Friday, 25 July 2014

Reviews: Sugru & new CBeebies show: Kate and Mim-Mim

I have to laugh typing the title above, because if ever there could be two things more different to review in one go, these are the ones.

As usual, I only review items that I'm genuinely interested in and Sugru caught my attention somehow and when I checked the product out on the website, and listened to the pitch by its inventor and CEO Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, I was hooked. It was meant to be promoted as a father's day gift idea (oops, this review IS late), but honest, this is such a clever little invention that it shouldn't be gendered in any way. I even suspected that I'd get more excitement out of it than my better half, but was proven wrong because he was as  intrigued as me (and neither of us is a DIY enthusiast). Sugru is a nifty substance, a bit like plasticine, that can be shaped in any form and will attach to most surfaces, then dry out and presto, stay put.

The world's your oyster how you want to use it. I've seen it used to waterproof those leaky holes in shoes, while simultaneously adding a bit of bling to them (Sugru comes in different colours, see). It can be used to attach all those things that have become detached, without the danger of superglue sticking forever joining the tips of your index finger and thumb. My 7 year old went straight into exploration and design mode and had the wackiest of ideas, and we settled for now to create fun hooks for all those loose bits that can be hung up. Because you can shape it, it fits better and you can create just the perfect hook for the item wanting to be hung up. It can be used to mend, fix, insulate, seal, to craft, to decorate and much more. Ideal for any small fixing job. It comes in primary colours which can be mixed to create your own custom colour. The website comes with great ideas too, for a bit of inspiration. Definitely a thumbs up for Sugru! You can get Sugru in most usual DIY outlets, and Maplins.
*******Disclosure: I received samples in return for this review. ****************

Kate and Mim-Mim is a new show about to be aired on CBeebies and we were given an advance copy of the first episode to review. It's aimed at preschool to 6 years of age, but my 7year old actually likes programmes for younger children and was keen to give it a test view while the actual target audience was asleep. Cubling thinks it's good to watch. That's as much as she'll say, she was a bit disappointed that it was short (but psst, that's a good thing, we don't want too much screen time do we now). Kate and her toy rabbit go on lots of adventures, and her cuddly toy becomes massive as they enter their imaginary world. Together they have adventures, explore and work out solutions in team work. All good stuff and role models (tick). The animation is cute and simple enough not to overwhelm the younger viewers (tick), with educational messages and easy to follow storyline (tick), so it's a good addition to the programmes on CBeeBies. I'm still hoping for my target audience to get an opportunity for a test viewing, but it's sunny and the paddling pool is a bit more attractive right now and I was meant to review it before the screening of the first episode, which incidentally is coming to a screen in your house very soon indeed: Kate and Mim-Mim will screen daily as of Monday 4th August at 5:30pm, so you can check it out yourself!
*******Disclosure: I received a copy of the first episode and a set of Mim-Mim ears in return for this review (but my little monkeys are in agreement (a rare occurrence) that I'm absolutely not allowed to wear the (sob)). I was allowed to eat half of the sweets though, because little sister was asleep at the time (yes!)*********

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Knitting and Crochet love

A little while back I realised that if I blogged most nights, I didn't get time for anything else, and it was a hard decision between letting this blog go a bit quieter and knitting/crochet. You can tell from the frequency of my posts which one won. One good friend even missed my posts, so here's one especially for you! (you know who you are ;) ).

There was a wealth of babies born to my colleagues at work, 3 in the space of 3 months, and now I have a feeling that there may be a baby born to my neighbour kind of right now. So there's been a wonderful excuse for a lot of knitting and crochet for babies, and while I used to make hats for new babies, I've currently a weakness for blankets. I've tried to bear the season in mind, so there's warm woollen blankets for the winter baby (no picture because picture wasn't great but the link has some photos), and lighter cotton ones, with one currently on the hook for the summer baby. Oh yes, and a jumper that resembled very much the apple tree blanket that brought be back to knitting 8 years ago.

