Truth and Justice, and the Serial Podcast

Serial podcast

What were you doing on a particular day 16 years ago?

This is the question at the heart of the Serial Podcast, an award-winning series which reports on the murder investigation of Hae Min Lee, an 18 year old student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore. She was abducted and killed on 13 January 1999. Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was convicted of her murder and given a life sentence. He’s still in prison, despite protesting his innocence throughout. Continue reading Truth and Justice, and the Serial Podcast

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DIY Gel nails at home

DIY gel nail colour

Gel nail varnish stays on for two weeks and has a better finish than normal nail polish. However it will cost you at least £20 every two weeks to have the polish soaked off and re-applied, as well as the time it takes for the appointment.

DIY gel nails are really easy once you know how and it means that you can do your nails whenever it suits you (evenings in front of the TV for me). I like the Blue Sky range but you can also use Shellac, OPI, SensatioNail or any of the other brands. Continue reading DIY Gel nails at home

Blogging with WordPress is as easy as childsplay

Ok, so I have not been great at posting regularly on this blog, but you know how life gets in the way of doing all the things you want to do?

Setting up a blog really is easy – in fact it was easy enough for my nine-year-old to do this week with minimum help from me. Just follow these steps and you can’t go wrong.. Continue reading Blogging with WordPress is as easy as childsplay

Upcyling charity shop clothes – easy no sew skirt alteration

I love rummaging through charity shops to see what I can find. I have brought home some awesome clothes for the kids in the past and things for the house. Quite often I find clothes that I really like but are the wrong size or not quite the right shape, so I have taken to upcycling them. Doing your own skirt alteration may be a bit daunting if you are not used to it, so here is an easy method to alter the length of a skirt that doesn’t involve any sewing!

This skirt caught my eye because of the colours and tweedy pattern. It was the right size for me but way too long. So here is my step by step instructions on how to shorten a skirt using the ‘no sew’ method!

 

The skirt before alteration
The skirt before alteration

1. Get the skirt length right

Use an existing skirt to measure the length.
Use an existing skirt to measure the length.

I used an existing (black) skirt that I have to guide me in the right length for my alteration.

Measure the skirt’s length from waistband to hem and then pin that same length along the fabric of your skirt to be altered. Try it on at this point as the waistband of one skirt might sit higher than the waistband of the other, which would result in the wrong length! It’s also worth trying the skirt on with the shoes you would normally wear with the outfit, as heels vs flats will make a difference in how the skirt sits on your hips.

Measure the hem allowance.
Measure the hem allowance.

Cut the excess fabric off, leaving around 5cm additional length for your hem. If your skirt is lined (like mine was) then just cut the lining to the same length for now.

 

Cut away!
Cut away!

 

2. Create the hem

Iron creases into your hem allowance to create the folds for your hem by folding the fabric up into the wrong side of the skirt. It can be easier to do this if you turn the whole skirt inside out. You want to fold the hem up about 2cm, iron it flat, then fold it up again, about 2.5cm and iron it flat again.

By doing this you will make sure that your hem is even all the way around and you can double check that the skirt length will be even all over, using a tape measure. Pop a few pins in and try the skirt on again.

Fold, iron, fold, iron
Fold, iron, fold, iron

3. Iron in place

Iron hemming tape in place.
Iron hemming tape in place.

Once you are happy with the hem length you can iron in the hemming tape (Wundaweb). Take care not to touch it with the iron as it can get very sticky!

 

4. Dealing with lining

If your skirt is lined you will need to lay it flat and mark out the final length of the skirt on the lining using either pins or tailor’s chalk. For the finished garment you ideally want the lining to fall 2-5cm shorter than the skirt, so cut away any excess and repeat steps 2 and 3 for the lining.

Because lining fabric is harder to work with I tend to pin it through to the ironing board to keep it in place better. For lining you want the hem to sit on the outside of the skirt so that any rough edges are away from your legs.

 

Cut away excess lining.
Cut away excess lining.
Pin the lining to the right length.
Pin the lining to the right length.
Pin lining hem.
Pin lining hem.
Iron into place.
Iron into place.

