Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree…

Norway Spruce – Picea abies

Many evergreen tree species are used for midwinter celebrations and one of the most commonly used and classic “Christmas tree” is the Norway spruce Picea abies.

Some people use artificial spruce trees which are cheaper and easier in the long term but they are made from plastic which eventually wears out and ends up in landfill.

Many of the real trees are imported into UK from Poland or elsewhere in Europe. In order to get to the stores for November they are sometimes cut as early as October. They are then sprayed to stop the needles falling.

I buy my tree from a local grower who operates on a very small scale. The trees are not sprayed, he cuts them when you select your tree. Cutting down the trees does make room for the nearby trees to expand and no trees are wasted because he cuts to order. It seems that there are more local suppliers operating this way.

Obviously the most sustainable option is not to have a tree at all, but buying a local organic tree does help to ease my conscience a little. I do also use other bits of the tree after the festivities have ended.

To date I have never tried to make any edible products, but people do make spruce beer and liqueurs. The tips are full of vitamin C and used in teas. The tree has many medicinal properties and is used to treat a wide range of problems including respiratory ailments, muscular aches, nervousness, anti bacteria and gout. Most tea and beer recipes appear to be made from the young shoots in the spring. I have seen people making syrups and liqueurs Christmas tree trimmings but I would suggest that if the tree is to be used for medicinal purposes only the young shoots should be used. It goes without saying never use trees that have or may have been sprayed. Spruce should be avoided during pregnancy as can act as an abortificant. I might attempt to make a drinkable product this year or maybe in the future.

In addition the tree is a source of resin and turpentine which also has medicinal properties. I have not used the tree medicinally before but will be on the look out for a tree I can harvest from in the spring.

Each year I do save the branches from the tree. The needles have been used in amulet bags, vacuum cleaner scent pouches, incenses and seasonal pot pourri and once I made a wand from the top. Spruce has particular associations with purification, healing and protection. Some people might prefer not to use the tree for magical purposes in case it had already served its protective purposes and absorbed negative energy during the festive season, others think that it honours the tree and retains some magic from the season. Either way it’s very much down to the individual. An average sized tree provides an ample supply of needles and often there are lower branches to be trimmed in order to fit the tree into the stand. I tend to trim the branches into small twigs and leave in paper sacks to dry. After a few weeks the needles drop off into the sacks. The twigs can be tied into small bundles and used as fire starters. If there are lower branch trimmings they can also be used in a seasonal wreath.

The wood can be seasoned and used as firewood or even as a “yule log” for the following year. This year I plan to saw the branches into sections and attempt to use as discs for pyrography. I bought a cheap tool a while ago and haven’t got round to trying it yet. I might make some rustic tree decorations.

I also intend to experiment with infusions and vinegars in cleaning products given its anti-bacterial properties and its similarity to pine which is a common fragrance for commercial disinfectant products and pine needles are used in homemade cleaning products.

I will create further posts once I start to experiment.

Further reading / sources

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/problem-solving/what-to-do-with-your-christmas-tree-in-january/amp/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/35221208/five-top-tips-and-some-others-on-what-to-do-with-your-christmas-tree

https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Picea+abies

https://en.heilkraeuter.net/herbs/norway-spruce.htm

https://articles.mercola.com/herbal-oils/spruce-oil.aspx

https://www.henriettes-herb.com/blog/hotw-fir-spruce-pine.html

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/common-non-native-trees/norway-spruce/

https://tesswhitehurst.com/the-magical-and-metaphysical-properties-of-trees/

https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/tag/norway-spruce/

https://brendid.com/evergreen-scented-vinegar/

https://www.diyncrafts.com/1618/homemade/homemade-pine-sol

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Fixing a broken zip

Today’s big achievement was that this wonderful post appeared on my Pinterest feed https://pin.it/7jrasoj2k47xsm

I remembered a coat that hadn’t been worn for a few years because the zipper was stuck halfway and I hadn’t got around to replacing it. I followed the advice on the YouTube video and within minutes the zip was repaired.

For an added precaution I rubbed the zipper with a wax crayon to help it slide up and down easier. Another tip I read somewhere.

Frugal tip

I keep some cheap wax crayons, coloured pencils and a couple of colouring books at home in case people drop by with kids and wax crayons seem to have several other uses around the home.

