Monday, 21 October 2013

Reducing Food Waste

First of all apologies for not being here for ages.  I’ve been having big technical issues with Blogger as it won’t work with the version of IE I’ve got.  I’m still looking for another blogging solution, but in the meantime I’ve just about managed to force this to post – apologies if it looks a bit odd.
I just felt I had to post today after reading this article in the Telegraph this morning.
I wasn’t surprised to hear how much food is wasted by the supermarkets – but think it’s crazy in an era where you hear about food poverty and increasing use of food banks that there aren’t better and more creative approaches to this problem.  I’m guessing that most of the food thrown away is perfectly good, and is only discarded due to artificial ‘use by’ or ‘sell by’ dates on it. 
We may not be able to directly control the Tesco’s of this world, but please do put pressure on them, and also consider using other non-supermarket shops where practical and feasible to do so.  I will be writing to Tesco’s about this, and pointing them to this blog, which I know only has a small UK readership, but to quote their own words ‘every little helps’.
What we can control directly however, is our own food waste at home.  We get a weekly veg box delivery, and over the years I’ve collected various recipes which are great for using up those odds and ends which get left over.  Indian veg curries, root veg crumbles, even just simple roasted veg – all are great uses for those slightly shrivelled objects in the bottom of the fridge drawer.  And yes, slightly shrivelled carrots are absolutely fine to useJ  just avoid green potatoes and you’ll be hunky dory.  The best way to keep carrots fresh by the way is to put them in a plastic bag – loose ones in the veg drawer go bendy very quickly.  No idea why – but it works.
But what about those 4 categories specifically mentioned in the article?
1)      Bread.  I can’t believe that anyone actually wastes bread.  So easy not to do so, assuming you have a freezer.  We don’t actually eat much bread, so as soon as we buy a new loaf, it goes straight into the freezer.  If it’s unsliced, we slice it first.  Then we just take out the amount we need when we need it.  Whatever you do, do not store bread or other bakery products in the fridge – all it does is make them hard and stale much quicker.  If you’re keeping them out of the freezer, make sure that they are properly wrapped, and if you can, store then in a bread bin.  Stale bread can easily be chopped or whizzed up into breadcrumbs – and again, store in the freezer.  Or what about a bread and butter pudding?
2)      My solution to the bagged salad problem is generally not to buy it.  Or only to buy it where I know I have a specific use in the next couple of days.  Buying lettuce whole, such as cos or little gems, means that they keep much better for longer.  And you can cook them if they are starting to look a little sad.  I also have various warm ‘main course’ salad recipes available where I have a bag of lettuce that needs eating – a recent hit included bacon, roast squash and croutons (helps with the bread problem as well!)
3)      Bananas – I kind of sympathise with this one as I happen to think ripe bananas are absolutely disgusting.  But I only buy loose bananas so I’m only buying a few at a time, and I also have some great recipes for banana muffins and banana bread which are so yummy and easy that I actively look forward to having some overripe bananas.  Apparently you can peel them and freeze for use in smoothies (or presumably banana bread!) but have never tried this.
4)      Grapes should always be kept in the fridge – they keep for a while like this.  No specific solutions on what to do with slightly too ripe ones as they never last that long in our house – but apparently you can make your own raisins!
What are your thoughts?  Any top tips on avoiding food waste?  Recipes for grapes?

