the list

Sunday is menu planning day.  It makes the rest of the week so much easier and I feel good as if I have ticked off a task but don’t feel as if I have actually done any work.

Menu planning means:

  • no more staring at the fridge or pantry wondering what to eat and serving up baked potatoes or spag bol for the millionth time
  • no more panic (and expensive) runs to the shops because you have “nothing to eat”
  • eating down your supplies, “shopping from home”
  • you have time to try out new recipes and experiment
  • buying less food because you only buy what you need
  • appropriate meals for appropriate days (essential if you have a family of teenagers with activities in the evenings)

What’s not to like?

First check your freezer/fridge/pantry.  Always shop from home first.  What have you got that needs using up.  Make a list and bear that in mind when you get to the meal planning stage.


Then take you diary.  Yup, your diary.  See the final point above.  You do not want to plan to eat souffle on a night when you are going to have to pick up one child from a music lesson and your husband gets home late from a trip.  That is a baked potato or casserole type of night.  On the other hand if you have a free day and have a great recipe that requires all day marinading or is a bit fiddly, that’s a great time to try it out.


Now choose a couple of cookery books, or fire up your computer and head for your favourite recipe sites and blogs. This is the fun part.  This week I wanted to use up some chicken thighs and lamb shanks.  I also have a lovely pork joint which we were going to have today until I realised we were going out (see even I get it wrong!).  With that in mind I flicked through the books above and decided upon:

  • Green chicken curry (use up the thighs)
  • mozzarella Focaccia (busy day need something easy)
  • Tangia (free day so can make fiddly marinade)
  • Lime and chilli pasta (going out to drinks party so need quick light food beforehand also children can make theirs fresh later on)
  • Chicken with chilli and lemon (a bit like the previous night so may adapt on the day but liked the recipe)
  • Jerk Pork

There are only six meals because we are going out on Saturday and I’ll let the girls chose what they want on the day.


As soon as you chose a recipe write next to it the book and the page number (you will forget I promise, I speak from bitter experience) AND check ingredients to see what you need to buy.


Then construct the shopping list. We also have a blackboard in the kitchen for anyone to write down things that have run out.  So next I add on these. Finally I add on any extras.  For example I have just seen this recipe for Tropical Ice Box Pie  which I am going to try out this week so I need some extra ingredients for that.


I don’t shop in supermarkets so I group items by shop but if you are a supermarket shopper group the items by the order in which they appear in the shop.  That way you don’t have to go back and forth and you only go down the aisles you need  and helps stop opportunistic buying of stuff you don’t need and is just going to add to the clutter you don’t want.


Finally pin your list somewhere where you can see it!

You may have noticed what I was writing on.  You could do it online on your phone but as you can see from here, I struggle with that.  I keep all our used envelopes, flyers, letters anything with a blank page and clip them together for shopping lists, messages etc.  I’ll keep the spare square above for next week’s menus.

Now that’s all done I think I may go out and admire my garden before it starts to rain again.

win win


This all has to go.  Some of it already has and much of it is already earmarked but that still leaves a lot of stuff.  Do we sell or donate?  This is a hypothetical question because we have already decided but with this much to dispose of it was a substantial dilemma.


My gut (whose advice I follow quite strictly) feeling is to give.  There are two reasons for this, one practical and one emotional.  Practically, it is a pain to have to list hundreds of little things on Ebay (or whatever your preferred sale venue) for potentially very little return.  Experience has suggested that fishing tackle, furniture, high-end clothes sell well and are worth the effort.  The rest no.  There is far too much there to go to one car boot sale, we would have to go every weekend for a month and still no guarantee of sale.  Life is too short to spend it standing behind a pile of junk in the hope that it might be somebody else’s treasure.  Final option was the UK equivalent of a US yard sale.  This might have been a viable option if we had any chance of passing trade, but the pheasants and squirrels have shown little interest in our books and the sheep show little interest full stop.

