Solvitur ambulando

Lynton to Hunter’s Inn – August 2020 (between lockdowns)

This weekend has been the first of four weekends in our latest national lockdown, also known colloquially as Lockdown 2.0. Since Thursday, all parts of England have returned to a full Covid-19 restrictions, with the re-closure of non-essential retail businesses and with restaurants and cafes offering takeaway menus, rather than eat-in options.

Happily, Saturday was a lovely, melow, autumn day, so the people of Kenilworth were able to be outdoors, enjoying the fresh air, walk with a companion or cycle in the sunhine (all observing the lockdown rules). Just as the nation got outside in spring and summer, so we now need to find ways to maximise the daylight hours and experience a sense of freedom.

Solvitur ambulando

In her delightful book, Afoot and Lighthearted, Bonnie Smith Whitehouse begins with the assertion: Solvitur ambulando, a Latin phrase that means, “It is solved by walking.”

Since I started doing more long distance walking last year, I’ve begun to experience the real benefits of walking – both physical and mental – that putting one foot in front of the other can bring. Even better, walking with a companion is a wonderful way not only to catch up with each other but to reflect on life’s challenges; discuss problems and find solutions. Indeed, it is solved by walking. Whilst out yesterday, we also learned the momentus news of Biden’s success in the US elections.

Yesterday, the dog and I covered 12.6 miles over two walks – a short walk in the morning and another – much longer – trail in the afternoon. It was so good to be outside, to feel the sun on my face and to re-trace familiar steps. The longer of the two walks can be found on AllTrails: Millennium Way: Meer End and Kenilworth Walk. This route takes in the magnificent ruin that is Kenilworth Castle, passes through large swaithes of farmland and allows glimpses of wonderful dwellings.

Get going!

Almost everyone can walk; even just 20 minute sof brisk walking per day is said to bring benefit to both health and overall wellbeing. Captain Sir Tom Moore showed us that you’re never too old to get started or, indeed, to achieve extraordinary things.

Just a year ago, I began a quest to walk all 630 miles of the South West Coast Path. I’ve mentioned it here before, but I can’t believe that 12 months have passed since we first stood in front of the iconic sculpture that heralds in the start of the trail (in the pouring rain!). This summer, I was able to go a little further, having postponed the second stretch twice (first because of Storm Dennis, then Covid). With my friend, Lynne (plus Ollie the cockapoo, we walked 90,000 steps over 3 days, crossing the Somerset/Devon border to enter the second county on the trail.

Nowadays, life has changed a great deal in a number of ways. Perhaps the most signficant is how sedentary I have become. My health app tells me, “So far, you’re waliking and running less than you normally do.” No kidding, Sherlock. Working from home has a number of benefits, not least the reduced stress involved in actually getting up and arriving on time at your desk. Nowadays, here are no excuses for not being on time!

However, friends agree that, no matter what organisation you work for, working from home involves too many online meetings. It feels relentless. So, to catch a little daylight now that the clocks have gone back, I’ve given myself a little diary prompt that sits within a 30-minute slot and simply says, “WALK.” If the prompt is there, it may just be that I can give myself permission to get up from my dining-room desk and get outside.

And, who knows? Those work challenges might even just get solved – or lessened – by putting one foot in front of the other.

 


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Share more, waste less

A rag-and-bone man with his horse and cart on the streets of Streatham, southwest London in 1985 (Image from Wikipedia)

When I was a child in the 1970s, a simple way of getting rid on unwanted items was to wait for the ‘rag-and-bone man’ to call by. I have a distant memory of a man calling “Rag a’ Bone!” as he arrived via pony and cart to collect unwanted metal and other items. He also handed out pink balloons to the children! I was surprised to discover the above image, which is from 1985 and shows that the ‘rag and bone’ trade with horse and cart persisted for some time.

Fast forward almost 50 years and life looks very different. When it comes to ‘refuse, re-use, reduce and re-cycle,’ the message appears to have hit home. But I’m also beginning to notice some new ways to share more and waste less. Here’s my round-up of what’s avaialble online:

Sharing platforms

Freecycle’s been around for a long time – 17 years now. It now boasts over 9 million members worldwide and is the place if you have something you simply want to give away. It’s a curious website from a user-experience point of view; it looks quite old-fashioned now .

I used Freecycle recently when lockdown restrictions were lifted and managed to gift two half tins of engine oil and a tub of never-opened fence paint (you see, minimalists still find more to declutter!).

Olio, however, is new to me. I found it via an Instagram advert and decided to follow the link to check it out. Primarily aimed at reducing food waste, I took a look at what those in my ‘neighbourhood’ were offering for free. To my surprise, I found a range of perfectly good foodstuffs, albeit I realised that most of these were outside of my immediate area. Still, this has potential. I also took a look at “Non-Food” only to find that someone in my home town was giving away some Costco “Hair Regrowth Treatment for Men”…. So, maybe Olio has potential even if it’s not yet taken off fully in this part of the world.