Frugal Celery Soup

How I reclaimed my Sunday

Having lain in bed until well past 2pm this afternoon with a packet of custard creams and a bad case of feline paralysis (where I was unable to move due to two cats lying on me), I decided enough was enough. Laziness is not conducive to a frugal lifestyle.

I spent the last hour of sunlight picking the remaining green tomatoes from my greenhouse to ripen indoors and I started to pull up the withered plants.

I then went indoors and decided to tackle the two buckets of vegetables I picked from the allotment yesterday: beetroot, carrots, parsnips, leeks, kale, red cabbage, chard, celeriac and celery. There were several feeble looking heads of celery which were already going limp. I’d picked them in case the weather turned as last year I lost my entire crop to frost. I decided on celery soup. My home grown celery is quite far removed from supermarket celery; the stems are much thinner and tougher and full of mud and little creatures. I painstakingly scrubbed the celery using the leafy bits, I also slowly washed all the mud from the two tiny celeriac and chopped up the bits that we don’t normally see (the long, straggly roots and the celery-like, leafy tops). All this took the best part of an hour. I also chopped up the leafy green bits from half a dozen leeks, a couple of shallots, four garlic cloves and a red onion. I sautéed the onions and leeks in a bit of oil for a few mins then added the celery and wilted for a bit. Meanwhile I scrubbed and peeled some of the last few potatoes from the summer (about 1lb). I added these to the pan along with some Italian seasoning and four stock cubes dissolved in about 3 and a half pints of water, simmered for about 40mins, then cooled for a bit before blending. It actually tasted OK. I was worried it might be a bit bitter due to the large quantity of leaf in it but it was a good consistency and quite edible. It made 8 good sized portions for the freezer.

I also managed two loads of washing, cooked a roast, did the washing up, prepped breakfast and lunch for tomorrow and scrubbed all of the allotment veg. I know the veg keeps slowly slightly better in its muddy state but I don’t have a nice cool outhouse to keep it in so I prefer to get the mess over in one hit. I find washed kale, spinach and chard along with any decent beetroot tops keep really well in a lidded plastic container in the fridge. The other veg I keep in the salad tray. In my attempt at frugality I have lined the salad tray with an old tea towel and used an old tea towel to dry the veg, both instead of using paper towels. I only picked enough for a week anyway and there should be enough for some more soup although I don’t know where I’ll find room in the freezer for it.

My other frugal project of the day was to start off a jar with citrus peel and white vinegar. This will be diluted 50:50 with water and used in a spray bottle as a multi-purpose cleaner.

All in all I am quite pleased with what I have achieved considering I spent half the day in bed.

Why am I cluttered?

Over the last few months I have been having counselling and journalling my experiences. This has lead me to ask myself a lot of questions. The big two questions I am asking myself at the moment are why am I cluttered? and why am I incapable of being clean and tidy?

I have read dozens of books and blogs and even watched TV programmes. There is no system that appears to wholly solve my problem.

Do I own too much stuff?

I think most adults are guilty of owning too much stuff. However most of the stuff I don’t often use is shoved up in my groaning attic. I regularly go through my clothes and remove items I don’t currently wear, excess kitchen stuff is stuffed in the garage or under the stairs. Yes I do have items which I no longer need and the big questions are why do I still have these items? and is decluttering the answer?

Homeless items

Looking around my home there are several items which do not have a home so are always out on display. These items help make the home appear cluttered, in my house the following items are homeless and tend to be poked everywhere:

  • Medicines
  • Makeup
  • Spare toiletries
  • Essential oils
  • Jewellery
  • Vacuum
  • Ironing board
  • Iron
  • Laundry basket
  • Spare coat hangers
  • Craft stuff, spare materials as well as half finished projects
  • Sewing materials
  • Computer bits and bobs
  • Stationery
  • “Witchy” items like tarot cards, candles, incense etc
  • Journals
  • Packaging materials
  • Gift bags, greeting cards, wrapping paper etc
  • Plastic bags
  • Recycling waiting to go outside
  • Rubbish
  • Compost bin
  • Cat items such as toys, food, litter, box
  • Paperwork that needs attending to including appointments, bills etc
  • Remote controls
  • Band merchandise
  • Clothes that need mending
  • Empty jars and bottles
  • Herbs
  • Herbal preparations
  • Vegetables
  • Large cooking and serving bowls
  • Keys
  • Spare toilet rolls and bathroom cleaning products
  • Linen, towels etc
  • Steam cleaner
  • Mop and bucket
  • Dustpan and brush
  • Tea towels
  • Cleaning cloths
  • Alcohol
  • Table mats
  • Kitchen gadgets
  • Teapots
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Oven gloves
  • Shoe cleaning stuff
  • Umbrellas
  • Shopping bags
  • Vacuum attachments
  • Handbags
  • ID cards, wallets, bank books
  • Sewing machine
  • Hats, gloves, scarves, sunglasses
  • Gifts bought early or items for other people
  • Shower mats
  • Bathroom scales
  • Exercise equipment
  • Massage table and rollers
  • Extra books, CDs, DVDs etc
  • Records
  • Paper bags
  • Tissue paper
  • Electric items such as as chargers, cables, light bulbs, hairdryer, razor, batteries
  • Things that do not belong to me