Emotionally, I feel that I have more than I need, I have a wonderful home and family I want for nothing.  There are people and organisations for whom our duvets and towels would be a lifesaver.  To sell them for pennies which I do not need seems wrong.

So the final decision was as follows:

  • Linen to Durham Women’s Refuge
  • Books to Borderline Books
  • Furniture sold.  Having thought this would be very hard it turned out to be remarkably easy.  Ask and you shall be given.  I just mentioned to a few people that we had some furniture for sale and buyers just came out of the woodwork.
  • Everything  usable to St Cuthbert’s Hospice.
  • The remainder to the recycling centre and tip.

The balance seems right.  I am enjoying seeing everything go, not just because it is wonderful to feel the space they have left behind but also because of the knowledge that instead of rotting away in a cupboard or a shelf unwanted and unused they are going out into the world to be used and loved by people who will genuinely appreciate them.  Win Win.


moving the mindset


With thanks to for the excellent diagram above.

It’s moved, really quite substantially.  Not my mind (though it shudders and shakes on a regular basis as I try to dredge up some vital piece of information such as the preterite tense of ir, I remembered eventually it’s fui, fuiste etc.) but my mindset.  My mindset is becoming more minimalist.   I have a long way to go before I have a house that looks like a John Pawson , if indeed I actually want one.  However, I now find myself wandering around the rooms picking up things and questioning their right to be there.

Today I removed a salt and pepper set, 3 hurricane lamps a (very neat but unnecessary) pile of magazines, a vase and a soap dish.  I wasn’t actually decluttering I was making the beds, doing the laundry and getting ready for the WI meeting. Nonetheless I automatically decluttered, I did it without thinking.  My eyes were seeing things from a different angle to before.

I first noticed the difference when we were in Glasgow and although I was happy to potter around the shops it was mainly because I was enjoying reliving my youth (well my twenties!) rather than the shopping itself. In terms of purchases I bought one pair of shoes £15 (approximate original value from Bally £350) almost unworn, complete with wooden shoe trees to replace a pair that I threw out.  Hardly profligate and wanton consumerism.

So if the mindset is changing, what else will change?  How will that affect the rest of my life and those around me?  I hope it leads to some of the following:

  • more space, not just physical but emotional.  We have all noticed how much nicer the house is with less stuff in it and there is a feeling of movement rather than blockage.
  • more time.  With less to look after and only the things we want to look after I hope we have more time for each other, for doing things we want to do rather than have to do.
  • less pointless decisions (this dress or those shoes for example).
  • opportunities for my daughters to see how a less materialistic life is not a less rich life.
  • questions, discussions and learning from each other.
  • less unnecessary expenditure.

I am coming to the end of the first week of my blog.  This time next year I hope I can look back and tick yes to the above.


I’m still on paper week.  I have a morning routine that, acts of God and teenagers notwithstanding, I stick to like burrs to a dog.

  1.  Get up, dress, drink large mug of black tea and large glass of pink grapefruit juice.
  2. Take Singers to station for school.
  3. Return home and have second mug of black tea.  Check emails/blog etc and have breakfast (fruit and yoghurt/porridge/toast and marmite or marmalade depending on mood and state of pantry).
  4. Read and contemplate Bible verses from New Daylight.
  5. Write 3 things in my gratitude journal.
  6. Complete daily entry in slightly offbeat Keel’s Diary.
  7. Write Morning Pages.
  8. Meditate and Pray

After that I am more or less ready to face the rest of the world and am a nicer person for the rest of the world to have to face back.

Now, your starter for ten.  How many of the above require me to use a pen and/or paper?  The answer is 3.  Actually it is less than I had thought.  Are they necessary – ABSOLUTELY!  Can I do it differently – maybe.

