So You're Thinking Of Getting A Cat?

Three friends have asked on social media over the past few weeks, for advice on getting a pet cat. Both are not previous cat owners, and one is utterly convinced that all cats hate her. I champion anyone who wants to share their home with a cat (or any other furry beast for that matter!) and I hope that as a cat owner, I can provide some pointers for the novice would-be cat keeper. 

Most people already know enough about cats to know whether keeping them would be a sensible decision on their part, so I've put together a few bits that I would suggest anyone think about before they go so far as to bringing home an adult cat or kitten.

  1. Why Rescue Matters - there are quite literally hundreds of thousands of cats and kittens in rescue centres up and down the country, looking for homes. We hear so often that the noble thing to do is to adopt an unwanted pet before we buy from a breeder, so often that I think we've largely become desensitised to the idea - in one ear and out the other, as it were. The reality is that there are more cats given up for adoption than there are spaces in rescue centres. If a rescue centre can accommodate 25 cats, then cat number 26 simply has to be turned away - and the fate that meets these "extra" cats is often not pretty at all. The uncomfortable truth is that every kitten bought privately from a seller or breeder, potentially costs the life of an unwanted pet or baby kitten born to a stray Mum. There is simply no reason to buy over adopting. If you don't meet the criteria that a rescue centre has set for potential adopters, then chances are this is sound advice, and a cat is not the right pet for you. If you're buying a kitten because it's important that your pet has a certain appearance, then a cat is definitely not the right pet for you, in fact, a pet is not the right pet for you. If, for some reason that I am unable to fathom, you can only possibly own a cat if it's a certain breed, then most breeds are represented in dedicated rescue charities. I've listed the most popular here: London Persian Rescue (rehome Persian cats throughout the UK) Ragdoll Rescue, Russian Blue Rescue, Burmese Rehoming, Bengal Cat Rescue.
  2. Once You've Gone Black You'll Never Go Back - I mentioned this when I blogged about my own black cat, The Kitten (over here). Black cats are the least likely to be adopted, for a number of bizarre reasons including possible links to Satan and an inability to look great in selfies. Either way, most black cats can expect to spend months in a rescue centre, whilst other, more in-demand colours, can be rehomed in a couple of days. Black cats have no particular character traits as a result of their fur, neither does any other cat. You may have a wonderful, affectionate ginger cat, you may just as likely have a wonderful, affectionate black cat. Besides, light coloured cats do not live well with anyone who wears black tights. 
  3. A Kitten Might Not Be The Answer - A lot of rescue centres have waiting lists for families looking to adopt kittens. If you've decided that a kitten would be your best option (as was the case for me when I adopted The Kitten) then by all means join said waiting list if it exists, but don't write off older cats. A cat can live for 20 years, but most make it comfortably to about 15 or 16, even so, once a cat is older than 2 years, his or her likelihood of finding an owner in less than 9 months dwindles. There are very few obvious advantages to getting a kitten, other than the cute factor. The advantages of getting an adult cat though? They're usually neutered, microchipped and have had a full course of vaccinations already, as most rescues will do this before rehoming. They're usually very low maintenance and will adjust to life in your home quickly; they're less likely to scratch furniture, climb up curtains, attack your legs etc. and they worked out long ago that human laps are good for sitting on. The best thing you can do, basically, is adopt an adult black cat from a rescue centre. This cat would typically take an average of 10 months to find a loving owner. 10 months in what is effectively a prison cell (albeit a nice, heated one). A ginger kitten however, is usually adopted within his first 3 days in a centre.
  4. You Do Not Need Cat Toys - If you want to buy play things for your cat, go ahead, but if you'd rather spend your hard-earned cash on, oh I don't know, heating your home, then they're really not as fussed about a cat-nip beaver as we think they'll be. I'd recommend investing in a large scratching post. Both indoor and outdoor cats still like to scratch indoors, and it'll save your furniture. You should buy a scratching post which is tall enough that your cat can stretch to his or her full stretchy length, and that isn't so flimsy that it will topple over - if your scratching post doesn't make the grade, the edge of your sofa probably will. Aside from this, cats enjoy chasing a screwed up piece of newspaper, or a piece of string. They do not need plastic balls with bells inside, or a laser pen. As an aside, most app stores have games that you can download on your tablet or smartphone, for free, for your cat. The kitten particularly likes "Cat Alone", which is a free Google download that he urges you to acquire. 
  5. Not All Cats Like Cat Beds - In fact, in my experience, most cats do not like cat beds. The Kitten has a fleecy blanket which I put in his basket to bring him home, which he still sleeps on occasionally, but neither of my boys have a dedicated basket or igloo or anything for sleeping in. Bucket's favourite spot is my footstool (which I've since covered with a small quilt that I can wash, to protect the stool itself) and The Kitten just prefers to jump up on the sofa. Unless I crawled in to a cat bed with my laptop, I doubt either of the cats would pay it any attention. Bring your cat home first, and observe his or her behaviour. If he or she instantly adopts your bed/sofa/beanbag as a resting place then a bed will probably go ignored, but if it turns out that you've got one of those cats who is forever trying to get into things, then they may like a covered, igloo style cat house. Don't waste your money initially though. 
  6. Insure That Thing - There is no sense what so ever in taking the risk with pet insurance. Friends of mine have recently received a bill for thousands of pounds to cover essential, urgent surgery for their pet. Unless you have thousands just sitting in your bank (the average serious operation with anaesthetic on a cat is going to set you back around £1200) then insurance makes all of the sense. Even something small (one of my old cats got bitten in a fight once) can set you back some serious funds (to have the bite mark cleaned up and checked over for infection cost me over £100). Shop around for insurance policies, they do differ in price but you need to look carefully at what you'll be covered for. There's no point in paying £5 per month for cover that only pays out in the event that your cat is struck by lightening on the back right paw on a Tuesday, when £9 per month could have got you lifetime cover for anything including pre-existing conditions. The most commonly recommended pet insurance (by customers and by vets) is PetPlan. You can get a quote, and a 10% discount, on PetPlan policies here.
  7. Don't Get A Cat For a Purpose - The problem with cats, although I consider it one of their many appeals, is that they're all very very different, in character, likes and dislikes, behaviour and attitude towards humans. You have a problem on your hands if you're getting a cat specifically because you want to keep mice at bay, or because you want it to sit on your lap every evening and show you all of the love, or because you need more Instagram followers. Whilst a rescue centre will certainly be able to give you some pointers on a cats personality - they're unlikely to have ever seen that cat in a home environment. A shy, nervous cat in the shelter may quickly settle in to a loving, affectionate lap cat once she has the security of a welcoming home. Equally, an overly friendly, human crazy shelter cat may rediscover his or her independence once they're no longer stuck in a cage. If you aren't adopting a cat simply to save a life, then don't bother, get a humane mouse trap or a teddy bear! The chances of your cat meeting your requirements are, at best, slim. 
  8. Indoor or Outdoor? - Cats can adapt very well to being indoor pets, even those who've previously roamed outdoors. If you are going to keep your cat indoors, make rescue shelter staff aware and they'll be able to advise you on which cats would be suitable. Some may have been indoor cats all along, whilst others may have certain health conditions (deaf cats for example) which means they need an indoor-only home anyway. Alternatively, getting a kitten may be your best option, thus creating a "they've never known any different" scenario. If your cat is going to go outdoors, they'll live a more natural, cat-like life, which is better for the cat in general. They'll be able to get access to natural food such as small animals, grass and even bird's eggs - but be aware, they may eat something which doesn't agree with them and you could have a poorly cat on your hands. An outdoor cat will need a cat flap. Unless you never ever leave your house, you can't be around to let the cat in and out as he pleases, and an outdoor cat may want to pop out in the middle of the night, as well as whilst you've gone to the butchers. They may also want to come back in when you're not around. You can let your cat out whilst you're at home in the morning - but don't expect them to be around to come back in before you need to go to work - oh no, they'll turn up ten minutes after you leave, be unable to get indoors, and will spend the day meowing and pissing off your neighbours. There's also the fact that they may not be able to get to fresh water or shelter whilst you're out. So a cat flap is crucial. If you live in a rented property, your Landlord may not take kindly to your installing a flap, so you may want to consider a) keeping cats indoors or b) buying a house (indoor cat sounds preferable). Outdoor cats do, by definition, cost more in vet's bills, from grass seeds stuck up noses to injuries sustained from defending their patch. My boyfriend's cat recently had surgery after slicing herself open, we're not sure how, but potentially from climbing through an opening in a metal fence. Indoor cats have a lower exposure to disease or opportunity to harm themselves. When keeping a cat indoors though, you'll have a litter tray to contend with, and a bag of the cheapest cat litter will set you back about £1.50. You need to provide your cat with a tray large enough that he or she can turn around in it and bury "their business", if the tray is too small, the cat will find somewhere else to go (probably under your bed or in your handbag). A common sized bag of litter should last around a week, but if you have more than one cat, as I do, you'll probably only get a few days out of the bag, so bear the expense in mind. If you're out at work all day you may come home to some funky odours too. Some cats will not share a litter tray, so if you have more than one cat you may have to provide one tray per cat. Luckily, my two are happy to share and have a hooded tray with a door on the front to allow them a little privacy. I keep my litter tray in the bathroom, where the floor is easy to sweep up if any litter granules escape the tray, and where it isn't near food. Indoor cats also groom themselves more, this means your cat has a wonderful coat, but does make them more prone to furballs (gross). If you're keeping cats indoors, I'd recommend keeping them in multiples. One lone house cat, even with a stay-at-home human, can get bored. There's only so many times you can explore a utility room. Providing feline company means providing constant stimulation and comfort. The added expense is minimal if you're already buying cat food and litter, and to add a second cat to your existing insurance policy is usually about half the price of the first cat. I'll write a separate post some time about introducing a new cat, if you don't get two together. Rescue centres often have cats who've lived together in the past and are looking for a new home together, they may or may not be related.
  9. Off With His Balls - Even if your cats are staying indoors, there are arguments for having your cat neutered. Outdoor cats must be neutered. Male cats can smell a female cat several miles off (no exaggeration) and they will find her. If she's stray, that's a litter of kittens being born on the streets. Equally, if your cat is the female, all of the "intact" boys in yours and surrounding neighbourhoods will be queueing up to get her pregnant. Please don't encourage your cat to get pregnant, either because the kittens will be adorable or will make you a few quid. For every kitten that your cat gives birth to and that you sell on, a cat or kitten elsewhere is denied a space in a rescue centre and may lose their life as a result. If you've got friends, family or neighbours that want a kitten, send them to your local shelter. Male cats who aren't neutered may develop very territorial behaviours, especially scent marking their home by "spraying" - not so desirable if your indoor cat is claiming your favourite armchair. There's also a possibility that neutered cats are a lot more affectionate towards their human companions - probably because their mind isn't elsewhere! You can (and should) get your cat neutered from around 6 months old, and it will typically cost around £60.
  10. Can The PDSA Help? If you're on a low income, find out whether there's a PDSA clinic in your area. The PDSA provide emergency and routine veterinary treatment for the pets of low income families. If you receive housing or council tax benefit then you can probably get free treatment for one family pet, and heavily subsidised treatment for any further animals in your home. Even if you're working, and don't receive housing benefit, those that receive Tax Credits can get heavily subsidised treatment for all of their pets. Check the PDSA website here to see if your new cat would be eligible, and whether you have a clinic nearby.
  11. But What About When I Go Away? Cats are cheaper, and easier, to leave behind whilst you travel, than dogs. If you're only going away for a day or so, perhaps a local friend or family member can call by to spend a little time fussing your cat, topping up their food and water, and cleaning out a litter tray if applicable. My boyfriend is going away for a week shortly and I'll be dividing my time between his house and my own to make sure that all of our cats get some love and are properly looked after, to save him having to use a cattery, it's free, and easy. However, if you're going away for longer and there isn't anyone who can spend a couple of nights at your house and be around for the cat, then a cattery is your best option, these are cheaper than boarding kennels for dogs, and the price per night usually includes all of their food and litter. Have a look around a few local catteries before booking your moggy in, and expect to pay around £6 per 24 hours for one cat. 
  12. I Have Children and a Dog - The great thing about getting a cat from a rescue centre, is that they'll be able to match you to a cat that will suit your home. Many rescue cats will have lived with dogs and/or kids before, or if not, the centre will be able to make a judgement as to how they'd take it. When I adopted Bucket from the RSPCA we already had a dog, and Bucket, as a stray, hadn't told anyone whether or not he liked dogs. As a young, confident cat though, the staff at the shelter were happy that he would probably take it in his stride - and he certainly did. I will do a post another time about introducing a dog and cat who've not previously lived together, but in the meantime, make sure you speak honestly and openly to the staff at your shelter and they'll tell you which cats will fit in to your family. With kids, the one thing that drives me nuts, is when I see pets being rehomed because "my child won't leave her alone/terrorises her/is too rough with her". Education, education, education people. The great thing with bringing children up around family pets is that they learn to respect and empathise with animals. Again, perhaps I'll write a post about how to create a harmonious relationship between small child and feline friend, but for the most part it's common sense. Speak calmly and slowly to children about how they treat the cat, point out what might hurt them, or scare them, and if your child behaves in the wrong way, don't shout at them (thus scaring everyone, cat included) but take them away from the cat quickly and explain why they can not treat the cat in that manner. Simple really. If your child continues to be cruel and abusive towards your cat, rehome your child.

