Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Can I ditch the meat in March?

Nothing beats a good bit of sausage. A bacon sandwich is a gift from the gods on the mornings that are filled by an alcohol-induced haze. My pesto and mozzarella stuffed chicken breasts have fed many a friend during many a student dinner party. And when I was a wee lass, I pretty much survived on roast chicken and potatoes alone, being far too fussy to eat much else. To put it simply, meat is good, filling and tasty (especially when the horse has trotted off elsewhere).

However, the time has come to see if I can be meat free for an entire month. Together with my good friend Fay (who you can find over on Food Fables), I'm going to be attempting a meat-free March. Not a sausage nor a fish finger will pass my lips.

Monday, 25 February 2013

How taking my sister on a BuyaGift spa day quelled an argument that's been going on for fifteen years

I don't do relaxing. The closest I get to complete chill-out time is a couple of episodes of the OC back-to-back, perhaps with a glass of wine thrown in for good measure. My idea of a holiday nightmare consists of lying aimlessly on a beach - something that my friend Sophie can very much attest to. A few years ago, we spent three weeks backpacking around Europe and by the time we got to Croatia, she was in need of some serious sunbathing time. However, I decided to wake her up every morning at 6am to go exploring, which she wasn't too keen on - especially when I almost got stuck on the Bosnian border during one such day trip with only my University library card, not my passport, for company.

However, I know someone that can think of nothing they'd like to do more than spend a few hours in a complete chilled-out haze. My sister, Kate, has been deprived of sleep since my nephew, Will,  arrived on the scene eleven months ago. Despite being the best and cleverest baby in the whole entire world, he doesn't quite understand the whole night and day thing yet. So, when Buyagift got in contact to ask me if I'd like to review a spa day for two at Bannatyne's in Darlington, I jumped at the chance for Kate and I to spend the day together away from the grasps of a tiny person. 

Sunday, 24 February 2013


Copyright Adam Robinson Photography (@Adam_Zed)
Last night we joined our lovely friends Adam and Anna for an evening of tequila fueled, Mexican fun to celebrate Anna's birthday. Anna is an amazing cook, and armed with Thomosina Mier's Mexican Food Made Simple, she created a truly amazing feast. From a starter of chili nachos in a bag (seriously, don't judge until you've tried it - seriously awesome) to chicken fajitas, delectable oven baked green rice, butternut squash and chorizo enchiladas and a whole host of homemade guacamole and salsa, the whole evening was a complete taste sensation from start to end. 

Friday, 22 February 2013

A visit to a Yorkshire vineyard

Yorkshire - a word that summons an image of beautiful rolling hills, rain, men in flat caps with whippets, stone-clad villages, Last of the Summer Wine, penny-pinching individuals, nice pie and a good pint of ale.

Tuscany - a word that summons an image of rolling hills, sunshine, good food, beautiful white-washed villages, podgy, old Italian ladies and lots and lots of vineyards, which of course equals lots and lots of wine.

These are two places which probably couldn't sound much more different. But, believe it or not, a Yorkshire vineyard isn't an oxymoron - it actually exists. In a little village just outside of Holmfirth (where Last of the Summer Wine was filmed), lies a little slice of Tuscany - seven acres of vine covered land that blend into the Pennines. Holmfirth Vineyard is home to over 7,000 vines and four different types of grape - all of which cling to its steep slopes and battle the snow, wind and rain to form one of the highest and most northerly vineyards in the world.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Why would cake beat exercise in a fight?

I'd like to make one thing quite clear. People who say exercise is fun, or that they enjoy working up a sweat, or that they work out every day, are completely and utterly stark raving mad.

I speak from experience. 

I understand that I can't just sit around and eat cake and expect to be thin, so today I decided to do some exercise. I got on the exercise bike that's been used as a coat-stand in our living room since last autumn and I cycled for half an hour.

I huffed and I puffed and I got sweaty. I felt like my glasses were definitely going to fall off my face from the perspiration. My back felt like I'd poured a litre of water over it. It was not a pleasant experience.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A story of love and art Line Media Inc.

I stumbled across an article today about two people that I can't stop thinking about.

Meet Herb and Dorothy Vogel - a postal clerk and a librarian.

Never heard of them? Me neither, until I read Mental_Floss magazine's article - How a Working-Class Couple Amassed a Priceless Art Collection. 

Herb never earned more than $23,000 dollars a year. Dorothy didn't know anything about art before she met Herb. Herb's only knowledge of the art world was entirely self-taught.

But together, they managed to fill their one bedroom New York flat with beautiful things that they loved - and, in doing so, they also filled their apartment with a priceless art collection.

