29 June 2012

Shiny Somethings

1.   Exclusive Starbucks Emma Bridgewater Mug

When two of my favourite brands team up I can't help but get excited. So when Starbucks commissioned an exclusive Emma Bridgewater mug I was immediately interested - of course it helped that it was quite cute too. I love the bold colours and the blue retro font around the rim. After the egg cups I bought last week, I really couldn't justify a second purchase, but when an email arrived announcing an eBay free listing day I saw the solution. A quick sweep of my kitchen dresser found several small items that hadn't proved as useful as I'd hoped. So I've sent several items off to new homes, and made room for this patriotic mug in the cupboard.

2.   Blog Planners

This week I've spent a lot of time researching blog planners. I've really got to start planning ahead so I'm not publishing three articles one week and just the Step Down Sunday rest of the month. I've got a whole Pinterest Board devoted to them, but here are a few of my favourites.

3. Hawkshead, Lake District
Monday I tagged along on a trip to the Lake District with my parents. My favourite was probably Hawkshead where I found this quaint corner. I love the Union Jack bunting down this lush floral path!

4.  Lucky Clover

Everyone has a special talent, though it isn't always practical. My mother's is an uncanny ability to find four leaf clover. Since she was a child she's always had an eye for lucky clover, and growing up I was often presented them on walks. Tuesday we stopped at a pub on our way back from the Lake District, and as my mother stood in the parking lot chatting on her phone she spotted a the handsome specimen on the left. She made me roll down the window on the car so she could give it to me and wandered back to the verge. A few minutes later she was back with the second.  I've taped them to the back of the wedding photos Mr Goldfish and I keep in our wallets. I think we need all the luck we can get as we start IVF.

If you'd like to share your own Shiny Somethings, feel free to leave a link in the comments below!

27 June 2012

Proof that Patience can be Rewarding

As if life wasn’t busy enough at the moment, last Thursday I got an email that had me bounding around the house in excitement. After years of relisting my wedding dress over and over, someone actually wanted to buy it! In fact they were even willing to pay more if I’d stop the auction early!

At first I was scared to even mention it out loud, as if somehow that might sour my luck. I was also aware that being a high price item, we were always at risk of scams and tricksters and I was slightly worried that stopping the auction early was some sort of ploy – but by Friday night I had the money in my PayPal account.

Luckily the buyer lived in Manchester, so I offered to drop the dress off. I’d do anything to avoid the risk involved with sending things through the post! I worried the dress may never arrive, or that the buyer may just claim the dress never arrived. I also worried that she was buying the wedding dress without even trying it on! What if she received the dress and then decided she didn’t like it? That sound like a ring of ebay hell I’d rather avoid. So Saturday morning we packed the dress box in the car and went to meet the mysterious person that bought my dress.

When we arrived I suggested she check the dress, just so I could be sure she was happy with it. Without a care she quickly whipped it out of the box in the middle of their small kitchen. She did seem quite excited and called for someone down the hall, in hopped a floppy haired man trying to put his socks on. It turns out they’d actually bought it on behalf of a friend, and they were sure she was going to love it. As he adjusted his bow tie, the floppy haired bloke asked if we’d been told what the dress was for...

I’d apparently stumbled across a group of Doctor Who look-a-likes! I already knew my wedding dress was the same make and model as the dress worn by Catherine Tate in the ‘Runaway Bride’ and thought it might appeal to a Whovian bride, but I’d never imagined someone would spend so much for a costume!

From my point of view it was ideal! She wasn’t looking for the prefect wedding dress to make her day, but this exact dress. So if the fit was a bit off or there was a sequin missing that would be fine. Even a few wrinkles wouldn’t be a concern when you’re wearing it all day at a cosplay convention. I was hugely relived, and quite please that my wedding dress is likely to be well loved and used.

And from my perspective, I’ve made a profit on my wedding dress. I originally found it on sale for £300 in Debenhams but saved another £30 by taking out a credit card. After all the ebay and PayPal fees have been paid I think I’ll have received about £307 for the dress. A £37 profit does make me feel better about a wedding dress I felt frumpy in on the day.

