk it awes me to think that something so great can grow from a tiny acorn and like to think of this metaphor being applied to other things in life.

Flowers– I adore all types of fresh flowers as detailed here and try to have fresh flowers in the house as much as possible. It lifts my spirits to see flowers growing in gardens or the wild. At the moment we have cyclamen and pansies in our garden and in a few weeks there will be crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils signalling the start of spring on its way.

Reading– I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. Everything about books is wonderful to me- from the feel of the crisp pages inside a book, roaming through libraries and bookshops containing shelves upon shelves of new books to get my hands on and get lost within. At any given time I have a stack of books waiting to be devoured, kept in a shallow wicker basket in my living room. Novels and non-fiction books about social history from WW1 onwards fascinate me in particular and pondering the lives of others who lived in the past gives me a sense of renewed appreciation for everyday conveniences such as our indoor bathroom, washing machine etc which I can otherwise take for granted.

Fluffy winter house socks- for some reason, I’ve never been a fan of wearing slippers. Fluffy winter socks are another matter entirely. Sliding them onto my feet on a chilly winter day, the super soft fibres warming and insulating my skin, feels like sheer bliss.

As I’ve said before, winter happens to be my least favourite season, despite the fact that winters in my part of the U.K. are pretty mild really. So it’s all the more important that I regularly remind myself of the simple pleasures to be grateful for.

What are you little luxuries that you enjoy on a regular basis? Please do share them. I would love to hear them as they may even remind me of some I’ve forgotten or introduce me to new ones.

How to spend less on your food or grocery shopping

How to Spend less on your Food or Grocery Shopping

Just a few years ago, our grocery bill used to be below the average spend for a family of our size. Gradually though, our grocery spends have crept up frighteningly fast.

Ok, some of the increase can be attributed to to the increase in the number of people we have in our household and the corresponding spends on nappies, fruit, snacks etc. But if I’m honest, we have become a bit lazy and allowed convenience foods to sneak into the trolley far more than they ever used to and those convenience foods obviously cost more. We don’t buy a ridiculous number of takeaways, but even these have been happening more frequently than they used to.

There’s no excuse for this really, other than perhaps for a few months when our youngest was a newborn and I was recovering from surgery. Bad habits snuck in and products that we bought as a one-off due to a promotional price became regular purchases at the standard price.

Anyway, it’s time to rectify the situation. Here are the steps I intend to follow:

Carry out a stock take 

Our freezer is pretty full right now. I need to grab a pen and paper and jot down everything contained within the drawers of it. There is quite a bit of meat and fish I suspect, plus some Quorn (a meat substitute that is vegetarian but we like despite being omnivores ourselves).

Our cupboards also contain a fair amount of canned vegetables, beans, packets of couscous and rice.

Meal plan

I need to sit down and plan which meals can be put together from the freezer and cupboard ingredients. To be honest, I suspect there are quite a few! Hopefully this will have a positive effect on our grocery bill for the next month as we eat out of the freezer and cupboards so buy less new stuff.

Although I usually meal plan a whole week, the dinners for different days often get switched around depending on what we feel like eating or if unexpected events crop up.

Use the slow cooker (AKA crockpots)

I have been a fan of slow cookers ever since buying our first one in 2004, the year that I first moved in with my now-husband. They are wonderful for several reasons.

Firstly, you can bung in all your ingredients first thing in the morning, or even the night before if you like (just refrigerate the ceramic pot overnight to keep chilled if you do so). Switch it on before you leave the house, then return from work at the end of the day to the scent of a delicious, cooked meal ready to tuck into. What could be better?

Secondly, slow cookers are economical because they use a similar amount of energy to a light bulb. They can be used to cook cheaper cuts of meat which, due to the lengthy cooking time, turn from tough to tender and meat literally falls off the bone.

Lastly, the nature of one-pot cooking means less clearing up to do after dinner. That can only be a good thing in my book!

Try out new recipes 

I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks. Yet we seem to eat the same meals over and over again. So, I intend to flick through some of the books and mark the most appealing recipes to try. There are lots I still intend to try in my newest purchase, 5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver. It makes sense that if I use fewer ingredients in a recipe (as long as they aren’t ridiculously expensive ones, such as caviar and saffron ;)) the cost will hopefully be brought down, too.

Let’s hope that following these steps results in us saving money, eating more healthily and enjoying our food more.

