Saturday 31 August 2019

The Magic Gas Cylinder

Here at the Van I run on a mixture of mains electricity ... supplied at cost so low that a once yearly bill just about creeps into the tens of pounds rather than hundreds ... and bottled gas.  The gas fuels the central heating, hot water and cooker and everything else is electric.

Last year I think we bought five or six cylinders the whole year, and considering we were here through some cold weather with the central heating on whenever we needed it I think that's pretty good going.  Each cylinder costs £67 plus £2 delivery so even if it was six last year that's a total cost of less than £500 for heat, hot water and cooking.  Not too high a price to pay to be nice and cosy, clean and well fed.

This year I bought the first replacement cylinder just five days after we arrived at the Van, the next just three weeks later.  I don't know if they are affected by being stood in freezing cold temperatures but that second purchase seemed very quick ... even with the heating on a lot.

Anyway I can't complain at all as the one I am currently using has been on the go since then,  a grand total up to now of 23 weeks.  Yes ... twenty three!

Last weekend Alan even went and double checked that we had not switched to the spare cylinder and forgotten to replace a used up one ... but no, it's the same one.

Of course the downside to thinking that we are about to run out of gas at anytime for so long is that every shower feels like a game of Russian Roulette.  

It's not quite the end of the world when we are both here, there's plenty of room to  sidestep in the shower and turn off the icy cold water while the other person hearing your screams of  'arrgghh what the f*ck'  can quickly nip outside the Van click over the diverter switch and turn on the new gas bottle, then come back inside and reset the combi boiler, meaning your nice hot shower merely has a bit of a commercial break.

 But when I'm on my own ... which has been a lot this year ... the thought of being left covered in soap suds with only the option of a cold rinse, is not a nice thought!

It's got to run out soon ... unless it's a magic gas cylinder!!

All the photos today are of the back of the Van ... a side I don't think I've shown before.

Sue xx

Thursday 29 August 2019

Three Weeks, Three Books and a Spoilt Pug

Hot, sunny days are very conducive to sitting out on the decking with a good book and a little bit of company.  Not that I like sitting in the sun at all,  I stay in the relative cool of the shadow cast by the Van until it runs out as the sun moves overhead, then like a vampire scared of the light I scurry down onto the bench in the little garden as happily, just as I run out of shade in one favourite spot, it creeps along to the next.

Suky is on the chair as the Astro-turf was ringing wet after a few days of heavy rain.  She sat in the doorway of the Van for a few minutes looking sad and abandoned until I realised what she wanted.  Then later that day she was loathe to hand the comfort of the chair back to Alan when he arrived ... she is now the mistress of the withering 'I was here first' look.

Anyway back to three books in three weeks ... something that only a couple of years ago would have been just a regular occurrence, nothing special to write about and well, just normal. 

 These days though, it seems I have let my reading of books slip, slide away from me without me even noticing.   I haven't even been reading magazines since I let all my subscriptions fizzle out one by one.  Living simply and without even a letterbox for them to plop through means magazines through the post are a bit of a no-no.

So over the last couple of weeks I made a concentrated effort to reach for a book instead of my phone.  It's oh so easy to tumble through a warren of YouTube clips, blogs, Instagram Stories and Facebook comments when all you meant to do was check your emails.  So much time can so easily be wasted if you're not careful.

And I wasn't being careful!!

The Girl Before was a very unusual choice for me.  I haven't read a mystery/murder book for years and over the past year or so I haven't read any fiction at all.   For some reason though this one grabbed my attention from the Tesco charity book sale table, so I deposited my pound coin in the box and popped this in my bag.  It is a very good book, highly recommended,  but as I now know the outcome it's no good to keep and re-read so it's in the car boot sale pile.

It took me a while to get hooked on this, and if I'm honest I almost gave up.  I think the problem was that it has a great beginning, a so-so and quite drawn out middle but then I discovered Emma is a fellow blogger and my interest was piqued once more.

It was good but not good enough to stay, so it's in the car boot sale pile.   I have, however,  saved Emma's blog address and added it to my sidebar so I can pop by and check it out. 