New Daylight

Bible reading notes that I have been using for years and love.  And guess what – available online.  I don’t need to buy a book, I can read them on my laptop or my phone.  Advantage Gillie

Gratitude Journal

Three things, every day, for which I am grateful.  Sometimes I just about manage (1) I am alive (2) my family is alive (3) we have a roof over our heads.  But it is rare that I am that desperate.  Yesterday’s were (1) A beautiful walk home from book club along the lane at 11pm (2) Friends like V and L  (3) The soft wet nose of a dog who wants a cuddle.


I could write these in an online journal somewhere, but no, I don’t want to.  I have a beautiful blue soft leather journal The Boss bought for me from Sorella.  I feel happy just unwrapping it.  I love flicking through the previous entries.  Some repeat time after time, some reflect the position I was in at the time and some make me laugh  “Two perfect poached eggs for supper”!  Deuce

Keels Simple Diary


You have to see it to understand it.  I am on my second volume.  I have been a diary keeper from the moment I could write (a problem in itself – what on earth do I do with all those diaries, especially the mortifyingly embarrassing ones full of teenage angst and unrequited love?)  But when you write in a diary you write what you can remember, what you want to remember and how you want to remember it.  With the Keels Diary you have to fill in the gaps.  So for yesterday I had to answer:

Your day was:   a woodpecker     hip     a heartbreaker

Explain why:

This is engagingly vulgar:

What is for good?

The ideal time frame for SOON: a) not to be worlds apart  b) to be home some time after midnight c) surprising others with an earlier arrival or delivery

NEVER 1. Spit in someone’s face 2. Mess with children  3. Burn a book 4. Always be nice   5. One more time.

I had to consciously think about my day, what was it like?  Why was it like that?  What do I think?

It’s maybe not for all, but I love it.  As a little quirk of my own I write each day in the appropriate colour for the day (synaesthesia – go on look it up!)

There is apparently an app for this.  UGH.   I don’t want to fill in an app I want to write and doodle and use the right colour for the right day (Tuesday is yellow)  GAME SET AND MATCH

Morning Pages

Ha!  This was easy.  I use  I know that Julia Cameron says that it should be longhand.  But I type faster than I write and I think even faster.  Longhand was taking me ages and leaving my thoughts behind.  Anyway I like the little badges I can earn and these aren’t pages I ever intend to read again. They are a mind dump.  Online is perfect  DEUCE

But is it?  Zero waste is about throwing things out.  Neither my gratitude journal nor my Keels Diary are going to be thrown out in my lifetime (unlike those awful teenage diaries).  It is rather passing the buck to my children, but hey they have to make some decisions for themselves.  ADVANTAGE GILLIE

finding out the hard way

I haven’t bought a newspaper and I have looked at the possibility of subscribing on my kindle.  I can’t see a problem with that apart from one thing.  The Crossword.  This is a major feature of my newspaper reading habit.  I love crosswords.  I don’t want a book of them I don’t want to do them online.  I like to do what I can and then the next day look at the answers and try to work out how the heck they got from “Fighting observed in the capital”  to Warsaw.  That was an easy one.  How about.  “Cat heard in seaside playground”.  Answer Lynx.  Lynx (cat) sounds like (heard) links (seaside golf course).

Apart from the crossword issue the online sub is quite good for me because I am an anal newspaper reader.  One page out of line and I have to put the whole thing on the floor and realign and straighten and decrease all the pages.  When the Boss reads the paper he leaves it like this.


It gives me palpitations and has been the cause of many a marital discord.

Magazines are a bit harder.  The Boss bought me a subscription for Country Living, I get a copy of The Garden with my RHS membership and I often buy copies of Mslexia and  Pretty Nostalgic, not to mention various other less artful or intellectual publications 🙂  I don’t have an iPad (as a writer I really need a proper keyboard and decent sized screen) and I can’t read them on my phone and I don’t want to read them , even if I can, in black and white on my kindle.  So my options are (a) buy the magazine and recycle to the Doctors’ surgery (I can’t compost glossy paper); (b) read it at the library if they have it; (c) buy an iPad or (d) don’t read magazines.