How about you? Do you have any tips to share on reducing your grocery bill? I would love to hear them.

How to enjoy winter

How to Enjoy Winter Living

Do you enjoy the winter season? I have to admit that it doesn’t come naturally to me.

The promise of Christmas and the bright lights, decorations and general festivities throughout November and December ride me on a high to the end of the year, but once New Year celebrations are over my mood can easily plummet once the anticlimax sets in. Not to mention that most people are broke so have little money to go out and spend to cheer themselves up, plus everyone seems to be on a diet.

All of this, combined with frosty temperatures and drizzly days here in the UK, don’t exactly make a recipe for joyful living in January and February.

Enough of all that negativity, though! Yes, it may be more difficult to stay upbeat and enjoy the coldest part of the year, but it just takes a little more effort to do so.

Hygge

I’m an afficionado of the Scandinavian concept of ‘hygge’, having been an long-time watcher of Scandi noir TV shows and films (obviously the scenes of hygge are interspersed with solving crimes but there are still plenty of them!). I’ve read a fair few books on the subject, too. I love ‘The Art of Hygge’ by Johnny Jackson and Elias Larsen and ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ by Meik Wiking amongst others. There are too many facets to the hygge concept to detail in this post, so I’ll just mention a couple.

Atmosphere

Create a cosy atmosphere at home. This begins with lighting: the Danes like to create soft pockets of lighting in corners of rooms with lamps rather than switching on ceiling lights that illuminate a room too dazzlingly.

Scandi homes tend to utilise a lot of natural materials such as wood, leather and wool in their decor and these natural textures look good together. Soft throws and blankets are used to stay warm and cosy. All of this helps to create an appealing home that you’ll enjoy spending time in and coming home to.

I feel far more content at home if my surroundings are organised and neat as well as being clutter free, as I’ve written about before.

Personally, having fresh flowers around is an unbeatable way to bring a little life and cheer into the home. They needn’t be expensive and recently I have been splitting one bunch of flowers in half then arranging into two separate vases to enjoy seeing them in two different rooms.

Presence and Togetherness

Hygge requires that when people come together to spend time with each other, they are fully present in the experience. This means switching off phones and putting them out of sight. Many of us spend far too long on our phones these days, it’s almost habitual to keep checking for messages or Facebook updates but it does little to enhance our connection with real people in the present moment. Take the chance to play card or board games with friends and family, or pull out a guitar or other instrument and have a good old sing song. These traditional activities have a magical way of creating a strong sense of well-being and form memories.

Other than hygge, there are a few other strategies to make the most of winter living.

Plan things to look forward to

Plan a few get-togethers with friends at your home; they cost very little if you plan the types of activities mentioned in the paragraph above and are something to look forward to in the short dark days.

Plan further ahead, too. If you haven’t already booked a summer holiday, this could be the perfect opportunity. Researching where to go and thinking ahead to the summer will lift your spirits no end. I’ve said before that for me, part of the pleasure of holidays etc in in the anticipation leading up to it. Plus, the earlier you book, the longer you have to save up for it as well as enjoy that sense of anticipation. Believe it or not, I actually booked our August 2018 holiday back in November 2016 (out of necessity due to high demand). I’ve certainly eked out the anticipation period for that one!

Enjoy hearty, seasonal foods

Eating seasonally makes sense in many ways: it is cheaper, tastier and reduces food miles. There are a lot of winter vegetables that are filling and full of flavour and can be cooked in many different dishes, such as soups, stews and casseroles. Using different herbs and spices to season them with changes the taste.

I am a huge fan of the slow cooker which can be used to simmer away all day cooking tasty, hearty winter stews and other dishes. What could be better to return home to at the end of the day that the delicious aroma of it all ready to tuck into?

Here is a post about eating healthily in cold weather, too.

I hope this post has given you a few ideas or at least reminders of the enjoyable aspects of winter. Please do add your own in the comments section, I’m always keen to gain more tips 🙂

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Why you need a 'done' list more than a 'to-do' list

Why you need a ‘done’ list more than a to-do list

Isn’t life busy for everyone these days?

Less physical work, but a higher mental load

In addition to working a paid job or staying at home to care for children, there are myriad small tasks to be carried out. Phone calls to make, online accounts to log into and take some form of action on. Emails to send and reply to, both to companies and acquaintances.