They missed out the middlemen - the art dealers - and dealt directly with the artists. They gave these artists a hand-up.

Herb and Dorothy did it entirely together. They learnt about collecting and the art world as a pair, working in unison to buy art at a price they could afford and spot up and coming trends.

And amazingly, they never did it to make any money - they just did it for a love of art, and a love of each other.

When Herb got too ill to enjoy collecting, they stopped. "I have no regrets," Dorothy said. "I've had a wonderful life. And I believe Herb and I were made to be together."

Together they amassed one of the most important art collections of the Twentieth Century, which was once squashed into their tiny home and now belongs to the public.

What an amazing story about passion, love, and appreciating beauty for beauty's sake. It's so good, and so poignant, I couldn't help but share.


One of my most favourite things in the whole world is both the giving and receiving of surprise presents. There's not much that beats buying something that you know that someone you know will love and giving it to them on a whim. And it's even better when you're the recipient of a surprise present, especially if it's wrapped up in brown paper and tied up with string.

I'm not really one for Valentine's Day, but I am one for surprise presents. And secretly, I like hearts too.

That's why, when my lovely friend Fay (of Food Fables fame) alerted me to #heartswap on Anna's gorgeous  Skinblisterblog, I signed up straight away. The idea was simple: by answering a short questionnaire that Anna sent out, we were paired with a fellow blogger and tasked to send them a lovely parcel - one that we would be happy to receive. The parcel had to contain something heart or heart themed, and had to arrive in time for Valentine's Day.

I was paired with the lovely Sundari from Rose Beauty. This is what I bought her:

Photo courtesy of
 Anna asked Natalie from Bella Luna to send me a parcel of things that would make me smile. I was completely touched by her choices - especially the Everyman Cinema voucher, the Moleskine journals and the gorgeous penguin postcard.


I couldn't be happier with my parcel - and what a lovely way to meet some fellow bloggers. A big thank you to Anna for organising it!

Sunday, 17 February 2013


Meet Mel. She's the only person I know who'd do the Harlem Shake on top of a London bus in a spacesuit.

Mel is the most utterly crazy person that I've ever had the pleasure to come across. I first met her at Sixth Form - we did pretty much the same A Levels and therefore spent quite a lot of time together. Whilst the rest of us spent two years learning about Stalin's Five Year plans, Mel spent two years perfecting the best way to set a dictaphone to record a "remix" of Backstreet Boys and System of a Down using two CD players. She had a penchant for Will Young, procrastinating, Sholer and bringing themed cake or biscuits to every history lesson possible (learning about Garibaldi was a lot more fun when accompanied by Garibaldi biscuits).

Anyway, fast-forward ten years and Mel's still awesome. Not knowing much about Stalin hasn't held her back - in fact, if anything it seems to have done her lots of favours. She's lived and held down all sorts of amazing jobs in South Africa and Switzerland. She ran the Berlin Marathon without much training. She's cycled the Nile, ran a race dressed as a Gorilla, met Bill Oddy and worked for UK Sport over the Olympics. There's not much Mel hasn't done.She's knowledgeable, passionate and a joy to be around (despite the bad remix obsession).
In fact, I'd quite happily be stuck in a rocket orbiting around the earth for a few days with Mel.  

Which is a good job too, because she wants to go to Space. But she needs your help to do so.

Watch the video. Share it using the hashtag #spacemel and vote for Mel in the Lynx Space Academy competition here - Feel safe in the knowledge that you've played your part in putting a Will Young fan into orbit.

Thanks all x

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

It's flippin' Pancake Day!

Pancake Day is flippin' amazing. As far as I'm aware, it's the only day in the year that's dedicated solely to food and celebrated by many. It's a day of collective eating, of celebrating the joys of lemon and sugar and filling our bellies with Nutella. It's an excuse to only eat dessert for dinner. It also marks the fact that it's only a few short weeks until Easter - which, of course, is every chocoholics dream. Obviously Pancake Day comes laden with a whole load of religious connotations too, but I tend to brush past those - I find that thinking about a man being nailed to a cross and left to die whilst I'm devouring a pancake or ten does not a happy eating experience make.

There is very little in the world that beats a good pancake. When we were kids, we always used to celebrate Pancake Day with our friends - four sisters - who lived down the road. Every year the Quinn girls - as they are still collectively known - and my sister and I used to huddle round the stove at their house, always using the same small frying pan to make the most delicious pancake concoctions. With enough batter to feed six numerous times over, we used to spend what seemed like hours and hours eating sugary, pancakey treats. I'm pretty sure that Megan, the second oldest of the Quinn girls, once threw up from eating too many.

At Uni I discovered the joy of pancake parties, of experimenting with savoury pancakes, and testing how well they went with alcohol.

