Old skills, new skills, lost skills…

This year I’ve been dwelling on skills that I would like to have that I don’t. Now that encompasses a very wide array- from metal working to speaking another language- there’s loads of things I would like to be able to do. My problem is always just picking one thing. When I get in the mood to learn something new then I start trying to do it all! As you can imagine this very quickly descends into me learning nothing.

I’m also fairly terrible at teaching myself anything. I’m not one of these glorious people who can turn their hand to anything. In fact I’ve yet to find a single thing in my life that I have been able to quickly pick up. Anything I learn is hard won and normally encompasses endless hours of extra practice compared to anyone else and a book or five on the subject to understand the theory of what I’m doing. This means that when I’m trying to pick up something I have to try and find a teacher. For me a YouTube tutorial just won’t cut it, I need someone there to hold my hand.

Now that’s not to say that I’m stupid or that I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be doing. However in reality I like to be able to ask many many incessant questions and write notes (on paper as well, I don’t do well with typed notes) on the steps I should be taking. As well as being able to watch them do the thing first and then copy it.

This is in complete contrast to the wonderful husband. I have never met someone more hands on and practically minded than he is. Also he is one of these blessedly annoying people who picks everything up quickly and makes it look damn easy doing it! In fact this idea of him is so ingrained in me that I now find it difficult to believe if I ask him to do something practical and he tells me he can’t. (On occasion I do think this is just because he doesn’t want to do what I’m asking…). This is a man who taught himself to wire our house, plumb in our bathroom and heating system, has built garages and kit cars and many other jobs mainly by watching a couple of videos on it and then getting started. It’s a skill I envy and admire and one that I definitely do not have!

I’ve also found that the older I get the more I feel I should have a certain skill level. I can do the basics of life: cook, clean, washing etc but I want to be able to do more.

Based on all that, I wanted to pick a skill for this year to get to grips with. To me, out of my long list, the most useful skill I could acquire was how to use a sewing machine. This is a totally foreign area to me. I was ill for most of my childhood so I didn’t do home economics classes and have never been near a sewing machine in my house either. I do however love the idea of being able to make and alter things. The opportunity to take it up seemed like a good choice when I saw a Singer machine on offer in the local supermarket. So I bought it and went from there.

Now for the teaching part. As I said I can’t teach myself so I needed to rope someone in to teach me the basics. That’s where my mother in law comes in. I’m extremely lucky and I get along really well with my MIL. I’m also lucky that she has all the skills of a perfect 1950’s housewife and is willing to pass them onto me! So we’ve currently started lessons- just basic using my machine, threading it, different stitches, adjusting tension etc. I was duped by her into making a cushion cover as well. (This was stressful as it’s to go in her room, I thought I was working on a practice one with spare material, it turned out that it was the good one- not impressed!). It’s now time for me to try and make an actual legitimate item from start to end though…

Yesterday was a day of shopping. For the first time I bought a pattern and fabric- yay. This was a myriad of complications though that I didn’t know about. For a start I didn’t realise that you look through a pattern book and then take a number up to the counter to actually get the pattern. I had assumed that you would just have all the patterns hanging on a wall and pick from there. That’s not the case I see! Then there’s all the numbers on the pattern- I still don’t know what they mean. Due to my MIL knowledge we seem to have come away with the right pattern but who knows?! I also got far too overexcited in the fabric shop. I’m just making a basic pair of jogging bottoms but that involves boring coloured, plain jersey fabric. Whereas what I actually want to make clothes out off is all the material with tiny pirates, fabric that is super soft and looks like dragon scales or is off a completely lurid pattern involving giant flowers or little stars…  I got dark grey jersey material though as is appropriate for the moment! So now I just have to get on and make it. I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going once I get started.

When I was looking at skills though it did make me think a lot about the potential for skills to be lost. I don’t know many people my age who can use a sewing machine, knit, make jam, make home remedies, grow their own food or re-purpose and re-use what they own. It could be that I just don’t know the right subset of people for this but I do have a broad range of friends. To them I am viewed as a practical person and someone who can do a lot and has a lot of ‘old’ housewife-esque skills. This is blatantly untrue but it’s because they buy everything and would never consider making their own. It makes me even more determined to master what skills I start, I want to help carry these on for new generations. Hopefully that’ll give me enough incentive to learn new things each year.

