How to enjoy life's simple pleasures

Savouring 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, as per my post here. 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 flat 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? 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 should sweat the small stuff

Why you should sweat the small stuff

Doesn’t it seem that small things break or go wrong in our homes on a regular basis?

We have so much to fit into our days, that fixing minor inconveniences such as dripping taps, dead lightbulbs, creaking doors etc often fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Which makes perfect sense, because although we initially feel bothered when we notice something isn’t functioning, it’s all too easy to turn our attention to more pressing matters.

Do these small inconveniences really matter?

Well, despite the fact that in time we become blind to many of these little annoyances as our minds subconsciously accept them (for example, we don’t bother trying the switch of a broken table lamp any more and automatically reach for the switch of the ceiling light), perhaps we shouldn’t just ignore them. In the aforementioned case of the broken lamp, although an alternative source of light is available to use, it can’t be denied that a bright ceiling light doesn’t provide the same sort of ambience as a soft, subtle corner lamp would. Spending evenings under a harsh ceiling light rather than a soft corner lamp can affect our mood, and thus our wellbeing.

A couple more examples…

Our dining chairs need the felt pads under each chair leg replacing every few months. Usually, I leave it too long and just put up with the high-pitched scrape of the chairs whenever someone pushes one in or out. Last week, while I was tidying out a drawer, I came across a pack of felt pads and quickly replaced the ones on all the dining chairs.

Well, I can hardly tell you what a positive impact doing this made. Just testing each chair after I had applied them by gently pushing them backwards and forwards was so pleasing, to feel it glide smoothly across the kitchen floor, rather than scrape loudly.

Periodically, the interior doors in our house become creaky. Hearing that noise when the offending doors are opened or closed does irritate me a little each time, but I often disregard it instantly. Yet when I finally force myself to grab the can of WD40 lubricant and spray a tiny bit onto each door hinge, it’s a pretty satisfying feeling to test opening and closing each door afterwards and hear only peaceful silence instead of the annoying creak.

Yesterday I noticed that our shower head had built up a lot of limescale around many of the spray holes, which explained why the water flow had seemed poorer in recent weeks. It was a simple job to unscrew the shower head and place it in a saucer of vinegar to descale for a couple of hours before lightly scrubbing with a toothbrush. It looked as good as new afterwards.

So, perhaps it’s worth forcing ourselves to fix these minor inconveniences?

Having everything around us working smoothly and efficiently helps us to feel more at peace, less stressed and so helps keep our frequency high. Our homes should be peaceful sanctuaries that we can retire to at the end of a busy day and rely upon to restore our sense of tranquility.

Making the effort to sort niggling little things yourself, if you’re capable, can also bring a strong sense of personal satisfaction when you survey the results of your handiwork. There are also countless clips on youtube that show you step-by-step how to fix just about anything.

If you can’t fix certain things, perhaps you could walk around your home, make a list of little jobs to be done and either pay a handyman to fix them if you can afford it, or else offer a skill swap to someone with more DIY skills than you do in exchange for something you can do in return.

Which niggling little things need fixing in your own home? With many people currently taking an extended break from work over Christmas and New Year, this could be the ideal time to get things fixed to start the New Year with everything working smoothly.

Have you taken action to sort little jobs before and felt that sense of satisfaction? I’d love to hear about them.

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Decorating the house for Christmas

Apologies to those of you who still consider it too early to think about decorating the home for Christmas. In our house, it invariably happens towards the end of November. This is primarily because our eldest daughter’s birthday falls on the twenty-ninth of December and we take down every last decoration the day or two before her birthday, to make space for visiting guests and to make her feel that her birthday is a separate celebration from Christmas.

A large part of the joy of the Christmas season lies in the anticipation of it, for me at least. Indeed, that’s true of many of the most pleasurable things in life, such as holidays, birthdays, concerts etc- even though the event itself is, of course, enjoyable, a lot of additional pleasure can be gained by excitedly counting down to and looking forward to it. A French friend once told me that in the French language they have a verb that describes this anticipation: rejouir. From the last week of November, the time feels right to me to start embracing this period of anticipation so we assemble our 6-foot tree ready to decorate. We have had the same tree for almost ten years now and it is still in pretty good condition. I do love the heady pine scent of real trees, but on balance I prefer the convenience of artificial ones that don’t drop needles!

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We always opt for soft white LED lights to wrap around the tree first. Over the years, we have accumulated quite a large collection of tree ornaments. I adore hand-made ornaments and ones that are a little different or original in some way rather than multipacks of identical baubles. We generally buy at least one new ornament for the tree each year and it’s wonderful to unpack them one by one, rediscovering them. Paul proposed to me eleven years ago on the 23rd December and we purchased a little handmade, wooden carved decoration with a robin on it from a nearby craft centre that same day. Of course I’d remember it anyway, but I etched the date on the inside of it for the sake of posterity.