At the moment none of them particularly appeal.  I would quite like an iPad but I don’t need one and to spend money I don’t have on something just so I can read magazines seems quite ridiculous and certainly not ecologically sound.

Books are far easier.  I have a kindle and I am quite happy reading on it.  Some books do not, in my experience, work well on kindles.  Cookery books for one.  I am an adventurous and happy cook.  I have an extensive (I really do mean quite extensive, but compared to my mother’s paltry) collection of books and they do all get used.  I plan menus each week in advance and pull out 2-4 books for each week’s menus.  Many of my books are out of print (the lovely Robert Carrier Taste of Morocco for example)



and wouldn’t be available on kindle.  There is no point replacing what I already have with digital copies.  I have already polluted the earth and used up trees buying the books, it would be a double waste to ditch them and buy online copies.  So books I already have and want to keep (ie not the 400 going to Borderline) stay.

What of future purchases?  Novels etc. online definitely, or charity shops, or swaps or library.  No purchases of new novels.  But then what about gifts?  What about the book you read over and over and over and has your notes in the margins.  This isn’t as straightforward as it seems.

Thus far my posts seem to be endless questions.  Going low, or even zero waste is not any easy option.  There is more to it than recycling and composting and boy am I finding out the hard way.

the insidious nature of paper

Monday morning was a bit of a rush.  I was chairing a meeting at 10.00 and there were a whole load of little jobs I wanted to get down before I left.  So I grabbed my Uncalendar and began my to do list.   Then I stopped.  The first written word of the day.


I have a perfectly good phone I could write my list on there.  This is hurting.  I HATE using electronic planners and diaries.  I am totally wedded to the system I have set up for myself using a Filofax and Uncalendar.  I am an organisational freak, I could write an entire blog about how to organise your life, your cupboards.  I am the little girl who catalogued all her books and thought organising her knicker drawer was a good way to while away an afternoon.  I cannot go digital.

I knew this would hurt.  But I didn’t realise how much.  Still, this week is about noticing where and how I used the written word, printed or handwritten and looking at how I can change my habits.  It is not about cutting them all out on day one.  Which is a great relief.

I could change to digital insofar as digital diaries and planners exist.  But first of all they have to be charged on a regular basis, secondly you have to turn it on, scroll to the right page, bring up the keyboard, type it in and save.  Compare that to filofax.  Open, remove pen from pen loop, write, close.


Also I am a very visual person.  I could never use a digital clock because I can’t see the space between the time now and the time I have to be at a meeting for example.  Instead I have to work out that there are 50 minutes between now 13.30 and the meeting 14.20.  Consequently when I open my filofax I can see my week.  I understand what the arrows mean across various days.  I can see the space in my day.  It gets a bit more complicated when I move into the Uncalendar, but I cannot imagine turning that into something manageable digitally and still being able to give me an instant picture.

At the meeting there was an agenda and the minutes of the previous meeting.  Both of these are on my laptop so no problem there.  I was unexpectedly minute taker as well and I did that by hand.  I could easily have done that on the laptop so a lesson learned there.

One of the charities we are supporting came to give us a presentation.  It was excellent – he gave out business cards at the end.  I took one.  Why?  I have his email address, I have his website address with all his contact details.  I didn’t need to take a bit of cardboard.  Lesson Two.

On the way home I dropped off a carpet stretcher we had hired to replace the flooded carpet in Singer Two’s bedroom.  On hiring it I was given a receipt.  On returning it I was given another one.  Why did there need to be two?

I sent a parcel to Ireland and was given a receipt.  I didn’t ask for proof of posting.

It is only mid afternoon and I have already accumulated 4 pieces of unwanted words and paper.  I haven’t even looked at the post yet.

the written word

papersSo I felt good after the pantry clear out.  It is more spacious, I can see what we have and there should be no more duplicate purchases.  But it’s not just that is it?  It’s not just what I buy but how I buy it.