Are there any skills that are in danger of dying that you know? I’d love to hear about them.

Kimmy x

Sewing Machine

Debt update- March

Another month has flown by and it’s payday again (yay!). This meant we had our final budget meeting of the month last night. We learned a couple of lessons from the month as there were some unexpected monies that we had to pay out and silly things we hadn’t considered.

The first of which was because our hoover packed in. Not ideal when you’re decorating and have an extremely fluffy dog who sheds everywhere! So we had to buy a new one. Now we do put aside money for the house each month as we’re still in the middle of decorating it. However we have that currently earmarked for finishing the downstairs. So we decided to use our ‘spare’ council tax money for the month instead and buy a new hoover. This took away some of the over-payment we’d been intending to make to the debt.

The second lesson we learned (which realistically we should have thought off before) is to take into account the number of weeks in a month. As husband gets paid on the last day of the month, it does make a difference to our monthly budgeting. March was a 5 week month for us and this means that we should have increased our food and petrol allowance. We didn’t so that of course meant we overspent. It was a good lesson to learn and will help us going forward.

We’ve also spent a bit of time organising all our paperwork that just seems to pile up… I was horrified to realise that off the 5K a year we pay to our mortgage, only 1.5K off that actually gets removed from the capital amount. That’s a depressingly small amount! We’ve discussed it and the aim is for us to be debt free by the time we’re both 30 and mortgage free by the time we’re 40. That means that we need to make a massive change or we’ll never achieve it. So… In order to do that and also to help with the debt we’ve cancelled our last sharesave. That gave us a couple of grand back in cash to pay to debt and also frees up £110 per month. That £110 is now going to be an overpayment to the mortgage each month. That’ll start from the beginning of April. One of the reasons for that is we’ll have a lower LTV ratio when it comes time to re-mortgage next year at the end of our fixed rate term. In order to achieve being mortgage free by 40 we will need to start paying 1K a month to our mortgage so we are even more desperate to get rid of this debt so we can do that!

Ok now debt figures… We started the month at £9918, our standard payment of £300 has come off so now to figure out the over-payment! It turns out that we were slightly over enthusiastic last month when it came to paying extra money, we actually put our holiday money to the debt as we’d forgotten it was holiday money… Nevermind! It does mean that we can’t pay as much as we’d thought we could this month though. Our extra payment this month will be £1600. This will take us to £8018. We’ve also managed to sell my old car and I have a couple of makeup jobs which will bring in an extra £400 that can go straight to debt. Also in April my pay rise starts so we will have another £100 per month that can again go to debt each month.

The last thing we have in favour of our debt is that 1K of it isn’t actually our debt. When we were consolidating our debt into a loan we included £1500 to give to one of our friends. (There was a very good reason for doing it). This is paid off at £50 per month and will continue to be. So if we don’t include it then we are down to £6618 that we have left to pay. That works out at just £735 per month for the rest of this year and we’d be done! It is an amazing thought that we could finally be rid of this by 2018. I am desperate for it to become a reality…

Love, Kimmy x

Sourdough and mushrooms update…

Its been a while since I posted, just a lot of things going on at once! That doesn’t mean we haven’t been working on our projects though.

First up our sourdough… Our wholemeal starter has taken off nicely, it has that recognisable sour smell and is very bubbly when we feed it. We also used a bit of this starter to make a white flour sourdough as it is usually all white bread we eat. 

Now these are photos from this morning when I fed them. (Top photo wholemeal and bottom photo white flour). You would think from looking at them that the white is the better off the two, or I would anyway, but that’s not the case. No matter how I adjust the feeding our white one always seems on the edge of too watery  and doesn’t give our bread the rise we want. It also doesn’t make nearly as tasty a loaf in my opinion. 

The wholemeal on the other hand seems to be getting better as the weeks go on. Its given us tasty bread but only when mixed with white flour for baking. I am currently sitting waiting to put a full wholemeal loaf in my oven but as it has barely risen, I’m not expecting great things!