Why do these items not have a home?

Some of these items do have containers but the containers themselves are clutter and do not have shelves or cupboards to go in. Other items have assigned places e.g. Books but I have too many.

My kitchen is very tiny and is missing a wall due to the house having been made open plan downstairs. The house was knocked around before we moved in and I have to say that my neighbours’ houses that are not open plan do seem to have more room. This means I have a genuine lack of walls to put extra cupboards or shelves. Marie Kondo, the declutter queen, tells us not to purchase additional storage because most people already own sufficient storage.

I can see how that applies to some of the items on my list but some really don’t have a home such as the vacuum cleaner and ironing board. The traditional cupboard under the stairs has been incorporated into part of the kitchen so what is left is too small for them to fit. When we viewed the house I clocked the ironing board in the garage and thought to myself “perhaps she doesn’t do much ironing”. It’s only when you move in that you realise why it was there.

The other problem I have is that when I moved in a decade ago things got unpacked and shoved wherever very quickly and as more and more items came in they got shoved in the roof and new stuff placed in front of it, so it is all very difficult to access. The thought of sorting and the mess it entails is horrendous.

Over the last few years I have had little periods of enthusiasm and managed to sort some items in the roof but this hasn’t been touched now for at least 18 months.

A massive problem is that items are not boxed up ready sorted so any given box out of the 100 plus boxes up there in the attic could contain a mixture of items which has originated from my emergency tidying up method of shove everything in a bag when people are coming. Eventually the miscellaneous bags get emptied into a box in the roof and the cycle repeats.

Sometimes sorting requires space and time, both of these I don’t have at the moment.

Hobbies and frugal living

I love crafting and upcycling. I have craft and hobby items related to knitting, sewing, embroidery, card making, preserving, herbal lotions and potions. All of these items make use of items that most “normal” people would throw in the bin without a second thought. This is why I keep old clothes and bedding, glass jars and bottles, pretty paper and card, old wrapping paper, gift boxes etc. I see a future use in these items and am reluctant to throw away items that I have a use for. In an ideal world my day job would be pottering in the garden and doing crafts. Unfortunately I can’t make a living doing that so I have to go out to work and don’t have the time to do as many crafts as I would like. As a result of this my “craft stash” and unfinished projects take longer to work through. This also means that things I don’t particularly like doing such as cleaning, tidying, sorting, organising and decluttering get ignored.

How do I remedy this?

In my darkest moments I have considered either burning it all down or just running away. That is clearly not the solution.

I have considered renting a large storage unit, decanting the entire contents of the house into it. Creating a home for everything then bringing all the items back one by one; sorting and decluttering as I go. This is incredibly expensive and time consuming. It took weeks to pack everything into storage last time we moved and storage units are expensive. That time and money could be more usefully spent.

Marie Kondo: I love reading Marie Kondo’s books. I think her philosophy of thanking objects for their time with you is lovely way to respect once cherished items. I also think that she has some genius storage solutions. I would love to have all of my possessions neatly filed and organised but I am not ready for a full on “konmarie” festival which involves spending days sifting through huge piles of items, handling each item. This is something that that I can see myself doing in the future but I need to get there first.

Flylady.net: Flylady is another favourite. I have subscribed to her emails for 15 years and have tried to take on board some her philosophy. She is very much queen of little and often, making regular use of a kitchen timer for short cleaning bursts. This really does work for me if I can motivate myself in the first place. She promotes regular decluttering and focusing on one job at a time. She also champions two things I fully agree with: getting plenty of sleep and drinking enough water. Her advice is to create a home so that items can be easily put away and one of favourite mottos is “you can’t organise clutter”. Where I fail is that I haven’t enough places to create homes.