I'd love to hear tips from other cat owners; what do you wish you'd known before you got a cat, or what piece of advice would you pass on to a first time cat owner? Are you thinking of getting a cat for the first time? If so I'd love to know if there's anything worrying you.

Book Review: In The Red - The Diary of a Recovering Shopaholic by Alexis Hall

I recently borrowed this book from the library as I identified so strongly with the author, or so I thought. As someone who's battled with a serious spending addiction in the past, as I wrote about here, I was intrigued and relieved to see someone tackling the same subject in print. Compulsive spending isn't glamorous in the slightest, and it doesn't generally involve designer clothes and expensive shoes, it's an addiction to the physical act of acquiring new property by spending money, and could relate to anything from a Stella McCartney coat to a pen. 

The very opening section of the book summed this up brilliantly, and I saw so much of my own experience, right back to childhood, in Alexis' explanation of her own spending, which had seen her amount credit card debt to the tune of £30,000. You get drawn in to Alexis' easy, often humorous writing very quickly, at first, she is extremely likeable. 

The problems only raise their heads as you get stuck in to Alexis' tale of her 12 month "spending ban", during which, she pledges not to spend any money on anything that isn't absolutely essential, for 12 months. This, she hopes, will allow her the opportunity to pay off some of her crippling debt, and luckily she has the support of her boyfriend, Kevin, and her parents and friends.