Here’s how our loaves have differed from the first attempt to the most recent.

Our first attempts. We followed an online recipe meant to give you two free form cobs. Mine is the top loaf which I think looks like some sort off weak clawed wolverine has attacked it after sitting on it..  Lovely husband’s is the bottom and he clearly has a much better slashing method than me! (Should I be worried?! Lol). Both were incredibly tasty but almost as flat as a pancake. You also needed more upper arm strength than I possess to saw through the crust which felt like it was made from brick. I managed to saw my fingers as my loaf went flying over the kitchen worktop, no bread tastes better with added blood… Minor injury only though, I still thankfully have all my digits.

Week two could have been our piece de resistance if only we’d known a few things. As you can see we abandoned the idea of free forming our bread. That’s a level of creativity that we’re just not ready for clearly! Instead we used the same recipe but whacked the full mixture into a loaf tin. Now this had the advantage of stopping the loaf being a pancake but it did mean I just had to guess as to the baking time- problem one. Husband (having been designated official bread slasher) performed his job admirably as you can see and gave the bread room to rise. That’s when I encountered problem two- my oven shelf was too high. Our poor loaf was doing as asked and rising up magnificently only to be stunted as it hit the top of my oven. I had to take it out ten minutes earlier than I wanted too as it was starting to burn from contact with the hot metal. This meant that the middle wasn’t as cooked as it should have been. It was a hundred times better than the previous week though.

Then our first loaf using the white flour starter. It just didn’t rise as much as it should have, there was also a big gap in the side where it decided to split in the oven. It was alright but in both looks and flavour I found it a bit lacking.

Finally today’s loaf-  I don’t know how that is going to turn out yet so will keep you apprised of the situation! Overall im currently counting our starters as a success but our bread making skills a work in progress.

Then we have our mushroom kits. We bought three of them and all three have produced some mushrooms for us. I’ve been amazed at how quickly they go from little pinheads to full blown mushies. One night they completely exploded up!

After the initial harvest though most of the growing seems to have stopped. We’ve also found that our mushrooms are only growing at the uncovered edges of the kit and not all over even though the mycellium is everywhere. I’m currently looking for methods to transfer the spores to a more sustainable habitat and hopefully get them growing again. There’s a glut of information online but I’m struggling to wade through all of it to see what’s best.. All advice as always is welcome!
Kimmy x

Debt update- January/ February 

Its payday for me today which means that we had our budget meeting last night. I thought I’d write down all the things that have happened in the last few months with our money to try and see the progress! 
First up confession time… In a time of weakness near the end of last year we booked to go to Florida on holiday. I was fed up with trying to clear our debt and getting nowhere, we’d also been trying unsuccessfully to start a family for a while and just wanted a break. So the long and the short is we agreed to go on this very expensive holiday. Since that point its caused some stress because we don’t have all the money to pay for it and we actually don’t want to increase our credit card or loan debt.

So we sat down to discuss what we wanted to do about it all. At the moment we pay £300 a month to our loan. The idea has always to make overpayments but this never seems to happen. We also had around £200 on a credit card. This was the sum of our debt excluding our mortgage as we said in our original post at the start of January: 12.5k 

After much discussion we’ve reassessed the moneys we hold and where best to use it. I think we have it in our heads that we want to have savings which is all well and good but why have all this debt and savings?! So we’ve decided to wipe out pretty much everything cash wise apart from our emergency and sinking funds. There are still some areas we’re contributing and keeping money in. Both of us have pensions with our companies and we’re continuing with those. Husband also has sharesaves with his company that we put money too every month. This means we still have some long term security. What we’re ‘cashing in’ is my shares options and extra money that we had put in our emergency fund. 

By doing all that it amounted to us having the 2.5k we needed to pay for the rest of our holiday, we were also able to make a January overpayment to the loan of £1600. Now at the end of February we’ve been able to make another overpayment of £350. Including our regular payments that means we’ve paid just over 2.5k to debt and takes us to £9913 left to go. Assuming that we never pay another overpayment them that makes our debt free date December 2019. Far too long away for my liking! 