Years ago I’d hoped this money would pay for a nursery glider, but of course starting a family hasn’t been quite that easy and the glider I’d been hoping for has even been discontinued since then. For now the money will just go into the baby saving account, and will probably be borrowed to help us fix the roof so we can sell the house.

24 June 2012

Step Down Sunday – Finding New Homes

One added benefit of going low-carbon is that it can sometimes save you money. This week I decided to clear out some things I didn’t really need, so I took advantage of an eBay free listing day. Mostly I listed pieces of Bridgewater china which are rarely used. Things that hadn’t been as practical as I’d hoped or I’d bought in the sales on a whim.

One advantage of avoiding cheap disposable products is that when the time comes you can often sell it on for a reasonable price, thus extending its life. Granted I bought most of my Bridgewater tableware on sale, but I’ve been able to list everything for a touch more than I paid for it...and almost everything was snapped up on the first day! (Which luckily pays for a couple of treats I indulged in the last few weeks.)

Of course tableware generally doesn’t show wear and tear, so it keeps its value - but other items do as well. Obviously the best option would be to buy these items second hand in the first place, but when that isn’t possible finding a new home for your unneeded items at least keeps them out of the land fill.

Though sending things to the charity shop is the standard answer, but I often worry that charity shops are just a momentary pause on the way to the landfill. By listing things on eBay I'm more hopeful they'll go to a home where they'll be well used and appreciated.

Step Down Sunday Have you made any Steps Down this week?

If you'd like the code for the Step Down Sunday badge or to learn more about it, go to the Step Down Sunday page.

21 June 2012

Hoop Jumping

When we last left our heroine, she was waiting for news about the last hoop she needs to clear before starting IVF – the antenatal clinic for pre-existing conditions in pregnancy.

A few days after my last post, I finally received a phone call from the antenatal secretary I’d spoken with when chasing up the appointment. She offered me an appointment on the 27th of June. I nearly cried. Though it was only five weeks away, the timing would mean delaying our IVF by two months. I felt like I couldn’t question the date as I’d already been a pest by chasing the appointment up – but just before hanging up the phone I couldn’t help but ask if this was the earliest appointment available. The secretary hesitated a moment before saying they did have an appointment on the 20th. I jumped at this date, though it would be close - the extra week might cut a month off our wait.

My heart nearly broke when she called back shortly later to say I couldn’t have the appointment on the 20th -- but instead there was an appointment on the 6th! I snapped it up, obviously, squashing my irritation that we didn’t start with that date. The fertility doctor had said if we could get an appointment within a week of my next period we might even be able to start IVF this month! It would be close but an appointment on the 6th gave us that chance.

So I rang the special number on the first day of my period...to be told they had no idea what I was talking about. Instead of just needing to be on a doctor’s book in case I got pregnant – as we were previously told – suddenly we needed a referral before we would be allowed to start treatment. I was furious. Not because we couldn’t start this cycle, but because we’re constantly being given conflicting information! For the last six months we’ve been frequently told that IVF is just within our reach...only to find more hoops and delays have been put in our way. With our hopes for an early start shattered, my enthusiasm for the antenatal appointment was non-existent. Now I had to go in and prove to a doctor that I was fit enough to have a child.

Mr Goldfish declared the appointment one of the strangest he’s ever attended. Normally we have to fight to get my conditions recognised, but in this case he quickly realised we were better shutting up. The doctor was being dismissive and pedantic, and for the first time that worked in our favour. For some reason the doctor also seemed to think we wanted to be there, as if we wanted reassurance rather than just his signature on the referral.

Medically the appointment was a complete waste of time, but it should remove the final obstacle in our path. Any day now the referral letter should be arriving in the IVF clinic and when we ring them in two weeks time they should place the order for my IVF medications.

This was originally written for the Emma's Diary Blog.