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We don’t consciously choose any particular theme per se, but I find myself naturally drawn towards decorations in and red and white more than any other, and I love ones made from natural materials such as wood, wool and metal. A few years ago, we went on a cruise holiday to Norway. On one of the days we disembarked at a small port city called Stavanger, where there was a huge shop that sold nothing but Christmas decorations, all year round. It did admittedly feel a little strange to be wandering round such a festive store in early August, but it was too good an opportunity to miss. Honestly, I could have happily bought one of every single ornament within the shop to add to my collection. It made me realise that my favourite type of ornaments are probably Scandi-style due to my preference of the colours and natural materials. We have a few of these Scandi dolls which came from Norway, but I’ve recently seen similar ones on sale in the Danish-owned Tiger stores here in the UK this year, very reasonably priced.

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Poinsettias (those beautiful potted plants with the red leaves on sale everywhere in December, in the UK at least) are so cheery around the house and I used to buy a few each year. At first I tried to look after them to save for future Christmases, but never had any success in keeping the leaves red, they always turned green. Then a couple of years ago I spotted artificial poinsettias in a shop and bought a few and I’m always pleased to unpack them with the Christmas stuff and place on my kitchen windowsills and table. They look pretty realistic, too.

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In the weekends preceding Christmas, we often visit local garden centres which stock a wide range of Christmas gifts and decorations.  Two years ago we were there on Christmas Eve and the adorable musical animated Christmas villages we always admired were being discounted. Unable to resist, we gave in and bought a fairground animated scene. The kids get so excited to see it and our baby is utterly captivated by the sight of the big (ferris) wheel turning, ice skating figures on the lake and pirate ship swinging. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

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As our children are getting older, they are starting to produce decorations at school and nursery which get added to the tree. Hopefully they will withstand years of use and we will be able to use them far into the future.

Are any of you readers early to put up your decorations, too? Or perhaps you are someone who always leaves it close to Christmas? I’d love to hear about your favourite decorations.

How to feel gratitude by pondering the lives of others

Pondering the Lives of Others and Finding a Sense of Gratitude

Curiosity about the lives of others

Due to my natural sense of curiosity about other people and the way they live, I often muse about who might live in the homes that I pass each day while walking my daughter to and from school. I pass varied types of dwelling, from the small, compact prefabs (hurriedly built just after WW2 in the 1940s that were only intended to provide temporary accommodation to the thousands of people displaced during the war years yet are still standing strong) to larger family homes.

I often pass more mature and elderly people tending to their gardens, many of whom seem keen to exchange a smile, sometimes a few words and they often like to coo over the baby. I sometimes wonder whether they live alone, perhaps they always have done or are widowed after decades of living happily with their soul mate? Perhaps they have grown-up children that they see regularly, or who have spread their wings far and emigrated abroad? I ponder over what they did to earn a living when they were younger. Of course I don’t know these people well enough to ask the questions, but I can’t help but wonder just the same.

Life wasn’t always this easy…

Social history has always fascinated me, particularly from WW1 onwards. I enjoy reading novels set in 1930s and 1940s England, mostly ones featuring ordinary life for working class or middle class families. When I’m finding things particularly challenging whilst caring for my three (albeit mostly delightful) children aged five and under, it sometimes helps to think how much tougher it must have been for women a few generations ago, without the conveniences we now take for granted. I can scarcely imagine daily life without a dishwasher, washing machine, microwave and all the other appliances which help make daily life run smoothly and efficiently.

VE Day Celebrations at the end of WW2- on my very own street!

A couple of years ago, I was fascinated to stumble across an article in our local newspaper about VE Day celebrations in our town of Ipswich. Our road was mentioned by name and there was a small black and white photo (see below) of a street party taking place on our road, from the looks of it right outside our house! The celebratory food on the tables is pretty humble fare, mostly sandwiches and simple cakes such as jam tarts, due to the fact that food was scarce and rationing still in force in the UK at that point. Somehow, though, I suspect that the sense of overwhelming relief and joy these ordinary people had that war was over more than made up for the basic food spread.

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Naturally, seeing that photo sent my mind into overdrive, trying to imagine who was living in our house during the war, imagining them having to dash out to an air raid shelter in the back garden in the middle of the night perhaps? Wondering where their nearest small grocery shop would have been, where they would have walked daily to shop for simple foods to be eaten the same day due to the absence of a fridge, let alone a freezer. Picturing them anxiously picking up letters from the same spot as our own doormat currently is, to see if they contained news about a loved one fighting overseas in the armed forces during WW2.

Although our home has been extended (it is a chalet bungalow extended both to the rear and with a bedroom and bathroom added into the loft space), it was originally a modest 2 bedroom detached bungalow. These days, bungalows are particularly popular with elderly people, but back in 1938 when our home was built, it was common for large families to squeeze into small homes so there could easily have been a family living here.