My lovely sister has been selling unwanted home items on Facebook Marketplace, which is another place to go to offer items you’re happy to sell or give away. Likewise, a lot of local community groups on Facebook offer a chance to gift unwanted items (sometimes, people are extremely generous and kind).

I wrote a while back that I’d had enough of eBay, but I picked up an alternative for selling unwanted clothes recently. Have you come across Vinted yet? With Vinted, it’s free to list clothes, shoes and accessories, – and it’s easy to do. The app is intuitive and simple, so I decided to have a go. I listed two items: a jacket and a dress. Very soon, I was able to improve the visibilty of these items with some free ‘bumps’ that would enable Vinted to bump my items up the listings. However, neither sold, so I’m planning to pass these on to Emily from the Recycled Closet.

The Recycled Closet is an Instagram account, run by a Emily Grainger-Smith, who lists preloved clothing items then donates 50% of the proceeds to charity. This is a great side hustle, which follows my mantra of ‘making secondhand second nature’.

All of this makes me realise that there are so many accessible and straightforward ways to move your unwanted clutter along, many of which allow you to do good whilst you’re at it. What’s your favourite platform and why?

For me, I’m off to the Recycling Centre this weekend – it’s time to let go again.

Get uncluttered

If you feel you need a little motivation or support to get uncluttered, then look no further than the autumn series of Uncluttered, which is enrolling now. I was a participant on this course in 2016 and still belong to the Facebook group from that cohort. Over 30,000 people have taken part in this online course that helps participants declutter their homes gently, room by room. And if you sign up using my code FF25, you’ll get 25% off.

Wishing you an uncluttered autumn.

 


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Going to uni? Shop from your own home

After a little break from the blog over the summer, I’m back for a new season with some new life adventures to share with you. I hope you have been keeping well and happy, in spite of lockdown restrictions.

Our daughter is about to take the next step on her life journey and embark upon the quasi-independent life of being a university student. She is one of the hundreds of thousands of UK teenagers who belong to the ‘Class of Covid-19’ whose achievements were ultimately based on ‘centre assessed grades,’ rather than on a combination of teacher insights and a controversial algorithm. So, I’m somewhat relieved and delighted that she has been able to secure a place and is now in the run-up to moving into her hall of residence next weekend.

Getting the essentials

It’s been interesting observing my daughter’s group of friends, as they plan what they’re going to take with them to their respective institutions. Inevitably, they want their university room to have homely touches, as well as the necessary essentials. So, last weekend saw the two of us in one of the UK’s top ten shopping destinations, Milton Keynes (famous for its roundabouts!), as we tackled a rather long wishlist.

We visited just 3 shops and that was enough for me: Home Bargains (bargains indeed!); Primark (for its home section); and good old Marks & Spencer. Forget IKEA if you’re thinking of venturing out: the queues to get in were snaking through the car park – a clear ‘no go’ for me.

Kitchen in a box?

Of course, retailers know that they can offer handy bundles, such as Wilko’s “Kitchen in a Box”, but here’s what I think about these sorts of offers: you probably don’t need them. Rather, it’s better to remember that you don’t need as much as you think (we never do) and what you genuinely need is probably already available at home.

‘Shop’ from home

So, after some indulgent purchases, it’s now time for our girl to ‘shop from home’. That is, whatever we didn’t buy on our trip is probably available right here in cupboards, drawers and shelves here at home. In spite of my minimalist tendencies, we still have more than enough cutlery, crockery, towels and other items that a student might need. Plus, why buy new when you’re using a shared kitchen and – apart from your own room – are getting your first taste of communal living? Better, I suggest, to take old stuff that you’re not too precious about, so if it goes walkabout or gets broken, it really doesn’t matter. So, with just a few days to go, I’ve invited Miss Gordon to take whatever she likes. This may sound like an extravagant gesture, but it really isn’t.

Remember The Minimalists’ mantra: If you can pick up something for $20 or less – and get hold of it within 20 miles of where you live – don’t stress about it. Of course, this is in the context of decluttering seldom-used items: if you accidentally declutter something you find you later need, it’s not really an issue to let go in the first place when you know that replacing it would ultimately be an inexpensive and easy thing to do.

The same applies to household items for the soon-to-be undergraduate – what if she takes the corkscrew or our favourite kitchen knife? It really doesn’t matter when we’re within walking distance of shops that can readily supply replacements for less than £20 and within 20 minutes on foot.