19 June 2012

Shiny Somethings

I've been struggling to write the last few weeks, so thought I'd try something new. Instead of trying to write some huge dissertation I thought I might just share five little things I've found each week. (Make that four - I've already stumbled at the first hurdle.)

1.   First up is my bargain purchase of the week! A pair of Emma Bridgewater Diamond Jubilee Egg Cups. I'd been trying to resist buying anything from the Diamond Jubilee collection, as it was hard to justify the cost when we are looking to move house, but I stumbled across a shop in Liverpool selling these lovelies at nearly half price! (They also had the pretty crowns on sale for £60 and though tempting that was a bit too decadent.) I didn't have any egg cups and these immediately charmed me at the Emma Bridgewater Open Day earlier this year. A bit of an indulgence, at least Bridgewater tableware counts as a local purchase!

2.  My best-friend back home got engaged recently and though she's not yet set a date, I really need to start saving my pennies so I can go to her wedding. Though we can't avoid the transatlantic flights over (though I did try. I even looked up information about travelling by container ship!) we'd like to avoid any internal flights while we're there. At the same time this maybe one of our last opportunities to visit Canada. So I've been looking up information about 'The Canadian' cross-country rail service. It starts in either Vancouver or Toronto and then stops in a city in each province. It's not cheap, but I'd love the chance to visit the beautiful west coast. Even if we can't afford the cross-country trip, a shorter rail journey to Ottawa/Montreal should be manageable. Must start saving!

3.   I've been feeling really out of sorts the last week, so I spent most of the week curled up with a good book...or four. I really enjoyed the Hunger Games Trilogy! I'll be going back to read those again soon. As for One Day, I'd already seen the film. I'm not sure the book really brought much more to the story. Not bad, but I don't think I'll be revisiting it any time soon.

4.   is this brilliant cake I found on Pinterest! Though probably quite tedious and time consuming to switch between all those colours, it looks like the icing is awfully forgiving and would cover up any lumpy cake mistakes!

I'm hoping that these highlight posts will become a regular feature, but I need to find a better name. So if anyone has a suggestion I'd love to hear it!

17 June 2012

Step Down Sunday – 'No Poo’: Week 12

No Poo Ingredients
It’s hard to believe I’ve been using the ‘No Poo’ method for three months now! I’ll admit there have been times when I nearly gave up – mostly when my hair started falling out.

Before you panic, I don’t really think it was the ‘No Poo’. This isn’t the first, second or even third time loads of my hair has fallen out. I suspect it's either stress related or an unfortunate side effect of poor health, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing. But I resisted the temptation to give in and use normal shampoo & conditioner – because really it wouldn’t help.

Instead I’m still tweaking my 'No Poo' recipe. Every time I get up to about four days between washes I decided my hair is still too dry and cut the amount of bicarbonate of soda, and move to washing it a bit more often. At some point I'm bound to decided I've gone too far, but I'm not there yet. At the moment I’m down to just 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in a cup of pre-boiled water, which lasts about three washes. I’ve debated cutting the cider vinegar again, but between the hard water and the bicarb a stronger concentration doesn’t seem to hurt. So I’m using two tablespoons of organic cider vinegar in a cup of pre-boiled water, which lasts about three to four washes.

For several weeks I’ve known I needed to use something for extra conditioning. Those early weeks I used an awful lot of bicarbonate of soda, which thoroughly dried out the ends. But as I may have mentioned before, I really hate waffley recipes. I couldn’t find directions I felt comfortable following until AThriftyMrs shared her post “Using eggs as hair conditioner”. While not quite as precise as I like, she used measurements I could understand.

No Poo Egg Conditioner
So I used a fork to scramble one egg and added a quarter cup of lukewarm pre-boiled water. I applied the egg mixture after my normal bicarbonate of soda and vinegar wash, and left it for ten minutes. It’s made a huge improvement, especially to the ends of my hair. I think it will need another treatment before the ends are properly sorted, but I’m impressed with how well it’s worked so far.

