thank you

Thank you for joining me this year.  Whether you lurk or post you are just as welcome. 

Here in the UK we have six hours until 2014.  Some of you may already be welcoming the new year and some of you will have almost a whole day to go.  Wherever you are I wish you a happy and peaceful 2014, may it bring you happiness, a frisson of excitement, a dash of the unexpected and a good dollop of love.

the dead zone

The presents have been sort of put away.  The fridge is full of leftovers, not enough for a whole meal on their own but little bowls of stuff.  Your Christmas guests have departed and even the dogs aren’t trying to eat the last chocolates.  What do you do between Christmas and New Year?


In some countries it is business as usual, 26th December isn’t a public holiday and everybody troops back to work until 1st of January when the hangover cures come out and regretful memories of jaegerbombs and advocaat bang around sore heads.  However, for some, particularly large parts of the UK the holiday starts on the evening of 24th December and stretches out until the alarm goes on 2nd January.

I have to admit I love the long Christmas holiday.  I have my family around me, I can have a lie in, I don’t have to cook much as we have a long list of family traditional leftover meals that would spark a revolution if we didn’t prepare, I have lots of books to read, I can plan for 2014 and the dogs get long and wet walks.

But that time is also a great gift and it is easy to squander it, to look back at that fortnight and wonder what on earth you did. So, why not shift that backside, shake those legs and try something different….

  • Go to a local attraction, you know, the one you never go to because you live next door.  Better still go to one aimed at children and families and let your inner child out playing the treasure hunt or working out why ice is solid, feed the reindeer and make a paper snowflake.
  • Play one in one out with your christmas presents.  Unless you were given a Picasso for Christmas the chances are that you already have several of whatever you were given, but the new ones fit/work/go with your decor.  Throw or donate the grey knickers, the books you have read the scarf you never wear, the shoes that don’t quite fit.  This isn’t a clear out it is a single swap.
  • See if there are any matinee tickets for the local panto.  The evenings will definitely be sold out but trying to feed everyone and be in your seats for 7.30 can be a pain anyway.  Far easier to have an early lunch and work it all off with Widow Twankey (UK readers only I am afraid 🙂 )
  • Get out that book you keep meaning to read but never have the time.  Maybe it’s a heavy duty history book, an esoteric guide to comparative religion, a thumping great biography or a cookery book you have never had the time to try out.  You have the time now.
  • Bake.  Yes I know you were cooking right up until midnight on Christmas Eve.  But this is fun cooking, not mass catering I am talking about.  Bake cookies and decorate them with wild and ridiculous colours.  Have a go at making your own croissants or brioche, or bourbon biscuits, or custard creams….
  • Go to the garden centre and search out the “scratch and dent” corner.  They all have them, the corner where the dead looking plants are.  Most of them aren’t dead just hibernating but you can get fantastic bargains and now you have the time to bring them home and give them a little tlc before planting them out.
  • Paint.  No I do not mean redecorate.  This is most certainly NOT the time for that.  If you have always wanted to have a go at painting, palmistry, papier mache, pottery, philosophy then get out a book from the library, go online and have a go. This isn’t a full on course, this is spend an afternoon doing something simple you always said you would but never have.   Not everything has to begin with P by the way.


Decluttering is not just about getting stuff out of your house, it’s about getting stuff out of your life so that there is room in your life for the stuff that you love and that really matters to you.  If you are fortunate enough to have time off this Christmas, then why not use some of that time to find out exactly what it is that you love and matters to you.  It isn’t always as obvious as you think.


here’s to the best year yet ….

I am not one to go in for new year resolutions but I am all in favour of new year plans.  Which I suppose are a variation on the NYR with more backup.  If your NYR was one of the pretty standard ones “I want to lose 20lb” then even the most ill forward thinker would have enough nouse to know that the 20lb will not just fall off all of its own accord.  A plan is required to assist the process.  This is variously known as “going on a diet”,  “eating more sensibly”, “joining the gym” or “bloody  hell my bikini has been shrunk”.