Lockdown lessons

Lockdown has certainly taught me that we truly need far less than we ever believed. Plus, our local community swung into action by sharing, instead of shopping, for things that neighbours needed. Our little street has a little WhatsApp group now, which we didn’t have before lockdown. If someone needs anything (or has something to offer), this group comes into its own. We’ve also benefited from the kindness of residents on our town’s community Facebook group helping and sharing with each other in a way that we didn’t do before. Long may this continue.

So, if you’ve got a student about to leave home for the first time (or if you are that person), I’d heartily recommend the ‘shop from home’ approach, even before you head for the shopping mall. It’s a more sustainable way to approach your first term at university and it’s kinder to your wallet, too.

 


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What lockdown has taught me about simplicity

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When I first embalked upon my simplicity journey around 4 years ago, I described how this wasn’t only about being able to let of excess ‘stuff.’ Back then, becoming minimalist was also about letting go of a sense of obligation, of constant busy-ness, and stress.

Our time in lockdown has taken me back to that time of living more simply and letting go. We’re now on Day 75 here in the UK. As lockdown restrictions begin to ease (for good or ill – no pun intended), I feel it’s worth reflecting on what this time has taught me so far.

Lockdown lessons

First of all, let me say if you’re a key worker or frontline care giver/medic/clinician, then I cannot begin to imagine what this time has meant for you. No doubt, you’re still in the thick of it. One of my neighbours (a consultant obstetrician gynecologist) told us a bit about the PPE he had to wear to perform his role; that in itself was remarkable).

Likewise, if you have lost someone to Covid-19, then I’m truly sorry for your loss. This post isn’t going to be for you. So, feel free to click on by.

Rather, this post is for those of us who’ve simply being told to sit on the sofa and stay put. It’s for those of us who are – and continue to be – keyboard warriors. It’s for those of us who have been at home, some of us with family members or even with a cobbled-together ‘Covid family,’ as friends (or even colleagues) have gone into lockdown together to wait for the storm to pass. It’s for those of us who’ve had the privilege of being able to work from home while spring has unfurled its fresh, green leaves and birdsong was all we could hear when traffic levels dropped to levels not seen since 1955.

Letting go

Now we’ve go that over with, here’s what I think.

Let’s not ‘go back to normal’. Let’s move forward towards a new way of being that sits more comfortably with who we want to become. But how do we do this?

Here’s where I return to letting go any sense of obligation. Let go of the things that don’t serve you or bring you joy. It’s your life, so when the world around you starts to pick up speed again, remember that you get to choose what stays and what goes.

I’m not trying to suggest that you’re not bound by work objectives or by responsibilites that sit rightfully with you as a colleague, partner, parent or good pal. Whatever we do, we should still desire to do the right thing. But if spending time at home has caused you to reflect a little and to take stock, consider these questions:

  • Who do I want to spend my time with?
  • What’s really important to me?
  • What really matters?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What do I love doing and which makes me feel alive?
  • What would I do, if I knew I couldn’t fail?

What (or who) will you allow to ebb away?

I spent a couple of hours last week with a friend (2m apart, as per government guidelines, sitting in the sunshine alongside the riverbank close to her home). She described the relief she had felt at not having to see people she didn’t want to see, or go to places that she preferred to avoid.

In an interview with Reece Witherspoon, writer and activist Glennon Doyle says that the lives we lead ‘must be the truest, most beautiful lives we can imagine. Don’t settle!’ So, what would your truest, most beautiful life look like, if you could re-craft it from the start? The questions, above, might just help you consider this.

The ‘To Do’ List

One of the things I seem to have let go of naturally is my personal ‘to do’ list. My work action plan is typically well-structured, but I’d previously brought some of that hyper-organisation into life at home. What I’ve been able to do in lockdown is go with the flow. Weather’s good? Go and potter in the garden! Feel like sorting out a few papers? Do that.

Somehow, letting go of the never-ending task list is a release. Jobs still get done. And it doesn’t actually matter if they don’t….

On occasion, this has also meant letting go of things that I have always righteously claimed as my own, such as meal preparation. Knowing that there is plenty of food in the house to produce simple, nutritious dishes has enabled me to let go of being Head Chef.  Making a meal need not always be my job. On Sunday, after 5 hours in the garden, I came back into the house to find our 18-year-old had found a recipe via BBC Good Food, assembled all the ingredients (adding a few that she fancied) and hey presto! we had lunch.

The ‘do‘ List

Being in lockdown has given me some new-found (or rediscovered) joys; little moments that you can enjoy in your day. Check them out:

  • Nichola Joss’ facial massage on Instagram (weekday evening at 20:00 BST) and mornings, too
  • Online book clubs (authors going live include the fabulous Marian Keyes on Facebook (Mondays, 17:00 BST  next one 15 June)
  • Online yoga – I attend my own teacher’s online class (Living Your Yoga) but check out others including DoYogaWithMe.com

So, do what you want to do. Live life on your own terms. And let go of anything that doesn’t allow you to be your best self. And don’t forget the lessons that lockdown taught us.