To Read More:
Step Down Sunday - No Poo: Week One
Step Down Sunday - No Poo: Week Two
Step Down Sunday - Save Pennies & Planet
Step Down Sunday - 'No Poo' Goes Horribly Wrong!
Step Down Sunday - ‘No Poo’: Week 6
Step Down Sunday - 'No Poo': Week 12

Step Down Sunday Have you made any Steps Down this week?

If you'd like the code for the Step Down Sunday badge or to learn more about it, go to the Step Down Sunday page.

10 June 2012

Step Down Sunday – The Renovation Juggle

Old fluorescent light fixture
We’re in the process of fixing the house up to sell. Mostly that means calling the plasterer in to finish up our hallway, but we’re also trying to show the house at its best. We had bare fluorescent tubes in our kitchen and utility room. The kitchen was mostly dirty, but the utility rooms light was also rusting – which makes the 70s cupboards look even more tatty and dated.

Our challenge was to improve both these problems, while still avoiding unnecessary purchases. The rusty light fitting really needed to be replaced, but the kitchen light just had decades of grease from the previous owner - so we decided to try a bit of a juggle.
Wickes Fluorescent Light
We bought one new light fitting with a diffuser from Wickes, which made the kitchen look more presentable. Then we gave the old kitchen fitting a good cleaning and scrapped off any old paint. It’s still not perfect, but it’s good enough to replace the rusted utility room light.
Granted some people out there may have been able to sand off all the rust and repaint the old fixture – but that 'Step' is still a bit too big for us. Even though we couldn’t get away with not buying anything, we were still able to improve two rooms with a single purchase.

Step Down Sunday Have you made any Steps Down this week?

If you'd like the code for the Step Down Sunday badge or to learn more about it, go to the Step Down Sunday page.

3 June 2012

Step Down Sunday - Silk Painting

Whenever our WI starts a new craft class you’ll find my name at the top of the list. Besides the fun of learning new skills, the more things we learn to do ourselves - the lower our carbon footprint should be. This week’s class has been silk painting (granted not immediately practical, but all skills are good) for which we needed a stretched canvas. After searching through charity shops for weeks, I finally found just what I needed.
It was a brand new artist canvas, still in its shrink-wrap, but had obviously been in someone’s shed or loft for a few years. Once you removed the plastic it was absolutely perfect. So with my charity shop canvas and a handful of embroidery hoops I’d bought for another project, I was ready to get started.

The first class was pretty simple. We stretched our silk over the canvas and secured it with pins. Once the silk was pulled tight as a drum we used the tubes of Gutta to make our designs. Gutta is a bit like the lead in a stained glass window, keeping the coloured sections apart. It's a bit hard to see in the photo below, but hopefully it gives you the idea. We were just making random designs so we could practice, but I wasn’t entirely happy with them.

Janine from Chouxchouxbedoo came up with the clever idea of starting over again. So I copied her lead and washed the Gutta off my silk with warm water. Just a quick iron later and I was ready to start again. This time I drew my pattern on a piece of paper first, placed my hoop on top, and then I traced it with the Gutta. In just ten minutes I was finished and ready for the next class.

So Monday night we broke out the dyes! I started with my fishy scene as it was my least favourite. Silk painting reminds me a lot of water-colour painting...which is also something I’m rubbish at. The finished aquatic scene isn't that bad, but I really misjudged the blues I used for the water.

My second attempt was much more successful! By fortuitous accident I didn’t wash the original Gutta out completely, leaving a shadow of the old design. I really like the effect!

While silk painting didn't seem very practical at first, it could be brilliant for home-made gifts. Sue who ran the class turned her piece into a gorgeous notebook cover, but you can also make scarves, cards and other crafts. It could be a brilliant choice for this year's Christmas gifts! So even though silk painting didn't appear to be an eco-friendly skill, the more we learn the more self sufficient we can be!

Step Down Sunday Have you made any Steps Down this week?

If you'd like the code for the Step Down Sunday badge or to learn more about it, go to the Step Down Sunday page.