Friday, 16 August 2013

Challenge - Declutter 100 things in a month

Lots and lots of blogs out there with posts about decluttering 100 things.
Some are for 100 items a month:
Others suggest doing it in a weekend
(love the idea of a ‘diet’ for the house).
As you all know I’ve been gradually decluttering, sorting out the wardrobe, trying to stick to one-in, one-out and reducing shopping and keeping an eye on the amounts of overall ‘stuff’ coming into the house.
But even with this focus, it felt as if the house was just too full.  It wasn’t messy, and everything had a home, but there were too many cupboards where things only just fitted in, and others where items had an annoying tendency to jump out and land on my toes. 
So for August I’ve committed to reducing the number of things in our house by at least 100.  The total can include anything from the smallest items (baby bottles that are no longer needed), through to larger/more expensive things (such as that ridiculously expensive high chair that she only used for about 6 months).
I set myself just 2 rules for the challenge. 
1)      For an item to count, it has to leave the house by the end of the month.  Just putting it on the ‘to eBay at some point in the future’ pile doesn’t work.
2)      Items that enter the house during the month and are then thrown away or recycled (such as magazines), don’t count toward the total.
I’m currently at 87 items, which I think is pretty good for half way through the month, don’t you?  And my cupboards are definitely looking less cluttered as a result. 
Here is the list so far.  Apologies if my maths is wrong and it’s not 87 items – feel free to point it out!
1.        7 jars of various jams, preserves etc that were lurking at the back of the kitchen cupboard and well out of date.  I’m not usually too precious about use by dates, but I think 5 years may be pushing it a little.
2.       1 plastic baby toiletries gift box.
3.       1 tube muscle rub
4.       7 books
5.       1 pile of papers
6.       1 pile of bills etc no longer required (counted this as one)
7.       2 handbags – eBayed one and gave the other to my mum
8.       1 plate
9.       3 dresses
10.   2 cardigans
11.   1 pair sandals
12.   Kit for making an owl doorstep, which I got free with a magazine and which there is very little chance of me making
13.   3 pairs shoes
14.   1 slightly mouldy jar of gherkins
15.   10 magazines
16.   1 hair spray
17.   Bundle of baby coathangers
18.   1 bra
19.   1 pair knickers
20.   1 bottle bubble bath
21.   1 out of date bottle of sun lotion
22.   9 pens (I know – this sounds like a slight cheat!)
23.   1 linen shirt
24.   1 wooden coat hanger
25.   Tub of earbuds
26.   1 bottle of baby lotion
27.   2 pairs of potty training knickers
28.   2 baby gros
29.   2 toys
30.   1 money box
31.   1 cot bumper
32.   3 pairs trainers
33.   1 tote bag
34.   1 packet of seaweed flakes
35.   1 pair jeans
36.   3 travel adaptors
37.   1 bottle room spray
38.   Various little ‘free’ bottles of shampoo etc (counted as 1 – makes up for the slight cheat with the pens, no?)
39.   Bath mat
40.   White vest top
41.   Black slip
42.   Bottle of Clinique lotion
43.   2 baby bottles
44.   1 small blackboard
Still to go are the high chair and a set of Chinese bowls, but as these haven’t yet left the house they don’t count.
Have you ever done anything similar?  Did it make a difference?

Friday, 9 August 2013

Project 333 July

Project 333 July
So - here it is - better late than never.  This is my 33 item wardrobe for July.  I did much better this month, staying within the 33 items, however it was much easier because the weather was consistently warm rather than varying between freezing cold and boiling hot.  I also had a week long business trip for which I took 2 tops, 1 pair of trousers, 1 jacket and 1 dress and only 1 pair of shoes.  Go me!  My luggage was almost empty.
The one thing that surprises me looking at this is the subdued colour palette.  Lots of navy and stripes.  I did have one week at the coast when I lived in t-shirts and shorts, and my summer dresses, which do tend towards the navy spectrum, have had lots of wear.  Couldn't have managed without my red ballet pumps though.
Progress on overall wardrobe simplification has also been good.  I've reduced the total number of items in my closet by a further 25 in the last 3 months, to 225 in total.  I know that still sounds a lot, but I'm getting towards the stage where most things have been worn more than once, and where things that don't make me feel good are gone.  I'm starting to think that further simplification would lead to getting rid of things for the sake of getting rid of them, rather than because I don't have space, don't use them, don't like them etc.
I love my clothes, and I'm learning that however organised I like things, and however much I dislike overstuffed closets, I also very much like having choices and being able to play around with my look.   I love 'shopping my closet' and making new outfits from things I already have.  

Thursday, 8 August 2013

How to be gracious in the office

1)      Treat others as you would wish to be treated – from the most junior member of staff, to the boss
2)      Never shout or raise your voice.
3)      Dress appropriately whatever your working environment
4)      Accept criticism and feedback with equanimity.  Seek to do better.  Don’t be defensive
5)      Be on time
6)      Don’t hog the floor in meetings
7)      Be aware of your personal hygiene.  Do not wear strong perfume.
8)      Deliver what you’ve been asked to deliver.  Don’t delegate at the last minute unless it is absolutely necessary.
9)      Make the working environment pleasant – talk to people and express an interest
10)   Praise in public, criticise in private.
11)   Don’t use e-mail instead of picking up the phone, or better, visiting the person at their desk
12)   Do not avoid work social events.  Conversely, try not to be the one left partying at the end of the evening (at least, not all the time)
13)   Never burn bridges
14)   Always act professionally, even when others do not
15)   Avoid using inappropriate language
16)   Get to know those you work with, and make use of their strengths and particular talents
17)   Deliver difficult messages without procrastination or hesitation, but also with empathy
18)   Always do the right thing
19)   Remain calm under pressure, even when everyone else is losing their cool.
20)   Stay away from office gossip
21)   Don’t take yourself too seriously
22)   Be loyal, be engaged, be genuine
23)   Be happy to give credit where credit is due, be happy for other’s success
24)   It’s not usually what you say, but how you say it that matters
25)   Never underestimate the value of good manners
26)   Apologise, don’t make excuses.  Put things right.
27)   Support your team.  Don’t ask them to do things you wouldn’t do yourself
28)   Acknowledge effort as well as output
29)   Stay in contact with people.  Don’t just connect when you need something
30)   Find ways to enjoy your work