These days it's a slightly more sombre affair due to the fact it always falls in the middle of the working week (seriously, whoever wrote the Bible should have thought a bit more carefully about that one), but it's still something I look forward to every year without fail.

Today we followed Delia Smith's pancake recipe, which was extremely tasty. Fillings wise, I went for a combination of savoury and sweet, classic and experimental. Starting with a stilton and honey roast ham concoction, I swiftly moved on to nutella and banana and then lemon and sugar. Delicious.

What did you go for? Do you stick to the sweet or are you a fan of the savoury? And is there a pancake recipe that you think I should try?

Monday, 11 February 2013

London Calling

I miss London. Since I moved to Leeds in 2006, a couple of long distance relationships and family and friends nearby meant that I'd never been far from its grasps, usually visiting at least once a month. But times they have changed and since Ash moved to Leeds two summers ago, visits to the capital (for anything apart from work) are a lot rarer than they used to be.

My teenage years were pretty much defined by being in London - from escaping to Camden when I decided to dye my hair black when I was 14 to the anti-war marches later on, and then the hundreds of gigs, pubs and clubs when I was 18 or so and all I wanted to do was kiss Carl Barat from The Libertines. The world was my oyster and London was at its core.

So it was with a lot of excitement that I made my merry way down to the city that will always feel a bit like home on Friday to celebrate my Mama's birthday and to catch up with some of my favourite people. Armed with a bag of Percy Pigs, a train ticket and a good book, I met my parents at Kings Cross Station two and a bit hours after I'd set off from Leeds.

My Dad and I whisked my Mum off to Hampstead for a bite to eat, a wander down the lovely high street and a trip to the Everyman cinema to see Hitchcock. For those of you who have never experienced an Everyman cinema, I can't recommend them highly enough. With just nine cinemas spread across the country (most of which are in London, although there's one coming to Leeds soon - hurrah!), they really are a joy to behold.  Decked out with plush sofas and with full waiter service to your seat for a pretty reasonable price, their screens are the antithesis of all the horrible multiplexes that only care about making money and not about the films they show or the experience that they give their customers.

Ma and Pa at the Everyman

With a bowl of frozen yoghurt, a comfy armchair and a big screen, it would have been a pleasurable experience watching Hitchcock no matter what the film was actually like. As it was, I thought the film was very watchable. Having never seen Psycho (around which the film is set) or knowing much at all about old Alfred H, I couldn't help that think that some of its meaning was lost on me, but Helen Mirren was fantastic and although I felt that Anthony Hopkins' performance was slightly forced, it was still enjoyable. My Ma and Pa seemed to enjoy it too, which was all that really mattered at the end.

On Saturday morning I caught up with Mel - one of my best friends from Sixth Form (and one of the zaniest, craziest, most warm-hearted people I know) - over two of the biggest English breakfasts that you ever did see at the Love Walk Cafe in Camberwell. Mel is the sort of person who just loves life and has an amazingly refreshing, creative outlook - she ran a marathon with little to no training, applied to Uni on the day of our A Level results, ran a race dressed as a gorilla and cycled down the Nile because she was bored. All of this means that there's little in life that would surprise me about Mel. So when she changed into a space suit in the middle of the Cafe and then asked us to film her drinking tea to accompany a Beyonce song for a top secret project that I can't divulge to you as yet, I wasn't in the least bit surprised. I promise to reveal all when I can.

The afternoon saw a trip to the South London Gallery with another wonderful friend, Kim. My friendship with Kim is one of the best things that came out of my time at Uni and, having lived with each other for four years, we went through a lot of the trials and tribulations that university life can bring together. She was (and still is) a constant support when times get a bit tough, and one of the funnest people I know. We can go for months without speaking, and yet when we're together everything just seems to click back into place. I was so so so pleased to see her.

After the gallery, Kim and I popped to Brixton to drink wine and eat the most delicious sourdough pizzas - that were bigger than our heads - at Franco Manca.

Then we made our way to Bush Hall to drink lots of vodka and see The Coral's drummer, Ian Skelly, do his thing as a solo artist (accompanied by most of The Coral). We danced. We drank. It felt like we were at Uni again. It was so much fun.

After a lazy Sunday morning on Kim's sofa, I headed to the Southbank Centre to see Winston. Winst and I became friends fifteen years ago when we were made to sit next to each other in every class at secondary school. He has always judged people by the shoes they wear, has a penchant for expensive macaroons and never fails to make me giggle like a fourteen year old. He's brilliant, and he likes art, so I dragged him to see the Light Show at the Hayward Gallery.