Now we have been blessed with a few things that make it more and more likely we can make overpayments each month. The first great thing about February and March every year is we don’t pay council tax. That immediately means we have almost £400 that should go straight to debt. The second thing is I’ve been able to increase my hours at work. So instead of 20 hrs per week I now get 32 hrs per week which is amazing. The last thing came happily just a couple of days after NY contract increase and that was a pay increase starting in April. This means that taking my extra hours and extra pay into account that we should be £400 better off each month. Now not all of that can go to debt- we weren’t making enough with me on 20 hrs to really cover everything- but we should be able to pay at least a couple of hundred pounds over each month. 

Last thing (sorry this is such a mammoth post!) is I’ve changed what supermarket we use, altered our meal plan to a healthier one and gone back to making meticulous shopping lists. This meant that I actually stuck to our food budget this month for the first time in a long time.

I’m exceptionally happy that we’re now under 10k debt, it does finally feel like we’re making progress. If everything goes to plan then we should actually be able to hit under 9k debt by this time next month..  We’ll see if that actually pans out though as we’ve been here before and always ended up with more debt…fingers crossed! 

Kimmy x

Sourdough and Mushrooms!

Its been an exciting week – our seeds have arrived for this seasons growing!! I am also off work this weekend so will have time to plan out where we’re going to plant everything. I want to start most of our seedlings at the start of February. The other new thing we’ve begun this week is our first ever sourdough starter.

This is definitely a year of firsts for us and trying new things in terms of growing and self sufficiency. I’m sure most other people have tried a starter at some point in their life but we hadn’t. This naturally means that I’m like a new proud parent and have been taking photos of it each day! 

Day 1- we started with a wholemeal flour and if it works I’d like to keep a wholemeal and all purpose flour starter going. 

Day 4- this is what it looks like today! I haven’t ever been so pleased to see bubbles in my life. The mixture is bubbling away nicely and has taken on that tangy scent since last night. 

I wasn’t confident that our starter would actually take off so I haven’t spent much time looking into what to do with it.. Until today. I have so far seen recipes for crisps, Pitta’s, waffles and pancakes. I want to try a foolproof recipe first though so will probably just start with a bread.

The other thing we received this week was our mushroom growing kits. We go through a ton of mushrooms in a year. I rarely cook a meal without them. They do however seem to be a bit fickle to grow. So for this first attempt we ordered some mushroom kits. They arrived on Friday and are currently progressing nicely through the first stages. Tomorrow should see the next step for growing them as we’ll cover the spores.

I’m excited to see if these will work however, unless they give an amazing harvest, it wouldn’t be financially worth it to grow them from scratch this way. Does anyone else grow mushrooms? Or have any tips for foraging them? I would love to be able to forage for mushrooms but I am terrified I will poison us! I’ve read a lot of articles and books on it but I still get worried when it comes to going out and getting them. This will maybe be the year to try it.

Anyway that’s what the adventures that the Arnolds have had this week =) its just going to keep getting busier we hope! X

My 5 things- trying to minimise!

This year husband has set me a challenge- to choose five things per day that I can give away or get rid off. Both of us have hoarding tendencies so its one of the hardest things he could ask me to do. Its also one of the best! I’ve agreed on the proviso that he do it as well.

We had a bit of a false start with him trying to convince me that a half empty water bottle counted as one of his five… There was also the simple fact of starting, its one thing to say you’ll do it and another thing to actually do it. 

It’s a simple fact for me that, much like a child, my possessions have never looked so appealing as when I’m contemplating giving them away. I have items that have been in a box since we moved into our house three years ago. When I take them out though all of a sudden they’re the most interesting thing I own. This means I’m spending a lot of time putting things in the charity box just to take them back out again. 

I’ve started asking myself these three questions: 

1- Have I used it recently?

2- Do I need it?

3- Would I want to pack it and take it to our homestead? (when we get it!)