While I read through the two books above I had Stephen and David Flynn's second 'Happy Pear' book on the go at the same time.   I like to have a recipe book that I can dip into when I've only got a few minutes to spare ... inspiration for meals along with glorious photos of the foods that I love to eat what better way to pass the time while waiting  for the kettle to boil. 

So three books in just under three weeks, can I do the same again ... it will be interesting to see.  With the days and nights suddenly cooling down and SO much rain it should be easily possible.

I just need to stay off my phone, tablet and computer a bit more and remember how much I love the weight of a book in my hands, the feel of pages in my fingers.  Remember how easy it it to pick up and put down a book and how wonderful it is to vanish into a whole new world while curled up in a cosy corner with a big mug of coffee ... and a snoring Pug.

Sue xx

Tuesday 27 August 2019

My Fifty Foods

The other day I was sat at my desk in the office and I had an idea. 

 In a bid to simplify the food in the cupboards both in Wales and at the Van I decided to list my most frequently and regularly eaten foods.  As you can see from the start of my scribblings I had just eaten breakfast!

My idea struck me because each and every time I have done a Challenge that has entailed eating our way through the cupboards there has been a core of food left untouched.  Sometimes it was subsequently donated to Food Banks but usually because it was out of date, it was put back into the cupboard in an 'out of sight, out of mind' kind of mentality.

I decided not anymore ... I need simplicity in all things even food.

Thinking back over challenges from years ago I remembered the Project 333 clothes challenge and it's founder Courtney Carver trying to start a similar challenge with food.  She named it Capsule Kitchen and ran it on the same principles as Project 333.  Every three months you would choose 33 food items to eat for that three month season.  I gave it a very brief go (as you can see here) but it just didn't click with me then for some reason.  Why not now I thought.

Well, I got to thirty items of regularly eaten foods and then I thought I should go downstairs and actually look in the cupboards, in the fridge and in the freezer to see what I actually had in there.  Turns out I had missed a couple of very regularly eaten foods ... I can't see me living without peanut butter for very long!

So I changed it to the more niftily title of My Forty Foods, with some none included items.  Then I thought hang on you can't have 'non-included items' it has to be virtually all-inclusive.

While I was going through the cupboards I decided to be brutal and did something that is very unusual for me ... I threw food away!  All the things that were out of date, that had lived through so many of the Challenges and somehow remained on a shelf, were tipped out of their jars or packets and binned.  The jars and boxes went into the recycling and the old foodstuff went straight into the bin.

This new way of eating and shopping should stop this ever having to happen again.  

Of course, if you have studied the list in any detail you will see that fish, meat, dairy and eggs are not mentioned at all  This is because this is my list, if he wants them Alan is obviously allowed to buy any of the non-mentioned items with absolute impunity ... as long as he eats them!!

You will also no doubt notice that lentils are in the 'miscellaneous' column, that is because I buy them in both tinned and dried form, so it simplifies things to do it this way.

I'm not being completely rigid in this, so for instance if I fancy a box of vegan Magnums for a treat or a big bag of crisps, even though they are not on my list I would still buy them.  They are just something I would not keep a regular stock of, they are a treat or splurge item.

Sue xx

Thursday 22 August 2019

Take Time to Live in the Moment.

What if all I want is a small, slow, simple life?

What if I am most happy in the space of in-between?

Where calm lives.

What if all I need are minimal things?

Simple ingredients.

That make simple foods.

A snugly bed.

Spaces to explore.

The world outside our doors is a mixed-up place at the moment.

The bad seems to outshine the good on a daily basis.

But you must look for the good

You must always look for the good.

The good is in the simple day to day life that calms the soul and keeps us on an even keel.

It's in the people that rush to help when temporarily bad swamps good.

It's in the smiles you see if you stop for a moment as you hustle and bustle about your business.

It's in the happy faces of the moment.

We need to take the time to live in the moment.

Our lives are made up of moments.

Many, many moments.

Some good, some bad ...

... but all ours.

Let's cherish our moments.

Sue xx

Monday 19 August 2019

My Prescription

Yes, very quiet.

I want to read a good book ... and yes this is proving itself to be a very good book ... drink black coffee and eat simple food.