Bea Johnson uses Whole Foods which is all well and good if you (a) have one or something similar near you and (b) if you are happy to shop in a supermarket.  Neither of those are the case for me.  It is true that one of the advantages of shopping at the butcher, fishmonger, greengrocer and direct from the producer is that there is going to be less packaging as well as less food miles and a greater knowledge of the provenance of the food itself.  But packaging there is, and sometimes quite a lot.

Then what about the dry goods and toiletries?  I can buy in bulk from Suma   but refilling of existing containers is impossible if you are buying mail order.  I believe one of the local farm shops allows refilling of bottles of washing liquid etc.  But I live in the countryside and if I have to drive some distance to four or five different locations to do my shopping my carbon footprint is growing from fuel use as fast as it is shrinking from waste reduction.

I feel I almost need to create a criteria triangle with the most important at the bottom.  In no particular order they are, I think:

  • local
  • ethical
  • low/zero packaging
  • low/zero additive
  • purchased as close to source as possible and not from supermarket

We have just finished putting the paper edition of The Durham Local Food Directory  together.  Ignoring for a moment the apparent irony of having a paper directory as well as an online one (there is a good reason and we did think long and hard but that is for another post).  It has not passed me by that it is somewhat ironic for one of the founder members of Durham Local Food to be in a quandry.  But the point is that it is about more than food it’s about clothes, books, furnishing, garden equipment, paint, loo roll, cutlery it’s about every single thing that comes over my threshold.


It seemed at first rather overwhelming, then it became exciting.  A challege.  Just how much of a difference can I make.  The risk is that I will try to do it all at once.  That is my usual MO and tends to lead to failure and abdonment.  I need to take one area at a time.  I am tempted to start with food, but I am already fairly food aware.  I need to tackle something that I have overlooked in the past.  Something close to my heart, something that will make me sit up and rethink.  I will start with reading matter.

  • books
  • magazines
  • newspapers
  • flyers
  • business cards
  • print outs for Messy Church/Sunday School
  • advertising
  • office paperwork
  • cards and letters
  • photograph albums (I write in mine so I think that counts)
  • journals

We read quite a lot.  Much more than I realised.  I don’t want to stop reading but can I change the way I do it?  Task for this week.  The written word.

books one

How do I consume the written word? Can I do so in a less wasteful manner?

the pantry


It wasn’t as hard as I had expected.  I am in the groove now.  I still have to locate the  out of date anchovies that my husband has turned into paste.  I know him too well.  He will convert something we have not used into something else we will not use and eventually I will be allowed to throw it out.  No more.  I have removed all food items we will not eat and, where possible fed them to the chickens, the rest have been put on the compost.

I use a weekly menu plan and shop only for those items that I need for the weeks’ meals but do not have in stock.  This encourages me to use my cookery books and try out new recipes as well as making it a lot easier at the end of the day.  All I have to do is look at the list on the fridge and open the appropriate recipe book at the appropriate page.  Life is much easier that way.  I keep my diary to hand when menu planning, if I am going to be out all day and then doing the Mummy taxi run in the evening there is no point planning a meal that requires preparation and last minute attention.  On the other hand, if I have a day at home and everyone home by 6.00 then we can go for something a little more adventurous.

On a good week I shop from the larder and the freezer.  Unfortunately now the freezer is mainly offering up those odd things we bought because they looked interesting.  I love heart for example, it is tasty and cheap.  I am going to struggle to slip it under the teenage radar.  We usually buy a whole or half sheep.  For some obscure reason I asked for one of the legs to be left whole.  Dinner for 15 anyone?

This is what I hope to avoid in the future.  No more whimsical purchases.  A freezer with only food we know we will eat and know when we will eat it.

Tonight all the girls are out.  So the Boss and I are having lobster and crab salad.  That’s two items out of the freezer, salad from the garden and dressing made with the ends of various oil and vinegar bottles.  A good clear up dinner I think.