However, I hate to say it, Alexis Hall becomes very annoying, very quickly. I don't know whether it's the fact that I associate so much with her that I just can't get over how bizarre her decisions become, but you really do, at times, want to climb in to the book and yell in her face. 

Let me give you an example: Alexis recognises that the car that she runs, which actually belongs to Kevin, is a considerable expense, and Kevin has decided to sell it anyway. Luckily - Alexis owns a bicycle, and on a previous spending expedition, has also purchased all of the swanky cycling gear that she could possibly need. The problem she faces however, is that she owns so many clothes, she can not find her cycling shorts. Now, there are a number of options here: 1) you can ride a bike without owning cycling shorts anyway so who cares? 2) sort through your clothes, you live in a flat, I understand that you own a lot of clothing, but it simply can't be impossible to sort it all out, even if it takes days or 3) if you must wear cycling shorts and you simply can not sort through your clothes and find the ones you already own then fine, break your already imposed spending ban and buy some more. Does Alexis do any of these things? Oh no no, instead, she spends almost £2000 on a motorised scooter. Because she couldn't find a pair of shorts. If you're wondering why she doesn't take the bus it's because the windows often get steamed up and she can't see where she is so worries she'll miss her stop. Obviously.

Throughout the book Alexis lists the insane number of items that she has in her possession, clothes that she has never ever worn, shoes still in their boxes, nine Mulberry handbags; we're not talking Primark spend ups here, we're talking a serious mass of designer clobber, so extensive that she can't locate a pair of cycling shorts amongst it. Does she sell it? Of course not. She just moans that this ridiculous plethora of clothing, most of it brand new, is all she'll have to wear for a year. Now don't get me wrong, I know how difficult it is to go cold turkey on the spending front, and I've done it because I've had to, because I suddenly have no money, Alexis could technically still have spent money, and so she's battling a temptation I don't face, but seriously? Get a grip woman, there are people in the world who don't have a handbag, let alone 9 Mulberry's; the whole thing makes her sound like a whining, actually pretty disgusting, human being. Had she sold off 50% of what she had in her wardrobe, she'd have paid off a nice chunk of her debt, and would still have had more than enough clothes to see her through the year. Easily. She owns, for example, three black, almost identical, brand new evening gowns. At one point she thinks she'll get the opportunity to wear one of them - but it turns out that doesn't happen, so she doesn't wear any of them for the entire 12 month period, but keeps them all anyway.

Then there's the gift buying. Whenever someone's birthday pops up (often a friend she sees twice a year) she relaxes her spending ban because it's fine if you're spending on other people (fine, your year, your rules) but apparently that person has to have a gift purchased from Clarins. Like... right OK. You do find yourself asking what planet the woman lives on. She spends obscene amounts of money, for example, on birthday gifts for her dog and takes him out for a restaurant lunch after his booster vaccinations - but that's OK, because it's spending on someone else. 

In one regard I think it's none of my business, she wanted to pay off her debt (and she does pay off about £9k over the 12 months which is great, well done her) and I can't judge on what she chooses to spend her money on, but at the same time, I can, because she wrote a book about it. 

I wanted to finish this book feeling inspired, feeling like someone had faced up to what I've faced up to, and made radical changes to their life, as I'm doing, and came out the other side. I wanted to get ideas from the book, to be further motivated, to think "ahh I hadn't thought of that, that will save me a fortune". Instead, I felt like slapping her. I did read to the end, but only because I became increasingly infuriated with her "ooooh I just need another cashmere jumper, I am having to live with just seven cashmere jumpers, and all of the my colleagues at work have already seen all seven of them so I probably can't wear them again anyway."

The woman, for example, continues to shop in Marks & Spencer for food. Go to Lidl you imbecile. Maybe the book is not about saving money, it's about not spending it, but the amount that she spends is still ridiculous. My other bug bear is that she moans throughout that her skin is in really bad shape and the only thing that improves it is this particular range of Chanel skincare, but how will she get through the year unable to buy her favourite products? Does she change her diet in order to improve her skin? Or, you know, drink more water? Does she heck. This woman who is on a spending ban and apparently refusing to spend unnecessary money - buys a Boots meal deal every day. Never a mention of a packed lunch. Never. 

Lastly, Alexis contradicts herself at several points during the book and I'm fussy about that sort of thing. They're only little things, but the sort of thing that annoy me none the less. She mentions at one point when she has a bolt-from-the-blue epiphany about how wasteful her lifestyle is, that she is an incredibly diligent recycler, and sorts out every tin can and plastic bottle. Later in the book she writes about Kevin falling ill, and with him laid up in bed, she has to deal with the recycling for once in her life because it's usually his job. She also goes on at length about how her Mother isn't an impulsive spender, and is very careful with her money - then takes delight in wanging on about how the same Mother has seventeen different shampoos in her bathroom. Grrr.

I don't know how to finish this review. I found the reading of the book compulsive, mainly because I was so annoyed with the narrative! If you're looking for an honest account of someone facing up to debt, compulsive spending, and making huge changes to their life, this isn't it. Alexis will tell you until she's blue in the face that her life changed beyond recognition because she only spent £50 on dog toys, and that's fine, but most of you will just want to kick her in to the real world. There are great personal memoirs out there about people who've attacked spending head on and found genuine methods to have fun on next to nothing. Alexis Hall did not write any of them. 

Why I Won't Be Taking My Son To See Reindeer This Christmas

It's becoming an increasingly common sight: signs advertising "live reindeer appearances" at garden centres, shopping centres, grottos and High Streets up and down the UK. Reindeer are naturally synonymous with Christmas, down to their essential role in helping Santa to deliver gifts across the globe. I have reindeer themed decorations, and I'm sure I'll receive (and send) a few reindeer based greetings cards. They're on wrapping paper, chocolates, and television adverts, and, along perhaps with the robin, are the archetypal British Christmas animal. Except, they aren't British at all. Reindeer can live in the UK, and they do, but we can't offer them the sort of habitat that they're designed for, thus robbing them of a natural life. The only known place in the UK suitable for reindeer to live an authentic reindeer existence, is in the Cairngorm mountains (where there are, indeed, farmed reindeer). 
I do not mind reindeer on cards or advent calendars, and I certainly don't object to the occasional reindeer bauball. But I do vote a firm "NO" to reindeer being used as an attraction, because, quite simply, they're wild animals. 
I've been a huge lover of zoos and wildlife parks in the past, when my son was younger I took him to a "Reindeer Centre" in the run up to Christmas, where he merrily kissed a caged reindeer on the nose, it felt lovely at the time, but I only look back on that experience with guilt. 
I don't want my son to grow up thinking that animals are to be brought out as spectacles, that they exist simply to delight humans. Reindeers aren't captive animals, they're farmed in Scandinavia for their milk, and a variety of other products, and have been for thousands of years, I'm not about to start debating that, but here in the UK, we predominantly use them for entertainment. They are no better off, in my opinion, than circus elephants. 
Most British reindeer herd owners will argue that their deer are "happy". In an article with the Daily Mirror (I don't read it, I came across a link to the article on Twitter), the owner of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd said "We know our reindeer are very happy and comfortable in their work - otherwise we wouldn't take them to the parades - as we are the ones who work with them day in and day out, and know them extremely well" - now, I don't dispute that she doesn't know the reindeer in her care, but how can a reindeer tell you that it is happy? By not showing distress? A reindeer who has never known anything but a life where it is paraded in front of noisy crowds and excited children, may not show distress, because it is the only reality that it has ever known - does that make it OK? Not in my book! Does the fact that a reindeer stands there, unphased by loud noise and mulled wine, because it believes that that is what it is to be a reindeer,  mean that that reindeer is happy? Of course not. 
To go back to circus elephants (and can we all agree that using elephants in circuses is cruel and horrible?) - most circus elephants dutifully plod through their routines, performing the tricks that they've been forced to perform since they were babies, often to avoid beatings; they won't complain, they won't object, they'll do as is bid of them - are they "happy elephants"? Of course not, they're miserable elephants. Just because a reindeer gets on with it's "work" without complaint does not demonstrate its joy and jubilation at being in a Christmas parade!
I saw a picture recently of two reindeer, in a small holding pen, in a car park. What is that?
Many of these reindeer herds, including the Cairngorms herd, tour the country in the run up to Christmas, filling a short, 2 week "season" with visits to public places at opposite ends of the country. Those behind the herd state that the reindeer are transported in special lorries (ahhh, an essential carbon dioxide emitting vehicle to be on our roads!) in spacious, straw filled pens, and are not tied up. Now - whilst this sounds relatively pleasant for the deer compared to some alternatives - is it not also highly dangerous? To have a deer, in a lorry, unsecured, with space to jump about, with straw on the floor? They also state that whilst touring, the deer stay on rural farmland in between appearances. As though this makes everything cool. Can we take a minute to consider how unnatural it is for a reindeer to travel, in a lorry, and stay in a different field every night? That isn't typical reindeer behaviour, right? 
Reindeer are truly beautiful and magical looking animals. I understand the desire to see them. I understand the desire to convince your children that the ones outside Marks and Spencers are Santa's real reindeer. Now you need to understand that to satisfy that desire would only be selfish. Why do you get to use the reindeer to spread some Christmas joy? Why does the reindeer have to appear in a car park in order to make your family's day special? 
This is why we won't be seeing any reindeer this Christmas, other than those on jumpers, of course.

