Today I would like to introduce you to another lovely writer, Sarah Deeks. Sarah is a mother, blogger, and former teacher from the UK. She’s such a joy, I hope you’ll enjoy meeting her. 1. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got to where you are. Living an hour away from […]
When we take holidays to locations away from home, it’s usual to research places of interest in the local area. Museums, art galleries and parks often feature as possible destinations.
Yet for some reason, many of us are less likely to take full advantage of the facilities that exist in our home towns and cities. I’m pretty sure that there is a syndrome describing this very phenomenon, but it escapes my recollection right now!
Perhaps if we made an effort to make the most of all the offerings on our doorsteps, in the way that a visiting tourist would, we would view our localities with fresh eyes and a greater sense of appreciation? Obviously, larger cities are bound to have a wider array of offerings, but even smaller towns often have a surprising range of options.
Making the Most of What’s on My Own Doorstep
Despite living in or close to my current town for most of my life, I only visited the main museum for the first time a few years ago- aged well into my thirties! There was lots there to engage my young kids, plenty of interactive displays and an impressive range of stuffed animals. A huge woolly mammoth model was a big hit with my son.
Recently I read about an art gallery in our town, which is small and only holds one exhibition at a time. The current exhibition is about the history of our town which is something that interests me as I’ve always been fascinated by social history. So I took my eldest child along one afternoon to check it out.
Finding Out About Local Life in Days Gone By
I had never been to the art gallery and I’m not even sure how long it’s been open for. It is located just a few doors away from the main museum. On arrival at the art gallery, we were surprised to find it completely empty apart from the lady working there who welcomed us warmly. There were numerous paintings on display, all painted by the same artist from the Victorian era. It was fascinating to observe familiar streets that I have walked or driven along portrayed in their former states, complete with historical details such as horses and carts, Victorian ladies and gentlemen dressed in their formal finery. Many shops were recognisable, albeit with their former names and selling completely different wares in the past.
We had a little time left on our car park ticket so walked the few doors down to the main museum for a quick look around. This was surprisingly quiet, too. My daughter played in the interactive Egyptian area while I pored over the town’s history display. It’s hard to imagine how life must have been for residents here over the past few hundred years, but the detail given in the photos and text helped me to visualise it.
Appreciating Local Architecture
We enjoyed the short walk back to the car park as the museum is positioned in my favourite part of the town, close to the largest park. The houses and other buildings in the streets surrounding the park are beautiful with rich period details, mostly Victorian but also Edwardian and Georgian. Most of the owners have preserved their homes well and their appearances have probably changed little since they were built.
I would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone makes the most of their local facilities, whether they have always lived in the area or recently moved there. It feels good to forge a stronger connection to the place you live in. We pay for their maintenance through council tax so it makes sense to utilise them. If too few visitors make the effort to go to them, perhaps they will in time be closed down…’use them or lose them’ as the saying goes.
There are also quite a few independently owned cafes and tea rooms in our town centre that offer a more personal, unique experience (often with local artists’ work decorating the walls) than dropping into one of the same old chain cafes. I will make an effort to frequent these more often.
How about you? Do you have many local museums and art galleries. Those of you in large cities are probably spoilt for choice. Perhaps you always intend to visit them yet somehow never get around to it? I would love to hear about ones you have visited or at least intend to. I love it when readers share their thoughts so please don’t be shy.
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Another short and sweet one while I enjoy spending time with my family to celebrate the holidays.
I hope everyone reading this enjoys a very happy and healthy 2018.
For those of you on a health kick, there are some thoughts on healthy eating in cold weather here, and you can expect further posts about healthy eating on a modest budget in the coming weeks.
New posts will be added each Sunday morning (UK time) from next week.
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Over the years, I have sampled a huge range of different brands of cosmetic and toiletry products. Often, these purchases came about as a result of being persuaded by a product review in a magazine that a particular product would solve whichever beauty woe I was experiencing, or even, dare I admit it, because a particular advert was so appealing. I guess companies don’t spend millions of pounds on marketing for no reason, after all!
Are the high-end products worth the extra cost?