After a week of feeling pretty wiped out with an almost flu-like cold, all of the above seem very appealing.  I've added in occasional forays out into the fresh riverside air for Puggy comfort breaks and human leg stretching, but not much more will be accomplished this week.

That's my prescription for myself.  

What's yours for when you're feeling under the weather?

Sue xx

Sunday 18 August 2019

Selling from Home

We were due to do a car boot sale this weekend, but right until the night before the weather forecast was a bit hit and miss, and to be completely honest we really didn't fancy loading the truck up in the rain on the off chance that we would be able to sell the next day.

Instead, I spent a couple of hours photographing and listing things on Facebook Marketplace and when Saturday dawned bright and sunny it didn't matter too much that we weren't all set for the car boot sale ... we had two buyers on their way to pick up two of listed items.

You don't need another bookcase when you have half as many books, and after serving us well for a while in the garage holding lots of bits and bobs that we needed keeping off the floor, this long low bookcase ... formerly a display unit in a friends delicatessen and then a shelf in my gift shop, then a bookcase in three of our homes ... was finally destined to belong to someone else.  I think I had more than my money's worth out of it.

Also off to pastures new was our apple store we bought when we had visions of us being completely self sufficient in whole fruits for the Winter.  It never happened, what we didn't eat instead of trying to store whole we instead chopped and froze ... much less hit and miss.

In fact, this is the only apple the apple-store has ever seen.  Alan's version of 'visual merchandising'.  The store has been in regular use in the chicken shed for the past few years though, a handy set of drawers for all things 'chicken'.

So we didn't need to leave the house, the buyers came to us, gave us their money and took away the things that they wanted.  Win, win ... a good mornings work and another £60 in the coffers to go towards our Sark spending money.

Simplifying our lives is proving to be very rewarding and very satisfying.

Sue xx

Saturday 17 August 2019

Bridges and Water

I love being near water and when we're at the Van I am truly spoilt with canalside walks only a short drive or walk away depending on where we pick them up.  In hot weather, we drive into Garstang and park up and join the canal at any of the bridges that intersect the town.  It means that little Puggy legs don't have too far to trot to be close to the water and its amazing smells and sights.  In the cooler weather, when her little Puggy legs and snuffly nose can go further we simply cross the busy A6 from the caravan park and wander down country lanes that eventually lead us to the same canals.

There's so much to look at on a canal path so walks are never the same two days running.  There's the wildlife, the other towpath users ... cyclists, runners and dog walkers, but our favourite pastime is checking out the boat names.  The cute, the comedy, the obvious mishmash of two Christian names.  Our current favourites are 'Pist n' Broke' ... an obvious work in progress, and 'My Newt' ... which is the teeniest, tiniest little barge you ever did see!!

But on the days when I stay closer to home each morning the sound of the river rushing by as I walk with Suky along the riverbank is soothing, and I've been known to sit on a damp bench for far too long just to stay in the vicinity of the water for longer.  There's so much to delight the senses, the fresh morning smell, the sounds of birds, the water itself or the ducks squabbling noisily amongst themselves over titbits thrown from the riverside caravans.

Of course, if you have water you usually need the means to cross it and bridges are another thing close to my heart.  The main bridges that lead into the caravan park have the river flowing under four of them, the road into the park under one and a pathway to the opposite bank of the river under the sixth.  Along the top of the bridge, the trains run busily day and night taking commuters from Preston to Lancaster and the Lakes and pulling goods wagons, relieving the road system in the area.

Truly a hardworking set of arches.

The other bridge on the caravan park is the new one over the river, built no doubt after the floods of the last few years that totally made getting into or out of the park impossible when the road flooded and stayed flooded.  It's this one that now sees new caravans brought onto the park and old ones removed, and each morning and evening it is used by the dog walkers crossing the river to let their faithful companions have the freedom of lead-free running for a while.

It holds no real beauty, but it is functional, solid and serves its purpose well.

I might not like it as much as the ones that look lovely, the ones that echo as you quietly call out 'helloo' as you walk under ... I just have to, it would be wrong not too.  