Monday, 29 July 2013

Be gracious

My journey to work this morning gave me pause for thought.
I was on the train, standing, and a seat came free.  Rather than performing the usual London commuter stampede to grab it as quickly as possible, I offered it to the woman standing next to me.  She took it, and merely grunted what I took to be her thanks.  No eye contact, no smile.  Granted, it was early in the morning, and she may not have been quite awake yet, so I didn’t take this personally (you’d end up in a right old mess if you took everything that happens on public transport personally!), but it did start me thinking.  What is it that makes some interactions so unsatisfying, whilst other human contact has the ability to brighten your mood for a whole day?
Take, in contrast, the interaction with the chap in Marks and Spencer who was on the till when I paid for my salad.  Eye contact, smiled, said hello.  Took my money and said bye when I left.  No artificial wishing me a nice day, just authentic friendliness and pleasant attitude.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the product of customer service training – as usually the service in M&S is as pleasant as being slapped about the face with a wet fish.
The difference isn’t just good manners, or being ‘nice’.  Although good manners definitely have something to do with it.
The best way I can think of to describe it is ‘being gracious’.  By which I don’t mean acting like the queen, or implementing the sort of ‘gracious living’ upmarket homes magazines and grand hotels sell to us, but instead bringing a feeling of grace to all our interactions.
If you look up the word "gracious" in the dictionary, you'll find the definition includes words and phrases such as "kindness", "merciful", "compassionate", "unaffected politeness", "generosity of spirit", "elegance", "showing regard for others in manner, speech and behavior".The woman on the train wasn’t gracious. She wasn’t particularly rude – she followed the normal protocol of saying thank you.  But she didn’t leave me feeling good, which is what I hope would have happened had we both been gracious in the interaction.  Maybe it was ungracious of me to expect more –  but it certainly would have been had I pulled her up on her behaviour.
But just think how much more pleasant the interaction would have been had she made eye contact, smiled briefly and clearly thanked me.  Scarcely any more effort required, but an entirely different feeling left from the interchange.  Just like the guy serving me in M&S.
These questions of manners and interpersonal behaviour are complex, and I’m sure that each of us reacts in a different way, depending on upbringing, expectations, culture and a whole host of other things.  But it’s something I find fascinating, and that I’ll be exploring further in future blog posts, including thoughts on how to be gracious in specific situations.
What are your thoughts on this?  How can we best smooth the wheels of human interaction in our crowded urban environments?

Friday, 21 June 2013

Project 333 June

Project 333 june

My suspicion that Project 333 would be harder during the London summer has proven to be correct.  Whether that is because I believed it would be hard – and therefore didn’t commit to it as much is a subject that could be endlessly debated.  But one thing is true – its only the 21st of the month and I’ve already worn 39 different items – including 9 different pairs of shoes.
There are various justifications for this:
1)      I was on holiday for 2 weeks, and my normal city wardrobe was never going to cut it in Cornwall
2)      The temperature has ranged from freezing and wet to hot and sunny within the space of the last 20 days – that’s a London summer for you
3)      The summer last year was so appalling that my summer clothes hardly got worn, so the minute the sun came out this year I got over-excited trying to wear everything
4)      Shoes are more difficult in summer – no more getting away with 2 pairs of boots that go with more or less everything.  There is styling and coordination involved here.
5)      There was a wedding involved.  One which required a proper frock, and a hat and whatnot.  Not in the usual 33 item wardrobe numbers.
OK – I know, none of those were really reasons.  But you know, I’m absolutely fine with being at 39 items and counting, because I know that really the original reason I started project 333 has been a roaring success.
Since January I have removed nearly 60 items from my wardrobe, reducing the total number of clothes and shoes from 283 to 226.  I know it still sounds a lot – but I do love my clothes, and whilst I think there probably is still scope for further rationalisation, I’m starting to get to the point where I’m resisting getting rid of more things – and there have been a couple of occasions where I have regretted donating one or two things.  Particularly as I’ve lost about 10 pounds in weight recently, so a lot of my older clothes now fit again.
Interestingly, I have actually added 18 items in through very specific shopping, so in terms of taking things in the direction I want them to go – and to make it more ‘me’, I have done even better. 
I’m going to think long and hard about whether I continue with the experiment for the time being.  I must admit it has been truly lovely to have the run of my whole wardrobe, without self-imposed limits.  Maybe the process has run its course?  Or maybe I could carry on but give myself a bit more wiggle room.  What do you think?
So anyway – this is the core of my June wardrobe.  I couldn’t fit all 39 items on the page, but you get the gist don’t you?