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What we’re eating in lockdown

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I’ve been on annual leave this week. So, instead of working remotely from my little study, ‘holidaying’ at home has been my experience. Here in the UK, the government’s daily mantra is Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. So, staying at home we are.

On the whole, the nation is respectful of the reasons why we’re being asked to do this and fiercely proud of our NHS and grateful for all our key workers. Just now, the UK has been told we must remain in lockdown for at least 3 more weeks. But I must add that this is no hardship in this particular corner of the world. In the past few days, it feels as though we’ve been watching spring gently unfurl, as ripe clematis buds burst into flower and leaves on the silver birch and sycamore trees begin to reveal themselves a little more with each passing day.

Food is now at the forefront of people’s minds

A recent post on our town’s local Facebook group caught my eye:

Current family weekly budget in lockdown 💵

Petrol – £0
Meals out – £0
Useless purchases – £0
Groceries – £2467.90

It certainly feels like we’re spending more on food, although a check of my April Dual Account Budget Spreadsheet suggests we’re on top of our budget, which is pretty good considering there is no eating outside of the home whatsoever.

Apart from the obvious changes to daily life (we are told that traffic levels are at their lowest since 1955), a regular topic of conversation is food.

How to obtain essential provisions, what we’re eating, where to find key ingredients and top tips for getting an online delivery slot are key features of our neighbourhood WhatsApp group chat.

A new favourite podcast of mine, Table Manners, has also considered how we’re feeding ourselves in lockdown. Check out Episode 10, with the fabulous Emily Maitlis or go back in time to 2018 to the episode with my favourite cookery writer, Nigella Lawson.

Au revoir to online shopping

One big shift we’ve made is the transition from regular online shopping to sourcing food from a variety of new places.

Our local farm shop is providing a fabulous service: place your order online, then wait for them to call you so that you can make payment. Drive up, then they’ll come and place your food straight into the boot of the car. Simple! And rather good. Today, we’ve enjoyed locally-produced salad leaves, milk from a dairy just up the road and a rather splendid chunk of chocolatey rocky road (shopper’s perk).

We even managed to buy a bag of plain flour, a grocery item that has been in short supply, as families have begun baking together during the pandemic.

Yesterday, my daughter and I spent a pleasurable hour in the kitchen making chocolate chip cookies from Sally’s Baking Addition.  These have the most wonderful chewy texture, are utterly delicious and worth the extra devotion required to achieve such perfection. Thank you, Sally! (UK friends, we used baking powder instead of ‘baking soda’ and light muscovado sugar for the brown sugar).

There’s certainly something very soothing about the quiet discipline of weighing, sieving, mixing and shaping ingredients into the ultimate comfort food. I must also mention the simple, humble but oh-so-delicous flapjack.

Cook

One source of pre-cooked frozen food is Cook. While the neighbouring butcher and deli store in Leamingon Spa had people queuing round the block (at a socially acceptable distance), we were able to place our order to cook online, then arrive on the specified day to collect our order with no waiting time at all. Plus, Cook‘s meals for two feed three of us happily – and very tasty they are too. Our family’s all-time favourite is Cook‘s meatballs in tomato sauce, but the chicken pie (on the menu tomorrow) may yet beat it into first place.

Making an honest crust

Our local artisan bakery, Crustum, has also solved the problem of how to manage during lockdown. Customers can now pre-order and arrive at a specific time to collect their bread, which is only ever available 3 days per week. I’ve just placed an order for Saturday, so can enjoy a legitimate trip out on my bicycle, whilst satisfying my current craving for some of Crustum’s famous chelsea buns.

My mother, who lives 90 miles away in Yorkshire, has also described how food suppliers local to her have become inventive, offering home deliveries rather than their usual weekly presence at the market.

I wonder how we’ll shop and eat post-pandemic? It was certainly heartening to see a BBC report that, in France, essential stores include those selling bread, cheese, groceries and chocolate. At times such as this, des Chocolatiers are indeed providing an essential service.

Looking inwards

So, we’re certainly keeping an eye on the outside world, whilst our focus has necessarily been more inward-looking, as food is cooked and eaten, cupboards get a sort out and old paintwork is refreshed. It’s been really lovely to get on top of jobs that would otherwise be crammed into busy weekends.

And, in spite of having maintained a minimalist home for 4 years now, there have still been some items we’ve assigned to the ‘goods out’ pile, ready for when some kind of normality returns. Living with less still gives me a thrill.

Get uncluttered

Whilst writing, have you noticed that Joshua and the team at Uncluttered are offering the spring online course for just $59? Use my discount code of FF25 and you’ll also get a further 25% off, so there’s no better time to join if you want to declutter during lockdown. The discount ends on 22 April, so do take a look if you’re curious about what Uncluttered can do for you.