Despite the pricey £11 entry ticket, the show was fantastic - one of the best exhibitions I've seen in years. It was a colourful playground of light and art that challenged visual perception and left me wanting more more more. If you're in the big smoke, you have to go. You really, really won't regret it.

And with that, I hopped on a National Express (ugh) back to Leeds.

It was a weekend that made me feel alive, that made me fall back in love with London, and that made me feel genuinely lucky to be surrounded by the most wonderful friends. What more could a girl want?

London - I miss you. I'll be back soon. x

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Tenner Challenge: day seven - a week on £9.29

Well, I've done it. I've been without chocolate, Diet Coke, meals out, socialising and other little luxuries for (almost) a whole week. Instead, I've made bread, biscuits and fresh pasta at home, bought bargain birthday cards, pampered myself economically, re-started unfinished projects, explored on a budget and been on a date for £1.92.

At lunchtime today I popped out to spend my remaining pennies on a can of Diet Coke - the thing I've missed the most - and a box of Celebrations for my colleagues.

I'm proud to be able to say, therefore, that this week I've spent a grand total of £9.29. 

I honestly can't remember the last time that I spent so little in a week. Perhaps when I was 15 and had a Saturday job at McDonalds for less than minimum wage. I'm feeling a bit smug and rather proud of myself - I honestly never thought that spending so little, and still managing to do quite a considerable amount, was possible.  

So, what have I learnt?

  • I really love Diet Coke - Having banished buying chocolate, crisps, snacks and sweets from my life this week, I now know that I can easily go without. To be honest, I really haven't missed the daily naughty smackerel of something even a tiny bit. In fact, this week has made me realise that I buy these things, and other food too, because it's there and it's something to do - rather than because I actually want it. Diet Coke, on the other hand, is a completely different ball game. I'm addicted to its sweet, sweet nectar, and at 11am every day I found myself getting the Diet Coke withdrawal shakes. Although it probably doesn't do anything good to my insides at all, I'd prefer this to be my vice rather than cigarettes, alcohol or drugs, and I can't wait to sup on my daily can again next week. 

  • Budgeting is, well, restrictive - Although the past seven days haven't been as boring or as hard as I thought they would be, they have been extremely tiring. Having to think about where every penny goes is exhausting, and planning everything in advance is extremely restrictive. Obviously budgeting and restriction are pretty much synonymous, but I'd never really considered how living off such a small wad of cash could have such a huge impact on day-to-day life. Although I'm lucky enough to live in a city that hosts lots of free events, there are always hidden costs - food and transport really ramps the amount up. Just going for a walk on Saturday wiped out a third of my budget. Socialising was pretty much out of the question due to a lack of funds, which left me feeling housebound and a bit depressed by day five. I'm someone who thrives off doing stuff, and having a week of doing very little left me very down indeed. I can't imagine what it must be like for people who never have more than £10 of disposable income to spend every week due to necessity  and I hope I never have to experience it. But with half of the world living off less than a dollar a day, and hundreds of thousands of people living on the breadline in the UK, it's a very real reality for a lot of people.

  • I can live off a lot less than I normally spend - Would I choose to live off £10 a week again? No way, jose. Would I recommend doing it for a week to others? I would. The truth is, this week has massively put my spending in perspective. Detoxing my spending has given me the confidence to cut down on eating out, snacks and little luxuries. Doing so will do my bank balance the world of good, and to be honest, I won't miss it. It's kick started my willingness to save more and spend less. 2013 is a year to start appreciating what I've got, get better at finishing projects and be more creative with the disposable income I do have. 

So, what's next? Well, I'm off  now to pack my suitcase for a weekend in London to see some of my favourite people and celebrate my wonderful Mum's birthday. Will I be spending more than £10 this weekend? Hell yeah, and I'm going to seriously enjoy it. But on Monday, I'll be back to watching what I spend. I won't be living off a tenner again or restricting the Diet Coke, but I will be turning over a new leaf that my bank manager will be proud of.

The Tenner Challenge: day seven
Total spent - £9.29

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

The Tenner Challenge: Day 6 - seeing things through to the end

The penultimate day of my ten pound challenge went by without note. The highlight was probably a hot chocolate that I paid 20p for at work - you can gauge how thrilling my day was off the back of that. To be honest, I'm going a bit stir crazy as a result of not doing anything particularly exciting this week - unusually for me I haven't seen any friends (doing that normally costs over a tenner), and although I've tried to do interesting bits and bobs in the flat, due to lack of funds I've been pretty much housebound apart from the trip to Saltaire. Although I looked into free things to do in Leeds midweek (using Leeds Inspired - a definite must of a website for any bored Loiners), everything that was free was either happening during office hours or cost more than £2.00. Not much use to those of us in 9-5 jobs who are trying to scrimp and scrape.