The Vegan Dilemma: An Update

I recently posted about the dilemma I faced in whether or not I should be a vegan, given that my general moral stance where animal welfare is concerned is at stark odds with my previous consumerist habits.

This was born partly out of ignorance (I had absolutely no real concept of the reality of dairy farming, for example) and partly out of my head being firmly in the sand about what it was that I was eating, or wearing. 

I'm not going to go in to it all again in great detail now, but if you missed the post, you can catch up with it here. For those who've read it already though, I'm sure you want to know whether I made a decision.

Since that post I've been pretty much dairy-free. I'd flirted with dropping dairy anyway because I began to recognise it as a trigger for my acne, but having taken a bit of responsibility for my own eating habits, and educating myself on the production of dairy products, here in the UK and around the world, it really makes me feel pretty sick these days. I've found it surprisingly easy to drop dairy, even as a great lover of cheese. The cheese I've yet to really start missing, but I've found that replacing the cow's milk in my tea and coffee with soya is just as tasty, and oat milk in porridge is the most amazing thing ever! I've started using a dairy free butter alternative and it's perfectly nice too. 

I've also pretty much stopped eating eggs, temporarily, until I can find eggs which sit comfortably with my ethical stance. I'm finding out more about where my eggs come from; previously I'd got my eggs from Nethergong, the guys that supply my vegetables, so I'm doing a little more research in to where those eggs come from, so that I can find out more about the lives that the hens lead. In the mean time I'll only buy eggs from pet hens when the opportunity arises. If someone has six hens pecking around in their garden - and they've got some eggs going spare - I'm all over that!

Meat, meat meat meat. It's not that I find it "difficult" to give up meat. I went veggie for a month last year as something of an experiment, but at that time I was eating out in restaurants a lot and just found it boring. However, at the moment I'm still allowing myself carefully researched and sourced meat. I'm still not 100% comfortable with this, and I'm continuing to do more research to work out whether or not I'll give it up for good. I am certainly eating more vegan meals though, and only having meat a couple of times a week. On those occasions I'm sourcing locally, but still, I'm not entirely comfortable, and it probably will be wiped out of my diet entirely. 

Cosmetics and household cleaning products were already totally vegan and are staying this way. I'm gradually using up any old pre-gan products that are lurking, and replacing them with cruelty-free alternatives. I'm still loving Original Source and Lush for all of my smellies. I recently picked up one of Lush's vegan solid deodorants and it's amazing, better than anything I've tried before. 

I've also had a word with my wardrobe. I'm no longer comfortable with buying wool from unknown sources. Whilst sheep aren't generally killed for wool, they do die and suffer as a result of large scale farming, and I can't support that. I've visited a few small farms where I know the animals don't suffer for their fluff, and those I'll continue to support where they sell their own products. Silk is out as well, along with leather, suede and fur. I just can not justify wearing animal skins when there are a) brilliant alternatives available and b) I'm not a bloody Inuit. 

I've still got a stack of books on Vegan lifestyle to get through, and I continue to research everything from farming practices in the UK through to awesome recipes. I'm not describing myself as anything at all other than "conscious" at the moment, and you'll have to watch this space regarding the eggs and the meat, but I definitely feel more confident in my choices than when this dilemma first raised it's ugly head!

What It Actually Means To Be A Shopaholic

Shopaholic is a play on the use of the "ic" suffix that we add to "alcohol" to identify someone as having an alcohol addiction. You'll quite often hear someone justify their drinking by saying "oh I like a glass of wine, but I'm not an alcoholic." In some cases those people are right, and in others, they are not. What's odd though is that a lot of people will refer to themselves as a "shopaholic" i.e someone who is addicted to shopping, when in fact, they just enjoy buying things. 

Spending and alcohol have a lot in common, and I'll use the example of a genuine alcoholic, and someone who just enjoys a glass of wine, throughout this post as I talk about my own experiences. 

Alcohol creates a temporarily positive state in the body and mind. For many people, the experience of being under the influence of alcohol, is enjoyable. People site feeling relaxed, less worried about things, able to better manage emotional and physical pain, a loss of inhibition and even sexual arousal, as positive, temporary effects of consuming alcohol. Those who drink socially also see this as an enjoyable experience. Our bodies and brains are wired to return to positive experiences, which is why certain people can become addicted, to alcohol, or indeed sugar, drugs or caffeine. The body becomes reliant on this positive experience, it seeks it, even if we also recognise that it's bad for us.

For some people, and not all, the experience of spending money has a similar, temporary, positive effect. The act of acquiring a new possession creates a happiness in the buyer, and on a scientific level, it releases endorphins, "happy hormones", in to the body, which create a state something close to euphoria. Just as with alcohol, the mind can begin to seek this positive state, this rush of endorphins, and can encourage the body to walk to the shops. 

If you enjoy shopping, even if you class shopping a hobby, it's quite possible that whilst shopping makes you happy, you're not necessarily addicted to shopping. You're not, to use the phrase coined by many, a "shopaholic". Just like those who enjoy a glass of red (myself included) aren't instantly labelled alcoholic. 

More and more people are using the phrase "alcohol dependent" now, to identify those who we'd previous recognise as genuine alcoholics. This refers to their physical dependency on alcohol. 

It is possible to become "spending dependent", and I know, because as ashamed as I am to admit it, I have been there. When you become addicted to the buzz of spending money, it stops mattering exactly what it is that you're acquiring. I find it difficult to go in to a newsagents without buying something that I would class as a "treat", even if it only sets me back 50p. If I've gone to the corner shop to buy cat litter, coming home with only cat litter is a genuine achievement. There's nothing glamorous about a spending addiction, it doesn't hinge itself on High Street or designer clothes, or having "the best" of everything, it rests instead on getting a buzz out of buying yourself "stuff". It's ugly. 