So, stay safe, friends. And let me know what you’re eating in lockdown. I hope it includes something comforting.


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Staying at home

Most of the personal emails I’ve been getting during the current Covid-19 lockdown have fallen into 3 categories:

  1. Helping our customers….(insert company X’s statement of reassurance, safety and ‘necessary measures’)
  2. Coronavirus: (insert latest news here)
  3. The marketing campaigns capitalising on the ‘at home’ situation: “Wondering how to make the most of your space?” (from a very well-known UK high street department store)

I wanted to make my message a little simpler:

Hello…
How are you?
How are you getting on in your corner of the world?
And perhaps you will permit me to share a little of my experience so far?

Kenilworth and Covid-19

Our little Warwickshire town has strengthened further its community spirit by setting up a Facebook group to offer support and information (which store has loo rolls??!) and bring volunteers together. So far, at the time of writing, there are 600+ volunteers who have offered to be ‘street champions’ (guardian angels for their own neighbourhoods), shoppers, or helpers who can fetch, carry, deliver and support others.

One amazing lady asked local pubs and restaurants to let her have leftover ingredients at the point when they had to close their doors to the public. She created multiple dishes, then had them delivered to the elderly. I think we will see similar quiet but stoical acts of kindness, as the weeks progress.

Of course, the town came out onto doorsteps and balconies earlier this week, as the nation joined in a ‘Clap for Carers’.

Remote working

I’ve now been a ‘remote worker’ for a week and a day. Of course, this makes for an interesting experience when, suddenly, your only contact with colleagues is via MS Teams. Using Teams has opened up a whole new communciation channel to manage alongside emails (of which I counted one every 2 minutes yesterday). This arrangement also means that you’re sitting on your bottom 08:30 onwards. That said, remaining on the couch is what we have to do to save lives. If we can’t do that very simple thing, then we genuinely need our heads looking at.

I think we now realise how serious a situation we face , when many of us now know someone who is suspected of having the virus or has heard of someone else with symptoms. And neither royal blood nor high status in society makes you immune.

The downs and ups

My lovely sister is a physiotherapist by profession. Her normal job is to support the rehabilitation of those with neurological issues. It was sobering to learn yesterday that she was heading to the hospital to get patients home (as quickly as possible) and that she was also embarking upon respiratory training.

I had to say, I had a little cry when she told me what she was doing.

On the upside, there have been some very funny moments. I contributed to these by wearing a sombrero in many of my virtual meetings this week. Our choir also attempted a ‘rehearsal’ via Zoom, but we had to mute everyone, as it sounded really terrible. We kept our Director ‘un-muted’ and sang along to ourselves, before ‘un-muting’ everyone for a bit of a laugh at the end. It was fun and entertaining (for all the wrong reasons).

We are also recording a video of the choir singing Jason Mraz’s Unlonely. Today, I had a go at listenining to the backing track whilst recording me singing the soprano part. I can only hope that the final combined performance is better than my own feeble efforts!

Worry only about what you can control

Listening to a podcast today, I was reminded that there’s a danger in these unsettled times to ruminate over what could or what might happen, or fear the very worst. Being afraid might lead to us becoming unusually sharp with others, or feeling particularly stressed.

As Brené Brown has said this week, “This pandemic is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid, or our very best, bravest selves”.

I hope and pray that we use our time at home as positively as we can to help us stay brave and be resilient. It’s springtime here in the UK, so our gardens are starting to wake up following the wettest February on record. We have plenty to eat, somewhere safe and comfortable to be and every way to entertain ourselves indoors or in the garden.

So, do let me know how you are. I hope you’re doing OK. Be brave. Be your best self. Keep washing those hands. Stay at home to remain safe and keep others safe. And if ever there was a time be intentional, that time is now.


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Project 333: ‘How a little wardrobe challenge changed a whole life’

Imagine my surprise and delight when I had the chance to read a newly-arrived copy of Courtney Carver’s new book, Project 333. In case you’ve not yet seen it (the book’s official publication date was 3/3 (of course!), I thought you might appreciate a review. So, here it is!

If you’re familiar with Courtney Carver, then this is the book that followers of bemorewithless.com might have expected her to have written first. In fact, Soulful Simplicity came before which included a section on the project. Still, Project 333 (along with Carver’s popular Tiny Wardrobe Tour) is arguably the most well-known aspect of her work to date. With its humble beginnings back in 2010, Carver set herself a challenge that was to be the catalyst to other – more far-reaching – changes in her life.

Project 333 – the basics

The idea of this minimalist fashion challenge is that you set aside the rest of your wardrobe for a 3-month period during which you dress with the remaining 33 items or less (hence the name). When the 3 months are up, you’ll swap out some of those items and bring back others.