Friday, 26 April 2013

Everyday budgeting without pain - Part 3 Looking Stylish without spending a fortune

First – a confession.  Before I started this budgeting process, my clothes spending was out of control.  Not necessarily out of control in that there were items hiding in the wardrobe with the tags still on, or carrier bags full of secret and shameful shopping hidden under the bed, but wild and profligate, regardless.
I never actually got into debt because of my ‘wardrobe building’ (yes, I know, it sounds lame to me now  too), but that was more good luck than good management.  Certainly I spent money that should have been saved, invested or paid off the mortgage while we could.  Oh, the benefit of hindsight.
I was equally bad with skincare products – looking for the holy grail which was going to make me into a supermodel.  Of course that wasn’t going to happen.  As a result I ended up with a big stockpile of partly used items, which were cluttering up the cabinet and which hadn’t even been given chance to work.
Since then, I have put strict limits around my spending on clothes and beauty – and actually, I think I’m probably dressing better as a result.  I’m focussing on what really suits me and works for me, but still being conscious of not getting stuck in a rut.  When you only allow yourself one item, rather than a range of similar items ‘just in case’, you do tend to avoid that ‘pile of cardigans’ or ‘heap of similar cut jeans’ scenario.
1)    Firstly and most importantly, before going shopping, make sure you know what you have.  Do not buy anything new unless you have thoroughly cleared out your wardrobe, identified your favourite outfits, and tried new combinations.  This takes time, but ‘shopping your wardrobe’ can unearth all sorts of new treasures, and spending time creating new outfits can give you just as much satisfaction (if not more satisfaction) than buying new things.

2)    Cultivate an enjoyment of ‘elegant frugality’.  Apologies to Rebecca Ast, author of ‘The New Spend Less Revolution’ for stealing her phrase, but keeping this in mind really does help.  Make NOT spending your aim.  Enjoy the process of finding creative solutions (as per 1 above), rather than simply throwing money at the problem.  This can include swapping clothes with friends or sisters, or borrowing temporarily for an event.  Or it could include sharing a big purchase such as an expensive handbag.  What about timeshares in it?

3)  Set a strict monthly budget.  No ‘borrowing’ allowed – although saving is definitely permitted.

4)    Beware the discount.  If there is something you were going to buy anyway, and you can find a discount coupon, then brilliant.  But companies send you discounts to tempt you in to purchases you neither needed nor really wanted.  Resist!  Unless you are strong-willed, you may want to unsubscribe from any mailings you think may be difficult to ignore.

5)    Make use of returns policies.  No, I’m definitely not advocating wearing something and returning it.  But if you have an item you’re not sure about, and its within the return period, and it still has its tags – please return it.  And if you have bought something full price, and then get a discount coupon the next day, please do not have any qualms about returning and then re-buying at a discount.  The shop assistants expect this to happen – as long as its within the returns policy you’re well within your rights.   Even in relatively high end stores such as LK Bennett. I got £40 off my black courts by doing this.

6)   Institute the ‘pause’.  When you decide you would like an item, put it on the wish list and leave it for a week (at least).  When you revisit it, often it has lost its desirability.  Or you’ve even forgotten you ever wanted it!  But if you still love it at this point,  if it fits into your wardrobe, and you have the budget for it – go ahead and enjoy.

7)   Ebay unwanted items, particularly designer items or brand names.  It’s amazing how much you can make with a bit of time and effort.

8)   Reduce the frequency of dry-cleaning for your clothes.  Most things don’t get particularly dirty, and there is definitely no need for cleaning after every wear – even for blouses.  Your clothes will also last longer.

9)   Not everything that says its dry clean only needs to be dry-cleaned.  Cashmere is the best example of this – it is actually better being washed.  I even machine wash mine on a cold wool wash – but I’m not sure whether this would work in those huge US style washing machines which always look rather fearsome to me! 

10) Consider drugstore brands rather than that £100 pot of moisturiser.  In a lot of cases, the owners of the companies are the same, and the same research and development filters down into the cheaper brands.  The best example is L’Oreal, which owns Kiehls and Lancome as well as Vichy and Garnier.  Chanel cosmetics are owned by the same company as Bourjois.