I have spent hours over the last few years visualising where extra shelves and cupboards could go, rearranging, remodeling. Much of this is currently beyond my capabilities and would require hiring in tradesmen – not something I want to do when I am trying to save money. Perhaps something I can save up for maybe in 2020.

So what can I do now?

I think that the way forward is to attempt what Flylady says is not possible and attempt to organise my clutter. I need to try and decide what should live in each room. Where the eventual home will be and remove items from the wrong location to its new room. I may have to continue to live with the storage boxes until I can afford shelves or cupboards. I can also return borrowed items to their rightful owners, sell or donate items I really don’t want and to try and generally be a bit tidier. My mum always says to take something upstairs if you are going upstairs and bring items back down with you. I do tend to place things on the bottom stair to go up and items on the landing to go down. I have started off some storage boxes in loft for specific items such as packaging, wool etc. This project must be continued.

I am setting myself some tasks to work on over the next 12 months. In theory at least some of the clutter will decrease by itself as I am using items up and not replacing them.

Task one: work on one room at a time. Decide what should live in that room and remove all items that do not belong there.

Task two: once it is decided what should live in that room work on the existing storage space so that it is organised and efficient.

Task three: have some boxes set up for unwanted items e.g. Sell, donate, recycle, upcycle. Try and deal with the boxes ASAP. Photograph and list items for sale immediately. Take charity items on next trip into town.

Task four: set aside some time each week to venture into the roof. Maybe tackle one box per week.

Task five: every day pick up after myself and put away what I have got out so that the clutter does not get any worse.

Task six: clean at least one thing everyday 

 

 

Medicine Review

I will start this post by saying that although this site was set up to explore herbal medicine, I do believe that there is a place for conventional, modern medicine as well as natural alternatives. I consult a GP for a diagnosis if I need to and will take prescribed medicines. However, I will usually seek out a herbal treatment for any common ailments that I am able to diagnose myself.

Medicine Reviews and saving on prescriptions

I am on several long-term prescribed medicines and although some of them are prescribed in two month supplies I have found the costs mounting up. I recently had my annual medication review. I get an annual review at my surgery because I am registered as an asthmatic but it is a good idea for everyone to get a medicine review when new medicines are prescribed or at least annually. This can also be carried out by a pharmacist who will be able to advise on medicines and whether it is safe to take alongside over the counter or herbal remedies.

Following my medicine review it seems that I will continue to be on these prescriptions for a while. I decided to save money by purchasing a prepaid medical certificate. If you are going to receive more than 3 prescriptions in a 3 month period you will save money. An annual one works out even cheaper. The more medicines you are prescribed the more money you save. Details can be found here https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/help-nhs-prescription-costs/prescription-prepayment-certificates

Don’t waste medicines

I will add that even if it seems like you are not paying any more for the prescriptions, I don’t think it is a good idea to stock up on medicines because if your prescription changes the medicine is wasted. Even unopened medicines cannot be redistributed and pharmacies have to dispose of them. The website http://www.medicinewaste.com/campaign suggests that unused medicines cost the NHS £300million each year.

Old or unused medicines should always be returned to a pharmacy for safe disposal and not flushed down the toilet as this could have detrimental impacts on the water system.

Expired medicines

The official guidelines would always suggest not taking prescription medicines that were prescribed for someone else and also not to take out of date medicines. I certainly would not take any unfamiliar medicine without reading the patient information leaflet. However, I probably have taken expired medicines because I rarely think to check the dates. I am not going to recommend that people do take expired medicines but I have found this Harvard article that looks into expiry dates on medicines

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/drug-expiration-dates-do-they-mean-anything

Storage

I have realised that one thing I do need to obtain or create is a proper medicine storage system. I have medicines dotted all over the house, in the kitchen, the bathroom, the office, the bedroom, the cupboard under the stairs, even in the car. In each room they might be in more than one location such as in various cupboards and drawers, bags and boxes.

Really they should be in a cool, dry environment and ideally in a lockable cabinet away from children, vulnerable people and pets. Due to the moisture levels present in bathrooms the traditional bathroom cabinet is probably not ideal.

I have so many herbal preparations squirreled away around the house that they would not fit into a conventional medicine cabinet but I could at least try to store all of my herbal medicines together and non-herbal medicines together. I also need to create a better first aid kit as items have not been replaced when they have been used.