Most items you’ll wear will count towards the 33, including jewellery, shoes, accessories and bags. But workout gear, underwear and pyjamas (for example) don’t count.

Not another ‘how to’ book

Although Carver does talk about the idea of a ‘capsule wardrobe’, Project 333 isn’t merely another ‘how to’ book. Indeed, the approach is not at all prescriptive. Whilst there are lots of useful tips and some interesting case studies, the idea is that, by following the challenge, we remember to connect with ourselves; listen to our hearts; and ask the person who knows us best (ourselves).

Carver also demonstrates how the ‘three thirty-three’ concept can used as a way in to dealing with more signifcant and profound life questions. Nicely crafted into a series of themed chapters, the book describes, ‘…..how a little wardrobe challenge changed a whole life.’ That’s quite an audacious claim but if you know Carver’s work, you’ll know what an impact #project333 has made on her, those around her and the 1000s of people who’ve followed in her footsteps.

Life lessons, big or small

Project 333 works on a number of levels, so take from it from whatever you need. Want to sort out a messy wardrobe? Here are some tips you can use. Or maybe you need to tackle just a small part of your life first, which can then act as the catalyst for more far-reaching changes. You can get this here, too.

What Carver is clear about is this: taking part in the project won’t protect you from whatever the world throws at you, but its benefits have a lovely way of spilling over into ‘real life’.

Clothes are boring

This morning, I listened to Dame Kristen Scott Thomas on Susannah Constantine’s new podcast, My Wardrobe Malfunction. If you listen to this – or any of these conversations – they are far less about the clothes and much more about lives lived well. The outfits, garments and fashion moments, if they feature at all, are far from centre stage.  They are merely the conduit to a more interesting conversation.

I do like clothes (and I’m not averse to a real bargain), but I have stopped yearning for them. This has given me such freedom, saving hours of time and hard-earned money, as I have given up the quest to find the simplest of things: something to wear. This is Carver’s point. A shopping ‘fast’ (a bit like intermittent fasting) does you a world of good. It clears the head and leaves you feeling lighter, calmer and more in control.

Things to consider

Paring down your wardrobe does mean you get to ask yourself some great questions.

For example, if you could start from scratch with your closet, what would you buy? Or, if you’re stuck in a cycle of ‘consume, donate, consume, donate…’ how much better for your wallet and the environment would it be if you simply stopped? Or, what if I challenged the voice in my head that said, “I could never…..”.

Often, we hear of people trying to fill an emotional vacuum with the temporary high of shopping. But, as Carver writes, “When things are broken but bearable, it feels easier, at first, to stay at ‘bearable’ rather than to address the problems.”

Try lightening your load

Courtney Carver’s quest for more had resulted in stress, depression, debt and strained relationships. It certainly didn’t answer the simplest of questions, “What shall I wear today?” As she writes, “I’d been shopping for years and I still had nothing to wear.”

So, instead of adding more and trying something new, try shopping from your own wardrobe; living a little more intentionally; and lightening your load. Who knows, a little step in this direction could inspire you towards a full-on spring clean or encourage you to get uncluttered once and for all!

Project 333 is published by tarcherperigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House


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Getting ahead with food prep

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Are you a “last-minute-Lucy” or someone who likes to get started with tasks early?

I’ve typically fallen into the latter camp. When issued with an assignment at university (a looongg time ago now!), I’d be the first to head for the library as soon as the question was issued. That approach has stood me in good stead throughout my career, especially when issued with directives from a one-time CEO whose deadline was usually 12:00 noon the following day (no matter how challenging the task).

What I’ve only just realised, though, is how much simpler life becomes if you adopt the same approach to food preparation. Why didn’t I work this out before?! I’ve written about meal planning in the past and I almost always shop to a list (either online or in person), knowing exactly what I’ll cook in the days to come.

However, what I didn’t always do was get ahead with the necessary food prep required to make the actual cooking a lot easier. This would mean I’d arrive home after work then have to start (literally) from scratch. That’s a pretty exhausting prospective if you left at 07:30 and didn’t get home until around 18:30.

Mise en Place

If you’re a trained chef, or experienced foodie, you’ll know how valuable the ‘mise en place’ can be. It certainly makes the production of a specific dish seemingly more effortless. Literally, ‘putting in place’ what you need for a specific recipe may seem like a lot of effort, but it also helps avoid you making mistakes, especially if the dish is unfamiliar.

Watch any TV cook and everything will have been pre-weighed and chopped, leaving them simply to demonstrate how to combine and cook the ingredients in the right order.