The problem is with all those other more nebulous resolutions.  “I will declutter”  “I will spend less money”,  “I will write more letters and send less emails”  “We will grow more of our own veg”.  The resolution is made, the virtuosity index hits the roof and then……….. nothing happens.

How you plan is entirely up to you.  But there are three vital ingredients to achieving what you want to do, PLAN, PLAN and PLAN.  I have tried various systems over the years, both my own and those dreamt up by other people.  My personal favourite is The Best Year Yet  I first used it some six years ago and worked from the book .  Now I use the website because I like the interactive monthly and weekly goal setting, the interactive review process and the information about how well I am doing at each goal.

There are a plethora of systems out there, don’t take too long looking at them all.  At the end of the day it is your goals that count not how you get to them.

Once goals are in place you need to break them down into manageable chunks and that is where I love BYY.  I can print out a weekly set of tasks that are directly related to each goal and pin them in the appropriate page in my uncalendar.  So when I am planning my tasks each day I am reminded every time I look at my to do list of the things I have to do if I want to have my best year yet.

I am a bit of an organiser freak, and readers of my previous blog Skybluepinkish will have journeyed with me as  I sought to find the best way to keep my life on track.  For the past year and a half I have gone back to my filofax


and added an uncalendar .


The former holds my diary, notes and bits and bobs.  The latter is command control.  It holds my daily to do list, meeting notes, telephone messages and notes to self.  Weekly accountability for personal disciplines (eg yoga, walking, meditation, morning prayer and journalling routines etc.), weekly menu plans, anything at all that pertains to day to day living.

Whatever rocks your boat.  But even if you make a plan it won’t work unless you have a means of breaking down the plan into manageable chunks and keeping track of your progress.  Personal accountability is key.

And what does this have to do with decluttering or minimalism or living a clearer life?  Look around you.  How many half finished jobs, half finished craft projects are lying around your home.  How many half completed ideas are cluttering up your brain and oozing guilt every time you come across them.  How many grand plans have been cut short for lack of funds – how much  money have you paid out on clothes, food, petrol, insurance, books etc because you didn’t think ahead and had to purchase in an emergency?  What if you had saved that money, could that grand plan have come to fruition?

Whatever you want to do.  Wherever you want to be this time next year, it won’t happen all on its own.


financial straits

By all accounts we are not poor.  I am well aware that our income puts us well in the upper percentage of the population, please do not post to say how lucky we are,  I am well aware of that, but that does not mean we do not have to watch our pennies, that we do not look at our bank account and panic.  We don’t party wildly, or have expensive cars (far from it, the elderly RAV has just been condemned, do hope there is no snow this year or we are stuffed) or go on glamorous holidays yet still it can be difficult.

Going down the minimalist route has been interesting, and at times bumpy.  Rome was not built in a day, there have been times when I have looked at a scarf or a pair of curtains and thought they would be “just perfect”.  However, I have remembered that I already have a perfectly good scarf and perfectly good curtains and even if I did want them and even if I could afford them…. there are more important things I could spend my money on.

This month I have kept a record of every single penny I have spent, and furthermore I have given that record to the Boss.  The need to be completely transparent is the best way to keep a rein on spending.  My particular weakness has been books, Amazon and every bookshop in County Durham has been the benefit of my obsession.  You will not be surprised to know that my to be read pile is so large as to be at risk of attracting the attention of the planning department as an unauthorised structure.  This month I have come across several books that I would like to read.  This time I put them on my Christmas wish list.