Its the last one that’s the real driving force. I need to get away from being materialistic. All that will happen if I keep it up is we’ll spend our money on things and never pay off the debt. So I figure if I get better at giving my possessions away then I won’t want to replace them. 

Here’s a selection of what I’ve picked out so far. I’m currently part of a bartering group so for a lot of the stuff I’ve put it on there to see if anyone else can make use of it. In return I’m asking for goodies for my store cupboard- beans, tomatoes, puree etc. Its marginally easier for me to give things away if I can see they’re going somewhere they’re appreciated and useful! 

The hardest thing for me to even attempt to give away is books. I love books. I also own quite a few of them. Some I haven’t even read but I can’t bring myself to give them away. I would adore having my own library and want to include a reading nook/room when we get round to building . A lot of the books I now own are digital which has helped but you can’t beat having a real book in your hands. The books in the picture above are the only ones I’ve been able to give away so far.

As the days go on its getting both harder and easier to do. Its therapeutic once you start to give things away. I have found myself looking in drawers and cupboards that have been untouched for other items I can put in my pile. Its getting harder though because obviously the longer we go on, the more attached I am to the possessions I’m looking at. I gave up all the ‘easy’ things in the first few days so now I am onto the ‘what can I live without’. A very different question to what I actually need to live…

I think I’ve made a good start but my pace is slowing, I’ve exhausted nooks and crannies and I have to start giving up items I want!

Any tips on not being such a hoarder?! How did downsizing go for everyone else?

Preserving- looking for inspiration!

One of the most important things I want to be able to do this year is preserve our food. I currently rely on my freezer to keep most of our food which, while useful, isn’t ideal. I don’t like the thought that if our power was to go off then we would lose most of our food!

Last year I tried a few different ways to use our foraged and grown food. I made my first ever attempts at jam, blackberry liqueur and red onion chutney. All of them worked which was an unexpected surprise! However there were some drawbacks. 

For a start I didn’t realise just how little chutney would be produced from what I thought was a decent harvest of our onions. I spent hours chopping and reducing my onions to only end up with three small jars. This seemed like a poor use of time I could have otherwise spent in the garden. 

*I have just been informed by my husband that I have an attachment for my mixer that would have done all that dicing in seconds-thanks for letting me know!* 

Secondly I really need to get an outdoor space to cook if I’m going to be spending any amount of time boiling vinegar- that’s a scent that really sticks! My jam making went well but my first attempt (plum and apple) was overboiled. Its still very edible but definitely over set and more akin to jelly. Lastly my blackberry liquer. Its an absolute winner for taste, and was super over Christmas in a glass of fizz, but made using shop bought wine. I’d definitely like to try a homebrew for this year.

There were some unsuccessful attempts as well… I tried grating and freezing my courgettes for baking some vegan cakes with- that was a disaster. I also have no idea of the best way to store my apples and potatoes. Does anyone have any successful methods they’ve used?

For this year I’m hoping to have a lot more food to store and preserve. I’ve been looking into canning, dehydrating and pickling as methods of preservation but to be honest I have no idea where to start…it also all seems to cost a lot of money to get setup initially. Not so helpful to our budget. I know though that I’ll have to spend some money to save in the long term. It does just feel like another setback from paying off the debt though…

We’re lucky that we currently stay by a canal which has an abundance of bramble and raspberry bushes. This means I’m saving a whole load of space in our garden and still able to get some fantastic berries. I harvested 3kg of blackberries and could have had more just from the nightly dog walks. One thing I’d love to make is some cordial to use for squash. If I was able to make this instead of buying it then it could end up saving us a lot of money. 

I’ve been looking at this years planting and there’s just too many things I’d love to grow. I’m as easily seduced by a seed catalogue as most women are supposed to be in a shoe shop! I want them all. So I’m trying to be judicious in what we grow. I want to have proposed methods for storing anything that we do grow before we even start. If you have any preferred varieties of veg for preserving then please let me know 🙂

I aim to make tomato sauce for pasta and pizzas, I’d like to try tomato puree as well. I’d also like to try pickled onions and beetroot, different jams and chutneys but after that I’m stuck on what else I can make…I’m definitely looking for inspiration!