These days, I’m generally not convinced that most high-end (or even mid-range) beauty products justify their price tags. When you turn to peruse the ingredients label of any pot of cream or lotion, the first ingredient listed (as having the highest volume percentage) is invariably aqua (ie, plain old water). The second and third ingredients are often similar in both budget and high-end products, too. It seems hard to believe that the amounts used in the lowest volume ingredients are going to be enough to make a significant difference to my hair, skin or whatever, most of the time.
So, these days I tend to try low-cost ranges first, and only if I dislike them do I upgrade to costlier ones. I am pleased to say that I have found some firm favourites amongst the budget brands, which I shall reveal here.
Shower creams and gels
I used to love treating myself to Molton Brown shower gels (or asking for them for Christmas and birthday gifts). The scents used in them are distinctive and delicious, it’s true. But one day I decided that literally washing £20 down the shower drain for ONE bottle of shower gel was bordering on obscene. A couple of years ago we went on a summer holiday the the Vendee region of France and I picked up a few bottles of French shower creams to try from the local supermarche.
There is a French company called Les petit Marseillais which produce a lovely range of different types of toiletries with beautiful scents, all at a good value price. After sniffing dozens of different bottles before deciding on just a few to purchase (this habit drives my husband crazy; he can’t for the life of him understand why I don’t just glance at the fronts of the bottles to choose between them then hurriedly toss a bottle in the trolley), I found one with a ‘black orchid’ scent which smelled divine. That was the shower cream I used for the entire holiday and when we arrived home in England I was delighted to discover that Palmolive make their own ‘black orchid’ scent shower cream. I’ve been using it ever since, apart from using ones that I’ve been gifted. I think it smells far more luxurious and high-end than the price of it suggests. Recently I saw it was on sale in Wilkinsons store at only 90p a bottle and couldn’t resist stocking up.
For hair, I tend to find that it’s better to keep switching the shampoos and conditioners that I use regularly. As soon as I wash it with a different one it seems to become squeaky-clean, as though residue from the old product has been removed. Or perhaps I just imagine that. I like Alberto Balsam’s tea tree and mint shampoo for the super fresh smell (usually not costing much more than £1). Conditioner-wise, I like Tresemme or even the imitation versions of it (in an almost identical size and white-coloured bottle) from Aldi and Lidl. Also Gliss conditioner is great for colour-treated hair and widely available in pound shops).
In terms of hair treatments, I adore Natural World’s Brazilian Keratin Hair Treatment oil. It’s available from online retailers such as Fragrance Direct, Amazon and Ebay for just a few pounds plus postage and a small 100ml bottle lasts months because you literally only need a few drops each time, perhaps half a teaspoon. I only use it after every other hair wash (otherwise it gets too sticky and greasy) and by smoothing those few drops down the ends of my hair when it is just damp it gets less tangled and keeps the condition better.
I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but spending five minutes applying a little makes me feel a lot better about coming downstairs and facing the day. To even out my skin tone, I used to love Barbara Daly oil free foundation. Sadly it suddenly became discontinued last summer so I had to find a replacement. This replacement has been Max Factor’s Facefinity All Day Flawless 3-in-1 Foundation, which is ok but I don’t love as much as the Barbara Daly one.
Other days I use a loose powder foundation- a mineral one by Lily Lolo. This is nice and gives fair coverage but only works well if your face is well-moisturised- don’t make the mistake of applying it to dry skin or else every dry patch and line will be emphasised!
For mascara (which I don’t always wear), Maybelline Great Lash is a good budget one that I often come back to. Currently I’m using a Dior mascara called Diorshow, which my lovely sister treated me to for my birthday and it is great quality. Or perhaps it’s all in the wand, rather than the mascara itself, as some experts say.
Well, that’s most of mine. Do you have favourites that you would never switch from? I’d love to hear them.
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You’ll know from my recent posts that I really do love Christmas, from decorating the house to luxuriating in the simple pleasures and find the month of December to truly be the most wonderful time of the year.
However, it can’t be denied that it is also the busiest time of year for most people and can prove stressful to juggle the demands on your time, feel that you’re keeping on top of things and have everything ready for the big day.