On our holiday (more of that hopefully soon), there was a lot of travel involved, perfect for some easy projects that keep you busy. I even read some books, imagine that. Both books I can recommend (Chris Cleave - Gold: it was  a bit harrowing, maybe I just get emotional too easily but I had to put this great book down now and again because it was just a tad too good at creating engaging characters and their plight hit home a little bit too hard. Jonas Jonasson: The 100-Year-Old Man who climbed out of the window was much more lighthearted and possibly the longest book I've read in a long time).

I also always make a point of visiting yarn shops when abroad, just because they have a slightly different range. I failed to do this in Munich, partly because they have too many, and partly because it was just too hot to do any extra walking, but managed just before we headed back home in Dormagen. We must have been memorable on our last visit two years ago because the owner recognised us... The kids picked their favourite yarns for some winter knitting (cardigan for snowflake and scarf for Cubling) - not quite my choice of yarn but hopefully better on the they-will-be-more-likely-to-wear-it front. So once I've finished the last blanket, it'll be time for some winter warmer knitting (hard to believe in the current blazing sunshine!)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Day 5 - the finishing line

A belated update on my final day of joining the 1.2 billion people who live below the line, just that I had to survive on £1 a day only for 5 days.

Yes, I totally welcomed the last day. While it's possible to manage on £1 a day, even after 5 days I got more than bored of beans and lentils. The titles of the recipes sound different, but it was clear that I always used an amount of some bean (and to me, they kind of all taste the same) plus an onion, a clove of garlic, some spices and one cheap vegetable, plus the obligatory starchy food. Booooring.

In addition, I could only stay below the £1 because I cooked from scratch. This does mean that I probably used more gas for the cooker and electricity for the oven than usual, so the real cost of the food may be significantly higher. Plus while I was lucky to have had food cooked for me on 2 days, it was still a massive effort to cook from scratch the other days after a long day at work. And yes, the kids did not like the meals, which in a real life living on a budget situation would be extremely stressful for the parent.

So today it was the usual porridge for breakfast, 18 p instant noodles for lunch, and dinner was bean burgers with potato wedges. No picture today because I also rushed off straight after dinner. I then made the mistake of not asking for just tap water at the bar, but had blackcurrant in it, and because I bought it with another drink, had no idea of the cost. So I didn't drink it. Which is of course a bit daft, having paid for it and all.

So here's the sums:
breakfast and milk for the day 27.5
tea 4.5p
lunch 18p
slice of bread 2p
reduced chocolate cake 7.5p (I had a choice between this or a tangerine...)
dinner (bean burgers = 3 portion):
onion 10p
garlic clove and spices
pepper 33p
tin of mixed beans 45p
 = 88p, which equals 31 per portion
potato wedges 17p per portion

Total: 108.5p

which is 8.5p over. In my defence, I had a couple of pence to spare from previous days and probably didn't use as much milk as I calculated, and also refrained from eating my full allowance of chocolate, so it's just about possible that I stayed within the £5 overall. Should have done the calculations before eating the food... Which I didn't, I kind of hoped it would be below £1. The pepper was maybe a bit of a luxury and if I had cooked the wedges from scratch, I'd have saved another 3p. I could also not have had instant noodles but 3 slices of bread instead because the bread was just such a low price, so had I done my calculations in advance, I could well have adapted my lunch.

The bean heavy food on the last two days meant I wasn't as hungry (though I was hungry during the day, esp. as I had to fit my lunch around an extremely busy working week, rather than being able to have lunch at times most conducive for my challenge).

While I didn't miss alcohol too much (I don't drink much anyway), it was quite hard to order water on my night out. It was kind of ok because this was my choice but if one actually can't afford it, it would be rather embarrassing (having been in the situation, I know how it feels having to calculate if the bank balance is enough to buy a round, leaving out one's own drink and hoping the total is not causing an overdraft). And yes, going to a gig without being able to tuck into a cider... it's just not the same thing for me.