I have done horrible things in order to feed said behaviour in the past. I have spent money that wasn't mine, I have avoided paying bills, rent, or personal debts in order to buy myself things, and I've lied to countless people, friends, family, partners, about my spending in order to keep doing it. Most of us have probably come home with a dress or pair of shoes that we didn't necessarily need, and slipped it unannounced in to our wardrobe, only to declare "this old thing? oh I've had it ages!" when a partner asks where it came from. But I often couldn't go out with friends, or buy them birthday gifts, because I'd spent every available shred of money (and the unavailable money) on things. 

At one point my parents had to bail me out of thousands of pounds worth of debt that I'd accrued just through shamelessly spending money with absolutely no consideration for the consequences. Whilst they saved me, literally, it wasn't long before my addiction to purchasing spiralled out of control and I was back to squirelling away things that I'd bought by not paying for electricity or housing costs. I have, as well, purchased things on credit agreements that I have never ever paid (an entire sofa, for example) which is not only wrong but, well, illegal, and in doing so, I've arguably ruined my adult life by leaving myself with the worst imaginable credit rating (I don't even know what it is because I'm scared to look, but believe me, ain't nobody lending me anything.) Miraculously I have only managed to gain one CCJ in this nightmarish fiasco, but I've been summoned to court on more occasions that I can remember.

My worst "crime", I think, is probably my propensity for collecting parking tickets. I am very very good at this. The reason, that I don't pay to park, is that I get no joy, no buzz, no rush of serotonin, when I buy a parking ticket. To the average person, this makes zero sense, especially if the parking is £1. But I find it unimaginably difficult to see myself paying to park (I don't own a car any more by the way so this is a historic issue!). Unsurprisingly, this results in me getting tickets. The problem here is that a ticket, at first, is £30. £30 that I will not enjoy spending, £30 that I could spend on happiness. So I ignore it. Now, rational people (and me as well) know that if I don't pay in 14 days it goes up to £60, so it makes more sense to joylessly pay £30 (or indeed, the £1 to begin with) but my head is so firmly in the sand that I honestly, genuinely, 100% do not care at the time. My parking ticket debt totals thousands of pounds. It's not classy.

Addictions are very difficult to control because they concern the very wiring (or re-wiring) of your brain. Just as it's difficult for a non alcoholic to imagine getting blind drunk every single day, and being physically incapable of going without alcohol, and whilst it's difficult to imagine ever mugging anyone to be able to score drugs (I've never mugged anyone), so it is difficult, I understand, for people to get why on Earth I'd have got myself in to the situations that I have got myself in to in the past. I dread to think how many Ebay accounts I've had suspended because I joyfully buy up things that I like, but then don't actually have the funds available to pay for them - or, sell things in order to have money to spend - only to never send the goods (this is a bad thing to do, don't do it. Ever.)

To put it short, my spending addiction has seen me break the law, it has ruined relationships, and it means that maybe, just maybe, I'll never actually buy a house. 

I have financially crippled other people in my quest to buy things. People have bailed me out, propped me up and spent money on my behalf in a desperate attempt to either understand or save me from myself and, funnily enough, it doesn't work. Much like trying to single-handedly sort out your alcoholic brother is probably going to end in tears.

It is not all doom and gloom though. I mean, OK, it is, like I've said, the life that I've lead, probably for the past 10 years, and it's not pretty, but at 27 it's taken a serious shake up of events to pave a way for me to escape this vicious cycle of addiction and ridiculousness. 

I trace this back to when I was 17, although it probably has it's roots much earlier than this. I had my first credit card at seventeen - WHO GIVES A SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD A CREDIT CARD? I acquired said credit card after my boyfriend, who'd been largely funding my relatively pleasant lifestyle (I was still in school) went to prison. Finding myself without the means to buy stuff, but still having a variety of bills to cover that weren't paid for by my (at this time incredibly helpful and supportive) parents, I nonchalantly applied for credit, and was accepted. This is a strange moment in life, the one where you feel as though someone has just gifted you money. Paying it back didn't seem particularly daunting, it was just available funds to me, only available for a very short time mind you.  I think that's where it started. Other people suggest that it's a result of traumatic childhood experience (perhaps) or just low self esteem (unlikely) and there's the further possibility that it's an ugly symptom of bipolar disorder; whatever it is, it's there, and I think that's effectively where it began. Within 2 years, I was 19, and hiding from bailiffs on a daily basis. I hadn't paid a penny in rent for months and I had very little to show for it other than a (effectively stolen) sofa. 

Back then though, despite the difficult episode in which my parents paid off my crippling debts, moved me in to a new house and basically set me up with a brand spanking new life - everything looked good. I was popular, had tonnes of friends, a job that made me look marginally professional and afforded me a company car, I was dating, and I appeared healthy (I was actually painfully depressed), I had a cat - I mean, what else did I need?

Mainly, I needed to spend money, possibly to deal with the depression, or find some temporary relief from it at least, and possibly just to keep up the pretence of a life well lived.

Fast forward another eight years, and here we are, at 27, with a string of unpaid parking tickets and angry people in my wake. Yes I've lied to people, cheated people, and possibly given the impression that I don't give a shit about people. However, I now find myself with very little money to spend, and I've rediscovered things that are important to me. I've always been passionate about getting good, honest, wholesome food for example. Yeah I've had kebabs, but what's important to me, really, is ethical farming, organic, fresh produce, and a clean, unprocessed diet. I'm passionate about animal welfare, I feel strongly about environmental issues and green living is something I've always been eager to learn more about, but too whimsical and busy spending money to give much consideration. I've always hated the idea of food waste, but never bothered about leftovers, and I've always wanted to take more joy from nature and the outdoors. It's taken a great bit fall on my backside to make me re-evaluate my position in the world, and to recognise that I can live the life that I actually want, not one where I bury my head in the sand and refuse to face up to the reality of my existence, but one where I'm open to change, and growth, and just generally being happy. 

Paying off debt is a bitch, and I might be doing it forever (it certainly feels that way) - but I've found the genuine fulfilment that comes with thrifty, frugal, conscious living, and that is empowering enough to make me confident that I'll never go back to old ways. Just as an ex smoker will occasionally get a craving for a cigarette, or a recovering alcoholic will often have to fight the urge to turn to drink, so I'll probably always hanker after that euphoric moment of buying something, and I'm certainly not set to never buy anything ever again, but I'm buying with a conscience now, looking to pay off debt, and build a better, less spending dependent life for myself, and it feels good. I'm also taking measured steps to sort my credit rating the hell out, and a mortgage won't be out of the question if I keep at it.

I felt that this post needed to be written. It was important to write it, not just for it's own cathartic value to me, but to make people aware that blogs, even the really positive - "yay life is great" blogs - only paint a certain picture. I don't write about this stuff day in day out because it's negative, and it get's me down. I blog about the positive side to it - discovering new ways to save money, living a great frugal lifestyle on a tiny budget, how enjoyable life can be without large sums of money - it's not fake, but it's certainly one sided - I probably won't revisit this topic again in any detail, but it's important to get it out there, and encourage people to recognise the double side to every story. My blog is a place for positivity and to share ideas with people who live a similar lifestyle to me now, regardless of whether their previous lifestyle was anything like mine was then.

Making time for magazines: Women's Health

I totally understand the argument against magazines. Why pay for a brochure of advertisements, mixed in with printed content, when you can get plenty of interesting reading material online, for free, without the adverts, and without such an adverse effect on the environment? I'm right behind you; I weaned myself off of a serious magazine addiction this year, and these days I rarely buy a single one. 