11) Learn how to apply your make-up correctly, rather than spending money looking for a solution.  Make-up counters will often do a free makeover, or to avoid any risk of spending money, there are all sorts of videos online.

12)  Rather than having expensive highlights in your hair (yes – I fell into that trap too!), choose a tint that is close to your natural colour that you can maintain yourself between appointments.  And go for a haircut which doesn’t need regular trimming – no fringe, or sharp bob. By doing these two things, I can still afford visits every 3 months to my swanky but very lovely hairdresser.   But if a fringe or bob is your ‘trademark’, see if you can find a student night, or even a cheaper local hairdresser to trim it for you. 

13)  Clairol Nice and Easy root touch up is so easy to use, and makes it perfectly possible to go longer between colour appointments without those dreaded roots showing.  Definitely worth the £4 it costs!
I would love to hear any of your top tips or your thoughts on the above.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Project 333 April

Project 333 April

So here it is - better late than never!  My April Project 333 wardrobe.  Given the changing weather (it has suddenly got warmer) it has been a bit more difficult this month, but I'm still keeping to the 33 items and making some amazing outfits.
Full list of items (I couldn't find near matches for all of them on Polyvore) is:

Black LK Bennett jersey dress
Full black cotton skirt
black court shoes
black zara 7/8ths trousers
black and beige striped long sleeved  t-shirt
striped full sleeve t-shirt
blue striped silk top
Black formal jacket
pink pencil skirt
black shoe boots
navy whistles dress
ash Jalouse boots
blue and white striped t-shirt
black chiffon shirt
boyfriend jeans
navy pea coat
purple short jersey dress
phase eight faux wrap
whistles military tunic dress
black skinny jeans
grey sweater dress
grey tunic top
whistles tweed jacket
black blouse/t-shirt
coral and blue jumper
red pea coat
Black zara puff sleeve coat
j crew striped blouse
cream rebecca taylor jacket
blue zara 7/8ths trousers
patent loafers
asos grey/beige heels
Orange shift dress

The best thing about many of these is that they have been in my wardrobe for years and they still look fabulous.  The black full skirt was bought in Anthropologie in 2003 and is still amazing.  The black formal jacket is by Elie Tahari and was bought in New York on the same visit.  I think the cream Rebecca Taylor jacket was the same.  So maybe my 'investments' did pay off!  Or at least some of them

Monday, 15 April 2013

Project 333 - March update

I know its rather late in the day, given that we’re half way through April and all that, but I wanted to make sure I kept up with my Project 333 summaries, just for my own future reference and encouragement.
March was in some ways a very easy month for Project 333 given that it was not remotely spring like and was freezing cold and wintry from beginning to end.  This made the coat and shoe choices much easier, as there really was only one reasonable option.
This was my most useful work outfit from the month
Most useful work outfit March 2013

 (albeit completely covered up with a giant puffa coat when I was outside, and accessorised with clumpy boots rather than elegant shoe boots other than inside at the office). 
My most useful casual outfit was my striped top and skinny jeans - as seen in this former post.

My favourite outfit was the whistles dress - not the most useful, but I felt amazing wearing it.

Best going out dress March 2013

The final list of items worn this month, and the frequency with which they were worn was:
Black pink lined shift dress
Whistles mini navy shirt dress
Phase Eight faux wrap dress
J Crew geometric skirt
Blue round neck blouse
Black shoe boots
Puff sleeved striped top
Whistles khaki tunic dress
Black pencil skirt
Whistles cheetah print blouse
Black long sleeve t-shirt
J Brand combats
black biker boots
Leopard print belt
black skinny jeans
indigo skinny jeans
navy pea coat
grey v-neck cashmere
Zara black coat
coral and blue striped jumper
ash ankle boots
black courts
black and tan striped t-shirt
Baukjen purple jersey mini-dress
Whistles body con dress
black Baukjen jersey dress
Puffa coat
Cream Brora cashmere jumper
all saints sweater dress
striped sweater dress

Its amazing even with only 31 items how seldom some things are worn.  However, I loved each and every outfit this month.  The only thing I’m not sure about is my Tommy Hilfiger cream striped sweater dress, which is lovely, but which is rather short and which I’m not sure is appropriate at my advanced age;-)  It’s in the ‘think about’ pile at the moment.
The Whistles body con dress is the perfect example of how not every item needs to be practical or wearable in multiple combinations.  How fabulous I felt in that on that night out must be worth taking up a small amount of space in the wardrobe.
What about you?  What were your favourite outfits recently?  Do you have a dress or outfit that makes you feel amazing – even if it isn’t ‘practical’?