Anyway, when I got home from work, I thought I'd pick up and crack on with a project that - embarrassingly - I started almost a year ago. I'd say my tendency for starting stuff and then not seeing it through to the bitter end is one of my worst character traits. There are various things that I've started and never finished - in 2011 I decided to take a photo a day for a year. I was doing great, until I gave up in late November, just a matter of days from the end. In the same year I lost a very decent amount of weight, but got bored of tracking what I ate so gave up just lbs away from my target goal. There are various TV box sets that I've watched for a good few series, but then given up - not out of lack of enjoyment but because it's lost my interest. I'm the same with books - I don't think I've ever completed a trilogy because by book three I've decided there's something more worthy of my time. I guess the crux of it is that my attention span is pretty awful - no matter how well I enjoy something or  how well I'm doing at it, I always seem to have grass is greener syndrome. 

This needs to change if I'm ever going to achieve the things I want to achieve. And with the project I picked up again today, it's really important to me that I do my best to finish it by the 23rd of March.

Why the 23rd of March, I hear you say? Well, it's this little man's first birthday.

This is me and my nephew Will on the beach at Scarborough last summer. He's loads bigger now and can do lots of cool stuff like commando crawl and play peekaboo. Will's my first ever nephew, my sister's first child and my parents' first Grandchild. When he arrived last March we were all over the moon. He has brought our family so much joy and we're so much closer as a result. I might be biased, but I'm pretty sure he's the best baby in the world. 

When Will was first born - despite not really listing arts and crafts as a strong point -I decided to cross stitch him a traditional sampler. You know the type - his name, birth weight, date of birth and lots of little animals going two by two in rows. I spent ages picking the one I wanted, which was quite a feat considering I hadn't cross-stitched for years. When it was finally delivered, I cracked on like an eager beaver and was surprised by my progress, thinking I'd have it done in no time.

That was last March. Since my first enthusiastic bout of stitching, it's spent almost a year sitting next to a ukelele and on top of a picnic hamper in the living room, gathering dust. Sorry Will. I promise it's not because I don't love you. It's because I have the attention span of a meercat.

I don't want you all to think I'm an awful auntie. I've bought Will lots of presents, but I know that none of them will mean as much to him when he's older and my sister right now than a sampler which I spent hours and hours stitching by hand. 

Sometimes, it's not about money. It's about time. And attention span.

So, tonight I picked up the sampler, threaded the needle for the first time in almost a year, and got cracking.  

This is for you, Will. x

The Tenner Challenge - Day 6
Total spent: £6.62

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Tenner Challenge: day five - date night

Only two more days to go until my week of living on £10 is over. I have to say, I'm quite looking forward to it - although this week has put my spending into perspective, it's not been easy and the old enthusiasm factor is starting to run a bit low. It probably wasn't helped by the fact that today was the first day since Saturday that I've felt like I've been really restricted - the little things are starting to get to me. I had a massive Diet Coke craving at lunchtime (it is the nectar of the Gods after all)  but managed to resist due to the 60p price tag. Constantly having to make decisions over the pennies rather than the pounds is beginning to wear thin.

I guess I'm one of the lucky ones though - for me, there is a very foreseeable end to such drastic budgeting. Come Friday, although I'll probably start thinking a little bit harder about being frivolous, I'll be back to a weekly spend that's considerably more than the amount I've got this week and I never have to think about where money for food, clothes, rent or bills is coming from. Living off £10 a week not out of choice, but out of necessity, for a long period of time isn't something I ever want to experience - and this week has bought home to me how tough it must be for those that do on a continual basis.

Anyway, back to today. Initially we had plans with friends for tonight, but unfortunately they fell through so we had to come up with another way to spend those few precious hours between work and sleep.

Every now and then Ash and I have a 'date night'. When you've been going out for close to half a decade and have been living together for two years, it's easy to get into a routine of eating dinner in front of the TV and mumbling a few words to each other every evening. Quite often we also have weeks when due to different commitments it feels like we pass like ships in the night. With Ash set to be working late for a few nights this week and me being off to London at the weekend, we thought it might be nice to spend some proper time together tonight.

Quite often "date night" consists of a meal out or a trip to the cinema, possibly a drink somewhere - you know, the usual sort of stuff. However, with £5.50 to my name that sort of thing was clearly a no go. So instead we spent the evening in.

To add a bit of spice, I splurged £1.92 on a couple of Gu desserts and Ash bought a bottle of wine - after much hmming and ahhing from me about whether accepting a glass would be cheating - but then decided as I'm basically a charity case this week it was ok. We turned the TV off, put some music on, lit some candles and made fresh Tagliatelle Primavera together (that's spicy tagliatelle with peppers, courgettes, red onions and thyme to you and I).