As I don’t intend to purchase any over the counter medicines during my no spend year. It will be very important for me to take time to make an inventory of what I have so that I don’t end up rushing out to the chemist because I can’t find what I need at home. I also need to make a list of what herbs I need to gather and prepare so that I will be better prepared for a range of possible emergencies. This will be an ongoing challenge for me over the next few months.

Task one: try and create a permanent home for medicines

Task two: make an inventory of all herbal and non herbal medicines

Task three: create a first aid kit

Task four: create a list of common ailments and note what medicines I already have to treat them, note where there is a gap

Creating a budget

Over the last few days I’ve been trying to work out exactly how much money I can realistically hope to pay off my mortgage. I don’t have any penalties for early payment so my only limit is how much money I can set aside.

To start off with I listed my fixed monthly and annual outgoings and although it’s only been around two years since I last reviewed I realised that the utilities in particular have been slowly increasing.

I realise that around 43% of my income is taken up with bills, mortgage, insurance, memberships, donations and subscriptions. My challenge is to decrease this to 40%

Task one: change energy supplier for better rate

Task two: try and negotiate better deal for TV, phone and broadband

Task three: reduce energy and water consumption

Task four: review subscriptions, insurance policies and memberships

I spend an average of 6% on travel. There’s very little movement on this as the majority is a fixed price for my monthly bus pass.

I have been saving / overpaying the mortgage by around 17% and the remaining 34% has gone on things like food, clothes, pet care, health care, cleaning products, cosmetics, holidays and entertainment. I want to increase the overpayment to 45% leaving just 9% of my income for miscellaneous items. This sounds harsh but I do have an emergency fund already saved up for any unexpected emergencies.

Task 5: Divide up spend areas and consider envelope budgeting system

Task 6: look at individual spend areas and see where any reductions can be made

I have come across the envelope budgeting system whereby you divide up the income into separate micro budgets for cash spending e.g. Dentist, petrol, food etc. I think this will work well for monthly spends like food but for less frequent spends such as car insurance, dentist etc I will use a couple of savings accounts that I don’t really use at the moment to avoid having cash lying around in the house.

I have a lot to be going on with and there is a chance I might be making a few tweaks before the end of the year.

Time for a change

Why this blog is changing

The last couple of years have been quite challenging for me, in particular 2018. Unfortunately as a consequence this blog was neglected.

I have been working through some of my problems and a recent break from work left me with a few clear days to contemplate my life and what I would like to change.

I have been overwhelmed with different types of clutter: physical clutter in the home, mental clutter and body clutter. The clutter in my home is due to my inability to let go of things which may be of future use; the mental clutter is partially due to being overwhelmed by the physical clutter, partly due to poor time management and partly due to a number of personal issues; the body clutter is a mixture of poor time management and emotional eating.

After spending time reading and looking for ideas on the Internet, I have been inspired to undertake a “no spend” challenge for 2019. I would like achieve three positive outcomes from this: reducing my environmental impact; becoming healthier and paying a chunk off my mortgage.

By really cutting back on my spending I am hoping to address some of my past issues by sorting through and organising my “hoard” of possessions. I will be using some of my craft/fabric stash to create new items that I will no longer be purchasing. Obviously I will have to eat and cannot avoid buying food, I will still have to pay my bills and I accept that there will be occasions I need to be smart for work and might need to purchase items such as tights. However, I intend to question myself over every single purchase. Do I really need this? Do I already own something else which could substitute?

Some of the ideas I have been researching are:

  • meal planning for home cooked meals that will utilise some of my home grown vegetables and foraged foods;
  • making my own toiletries, cosmetics and cleaning products (after working through my existing extensive stash) ;
  • making my own clothes from patterns or upcycling old clothes;
  • replacing as many disposable items as possible with reusable ones;
  • upcycling waste items into crafts and presents;
  • decluttering;
  • online selling;
  • reviewing existing accounts and spending patterns to find savings.

I intend to blog about my experiences throughout the year. As a result the blog will no longer be restricted to herbs but some of my journey will undoubtedly involve herbs and I look forward to sharing recipes and ideas involving herbs.

I have downloaded the WordPress app onto my phone so am hoping that it will be much easier to post more frequently.

I’m going to making preparations for the no spend year so I will update soon on how that is progressing.