But Suky loves her bridge to freedom.  Will we go to the left, the right ... or is it 'coffee and cake' day and we will run straight down the road through the fields and end up in Suky's most favouritist shop in the whole wide world ... beating the ''bone shop' by the smallest whisker.

Sue xx

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Spot the Mistake ... or How Many Tit-Heads Can You Get in One Sentence.

Spot the mistake in this photo. 

Those of you that know me well will know that I always, always, always use plain white kitchen paper.  But some tit-head in the kitchen paper stacking section of the supermarket obviously mixed them closely together, or maybe it was some tit-head customer put one back in the wrong place ... well anyway, this particular tit-head of a shopper picked it up and slung it into her trolley without even noticing.  

Unfortunately, as it was a pack of four jumbo rolls this particular mistake is going to haunt me for months!!

I am in the process of minimising my usage of throwaway single-use kitchen paper, but I'm not rushing it.  I think some new habits need to be acquired gradually and with thought.  Hopefully, I will eventually make myself some re-usable cloths, the sort I can mop up spills with and then chuck into the washing machine, and also hopefully work out suitable ways to change the way I do things when I grab at a paper towel for food usage things.  But for this to work, I need to be aware of how and when I use them to make changing this particular lifelong habit viable as a long term solution.

One mistake I'm finding quite tasty though is the discovery of some 'volunteer' New Potatoes harvested when I was tipping out a bin of compost that had held potatoes last year.

Not all mistakes are bad ones then  😃

I apologise for the few days of silence, but when I have nothing to say ... I say nothing!!

Sue xx

Saturday 10 August 2019

A Simple Life ... Where Does it Begin?

So what triggers the yearning for a simple life, what triggers the urge to no longer want more, better, best?

There can be many deciding and contributing factors, but I think for me initially it was moving back to a more basic way of life.  Growing our own food, rearing our own animals, jumping off the conveyor belt that is modern life and realising that you don't have to go out to earn money to buy stuff that really does not benefit the life you wish to lead.

There's a lot to be said for the make do and mend mentality that goes along with living simply.  Once you start to look after and appreciate the things you have, buying more becomes gradually not as necessary.  Having the latest or the best is no longer a need or a want.

You learn to appreciate what you have, to make the most of the smaller things that make your life special ... a beautiful day, a well-grown courgette, a doggy walk over the sands with faithful companions.

What do most of us like best about holidays?

After chatting with friends, it came to light that the most appreciated holiday bonus is the lack of excess.  You pack just enough for the week, so you don't have to think too hard about what you are going to wear each day.  A good holiday is a t-shirt and jeans or shorts each day, and maybe alternating a nicer dress or two in the evenings.

If you self-cater the kitchen has everything you need ... and no more.

So there's no worrying about which food will be better on which plate, you plate up with what you have, and the atmosphere is all the happier for it.

You can choose to go all-out luxurious or plain and simple, but what is the same for both is that you do not have lots of possessions to look after.  What you took is what you must care for and the limited brainpower needed for that is refreshing.

Pretty, simple cottages make your heart happy when you get 'home' after a day out exploring your new surroundings.

There's not lots of housework to do, and even if you give everywhere a wipe down each day there are usually few trinkets and unnecessary things to move out of the way.  So any clean up takes minutes not hours.

With less stuff comes less to think about and that is why holidays, even self-catering ones, are relaxing.  Your brain is in 'holiday' mode and can chill out.

It was holidaying in all these cottages that set me on this new path, one which crept up on me in a very unassuming way.  Sneaking into my subconscious without me realising what was going on.  Going home after a week living so simply just highlighted the excesses we had acquired without even noticing.  

Jettisoning all this excess has left us both feeling freer, calmer and much happier.  Our current year-long amnesty is proving very liberating.  If we don't like something,  simply no longer want it or have a use for it, it can go into the car boot sale pile or be photographed and sold on Facebook Marketplace.  No questions, no guilt, no recriminations.

Truly liberating and the start of a whole new raft of adventures.

Learning what matters, and what is really necessary to enjoy life is the best thing ever.

Sue xx

Friday 9 August 2019

Missing the Quiet of Van Life

I'm missing the quiet of my Van life.   The calm and peace of the riverbank.