In my previous life I'd buy magazines regularly, predominantly for the sake of buying a magazine, the smell and feel of crisp pages seemed not to trouble my conscience and I would merrily buy a magazine that I had little to no interest in, often for the free gift on offer (although that Clinque Chubby Stick is still going strong I must admit!) 

When I was recently asked whether I'd like to review a magazine publication for my blog, I had a little think about how well it sat with my ethics. I don't buy magazines any more because they're largely funded by advertising from huge companies that I don't support with my wallet, and because I can find interesting content online from blogs, online mags, free news sites etc. Print magazines also use precious paper, and printing methods can be harmful to the environment - not to mention the need to transport copies around the world in lorries. Besides all of that, I can't justify the expense.

However, I was somewhat relieved to see that Women's Health is available to download (here), eliminating the cost to the planet which otherwise makes me uncomfortable (I maintain that it's entirely unnecessary to purchase a print magazine or newspaper when they're all, generally speaking, available on your computer, tablet, or phone. What a waste of perfectly good trees!)

Downloaded magazines are usually much much more affordable than their print counterparts too, and so if, like me, you genuinely enjoy a magazine, even if you sometimes feel you shouldn't, then digital is the way to go. 

Here I'm basing my review on the print copy of the December 2014 edition of Women's Health, as this is what I've received, however, the content - which forms the focus of my review - is the same as that in the digital copy. 

As is always the case with mainstream magazines, the edition opens with 3.5 double spreads of solid advertising; and the advertising content is pretty heavy throughout, which I find off-putting - but I do appreciate that this is how magazines are funded. I just find it odd that I'm asked to spend money in order to have companies try to convince me to spend more - but that's just me being a grumpy anti-consumer! (I feel the same way about paying to get in to wedding/craft fairs for example!)

Women's Health is, unsurprisingly, the "sister" magazine to the longer running Men's Health magazine - he of the six-pack dominant front cover. I'm sure I can be forgiven for assuming that the contents of Men's Health magazine (I haven't ever read it) is predominantly "Why you should eat 11 raw eggs a day" and "how to last 7 hours in bed", as well as "What she's really thinking when you make eye contact in the mirror at the gym" and "GRRRR. MUSCLES." It is as a result of this (probably completely unfair) assumption, that I could be forgiven for worrying that Women's Health revolves around "How to survive on kale alone" as well as lots of those storyboard style diagrams of how to perform exercises that are super easy to do in your lunch break (and yet never seem to include "go for a walk", which is surely the most obvious suggestion?). 

When the December issue of Women's Health does plop through my letter box, and I see Frankie Bridge on the front cover, I'm slightly encouraged - she's a member of a girl band, currently taking part in a reality TV show - perhaps there won't be an article about suction cupping or lunging on the bus inside. Until, that is, I catch the caption beside her photograph; "Frankie - The 5-move plan behind this six-pack." Oh no, a magazine that's going to attempt to shame me in to regret at not having the body of a woman with endless access to personal trainers and Photoshop. 

What's perhaps worse, is that the interview itself is accompanied by some of those much-hated exercise diagrams. Let me say this: following this "5-move plan", even to the exact accuracy depicted in said-diagrams, will not, alone, make you "Flat Like Frankie". The idea that "doing this workout three times a week will enable you to carve your own rock-hard core." is obscene, and, I have to say, rather offensive.

It's not all bad news though, in fact, despite the above moaning, Women's Health is one magazine that I'd recommend to friends over most of the other offerings in the local newsagents. In it's entirety, Women's Health is much like any other women's lifestyle mag, with a subtle health focus. It's an accessible magazine to most women with a vague interest in living a healthy lifestyle, and it's probably not health focussed enough to appeal to the serious gym bunnies and macrobiotic babes. For a start, this is a magazine which argues the case for having a kebab on a night out, and that seeks to make you aware of the fact that "Lipstick could save your relationship". 

There are reviews of different headphones, and different brands of makeup, as well as a dedicated fashion section, and recipes for divine looking desserts. 

There's a separate section of the magazine dedicated to Love & Relationships, which certainly sets Women's Health apart from other health and fitness magazines - and yes, this month there was a flow diagram style quiz to advise you on which contraceptive method you might be best suited to - like a weird, grown up version of the "which A1 band member will you marry" quizzes of the good ol' Mizz days!

There is plenty of health related content of course, including advice on exercise and diet as well as, ahem, how to successfully have sex in the gym.

My verdict: if you're looking for a serious health and fitness magazine, then Women's Health isn't it. However, if you spend as much time in a pair of killer heels as you do in trainers, then you'll probably enjoy the fitness related undercurrent as well as the report on whether your likelihood of having an extra marital affair could be decided by genetic factors. 

Book Review: The Vegan Girl's Guide To Life by Melisser Elliott

It was this book that caused me to spend extortionate amounts of time pondering Vegan ethics, and it was this book that encouraged me to implement elements of Vegan living in to my own lifestyle. 

Before this book, I'd bought cosmetics and household cleaning products that weren't tested on animals, but I'd never stopped to consider the lives lead by the animals who were actually turned in to cosmetic and household cleaning products. Before this book, I had given up dairy to see whether it would improve my acne, but I had no idea of the realities of the dairy industry. Before this book, I thought that Veganism was extreme, and slightly terrifying; that I would surely starve on a Vegan diet and anyway, cheese.

This book hasn't converted me to an entirely Vegan lifestyle (I had sausages for dinner), but it has left me wanting to find out more, and my research in to Vegan ethics is ongoing; but without this book, I probably wouldn't have gained an interest in the first place.

This book has a little of everything, and is as perfect for the non Vegan as it is for the long term Vegan. It isn't preachy, doesn't ram horrific images down your throat, and seems to exist on one very clear message alone: "recognise what your ethics are, and own them." Have you ever read a non-fiction book (particularly anything in the diet, health, or wider lifestyle genres) and felt like the author is judging you with every turn of a page? This book doesn't do that, in fact, I finished the book feeling as though I could call Melisser up and invite her over for tea, and even if she knew I'd had sausages for dinner, she'd shrug her shoulders and tell me it was my choice.

This book contains information on Vegan beauty, clothing, crafts, events, social networking, and everything in between, including, of course, food. What's more, the main bulk of the book's content is punctuated with cute profiles of the Vegans that the author obviously knows, either "IRL" or through the Internet. There are Vegan bloggers represented here along with a number of small independent businesses. And last but not least, there are a handful of really tempting Vegan recipes towards the back of the book too. 

I loved the fact that Melisser touched upon her own journey to Veganism, without sounding condescending or self satisfied. You definitely get the impression from her book that she knows her stuff, and is comfortable and confident in sharing it, but that aggressive guilt tripping isn't her thing, and this makes the book far more accessible for the non Vegan.

I'd recommend this book for anybody who is interested in environmental causes, animal welfare, and the impact that human actions have on other species. I hadn't considered being Vegan before picking up this book, and I'm still not a Vegan, so if you don't think it's your thing, don't be put off of this book out of a belief that it's going to go all angry sermon on your arse. Having read the book, I feel more equipped with information to make informed, ethical decisions, and I have an interest which I can now satisfy through further research - what could possibly be bad about that? I think this is a realy "don't knock it until you've tried it" area of ethics and if you are using animal products, either in your food, clothing or home, then it's best to have the information at hand to be able to explain why that is the right decision for you. 