Below are some of the strategies that I adopt and find that they help to reduce the potential stress at this time of year. They won’t necessarily all be ideas that you want to follow, but hopefully a few will appeal.
One of the most stressful aspects of Christmas for me personally is the influx of stuff into the house, especially kids’ toys. They already have so many toys but it’s understandable that relatives want to treat them to new toys for Christmas presents. I aim to have a decluttering session specifically for kids toys in early December, as this is a good opportunity to dispose of broken toys or donate toys they no longer play with to charity shops. It is also a chance to spot toys that need replacing and could prove good things to buy them as gifts. When relatives specifically ask for ideas of what the children would particularly need I can then mention ideas based on what I’ve noticed needs replacing for them or else I try to suggest days out or experiences as an alternative to toys. For example, my eldest daughter has been desperate to visit a climbing centre about 45 minutes drive from our house. So her grandmother is purchasing her a gift voucher to go to the climbing centre as her main gift. I know that she will be over the moon with that experience gift and on a selfish note I am relieved that it will be one less object to find a home for. See my post on decluttering here.
Start shopping early
It sounds dull and geeky, but I always keep a spreadsheet of what I’ve already bought for people gift-wise and note ideas of what to buy individuals on it. I tend to keep an eye out year-round for gifts that would perfectly suit a recipient and snap them up as I see them, as I’ve learnt the hard way that leaving it all until December can mean that I don’t succeed in finding the kind of personal gifts that I aim to give people. This has the added bonus of spreading out the cost of Christmas gifts and takes the pressure off finding so many gifts for people in December. Now, I appreciate that this is a little too late to be of any help this year, but you can always be on the lookout from early next year for suitable gifts for next Christmas.
Get organised with Christmas Day hosting purchases
I have hosted on Christmas day ever since we had our first child, because it means that both sets of grandparents get to spend time with their grandkids and also our house is the largest so accommodates everyone without it being too much of a squeeze. It pays dividends to plan ahead if you’re hosting on Christmas day- and yes, you may have guessed that I recommend another spreadsheet to list all the foods to buy, as well as other related items eg crackers, napkins, turkey foil etc.
Ask guests to bring an specific item each to take the pressure off- I find that often they offer to do this anyway. Also, I aim to buy a Christmas food item a week in my grocery shop from early November onwards to spread the cost and hassle, especially as there are often special offers on and it spreads the expense a little. Obviously this only applies to foods which can be kept in a store cupboard rather than fresh foods but still applies to many items such as soft and alcoholic drinks, cranberry sauce, Christmas pudding and cake etc.
Don’t be afraid to cut corners on Christmas dinner
I firmly believe that Christmas should primarily be about togetherness. I am more than happy to adopt as many time savers as possible to get to spend more of Christmas day with my young kids rather than slaving away in a hot, stuffy kitchen and make no apology for this. If people want gourmet cuisine, I suggest that they book themselves into a hotel on Christmas day rather than spend it in my home!
Here are some of the corners that I cut when cooking Christmas dinner for my family:
We have never bothered with starters. Even as a child growing up, my mother (who is an excellent cook) never made starters and because there are so many types of food for the main course no one ever goes hungry. In fact, we often struggle to find room for dessert even after just a main course. So don’t feel pressured to include extra courses that aren’t necessary.
Despite turkey being the traditional meat here in the UK, I have bought 2 large free-range chickens for Christmas dinner in recent years. We prefer chicken anyway as it tends to be a little less dry than turkey, and it is very affordable to buy free-range meat (which I prefer to do where possible) which would be hugely expensive if it were free-range turkey at this time of year. Our oven is only a small, standard oven so to maximise the space in it I have sometimes cooked the chickens in slow cookers on Christmas day itself, or cooked them in the oven on Christmas day morning, then sliced up the meat after cooling it quickly then found that adding hot gravy to it during the meal means it tastes fine (and not cold at all). It’s a pressure removed to know that the meat is cooked already leaving you to focus on the side dishes.