As I've mentioned before, Ash is a dab hand at pasta making these days and I'm exceptionally good at pouring red wine. Together we're a match made in heaven.             

The Tagliatelle Primavera was delicious - a  mix of olive oil, red onions, peppers, courgettes, chilli flakes and thyme fried over a medium heat for 8 minutes and then chucked on a heap of fresh pasta. Simple, yet perfectly formed.

Over dinner we made a pact to do more 'date nights' like these - although we both love eating out, there's nothing quite as satisfying as cooking a gorgeous meal at home. When Ash and I first got together I found it extremely hard to cook with him. He's exceptionally precise and ordered about everything, whereas I'm more of a chuck it in the pan and see how it turns out sort of girl. It was so bad that we almost broke up over how to chop an onion and the Kitchen Nazi was my not very affectionate nickname for him. These days though we've mellowed in our old(ish) age and cooking together is something we both love to do - who'd a thunk it?!

Anyway, after dinner we snuggled up together to watch a film on the sofa. It was lovely just to have a bit of 'us' time.

Then things moved to the bedroom. By that I mean that I  took my laptop to bed to write this blog and Ash switched the Xbox on to play Fifa. Who says romance is dead?!

On that note, night night! x

The Tenner Challenge day five
Total spent: £6.42
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Monday, 4 February 2013

The Tenner Challenge: day four - annnnd relax

Today was just one of those Mondays where there was no time spare to do anything of any note except work and remember to breathe every now and then. A late meeting, a project I've been working on for ages finally going live and a hundred or so emails made for an exceptionally busy start of the week. Luckily I'd packed lunch as there was no time for a break and under normal circumstances I probably would have either gone without or ran to the Tesco down the road to spend a good couple of quid to keep my stomach from rumbling. Prior preparation and sticking to budget 1 : Giant, ethically-rubbish corporation 0.

Anyway, by the time I eventually got home and stumbled through the door, my head was pounding and all I wanted to do was order a dirty takeaway, have a glass of wine and watch whatever rubbish was on the telly box. However, having £5.50 left of my £10 budget to last me until midnight on Thursday means that there is no room for such luxuries (which my waist line is probably thankful for). Instead of kicking off my shoes and watching Come Dine With Me repeats, I decided to treat myself to a bit of a pamper session.

I popped a bit of Ben Howard on the stereo and ran myself a bath. I'm not usually one for baths. You'll be pleased to know that I'm quite good at washing and I have a thing for showering every day (apart from a fateful time when I was mid-dissertation stress at Uni and realised that I hadn't brushed my teeth for five days. Please don't judge me). Baths, on the other hand, are time-consuming and, well, a bit boring. When you're in the bath it's difficult to check Twitter, shop online, browse for holidays and do all those other things that I spend my evenings doing and my money spending.

However, no good pamper session is complete without a bath. And with a load of Christmas Cath Kidston and Sanctuary bath goodies that I was yet to try, the time was ripe to take the plunge.

And take the plunge I did. It was completely blissful. The water was beautifully hot and having time away from a screen did my headache more good than a glass of wine could ever do. Accompanied by a recent copy of Oh Comely magazine, I stayed in until my skin looked decidedly pruney. Lovely.

Have you ever come across Oh Comely magazine? If you've not, I'd suggest you check it out right away. It's probably my most favourite publication on the planet - sort of like a combination of the best bits of G2 and the weekend supplements. The tag line of the magazine is keep your curiosity sacred, and that's exactly what it does. To give you a picture of the sort of stuff it covers, in the bath I read about a Lego grand prix, three stories about food, an amusing recollection of a 1996 school newspaper coup, an interview with a man who's created a game about punching bears in the mouth and a biog of a CBBC puppeteer. Covering art, fashion, people and a whole load of other stuff, it's pure joy and never fails to make me smile from cover to cover.

My lovely mum kindly got me a subscription to Oh Comely for my birthday last year, but embarrassingly - as much as I really do love it - they quite often get left unread on our coffee table. 3/4 of my life is spent looking at a screen rather than paper pages, which is quite sad really considering how much I love reading. Today was the first time that I'd picked a copy of Oh Comely in ages and I absolutely fell in love all over again. Living on a budget makes you appreciate what you already have.

Talking of what I already have, the next step in my pamper evening will be to clamber into bed with a cup of tea and a copy of The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. I need to crack on with reading this book - I'm massively enjoying it, but I keep getting distracted by new titles. When you only have £5.50 to your name, buying another book isn't on the cards.