Getting ahead

Prepping specific parts of a dish is something I could have been doing before, but never have until now. Imagine needing a cooked sweet potato for fish cakes. In the past, I’d have had to wait for the potato to cook, let it cool a little, then mix in the remaining ingredients. Now, with my newly-discovered cooking super-power, I’m ahead of the game. The potato is baked in the oven the day before, so all I have to do is some deft chopping, a bit of stirring, and we have ready-to-go fish cakes. This helps when family members are wont to say, “What time’s dinner?” at a moment’s notice.

Weekend cooking

At the weekend, there are lots of opportunities to get ahead with food prep. I’m loving Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi’s Diabetes Weight-loss Cook Book, which I mentioned in my last post. Their low-carb lasagne is delicious and I now make my own vegetarian version of it. But, like any lasagne, it requires several stages to prepare. So, yesterday, I made the ‘spinach lasagne’ sheets in advance, cooked the bechamel when I found 20 minutes to spare, and assembled the whole thing during the evening. Today, we’ll have a home-cooked ready meal, with none of the chaos associated with trying to organise the various components all at once (and I’m not a very tidy cook, so this is a good thing!).

Slow cooking

I like the idea of prepping different dishes slowly, over a day or so. Who says you have to slave over a hot-stove, ready to serve a meal as soon as it’s cooked? It certainly takes the stress out of weekday evenings to have food partially prepared. And although you do have to think ahead, taking the slow route to food prep’ is even better if you realise that you’ve run out of something. It’s not unheard of in our house for tasty morsels, destined to go in a particular dish, to be eaten by someone who fancies them as a snack!

So often, we say there isn’t time to cook. But perhaps there is. We just have to fill those spare moments, say while the kettle’s boiling for a cup of tea, with some casual weighing of ingredients or some gentle stirring on the hob. Preparing food in this way also – for me – means that when we do sit down to eat, I enjoy it all the more.

p.s.

Low Carb Lasagne, adapted from The Diabetes Weight-Loss Cookbook

Spinach ‘Pasta’ layers:

Blend together :
370-400g defrosted spinach, squeezed from a 900g bag of frozen spinach
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
8 tbsp almond/cow’s milk
1 heaped tbsp psyllium husk powder (get this from Amazon)

Spread across 2 baking sheets that have been lined with oiled baking parchment. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees C (fan) for 8-10 minutes.

Allow to cool.

‘Ragu’:

I make a simple veggie version of what could otherwise be a beef ragu.

Combine a large jar of passata with capers, olives, lemon zest, a dash of olive oil and a ti of lentils (I like puy lentils for this).

Use this as your ragu layer.

‘Bechamel’:

550ml almond/cow’s milk
4 tbsp cornflower
4 tbsp double cream
50g butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1 bay leaf

Mix 3 tbsp of the milk with the cornflower in a small bowl. Pour into a saucepan with the remaining ingredients, then put over a medium heat. Whisk to combine, removing from the heat when the sauce has thickened and is bubbling. Season.

If you don’t want to make a bechamel, you could use some ricotta cheese, which I used in the version shown below.

Making up the lasagne:

With 50g parmesan and 125g mozzarella, proceed as follows:

Drop spoonfuls of the bechamel and ragu into a lasagne dish measuring c. 22 x 26 cm. Don’t mix them together. Layer onto this some parmesan and mozzarella, then use some of the spinach lasagne (cut to fit) as your ‘pasta’ layer. Keep going until you have used up all the ingredients.

Bake for 30 minutes at 200 degrees C (fan), then let everything settle for 15 minutes before tucking in.

My version looked like this:

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Living the Blue Zones way on Blue Monday

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a sucker for a new recipem book. And it’s true that probably the only things I regret letting go of in my decluttering phase are some of my lesser-used cookbooks.

Most recently, we’ve been enjoying the wonderful recipes from The Diabetes Weight Loss Cookbook by Katie Caldesi. These low carb, creative and incredibly tasty dishes offer a lighter take on tradional recipes with an italian twist. I’m also keen to have a look at Amelia Freer’s latest book, Simply Good for You but I am holding myself back because of the book I’m about to describe.

The most significant boost to our New Year’s culinary experimentation has to be the amazing The Blue Zones Kitchen by Dan Buettner.

The Blue Zones concept is amazing; around 15 years ago, Buettner identified the 5 places around the world that have produced the world’s longest-living people. The concept is simple living at its best.

A dip into Blue Zones concept

Here are just 3 interesting aspects of the Blue Zones simple way of life:

Eat a whole food diet

The recipes in The Blue Zones Kitchen are mouth-wateringly good, but simple in their approach. Following the time-honoured recipes of older residents in each location, these dishes are based on just 20 or so basic ingredients and many feature all different types of beans, which – it is recommended – should be eaten every day.

Essentially promoting a plant-based diet, The Blue Zones Kitchen emphasizes whole foods including vegetables, nuts, olive oil (extra-virgin), some grains, lots of greens and fruits with red wine to drink with meals. Out go all kinds of processed foods, plus meat, fish, dairy, eggs and sugar are limited to special occasions or treats.