5. Wash and iron – finished!

The finished skirt!
The finished skirt!

Here are the tools needed to do the job with a link to suggested products on Amazon:

How I cut our energy bills by half

Energy Company logos

I realised this week that we have cut our energy bills (gas and electricity) by half compared with what it was this time last year. I’m quite proud of that! I haven’t done anything radical, but I have played the system a bit, so here are my tips to see if you can make a saving too.

You probably shop around for a mortgage deal and the best credit card, so why not your energy account too? We’ve ended up saving hundreds of pounds per year on our energy bills, which actually makes me quite embarrassed now that we paid so much before!

[At this point I will declare an interest that I have an energy company as a business client, but what that does mean is that I can share a bit of insider knowledge!]

1. Get an online account

Most of the UK’s energy providers allow you to register for an online account. This enables you to access your details via the web and gives you better visibility of your energy usage and therefore puts you in control. Look for a ‘log in’ or ‘register’ button on your energy company’s website.

2. Check you are on the right tariff

Using your online account you can see if you are on the right tariff for your needs. If you have come to the end of a fixed term deal (just like mortgages you can get 1-year or 2-year fixed price deals for energy) you may have been transferred onto a standard tariff, which is normally higher rate and will be costing you more. Use your company’s tariff checker to see if you could save money by switching to a different product. Before you switch check if there is an exit fee for the product you are currently on.

3. Select the money saving options for your new tariff

Some companies give discounts for paperless online billing and monthly direct debit. Unless you have an aversion to either they can save you a reasonable amount of money (£50+). If you are on a pre-pay meter try to get a credit meter installed as they generally offer better priced deals. If you opt to take both gas and electricity from the same provider you may also qualify for a dual fuel discount of £15-£20. Some providers offer extra benefits such as Tesco Clubcard points or Amazon vouchers either as a one-off golden welcome or as an ongoing customer benefit, so take those into account too.

4. Opt in to price alert emails

Some providers will notify you each time they drop their prices or issue a new product that could be cheaper. Other providers will notify you 6-monthly. Either way, it is worth signing up for this service as it ensures that you are kept up to date on the latest deals from your current provider.

5. Join the Cheap Energy Club and switch supplier

Sign up for Moneysavingexpert.com’s Cheap Energy Club. This works as an intermediary, using the collective buying power of all the members to negotiate the best prices for a fixed time period. Again, it is worth signing up to join the club and you will be notified when a collective switch is available. When the switch opportunity comes along you get to select the best tariff for you, from whichever company you want, and the switch is managed via the intermediary.

Before you switch just check out the green credentials and customer service ratings for your new supplier, as it is sometimes worth paying a little extra to get a good service. You can however even use the club to switch tariff and stay with the same supplier.

6. Get accurate bills

Estimated bills are not good for you or the energy company, so provide regular (at least monthly) meter readings (either online or via your company’s mobile app) to ensure that you get an accurate bill. Otherwise you could be paying over the odds for energy you haven’t used. Watch out for what they call the ‘billing window’ which is a period during which the meter reading/estimate that is on the system is used even if you provide an accurate reading.

Once Smart Meters are installed across the country you won’t have to provide meter readings any more as they will be automatically transmitted to your provider, but for now the responsibility is for you to provide accurate consumption data to your provider.

7. Cut your energy use

Whilst the biggest savings to be made are by switching supplier and/or tariff you can still save money by cutting down on the amount of energy you use.  A lot of the energy saving tips will save you a few pounds a year, but I discovered that the biggest savings you can make are by turning your heating and/or hot water down by a few degrees.

Being completely nesh [Nesh: Nottingham slang for a person who feels the cold] I couldn’t face turning our heating down but have dropped our water temperature to 60 degrees (Hot water should be stored at 60 °C at least in order to kill legionella bacteria.) No-one has noticed and I am sure it has made a difference to our energy bills!