I need to make time for more evenings spent like this. Switch the telly off. Shut down the laptop. It's a shame that it's living on a tenner which has forced me to do it.

Night all x

The Tenner Challenge day four
Total spent: £4.50

p.s My daffodils reminded me that it's almost spring today. Hurrah!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Tenner Challenge: day three - preparation, preparation, preparation

I bloody love Sundays, even ones spent trying to be thrifty. They're usually full of the best things - lie ins, good food, watching a dozen episodes of the OC boxset without feeling too guilty and numerous cups of tea. Apart from the back-to-work dread that usually rears it's ugly head at about 9pm, Sundays are my favourite sort of day.

Today was no different really, but instead of spending it in a dreamy, listless, OC filled haze (I've only watched four episodes today), I set myself the challenge of getting prepared for the week ahead to try and ensure that I cut out any non-necessary spending - I've only got £6.50 of my weekly £10 budget left after all.

Being organised

I like to think I'm quite good at being organised. I was in the Guides for a few months when I was ten, and whilst I didn't really get the whole serving other people and loving my God thing, I loved getting badges that I could sew on my sash for ironing and making fairy cakes. I thrived off the whole 'being prepared' ethos, so much so that if there was an adult version of the Guides (one without the dodgy uniform), I'd be there in a flash. Whenever we go on holiday, I'm the sort of person that has my bag packed a week before. I plan meals a week in advance. I love writing lists so much that I've invested in an ingenious notepad from Staples that is perfect for list writing. I hate the thought of not knowing what's going to happen next - I have had a life plan since the age of seven, for crying out loud. In my head, at least, I am Miss Rebecca Organised.

The reality is very different. As much as I like writing lists and packing for holidays way in advance, I don't do 'being prepared' for day-to-day stuff very well at all.

Where does all the money go?

Today I thought about where I spend money during the week (apart from socialising and nipping into town to buy extremely pretty things). I narrowed it down to the following:

  • Eating out on a whim - with only £6.50 to my name, I don't think I'd even be able to stretch to a Burger King this week, so unless I go massively over-budget the risk here has been largely removed. As I discussed on Friday, we've planned our meals for this week and bought all of the stuff we could possibly need in advance. Prior preparation should mean that we don't need to spend extra at the over-priced Co-op across the road.
  • Lunch - snoozing the alarm so I don't have time to make lunch is one of my worst pouring money down the drain habits. Even worse is the fact that I quite often take leftovers in for lunch, but then decide come lunchtime that I'd much rather have something from elsewhere. There are other weeks when I simply don't factor in lunch in our weekly shops. This habit must be stopped if money is to be saved and Thrifty is to become my new middle name.
  • Sweet stuff - I have a serious sweet tooth. Even if I've been a good girl and taken in leftovers or a sandwich or soup for lunch, I very often end up nipping out to the shop for a sneaky chocolatey something come lunchtime. Even if I only spend 60p a day, that's still £3.00 a week - which is almost a third of this week's budget.
  • Last minute realisations that there's a birthday/other event coming up that hasn't been planned for - Although I do try to set a budget on a monthly basis, family/friends' birthdays or other events that I already know are coming up have a tendency to sneak up on me without being budgeted for. Quite often this can take a large chunk out of the bank balance, putting any attempt at budgeting completely out of kilter.

Living on a tiny budget takes large amounts of preparation.

Today I did the following to try to ensure that I stick to my minimal budget this week:

  • Made rolls for lunch boxes - following a Paul Hollywood recipe, I made 12 crusty rolls from ingredients that we already had in the cupboard. Although buying baking ingredients can initially be reasonably expensive, you can make a good few loaves from a single bag of flour. There's no doubt about it - bread making is time consuming, but my efforts today mean that I'm left with 12 delicious looking baps that should curb my craving for splurging money on lunches out this week. I've also promised myself that I'll make lunch every night before bed. Hurrah!

  • Made biscuits for a cheap sugar rush - again using store cupboard ingredients, I made two dozen sweet little heart-shaped biscuits that can be called upon when only something sweet will do. 

  • Raided Card Factory - I checked my diary and saw that I have a couple of birthdays coming up this week. Usually I'm a massive fan of Scribbler and Paperchase for birthday cards, but at £3+ a card desperate times called for desperate measures. Although Card Factory isn't exactly known for beautiful design or high quality paper, their 10 cards for £1 offer was just too good to refuse this week. It's the thought that counts, right? Birthday cards - sorted!

Preparation is tiring

Although this weekend hasn't exactly been a wild one, I've still managed to go out and do some bits and bobs that I enjoy. Today we popped to Leeds Farmers' Market which was lovely as usual, and although it was difficult to look but not buy, I still really enjoyed having a mooch (and the free tasters helped a lot). This weekend has proven that having fun on a budget can be done, it just takes a lot of prior preparation. And preparation can be tiring. Sometimes it's really lovely just to be able to do stuff on a whim - to see where the wind takes you and spend without really thinking about it. 