There is a reason why Weightwatchers is so successful, it is the transparency and the sharing.  If you are trying to cut back on your spending, then don’t do it alone.  It is rarely the big purchases that do the damage but the little ones.  “Watch the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves” is indeed true.  We don’t begrudge a little treat here and there, a book for £5.99 or a lipstick for £10.  If that were all and you have the disposable income then it wouldn’t matter, but it becomes an issue when  those little purchases become a habit.  Team up with a friend and agree to reveal all your expenditure to each other.  You can set your own terms, you may decide to keep your rent or mortgage and heating bills for example to yourself.  But try to be as transparent as you can.  It will make you question every purchase and you will be surprised if not shocked at how many you really do not need.  I certainly have.


planet smellie


Oh jolly dee.  It’s that time of year again.  Sleigh bells, Nativity plays, mince pies, hangovers, overdrafts and thirty six new pairs of socks.  Oh yes, and the annual update from Planet Smellie.

Animal tally much as last year although Meg had a close shave earlier this year.  Copious quantities of steroids later and she has bounced back tremendously, they don’t seem to have done much for her farts however which are now more pungent than ever.   Not bad for a 15 year old springer though.

We have finally understood why the Dancer’s bedroom is so heart attack inducingly messy.  For she has applied to medical school and when she starts rummaging around in people’s insides she will already have had plenty of practice locating hidden objects and will thus have a head start on her more tidy colleagues.

The Singers have been choosing their A-Level options.  We can only hope that deciding on the answers on the actual exam papers will be easier.  Final decisions have now been made and their minds have moved on to where they would like to do their work experience.  Singer Two has opted for a law firm and Singer One for the Police.  That is quite handy.  Should you plough your car into the central reservation, The Dancer will patch you up, Singer One will lock you up and Singer Two will stitch you up.

I have finally left Choristers, only two years after I originally gave my notice. I am now a lady of leisure.  Although I maintain I got more peace and quiet when I went out to work.  And as The Boss  pointed out I got paid as well.  President of the Brancepeth Village WI does not bring in any remuneration but is a lot more fun.

The Boss has managed to get himself on the more interesting lecture circuit after years of Leeds, Nottingham and Glasgow et al.  He and his helpful bag carrier spent three wonderful days in Padua in October, even if we did have to wrap the truffle risotto mix in eight plastic bags in an attempt to keep the smell volume down.  It didn’t work by the way and The Boss’s  jumpers would have been lethal had he worn them anywhere near a sniffer dog.  In February our intrepid pair are flying off to Australia.  This is both extremely exciting and extremely worrying as The Dancer is being left at home as the “Responsible Adult in Charge”.  No we do not want to hear your horror stories, we have heard enough already and have very vivid imaginations.

So that brings our news to a close.  We hope 2013 has treated you well and wish you a peaceful and happy 2014.


london calling …..

The Singer and I are off to London for the weekend.  She turned 18 last month and this is her birthday treat.  I had one at the same age and I still remember it.  We are staying at The Savoy (thank you for club deals…..) going to dinner on Friday evening.  On Saturday she, like I did, will go to Stephen Glass for a make up lesson and then we join my stepmother for lunch before going on to Les Senteurs for her to choose a perfume, a present from my stepmother.  Dirty Dancing (the musical not us) on Saturday evening and then on Sunday afternoon tea at Browns before we head home.

A weekend that I hope will make as much a  mark on her memory as my same weekend did on mine.  My perfume was Mitsouko and I still wear it.

However, you will notice that there are no great plans for shopping.  Well not for me anyway.  The Singer has birthday money and has her eye on a snuggly cardigan and a good pair of boots.  But other than window shopping and people watching I just want to soak up the Christmas atmosphere and marvel at the conspicuous consumption that I no longer feel any desire to partake in.

I wondered if the Singer would feel differently but as we have talked about what she would like to do she has concentrated most on dinner, the theatre and the astonishing roof top bar at ME that I suggested we went to for pre-theatre supper and drinks.  To be fair, she hasn’t waxed lyrical about the possibility of taking in the V&A or the British Museum – but heck she is 18 and it’s her birthday weekend not mine!

small business saturday … do you care enough?