Saying "Goodbye" to Tesco, Costa Coffee, Pets At Home, Pizza Express and Primark

I should add... among others. 

After lengthy discussions on the topic with friends and boyfriend alike, and a long running passion for small, independent shops, restaurants and craftspeople, I have pledged to cut out the use of large chain stores and big business corporations unless I am unable to find an alternative.

Previously I would always use supermarkets out of habit. I live within a 5 minute walk of a Tesco store, I live in an area where every single major supermarket, from Lidl to Waitrose is accounted for within a relatively small area. There are also 4 Argos stores within a 10-15 minute drive. There's a new Costa coffee opening in Broadstairs which will join the two Costa Coffee's already open at Westwood Cross Shopping Centre (within a 3 minute walk of one another - I timed it!), and the one in Margate, a 10 minute drive away. The Westwood Cross site in fact gives way to the third busiest Tesco store in the world, as well as an "opening Winter 2014" Sainsbury's MEGA store, larger than Luxembourg. That's not to mention an enormous two-story Primark (big sister to Margate's sea front Primark store just down the road), Mark's and Spencer and Debenhams staring one another down over the top of Next's head, and the usual suspects, Topshop, New Look, River Island, H&M, T K Maxx and Boots vying for attention in between. On top of that you've got a Smyths Toy Superstore, a giant Mama's and Papa's outlet, Pet's at Home, Matalan, B&M, Dunelm Mill, The Range, a Waterstones large enough to accommodate a Cafe Nero and every single pound shop going. This is all pretty much "on my doorstep."

However, there are also a lot of wonderful, independent stores right under my nose. The best chip shop chips in the country for a start, as well as award winning greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers, bakers, sweet shops, clothing stores, cafes, restaurants and coffee houses, homewares boutiques, hardware shops, gift outlets and shoe shops. 

In fact, as an area recognised for devastating levels of deprivation, and a high number of families living on, or below, the poverty line, the Isle of Thanet is very well served in terms of retail outlets! Some of my favourite shops on the island include Arrowsmiths in Broadstairs, who sell everything from pretty stationery to handmade clothing, cards, candles and jewellery, Madam Popoff's in Margate Old Town which is one of the best stocked vintage clothing shops I've ever set foot in, and Arch 15, a weird mixture of junk shop, thrift store, house clearance outlet and Aladdin's cave, all housed within an arch under the road in Ramsgate. 

So, a life without large chain stores shouldn't be too much of a task. The only difficulties that I have come up against so far have been finding somewhere to buy non-dairy milk replacements. I drink soya milk in my tea, and usually use oat milk to make porridge in the morning, and the only place that I appear to be able to buy both is at Tesco. I also find it difficult to buy cruelty-free household cleaning products with independent retailers, I tend to use either Ecover or Method products, both of which are only stocked locally in either Waitrose or Sainsburys. 

I do have to prioritise my ethics in some cases, and where appropriate I would rather by cruelty-free products from a large chain, than products that exist as a result of animal cruelty, or are tested on animals, from an independent retailer. As such I'll still use chain stores to buy cosmetics and household cleaning products where there are no other alternatives. For example, I still intend to buy cosmetics from Lush. 

Otherwise though (and I will work on finding solutions to the above), here are the outlets I'll be using for most purchases:
Fruit and Vegetables: I already receive a weekly veggie box from a local distributor, Nethergong Nurseries, who source vegetables from farmers within a 20 mile radius of their site. To top this up I'll be using greengrocers. 
Meat: I don't eat a lot of meat these days, but when I do, I'll be buying a majority directly from farmers at local farmer's markets (there's one every other weekend nearby). If I need more than I can get hold of at the markets I'll use local butchers. 
Fish: I'll use local fishmongers and fish markets.
Kitchen cupboard stocking: For the most part I'll use the two shops on each corner of my road, one is an Eastern European mini-mart and the other an Asian mini-mart, both family run. They stock pretty much everything. 

Flowers: I'll buy directly from growers where possible at farmer's markets and farm shops but also use local florists.
Clothes: I'll only buy second hand clothing from vintage and charity shops and avoid all High Street chain stores. The only exception to this rule will be to buy underwear, which I'll try to buy online from independent retailers where no local shops exist. 
Books: For the most part I use the library for reading material, but I'll also be using second hand book stores and Ebay for specific titles. 
Cosmetics: I'll buy cruelty-free cosmetics from Lush and smaller online retailers such as Cute Cosmetics
Household cleaning products: I'm going to experiment with making my own household cleaning products, but will continue to buy brands such as Ecover and Method, and where I can't buy these from independent retailers I'll have to visit the chains. 
Coffee Shops: I won't be visiting Costa, Starbs, Nero etc. and will only be visiting independent coffee shops. Proper Coffee in Margate serve by far the greatest coffee known to man anyway. 
Eating Out: No more chains, I'll only be eating in independent restaurants UNLESS I'm invited out by someone; if a friend has chosen to celebrate their birthday in Pizza Express for example, I'm not going to flat out refuse to attend!
Take Away: Not that I'm a big take away eater these days, but I'll only be using independent takeaways and no Dominos or similar. 
Cinema: Independent cinemas only, no Odeon, CineWorld, Vue etc.
Toys: Independent toy shops only, no Toys'R'Us, Smyths, Argos etc.
Furniture and Homewares: Independent and second hand stores only, as well as Ebay, Gumtree and Freecycle. 
Pet Stuff: No more Pets At Home, or, as has just opened around the corner from me, "Pet Hut" (it's basically the Primark of the chain store pet shop world!). I have an independent pet shop on my High Street that will be getting all of my business. 
Kitchen gadgets and the like: We have several hardware shops that stock everything from nails and screws to place mats and kettles, I'll be using these where I need to, also for light bulbs, batteries and other such stuff. 
It's a common misconception that shopping with independent retailers rather than supermarkets and larger chain stores is more expensive or more time consuming; the reality is that supermarkets are more likely to be carefully laid out to encourage you to spend more money than you intend, meaning that you're more likely to buy things you don't need when you shop in larger stores. The desire to browse at length (especially in larger supermarkets that also have multiple departments including clothing and homewares) also means you're more likely to stay in the supermarket longer than you expect. 
Shopping with independent retailers not only means that you're supporting small businesses rather than pumping money in to huge business, but you'll also meet more people and enjoy genuine human interactions, have access to FAR superior quality products, and actually enjoy the process of buying goods, rather than treating it as a soul-sapping necessity. 

N.B - I will use chains when they're free, i.e when I have vouchers or have been invited on a freebie, on these occasions the big business isn't benefiting from my spending so - hurrah! At the moment, for example, I do have a Costa Giftcard, which I'll leave in my purse and use on coffees when I fancy one.
Do you make an effort to "shop local"? I'd love to hear your tips for cutting out the chain stores and spending money with independent businesses.

A Gift From South Africa: Gem Squash

There are some serious (many food related) benefits to nabbing yourself a close friend from South Africa, namely, when they come to stay, they bring good stuff!

When "the other Ashleigh" came to visit a couple of weeks ago she arrived laden with delicious breakfast rusks, a pack of biltong, and two of these adorable little dark green squashes.

The gem squash is a super common vegetable served either baked or boiled in South Africa. 

I popped the squashes in the oven, and baked until they felt squidgy to the touch. Once removed from the oven, all you need to do is cut the top off, and stir through some butter and black pepper. The skin takes on a brittle shell like texture that makes the perfect bowl, and as the butter melts in to the flesh it takes on a thick, almost soup like consistency. 