Many energy companies offer an energy saving tracker tool online, or a counter-top energy monitor which are worth using for a while at least to understand where you use energy and how you could make savings. Worth looking into if you have the time and sufficient attention span!

I’d love to hear how you get on and if you manage to make savings too!

What is your hidden vegetable masterpiece?

The Art of Hiding Vegetables

I was chuckling to myself today as I blended up some celery to hide in the chilli I was making, that hiding vegetables is a becoming an art form. It’s the most cunning way to get fussy eaters to get their 5-a-day without the tantrums. Parents up and down the country are chopping, slicing, dicing and blending to disguise healthy ingredients in children’s dinners. The hidden vegetable secret is shared in whispers at the school gate lest the kids cotton on.

I’m sure the Earth Mother fraternity will have something to say about this. It is perhaps not ethical to trick your children into eating things that they don’t know about, or want to eat? Is it an infringement on their human rights to tell then that a bit of swede is a carrot, just to get them to eat it? Perhaps so, but for me, and lots of others, hiding healthy stuff in our kids’ dinners is a way to ensure that your child is eating well, and lets you feel like you are being a good parent.

I have overstepped the mark a few times when the offending vegetable ingredient wasn’t chopped small enough to disappear from sight, or had a distinctive taste that I couldn’t mask with the sauce. Fennel, for instance is not going to be able to don any sort of disguise and get away with it. Over the years my son has finely honed his radar for things he doesn’t like, and can now identify a hidden mushroom from the other side of the kitchen, no matter how small it is.

Aubergine or Eggplant?
Aubergine… mysterious Mediterranean ingredient to some… alien eggplant to others.

Yet, I can still get away with hiding vegetables so long as I act smart and know my limitations. Onions, celery, anything that can pass for carrot, cauliflower, courgette and so on are all staples in my book. Chopped to oblivion in the food processor I challenge anyone to pick them out of a shepherd’s pie.

My finest moment in the Hidden Veg Oscars was when I added Aubergine to a lasagne.  Despite its distinctive dark colour it got with the joke and snuck into the shadows of the lasagne, never to be found by the hungry children. I could barely contain my glee, sitting eating my veg-packed layered baked dish with the rest of the family, knowing what only I knew… ha ha ha.

So, what is your finest moment in vegetable hide and seek? Broccoli anyone?

Happy Second Christmas!

second christmas

Last weekend we held our second Christmas – complete with cracker jokes and paper hats.

There we all were, towards the end of January with our full Turkey Dinner, crackers, presents, party games and a bit of booze to merry us along. One year we even had the tree and lights out again! The kids love catching up with their cousins and we get to sit and relax with family just like on the big day itself.

This tradition started one year when one family member had been ill over Christmas and therefore hadn’t managed to enjoy the festivities on the day. We thought it would be great to give Christmas a second chance in January or February, exchange presents and re-enact it all. It’s been such a success that we now plan head for our second Christmas, getting the date in well before 25 December itself.

An added bonus is that it takes the pressure off over the Christmas break, when we used to spend long frustrating days driving up and down the country to make sure that we saw all the family. One memorable Boxing Day was spent in a traffic jam on the M6 with our toddler howling his head off for now apparent reason for literally hours. Now we know that we will all see each other at Second Christmas, so there is no pressure to dash about ticking family off the list.

Yet more presents!
Yet more presents!

The kids get to open their presents from aunties and uncles, we get to have a few drinks with family and most importantly relax. I don’t think there is any other time in the year, other than Christmas, when we allow ourselves to chill out, enjoy good food and company for a whole day. It feels incredibly indulgent to give yourself the day off again in the New Year and not adhere to your weekend routine of kids clubs, chores, grocery shopping and so on.

We share out the responsibilities and cost for the Christmas Dinner so that it’s not too much for any one host, and we all bring along left over Christmas crackers, chocolates and anything else that is still fit to be consumed.

The downsides, if there are any, are that it doesn’t help with Dry January or any new year diets! I did also wonder what the passengers on the Number 108 bus thought we were doing with our Christmas cracker hats on in the middle of January.