I’ve become a convert to frozen vegetables year-round and am happy to use them on Christmas day, too. Honestly, vegetables are frozen so quickly than minimal nutrients are lost (probably fewer than fresh ones that have been lingering around for several days before use both in supermarkets and in the home). There is no waste with frozen vegetables because you simply remove the exact quantity required from the bag and they have the added bonus of being ready prepared for you (eg sliced carrots, small broccoli florets) which is a massive time saver.
I shamelessly use gravy granules and Paxo stuffing mix, packet mix bread sauce (bread sauce is the best component of the Christmas dinner for everyone, surely?), as well as ready-bought desserts. Personally I believe the difference in taste is so small that it is not worth the significant extra time it would take for me to make my own from scratch. I have nothing against ready-prepared or frozen Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes, either, although I don’t use them every year.
Organised gift wrapping
I loathe wrapping gifts and must admit that it’s my least favourite aspect of preparing for Christmas. I find it easiest to start at least a week or so before Christmas day, spread the task it over a few evenings, with a Christmas film on and a glass of something nice. Use a tape dispenser and sticky Christmas labels for name tags for speed. A friend once told me that for family she just wraps and scrunches coloured tissue paper sheets around each gift then pops them in a gift bag, so doesn’t need to worry about folding and taping which sounded a good idea, although I have yet to try it.
Do you have any of your own tips to share to reduce the stress in this busy month? Please do share them in the comments below.
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December really is the most wonderful time of the year for me. The weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with excitement and anticipation. We do plan several Christmassy days out as a family to make the most of it while our kids are young enough to really enjoy them, including a steam train ride to see Santa, a pantomime and breakfast with Santa on Christmas Eve. However, a lot of the things I enjoy about the weeks before Christmas are actually simple, home-based joys that cost very little.
Decorating the home
It starts in late November for us when we decorate our tree and put up all the smaller Christmas decorations around the house. Unpacking all the familiar decorations, recalling where and when we purchased them or remembering when the kids made them in previous years brings on a sweet sense of nostalgia. It’s a heavenly feeling to relax in the living room in the evenings, the room illuminated by twinkling white lights on the tree and snuggled up with fleece blankets on the sofa.
Here in the UK, the TV Channel 5 dedicates itself almost completely to festive films (movies). They are mostly low budget TV movies and rather cheesy and predictable, but still enjoyable. I often set them up to record if they are on during the daytime then watch them in the evenings. Plus, I look out for some of my all-time favourite Christmas films being screened on TV to record, such as The Holiday, A Christmas Carol (any and all versions of it!), Love Actually etc.
Although Christmas Eve boxes have become popular here in recent years, I decided against starting this tradition for my own kids. This is mainly because Christmas Eve is a pretty busy day for us, with visiting our local garden centre in the morning for breakfast with Santa an established annual tradition, then we make preparations for hosting both sides of the family the following day. It’s a already enough of a challenge to fit it all in without introducing a special box for the kids to unpack. I do like the principle of the Christmas Eve box though and think that the kids will enjoy the tradition of it, so I decided to schedule it as an ‘advent box’ to be opened on December 1st each year. I didn’t want to go overboard, so just packed it with a few little items including mini polar bear mugs, hot chocolate with mini marshmallows, a net of chocolate penguin and their Santa hats.
With the shorter, darker days that we experience in the northern hemisphere at this time of year, the abundance of festive lights everywhere is a real blessing to counteract what would otherwise be a dark and dismal time. As well as the indoor lights, it is cheering to see the range of exterior illuminations locally, from simple strings of lights around windows and wrapped around tree branches to less subtle giant inflatable snowmen and Santas. The latter might not be to my taste and I wouldn’t choose to display them outside my house, but they are still comical and the kids love them. Sometimes we glimpse them from the car whilst driving somewhere, other times we go for family walks and can pause to appreciate them better.
My eldest daughter adores baking biscuits and cakes at Christmas time, especially as we have built up a collection of festive cookie cutters and I usually buy cake toppers such as silver balls and sugar Christmas characters. The end results are enjoyed by us all!
So, there are plenty of simple festive joys to enjoy during the month of December. What are your favourites?
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