Removing things we neither need nor want is, to all intents and purposes, shutting the door after the first horse has bolted.  The first step is to stop those things getting in the house in the first place.  The first R in Bea Johnson’s mantra is Refuse.

What can I refuse to let into my home?

  • Packaging
  • Junk Mail
  • Bags (plastic/paper etc)
  • Books
  • Clothes
  • Food
  • Disposable items
  • DVDs
  • CDs
  • Plastic bottles
  • Yoghurt pots
  • Knick Knacks
  • Freebies
  • Unwanted gifts
  • Impulse purchases
  • Guilt purchases


That’s not your usual list.  I’ve highlighted a few that you might not have expected to see.  How can we get by without food for example?  But I didn’t say no food, I mean food we don’t need.  Look at just one shelf in your cupboard and take everything out.  Put back ONLY the things that you know you need.  Do you need

  • The bag of cookies 5 for £1 at the co-op checkout.
  • The super hot chilli sauce you bought at a food fair and is still unopened.
  • The various jars of sauces and marinades.
  • The sushi kit you bought after a great meal out

In our case we have all of the above and the answer is no.  I make better cookies, sauces and marinades hence the jars gathering dust and the stale cookies.  I love sushi but I prefer somebody else to make it.

This is about rethinking how we live and what we need and want to live that life.  Today and tomorrow I am tackling the kitchen.  This is the penultimate big room before I move into the outbuildings.  It is the one I am most scared of doing.  I love to cook, preparing food for family and friends is part of how I show my love and how I nurture and care.  I need to rethink how I can do that without all the unnecessary extras.

liberation in glasgow


Glasgow is a wonderful city. It holds a special place in my heart because it is the town to which I moved to get married (we were actually married in Inverness, another city which has wormed deep into my heart) but even without the emotional attachment it is a city with a life, an edge, a history.  I find Edinburgh rather cold, a little too concerned about the length of its skirt, the cut of its hair and frankly too full of Anglo Scots who pop on a kilt for the odd wedding and thus claim descent from Robert the Bruce.

The Boss and I once went to a party not far from Linlithgow.  Everybody else there was coming from Edinburgh.  They were all perfectly charming but several confessed conspiratorily to us that apparently there was a couple coming from Glasgow – did we know them?  We revealed ourselves but assured them that we had left our second heads andI murderous weapons behind.  I rest my case, the best thing to come out of Edinburgh is the M8.

However, this is not a travel blog.  Earlier this week the Boss and I were up in Glasgow to see The Other Boss at Hampden Park.  It was a fabulous evening from the little girl in Roganos on Buchanan showing off her party dress and the mum with twins who wanted to know what they would be like when they grew up (expensive), to the couple who shared a taxi with us (the queue for the train was practically over the Kingston Bridge) and wouldn’t take a penny from us to the Keeper from Aberfeldy we met in the bar back at our hotel and talked salmon with the Boss and of course the concert, all three and three quarters of an hour of it was magic.

The afternoon beforehand and the morning after before we got on our train home we pottered around some of our old haunts.  We walked down streets we had last pounded when we were footlose and fancy free.  We marvelled at some developments and were saddened by some streets that had lost their glory.  We window shopped.  That’s not strictly true, we went inside plenty of shops but apart from the shoes I had no desire to buy.  I could appreciate beauty and form, practicality and design but I didn’t want any of it.  I didn’t need it.

Like a binger who ate just one doughnut too many I couldn’t face another purchase of something I didn’t really need.  Yes the Liberty print dress in the Hospice shop was beautiful and a steal at £15 but I don’t need it.  I have plenty of perfectly lovely dresses already and my one in one out policy would necessitate giving away a perfectly good dress.

I didn’t even look at the second hand books.  In the great clear out I discovered so many books I had bought and forgotten that I don’t need any new books.  Not until I have read the ones I already have and passed them on to new homes.

It was liberating.