So, there we have it. A whole weekend done and only £4.50 spent. Am I proud of myself? I most certainly am. Has it been different from other weekends? It has been. And have I still had fun? Most definitely yes. 

Tenner Challenge day three
Total spent: £4.50

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Tenner Challenge: day two - economical exploring

When I woke up this morning the sun was shining, the birds were singing (er, ish - I don't think I've ever seen, let alone heard, a bird in Leeds city centre) and after a few days of being a bit under the weather I was feeling decidedly perky. It seemed like a perfect day to drag Ash out of bed and go for an explore. One of my favourite things about living in Leeds is the fact that it's also quite easy to get out of it - in twenty minutes you can be in the middle of the stunning Yorkshire Dales or exploring an old country heap somewhere. Trains are cheap and the bus network is extensive. Exploring is easy.

Or so I thought. When I actually started to look into what we could do today, I was met with a couple of pretty massive barriers. Firstly, when you only have a £10 budget to last you a whole week, trains are actually quite expensive - even with a Young Person's Railcard. To get to York (twenty minutes away) you're looking at something close to 3/4 of the weekly budget disappearing down the drain, and a return to nearby Ilkley would take out half in one foul swoop. Normally spending £7+ on a train ticket to somewhere pretty wouldn't even cross my mind - my card would be in that ticket machine before you could shout Betty's  Afternoon Tea - but as a famous man once said, the times they are a'changing (well, for this week at least).

Right, I thought, time for a change of tack. Let's go local. Despite living in Leeds for ages, there are tons of places I haven't been. I've never been to Temple Newsam house or farm, and Thwaite Mills are unknown territory too. Let's pop on a bus and go somewhere, I thought. How wrong I was. Although you can walk around the grounds for free (which I've done before), entry to Temple Newsam is £6 per adult, and the bus fare would be significant too. Thwaite Mills (which we could walk to) would take out £3.70 per adult - and Ash didn't seem all that enthusiastic. Back to the drawing board.

A visit to Saltaire

After a bit of thinking, we decided to pop on a train to Saltaire and go for a walk. Saltaire is just 15 minutes away from Leeds by train, and a return ticket (with a Young Person's Railcard) set us back just £2.90 each.

I'm not sure if going to Saltaire really counts as exploring - I've been there lots of times before - but it's somewhere local that I really love visiting. It's a UNESCO world heritage site, named after Sir Titus Salt's mill that dominates the town. It has a fascinating history and the mill is now a wonderful Arts Centre which is full of Hockney paintings and one of my most favourite local bookshops and home/kitchen stores. It's a living, breathing little place with a wonderful park, lovely junk shops, a brewery, a canal and a real sense of community. Ash and I love it so much, in fact, that we're seriously considering a move to one of the workers' cottages when our contract expires on the flat in June. It just feels like how a home should feel.

Friday, 1 February 2013

The Tenner Challenge: day one - frugal food

As I blogged on Thursday, I've challenged myself to live on just 10GBP this week. To put this in perspective, that's the same as a Tesco Finest dinner for two, a cinema ticket and (almost) a half, or half a ticket to see Bradford City play at home. It really doesn't seem a lot - but with half of the world living on less than a dollar a day and 4.4 million jobs in the UK paying less than £7 per hour, it's substantially more in the way of weekly disposable income than many others experience.

Although I've been at home today and therefore out of the grips of most forms of temptation, I've really started to realise how difficult this week is going to be. My inbox is completely cluttered by daily 'offer' deals, all tempting me to buy a meal for two for £20, or this season's new trends, or a weekend break in the Lake District for a price that's really hard to refuse. Email marketing is all about capturing attention and bringing about a feeling of urgency -get this deal now or you'll regret it forever. I fall for this sort of stuff all of the time, when in reality, will I regret it if I don't buy straight away and wait for a time when I actually seriously want the stuff? Probably not. There's always going to be another deal tomorrow.

Let's talk about food, baby.

Anyway, I digress. Apart from avoiding the perils of my inbox, I've spent some time working out exactly what I'm going to eat this week. As I explained in my last post, we budget for food, cleaning products and toilet roll etc on a monthly basis (spending £80 each for the month, or £160 to feed two people - in theory including breakfast, lunches and dinners - for 31 days). As such, food isn't included in my £10 challenge - although snacks, alcohol, toiletries and any extra food not bought during the weekly shop is, so this was a week to be extra careful with what went in the trolley.