The simple food, cooked or not cooked just for one.

And sleeping with a gently snoring Pug in my bedroom ... although saying that sometimes she does get a tad louder and squeakier as she chases unknown menaces in her sleep.

The reason it's so much noisier on our Welsh hillside all of a sudden is the National Eisteddfod which is going on all week just a few miles up the road from us.  It has brought with it the need for much more frequent trains running on a now exposed line, with no trees to muffle the sound of their passing.  So much extra traffic is passing by the house on the road from very early in the morning until late at night, and alongside all this noise and movement is the constant thud, thud, thud as fence posts are being driven in in the fields that run alongside the railway as the modifications along the track continue.  And then later through the night, the large trucks bringing huge rocks to shore up the railway line embankments queue up along the road directly outside our house, their orange revolving lights lighting up the bedroom in the weirdest way,  waiting their turn to deliver their boulders.

 Even now as I sit in the office trying to get this to read right,  the sounds are merging to form an almost hypnotic and annoying medley of noise befuddling my brain and weirdly making me crave more caffeine than I know is good for me.

I think it's time to hit the road and head for some peace and quiet.

Sue xx

Thursday 8 August 2019

She's Off ...

Just before the heatwave hit the other week, we made the decision to turn off the Aga.  Before that she had not been off for well over a year, she was switched off briefly early last Spring but we missed the familiar warmth so much she only stayed off for a couple of days ... she was after all the heart of the home.

Well that's what I thought, this year though it's strange but I feel totally differently about her.  

The beautiful cool of the kitchen each morning is wonderful to step into.  No rushing around opening windows to let the overwhelming heat escape.  Of course, we do miss opening the oven doors and chucking something in knowing it will be beautifully cooked in next to no time.

But shhh ...  don't tell her ... she has a couple of little replacements, that between them are managing to do all the things that her great big hunk of hot cast iron usually does. 

 A simple little hot plate bought off Amazon deals with all the boiling, simmering, and poaching, while our trusty old Remoska is sharing oven duties with the microwave.   As Alan has found it cooks a mean steak and has his bacon sizzling and crispy in no time.

I'm loving the simplicity of this so much I'm very tempted to get rid of the hob in the Van and have just one of these instead.  Just think of all that extra space I would have on the worktop.

Ours is an electric Aga, a reconditioned older model that is a doddle to switch on and off, although she will take a full 24 hours to reach optimum temperature once we decide that it's time for her to be switched back on.  And for that we need to run off the mains as she only runs off our solar power during the day.  She drained the battery back up system so much at night when we first installed her that she would have shortened the life of the battery bank.  So she was switched over to a 50/50 use of mains and solar power.

And talking of power we are saving a lot of money while she is switched off and the sun is shining so regularly, the 45 solar panels are pulling in the lovely daylight and sending a much larger proportion to the National Grid meaning more money for us and less being eaten by a hungry Aga.

Sue xx

Wednesday 7 August 2019

Miss It When I'm Away

Vanlife suits me to a tee.

I miss it when I'm away (like now) .. but relish it all the more when I can get back.

The lazy moments are celebrated and appreciated.

Doggy walks are to be enjoyed by everyone.  

I try to get into the dogs' mindset ... noticing the things around me, the smells of the damp grass, the all invasive Himalayan Balsam.  I see the damselflies flitting over the river, I hear the sounds like the river lapping at the bank and the motorway humming in the distance, the crackle of the electricity in the pylons as we cross under the wires.  If you forget all about everything that usually fills your mind, the lists of things to do, things people have said to you, things you want, things you need and give yourself over to the walk it becomes so much more in every way.

Photo from Google Images

Forgetting the worries or thoughts of the day and being in the spirit of the walk means it's so much more relaxing. 

And if Suky leads me almost unbidden to our favourite 'coffee and cake' shop it is usually very welcomed, with the hustle and bustle of ordering a filter coffee, picking up a glass of water and a Bonio dog biscuit (her 'coffee and cake') for Suky, exchanging pleasantries with the staff and other customers, and finally finding a table leading me back in a nice gentle way into the day ahead.

Sue xx