In our house, we’ve started with a huge pot of home-made Sardinian minestrone soup. That’s going to feel like a hug in a mug when it gets to lunch time today!

Exercise naturally

For exercise, ‘blue-zoners’ enjoy natural movement, especially walking and gardening, to keep them active and healthly throughout their whole lives. What’s refreshing is is that Blue Zones inhabitants simply walk wherever they have to go.

Consider walking up and down the mountains of Sardinia or Ikaria and you’ll realise that will get the heart pumping! That sounds so much more appealing than sitting at a desk all whole day long, then driving to the gym to attempt to offset the lack of activity earlier in the day.

At work, a small number of us who all live relatively near to one another are discussing the idea of setting up a walking group so that we can walk together to/from the office. By doing this, we’d reap the benefits of a simple daily workout whilst also building our social network. I can walk home from work in about 1 hour, 15 minutes, so as the daylight hours extend as we head towards spring, I’m looking forward to doing more of this.

Be sociable without social media

One of the positive aspects of those leading a ‘Blue Zones life’ is what Buettner describes as, “..active engagement with community, friends and family.” Spending quality time with other people increases people’s sense of wellbeing and I’ll be there’s not an iPhone in sight.

Last week, in the news, we learned that UK psychiatrists have said that tech companies must share their data with researchers to help improve understanding of the affects of social media on children. For all of us, having our heads stuck in our phones – even for reading – means that we’re failing to engage with others; make connections; or appreciate what’s going on around us.

This weekend, I intentionally spent less time on my phone and more time in the presence of others. It felt like I’d had several days away from the office, instead of just two. Maybe I should switch it off altogether at the weekends…. that would be an interesting experiment.

Don’t be blue

Today is said to be ‘Blue Monday’, a day that is said to be the most depressing in the year.

So, I say let’s not be blue. Let’s learn a little from the Blue Zones way of life and inject a little simplicity, health and happiness into our lives.


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Going barefoot in 2020

Happy New Year 2020! I hope that this new decade will bring you love, peace and joy. In fact, my word of the year is going to be ‘joy’. What’s yours?

Going barefoot

One of the things that will no doubt bring me joy in 2020 is doing more walking. This requires strength, stamina and flexibility both mentally and physically (and from head to toe). I’ve written before about my ambition to walk the South West Coast Path, which we started back in November. Now, I’ll be stepping up the pace, as we will tackle more of The Path in 2020.

For the longest time, I have mostly been wearing what my Grandma would probably have branded ‘sensible shoes’. As I possess long toes that are crushed inside pointy shoes, I decided some time ago that continuing to wear ill-fitting shoes (and/or shoes with heels) would not be good for my long-term wellbeing.

Plus, I use a standing desk at work, so towering over the keyboard when wearing heels negates the benefits of having the desk at all, as this has a negative effect on posture.

Ecco has been my go-to brand of choice in recent years, but last year I came across minimalist barefoot shoes.

A ‘barefoot shoe’ is an oxymoron

The concept of a barefoot shoe is an oxymoron. You’re not literally going without shoes, but the idea of a barefoot shoe is that you have room for the toes to splay naturally and the foot is able to work in the way God designed! My daughter, seeing the picture of my foot alongside the barefoot shoe was horrified: “Mum!!! You cannot put your FEET! On Instagram!!! Your feet!!!!” But I’ve done it again by posting a picture here. If you don’t like feet, feel free to look away….

I’ve tried the Primus Knit and the Ra Slip On

My first pair (pictured) were the Vivobarefoot Primus Knit in Olive. I have found them to be well-made and exactly as described. They are thin-soled, wide and shallow (note that, if you have a high instep, this shape might not suit you). I feel as though they give my feet a little massage when I wear them and, whilst you can feel the ground beneath your feet, this is not uncomfortable. However, these are not waterproof shoes. Given all the rain we’ve had, I’ve not been able to wear them outside on a wet day. This style is better off kept indoors and for the dry weather.

The Ra Slip On has solved my problem of what to wear in the office. The majority of the Barefoot shoes sold by Vivobarefoot are more ‘sporty spice’ than ‘posh spice.’ The Ra Slip On goes with anything and works just as well with a dress and tights as it does with jeans and a jumper. So far so good!

When the brand re-stocks its boots next autumn, I’m going to be first in line.

Joining the barefoot revolution

Tim Brennan, founder of Vivobarefoot, has now set up a community of barefoot enthusiasts. The idea is to bring barefoot shoes to the masses and revolutionalise health across the world. And why not!? Check out Tim on Instagram where you can see pictures of his inital proof-of-concept shoe and find out how to get involved.

So, what will bring you joy in 2020? Maybe going barefoot can be a part of it?


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