An increased sense appreciation for what I have

Taking a little time to think about the lives of others, especially those who face more obvious hardship, somehow makes me feel better about my own situation. This sounds a little mean and selfish, I know, but it isn’t as if I wished the hardship on anyone else and I use it to remind myself to stop getting dragged down by what are relatively insignificant things. When I find myself inwardly groaning at the prospect at loading the washing machine with yet another load of clothes, I can remind myself that at least we are privileged enough to own a washing machine and don’t have to wash all of our clothes by hand as our great-grandparents would have. Also, being a bit of an introvert who craves a bit of personal space, I am very glad indeed that I don’t have to live in a tiny home with 8 or more children (even, gasp, without an inside toilet) as was pretty standard a few generations ago.

So really, I end up with a deep sense of gratitude for all that I have and appreciation for everything present in my life that makes it easier. There’s a lot to be said for wanting and appreciating the life that we already have, rather than focusing on everything that we don’t have and desire.

Do you also have this sense of curiosity about other people and how they live? Perhaps a more apt name for it is plain and simple ‘nosiness’! I prefer to see it as taking a healthy interest in the world around me though 😉

 

 

How to organise your family's home

Organise your family’s home: a place for everything…

…and everything it its place. That’s how the saying goes, and it makes total sense to me.

As our family has grown to having three children, so has the influx of ‘stuff’ into our house. Before having children, when I look back I was quite a house-proud person and most of the time found it fairly straightforward to keep the house tidy and in order. Fortunately, my husband was made from a similar mould and is naturally tidy, too.

However since the number of people living at home has expanded, it has become more of a challenge to maintain order, partly because each of our little people have a certain quantity of clothes and toys, and also because they often seem intent on causing mass destruction to the order of our home. Honestly, it has to be seen to be believed just how much chaos three little people can wreak in a very short space of time.

Anyway, the problem was easily identified, what strategies can we apply to resolve it?

Declutter regularly, especially before Christmas and birthdays:

Making some time to regularly go through your home to declutter is important. Just before Christmas and birthdays are particularly pertinent times to do so, as an influx of even more ‘stuff’ is likely to occur on such special occasions. See my post about decluttering here.

Toy rotation:

When kids have piles upon piles of toys, it can stop them appreciating (or even noticing) all that they have. We have had success with tucking away some birthday and Christmas gifts in high cupboards, allowing the kids to play with the toys left available to them, then periodically changing which toys are hidden away and which ones left out. Even if they are disappointed to temporarily ‘lose’ particular toys, this is usually overshadowed by the joy of being presented with ‘new’ ones. Of course, it’s best to make the child’s absolute favourite toys that they are attached to available permanently.

Ask family for specific or ‘experience’ gifts:

When Christmas or birthdays approach, relatives often ask if there is anything in particular the kids would like. This is a great opportunity to take stock of what they might really like to be given (it will lighten the load of what you have to buy for them, too). Give them the details of which toys, clothes, books etc would be appreciated with details of where to buy from if necessary.

Another good idea is to ask for ‘experience’ type gifts rather than physical items. Examples of these could be local zoo membership, or classes to something the child particularly enjoys such as gymnastics. This will reduce the amount of things in your home to have to store.

So, once you have decluttered and so pared back your family’s personal possessions to a more manageable quantity, you can set about reviewing your current storage arrangements. Cast a critical eye over cupboards, shelves and other storage spaces. Is the space adequate? Could it be moved to a more logical place?  If storage is is intended for kids, are they able to reach and access it themselves?

When you are happy with the storage places, it is time to give them the best possible chance of staying organised. My secret to this is simple yet effective: labelling.

It was my husband who first introduced me to the humble labelling machine. At first, I though it was a little geeky to be honest, but once I saw the possibilities for helping to keep our home tidy I was won over by it. In case you’ve never seen once before, its a small handheld device which you type words into and can then print off a peelable sticker and apply directly onto the surface to be labelled.

You can see below a couple of examples of areas that have been labelled. The first pic is the back of the understairs cupboard door, where hooks at the kids’ height are labelled ‘winter coats’, ‘bags’ and ‘jackets’. For even younger kids who can’t read, you could take photos of the relevant items to print off for them to identify instead. the second pic is a section of one of my kitchen cupboards, where I used old mushroom containers from the supermarket to store small items then labelled them clearly. Doing this makes stuff more accessible and more likely to be used, too, for example photo albums. We have labelled the spines of our photo albums so can clearly see which holidays etc they relate to so are more likely to pull it out and enjoy looking through.

 

I hope some of these tips were useful to you. If you’re interested in buying a label machine, they are available in office supplies store plus on Amazon.

In my next post I will go into detail about how to declutter your home, sharing the methods that work best for me.

I would love to hear any home organisation tips that you have to share, too.