It’s not long until the weekend, and as I pointed out in my last post, not long until Christmas either.  Even the most minimalist of families need food, and most of us like to be able to celebrate with something a little bit special at Christmas.  Curried tripe is all very well (and pretty much the only way I can eat it) but it is not what I would like to see on our Christmas table.  We are fortunate enough to be able to chose what we eat, to have plenty of it and to be able to enjoy a celebratory meal.  This post isn’t about how much to spend but how you spend it.

This Saturday is Small Business Saturday.  Where are you planning on buying your groceries?  Will it be online with Tesco or with the local greengrocer?  Some people are fortunate enough to have this around the corner six days a week.



Beautiful isn’t it?


Here is a bit more.


And a bit more.


This is Padua.  Even the best British markets and Farmers’ markets cannotP1000099 compete with this and while envy is not an emotion I encourage I do have some difficulty keeping the little  green eyed monster at bay when I see pictures like this.  I was brought up in Notting Hill Gate and my mother now lives in Notting Hill (and yes they ARE different!).  She has the Portabello Road on her doostep, if anything were to persuade me to live in London again that might be it.

But I don’t live in London, nor Padua.  On the other hand I can shop at

  • Monty the Butcher, with the loudest voice in the north east and the biggest smile.
  • Durham Indoor Market with a fish counter, cheese and game counter, bakers, greengrocers and old fashioned sweetie shop.
  • Abundant Earth,  a workers’ coperative growing  vegetables  under the permaculture method
  • Robinsons the greengrocers, who have everything I could ever need and go out of their way to find even the wierdest vegetables
  • The Golden Pearl, the best stocked chinese and thai supermarket outside Chinatown and a lovely onsite cafe too.
  •  Humphrey’ family run bakers, you can see them rolling and kneading through the back.
  • A good number of farm shops with their own butcheries

There are plenty more and as one of the founders of The Durham Local Food Network I would point you in the direction of our directory if you would like to source produce local to our county.

Yes, it IS easier to book it all online  but what are you doing with the time instead?  Going to the gym?  Running the children to some extra curricular activity?  Why not walk down your high street with them.  Why not take some exercise, educate your children on where their food comes from, interest them in choosing what you buy and how you cook it, share the cooking with them.  Shop local.  If you don’t now you won’t have the choice tomorrow.

farthings and fancy cars

Christmas is coming the goose is getting fat

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat

If you haven’t got a penny a farthing will do

If you haven’t got a farthing God bless you.



Christmas is indeed coming, but farthings (a quarter of a penny) are long gone.  The man with the hat is sadly still with us.  I was speechless to read the news reports about “Black Friday”.  With apologies to my American readers, but this is yet another US import that we really could have done without.  As I try to gradually rid our house of all the unnecessary stuff that we have accumulated without even noticing (sometimes I really do think that clutter does procreate and at the rate of rats as well) people are killing each other in order to get a discount on something they probably didn’t even know they wanted.

What is our relationship with belongings?  Why do we feel the need to own things, does it validate us?  We are probably quite unusual in that we have never taken out a loan to buy a car, we always buy second hand and we buy the best we can afford with the money we are prepared to send.  Consequently I have never owned an Audi nor a Merc nor a Range Rover.  We have to have a 4×4 because of where we live and we have a 16 year old RAV (one careful female owner whose father happened to be a car mechanic and only 80,000 on the clock – private sale for less than £2K)  It does what it says on the tin.  I don’t need to say who I am by the car I drive.

We do need the basics for life and most of us would like some creature comforts,  I am not for a moment suggesting that asceticism is the only way to go but I am staggered by the conspicuousness of the consumption.  I like to look good, I like my home to look good and feel comfortable, I like a car that starts and I enjoy my food and drink.  I do not need 50 handbags and 20 black skirts.  We need only one fridge and as long as it is the right size for our family and keeps the food cold does it matter how old it is?

Age and background don’t seem to make any difference.  Is it our fault?  Have we brought this upon ourselves? Can we stem the tide or is it too late?

It is the third day of Advent.  If you would like to do it a little bit differently you could do no worse than read Stephen Cottrell’s excellent book.

Do nothing – Christmas is coming