I'm definitely glad that I'm done with doing the sums and can tuck in to my hearts delight again. My meal planning was rubbish so I still have  a lot of the food that I had bought for the challenge, again in real life this would have been a terrible waste and meal planning is essential on this kind of budget.

Please sponsor me by donating to my chosen charity. Each donation will be tripled (match funded by UK government for Action Aid, and matched by me for a local food bank).

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Day 4

I had planned to blog each day but alas what with working late, and I mean very late, I was too tired (and hungry).

In a way my task was made a bit easier because my work involved a low cost dinner on two nights (days 2 and 3), so I didn't need to cook from scratch and still had a budget meal, one of them was even costed to the penny by the kind dinner lady who prepared it.

Today though it was back to cooking.

I did a bit of thinking around the challenge and compared it to how others interpreted it. I had no qualms about buying in bulk - I do this for a number of reasons, to save money but also to reduce my waste, and I then calculate the cost by accounting for the amount actually eaten. However this assumes that one can afford the cheaper bulk purchase. I realised that I'm privileged to be able to purchase in bulk, and that the challenge would be much harder if I just had a fiver in my pocket and had to make do on it.

Similarly, I bought the cheapest produce I could find but overbought - i.e. bought for about £15 and I was flexible about what I'll use, leaving the rest for a later date. This is also a luxury, and not to be compared with someone who only has a limited amount in their pocket and can't afford to buy food for next week, or have the choice that I had to prepare my food from. Effectively, I didn't need to budget, I could focus on the challenge as a game, rather than a necessity.

I'm also lucky that I was able to supplement my food by using some items growing in our local community garden, where I (very) occasionally help out, and from a dish prepared from another garden crop. A colleague had bought fruit from a market stall which was incredible value, so I had the odd tangerine. I could not have afforded a tangerine from the supermarket. All of this is rather lucky, and improved the diet over the 5 days a lot.

If you take all of these privileges away, it would look rather dire. Nutritional value of the food would go down, I'd be much hungrier than I am (though I have been hungry, don't get me wrong, but I'm a big eater and it was more a case of adapting to smaller portions and no snacking in between meals).

And even in spite my luck, the Live below the Line diet isn't healthy. Someone commented on the photo of my shop that it looked quite healthy, but I beg to differ. There is no way I can get my 5 (never mind 7-9) fruit and veg a day. I have totally excluded meat and fish, my protein comes from beans and lentils. The rest is carbs.

This is today's food:

Breakfast: porridge with water and splash of milk, milk for the day and 2 teabags. 30.5p
Lunch: Instant noodle soup, 18p
snack: slice of bread with a tiny bit of butter: 2p, some tiny chocolates (I'm adding my allowance for the whole week today, which is 25p)

Dinner: Chilli sin carne, 4 portions

1 onion 10p
garlic clove, spices 4p
200 gr carrots 14 p
can of kidney beans 30p
200 gr rice (value) 8p
50 gr grated cheese: 28p

Total: 94p, each portion = 23.5p

Total for the day: 99p. Big phew.

Dinner was very tasty, my children once again did not agree. Serious coercing was involved, and what I saved on the cost of dinner was probably made up by the cost of jelly babies to entice consumption of dish containing, imagine, kidney beans.

Please sponsor me by donating to my chosen charity. Each donation will be tripled (match funded by UK government for Action Aid, and matched by me for a local food bank).

Monday, 28 April 2014

Living below the Line: Day 1


This week I'm living below the line to raise awareness of severe poverty and raise funds for Action Aid and UK food banks who are fighting severe poverty. Worldwide, 1.2 billion people have to survive on less than £1 a day for food and drink. In solidarity, I'm trying to see how I'll faire on £1 a day for 5 days.