Light lunch perfection!

Thank you Ashleigh!

Book Review: Ausperity (Live The Life You Want For Less) by Lucy Tobin

Lucy Tobin, is, among many other things, a journalist - she edits the financial section of the Evening Standard, but contributes to everything from Grazia to Radio 4's Woman's Hour, and Ausperity is, as far as I can tell, her attempt to share with the world all of her money saving genius. And it's good. Real good.

The obvious problem that was always going to present itself when you're sharing information on specific websites, or companies, is that such information can go out of date quite quickly. Big Wardrobe, for example, a website which Tobin recommends for swapping unwanted clothes, is no longer on the internet. However, if you're looking to nab a copy of this book, it was published in 2013 and most of the information within is on point. In fact so far, it's only the reference to Big Wardrobe that I've found to be out of date already. 

The book is divided in to five sections. 

Part 1: Spending It, deals with how and where to spend money to make sure that you're getting the best deal. This is really useful, there are lists of great apps that you can use to compare prices across online or real-life shops, loads of discount websites, info on how to get money off of your next night out (or just cool ideas for staying in!), how to get cheap (or even free) theatre, gig, sports and cinema tickets, and advice on buying everything from food to a new car. There's also a dedicated chapter within this section on how to spend money wisely on your wedding, another for holidays and another for kids. 

Part 2: Milking It, deals with changing your behaviour to save yourself money without compromising on lifestyle. It's full of simple, easy to implement tips to streamline life whilst bulking up your bank account. Things like, being savvy in the supermarket, finding clever ways to eat in top restaurants on a budget, making packed lunches, growing your own food, and considering cost-per-wear when buying clothes. This section also contains some great DIY beauty product recipes that are worth checking out. 

Part 3: Making It, is full of money making ideas that extend a bit further than "get a better paid job", or even "get any job". These aren't "get rich quick" schemes but little ideas for making extra pocket money that you may not have considered, or even knew existed, like renting out your stuff (you can get £3 per day for renting out your hammer!) or letting people pay to camp in your garden! 

Part 4: Financial Stuff. I'll be honest, I kind of skim-read this section! I love everything that makes me coo "ooh, that's a nifty idea", but switch off slightly when I see Contents Insurance as a header! However, this is where a lot of the grown up stuff is, how to get the best deal from your mortgage, insurance products, savings accounts, utility providers etc. It's good stuff and a section of the book I'll revisit when I'm feeling a bit more switched on!

Part 5: Directory - does as it says on the tin really. I was really glad to get to the end of the book to find that there's a well organised directory of all of the websites and companies mentioned throughout, this makes for a really handy reference. 

I'd recommend this book to absolutely anyone keen on saving money, and making what they do spend go further. This year I've gone from living in a six bedroom house with little to no real money worries, able to eat out regularly, drink expensive wine with friends, buy new clothes, book holidays etc. to living in a two bedroom flat in one of the least sought after neighbourhoods in my county, on next to no income, having to make sure that every penny counts, no mouthful of food is wasted, and water is treated as the precious commodity that it is. My shopping and lifestyle habits have changed monumentally over the last 6 months and it's as though this book was written for me! It's one that I'll be dipping in and out of for a long while to come, that's for sure. 

There's an Ausperity website that you can check out here.

Know your portion sizes before you shop this Christmas, with Love Food Hate Waste

This is not a sponsored post, I've just genuinely found something that I love!

I only recently discovered the Love Food Hate Waste website (I know, under a rock, right?) but it's become my go-to resource for savvy kitchen filling. Food waste is a big problem, not just in the UK, but on a global scale, but getting it under control at home can make a positive impact, on our environment, and our bank balances. You probably wouldn't believe the amount of food that you waste without thinking - I know I've certainly started to pay attention to what I throw away recently, and I've been disgusted by what I generally considered acceptable before. 

Did you know - that if we stopped throwing away so much food that could have been perfectly good for munching, we'd cut the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions from our planet as if we took a quarter of all of the cars off of the roads! Then of course there's the guilt, that as millions go hungry every day, and even in the UK, foodbanks are crying out for donations as demand steadily increases, we are throwing away armfuls of fresh fruit and vegetables, perfectly good meat, eggs, bread, yoghurt, juices etc. It's not cool.

Take a while to explore the Love Food Hate Waste website, I champion it for not being "preachy" or too "sandals and tree hugging" - it's full of straight, factual information which isn't intended to batter you with ethics, but to help you to save money, energy, and the world you live in. 

One of my favourite features on the Love Food Hate Waste website is their Portion Planner, which allows you to input the fresh food you want to serve, and the number of people at your table. This way the site can tell you how much of that product you need to buy, to save you overspending, and creating unnecessary food waste. You can use this tool for vegetables, fruit, meat and fish and also pasta, lentils and pulses. It may prove vital over the Christmas period, when many of us have extra mouths to feed. Do you actually know how many sprouts you need to buy to feed 9 people? Guessing usually means playing it safe and buying more than you need. Using the Portion Planner on the Love Food Hate Waste website ensures that you keep it sensible, and have more to spend on gin. There's also a party food portion planner, which works out how much party food you need to provide based on the number of guests and how long you're expecting to host them. I don't know about you but I'm so terrified of running out of food when I'm entertaining that I always go over the top!

Let me know if you use the Portion Planner and how you get on!

Pressure Cooking: Lentil and Chickpea Curry (Vegan Friendly)

I can't big up this recipe enough; for a start it's one of my environmentally friendliest yet! Not only is this delicious curry totally free of meat and animal products, making it 100% vegan friendly, but, it's also quick and easy to make in a pressure cooker, cutting cooking time by around 70%, and it's even better the next day, meaning you can make a larger batch and serve it up for lunch.
For those sceptical of the nutritional value of vegan food - fear not, this recipe packs an almighty protein punch thanks to a generous helping of red lentils (which contain more protein than meat alternatives such as Quorn), and chickpeas. Coconut oil ups the fat content and helps the body to absorb many of the vitamins present in the tomato base, whilst fresh chillies aid digestion and soya milk is fortified with Vitamin B12 - the only vitamin that can't be found outside of animal products, other than where it's added on purpose, as is the case here. 
This is probably, in fact definitely, my most successful curry recipe, and absolutely whoops all of the meat based curries I've ever made. 

The lovely people at Tower Housewares recently sent me their enormous 7L pressure cooker, to test out at home on some of my clean eating recipes. This bad boy is simply made for mass catering, and nobody mass caters quite like India, so it was only natural that I should opt to test one of my Indian inspired recipes to make a curry for friends. If you've got people over, and you want to serve awesome, healthy food, but don't want to be in the kitchen for more than quarter of an hour - this one's for you. 


120g of red lentils (well rinsed)
2 x 400g tin chickpeas in water
2 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 x 400g tin of sliced mango in juice
2 brown onions (sliced)
Plenty of coconut oil
1 cup soya milk
2 tsp tamarind concentrate
2 tsp garam masala 
1 tsp coriander seeds
6 cardamom pods
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp turmeric 
2 tbsp fresh chilli, finely chopped
2 tbsp garlic, finely chopped

Make It

  1. Heat a large glob of coconut oil in the pressure cooker, over a medium heat, and add all of the spices, cardamom pods, garlic and chilli until they begin to spit and splutter.
  2. Add the onion and fry until softened.
  3. Add all other ingredients, including an additional glob of coconut oil. Secure and lock the lid of the pressure cooker and cook for 5 minutes, then release the pressure. 
  4. Serve with rice and vegetable samosas.