Although modern life is less tiring in terms of physical tasks (I for one remain eternally grateful to the inventors of washing machines and dishwashers), the time and energy saved on the manual tasks of old seems to have been replaced by a significant number of smaller tasks which may not require physical effort but still take up headspace when they accumulate.

The problem with to-do lists

By nature, I am (or at least strive to be) an organised person. I’ve long been a user of to-do lists. As a carefree student, to-do lists were a mere couple of items hastily scribbled on the back of my hand each morning. Gradually though, things have changed and my to-do lists seem never ending. At any one time I have as a minimum an A5 paper sheet listing jobs to be completed for the day plus others that might be accomplished at a push (though I invariably kid myself on that front), plus an A4 sheet of jobs that I would like to tackle at some point (ideally as soon as possible, though often months and months pass and the same jobs get carried over to the next list :/ )

It sounds like a first world problem (and I appreciate that it is, in the grand scheme of things) but I too often end a day feeling overwhelmed and with a sense of dissatisfaction that I didn’t complete half of the tasks that I intended to. That’s not to say that I didn’t achieve anything- it’s just that keeping three kids amused and alive and the basics of keeping the house tidy end up taking most of my time.

Also significant is that other, unplanned tasks spring up unexpectedly each day, many of which require swift action.

Introducing the ‘done’ list

It was a few years ago that I suddenly came up with the idea of a ‘done’ list. Basically, this involves retrospectively jotting down tasks that you complete, either soon after completing them or at the end of the day when you review your to-do list. Any and all tasks can be added; from hanging out a load of washing, to making a phone call that was made a necessary course of action from a letter received in the post that day, to preparing dinner. As soon as I started practicing this, it made a noticeable improvement to how I felt about my accomplishments on a given day as it was easy to see in black and white the long list of (albeit small) things I had got done.

What Went Right Today?

On a similar theme, a friend introduced me to the concept of reviewing ‘what went right today’ (WWRT) just under a year ago. She wrote a great article about it here. WWRT involves taking time at the end of the day to list the positives that came out of it. Naturally, some days there will be more than others. The friend who suggested the WWRT idea is a fellow member of a Facebook group for mums of babies who were due in the same month. Most days, we all check in and focus on the positives, even if there are only slim pickings such as having kept the kids alive that day. Yes, a dry sense of humour if often required, or at least it was in the newborn months. Of course, other days WWRT is a chance to celebrate good news or major achievements, such as receiving a job offer.

Do you have any tips to share about how you organise your to-do lists? I’m always on the lookout for ideas on how to manage mine more effectively.

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New Year Aims

I hope everyone has had a great start to 2018 so far!

I don’t really like using the term ‘resolutions’ as they never seem to last more than a couple of weeks into January. However, it seems natural to perceive a new year as a brand new start and to contemplate what you hope to achieve.

I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days about my personal aims which are detailed below.

Losing weight:

I gained a lot during my last pregnancy and haven’t managed to lose much at all during the year and a bit since I had my baby girl. Not helped by the fact that she has been a terrible sleeper and I’ve turned to carbs and sugar big time to get through the fog of sleep deprivation! However, the past month or two (touch wood) her sleep has turned a corner so I’ve been feeling far more human, so no more excuses.

I’m not sure exactly how much I’d like to lose, once I get started on the journey (always the hardest bit for me-after a few weeks into it it gets easier) I’ll set some targets I think.

Exercise:

I’ve never been a fan of the gym and prefer to exercise alone really, so I’ll be dusting off my old workout DVDs and aiming to work out twice a week to start with, then increase this in time.

I am already fairly active on a daily basis, carrying out the school and nursery run three times daily totals an hour’s walking and I usually reach 14k steps on my Fitbit on weekdays.

Finances:

We have a big holiday coming up in August (a cruise) which we booked ages ago (November 2016!). Booking so far ahead was a necessity due to high demand for the ages of children we have, but it’s proven useful to help us spread the cost over so many months.

The shore excursion details were released recently and there are lots of exciting-looking ones, but they aren’t cheap. So we will save up extra so we can book whichever ones we like, given that we have barely holidayed abroad since having the kids.

Our grocery shopping spends have really crept up in recent months, and I intend to get more organised about meal planning and eating out of the freezers and cupboards. Theres is a surprising amount of food already in both!

Do you have any aims or goals for 2018? I’d love to hear them!