Breakfast: Porridge with mainly water, and a good splash of milk. Tea with a little milk and a little sugar (7.5 p for the porridge and 20p for total milk used today, 4 tea bags - 6p)

Lunch: Improvised (read: couldn't resist): potato scone (12p) and a slice of bread (2p) with some peanut butter.

Dinner: Lentil shepherds pie. 4 portions, I only ate 1.

200gr red split lentils (30p, bought in bulk)
1 onion (10p)
7 potatoes (out of 18 in the pack I bought) (30p)
clove of garlic
1/3 of tomato puree (13p)
Garam Masala, about 1 Tbs  (2.5p)
splash of milk to mash tatties
Spinach, chard and purple sprouting broccoli from the local community garden (free!)
total for 4 portions: 85.5p, or one portion = 21.4


I did have 2 crips, 2 pieces of breakfast cereal and 2 sour wine gums to see me through the day, as well as a tiny leftover from free food that would have been wasted otherwise. Haven't priced the 3 teaspoons of sugar either. Cost for all of these negligible, but let's round it up to 75p total.

Sugar cravings weren't as bad as expected. But I am hungry. I haven't felt quite so hungry in a very long time. The kids didn't like the dinner which was heartbreaking a I spent much longer than usual cooking it and I thought they would like it.

I wondered also about energy costs. The preparation of dinner used 3 pots and pans, plus the oven, more than I usually use. So energy consumption wise, this was an expensive dinner and I don't know how this is measured or if indeed the energy needed for cooking is part of the £1 a day that people all over the world have to survive on.

For now, I'm just really looking forward to my porridge in the morning.

If you want to sponsor me (please do, to make it all worthwhile!), you can do so here.
Remember your donation will be doubled by the UK Government and I'll donate the same again to a local food bank.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Living below the line

I've taken the Live Below the Line challenge: From midnight tonight, I'll be living on £5 worth of food and drink for 5 days, to raise awareness of world poverty and raise a few quid for some worthwhile projects that combat severe poverty.

And yes, you can help me by sponsoring me or joining my challenge! Just go to

I really need some support in the form of a few donated pounds to keep me going because, you know, I luuurve my food and it's going to be a massive deal for me to say no to chocolate, sugar, cake, and basically all things tasty for 5 days. Oh and no alcohol, not even a glass of red to combat my midnight insomnia.

Today I've done the food shopping and I'm now tweaking quantities to get from £6 to £5. Not so easy because I don't just cook for myself, and I don't actually know how much of a tin of kidney beans I tend to eat when I make a vegetable chilli.

I've discovered some great bargains and I'm surprised how much food is on the table - not all part of the £5 because of tin sizes etc, but still. I think I could possibly not go hungry but everytime I think that, I realise I haven't considered the cost of something. Like spices. Like tea bags. Or butter.

So yes, on totally basic, tasteless carbs and lentils, you can live on £1 a day, but if you want some flavour, some vitamins or anything that makes things taste better (oil/butter), the budget is burst. So it'll be a choice between taste and being full.

It also helps that I can cook for 4 people, which actually keeps costs down a fair bit.

Another challenge though is that as part of my work, I will have to join in dinner that's prepared (on a budget, but the budget is a bit more than the 50p that I'm living on), so I'll have to see how to get around this.

I'm greatly helped by tips from last year's live below the liners and recipe ideas on the live below the line website. In fact, there's a few great recipes that may find their way into my staple dinners.

I'm helped by being a vegetarian, so won't miss the meat. I've included 2 luxury items, milk (kind of expensive compared to other items) and some reduced chocolates that are out of date, because I'm a chocoholic and need to be able to have at least a tiny bit. The latter still burst my budget and I decided to only allow myself half of the pack, sob.

For the fundraising, here's the deal: I've chosen Action Aid who recognise the crucial role women have in the fight against poverty. The UK government will double all donations made. And I'll double all donations again, with any money raised on my fundraising page being matched out of my own pocket to raise funds for a local food bank. So if you donate a tenner, your donation will be worth £30. C'mon, make me dig deep and get donating!



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