30 Day Vegan Challenge for April

I think, post-miscarriage, that I’ve indulged enough in takeaways and other less-than ideal food choices.

I am ready to get back on the healthy eating bandwagon, but I wanted a kick-start. A way to really make conscious choices about my food in a structured way for a while. A way to reinforce healthy habits that have been slipping.

I am mostly vegetarian. I do not eat cheese. I don’t eat a lot of sugary snacks. Overall my diet is OK.

But I want more than OK.

So for the month of April I’m trying a vegan experiment. And… [drumroll] so is the hubby!

It’s great to have both of us doing this, as we can support each other and cooking meals is going to be easier in the evenings.

I think that DH will find it harder than me as he loves his cheese, his chocolate and his butter. But, we will see.

I’ll be taking weight measurements, body-measurements, blood pressure and blood glucose beforehand, and a couple of before and after pics. I may or may not post these, depending on how much (if any!) change there is.

We will be following the 30 Day Vegan Challenge by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau starting Tuesday April 1st.

I’ll be blogging intermittently through the 30 days – no set schedule.

Should be fun!

Decluttering Gifts From Others

You know the problem.

Decluttering gifts is SO difficult.

They sit there for years and years, neither used nor given away, just gathering more and more dust.

I am pretty good at decluttering, but I’ve gotten stuck with a handful of items that psychologically I just don’t seem to be able to part with.

I have barely, or never, used these items since I received them.

I feel very uncomfortable with gifts that I don’t truly love. For complex reasons going back to my childhood, I have always found receiving gifts to be an emotional trial. I think there is no single act more likely to provoke a white lie, than the giving of gifts. This of course, is a subject for a whole other post.

I decided today, as I continued to clear out the loft, that I needed inspiration to shift unused gifts, and I thought I’d share it with you.

First of all, I turned to Sue Kay’s book, No More Clutter.

Sue says:

“It is important to accept the gift graciously in the spirit in which it was given. After that it’s up to you what you do with it. Forget the guilt.”

Hmm. All well and good, but not enough for me to part with those emotionally charged unwanted gifts.

I still remember my mother-in-law asking where the “bag lady” had gone from our kitchen (a cloth lady with a big skirt that holds carrier bags). Without thinking I mentioned she was up in the loft. Immediately I could see the hurt and disappointment in my mother-in-law’s face that her gift was no longer being used. She then made a rash comment about my children choking to death on carrier bags lying around in the drawers. Is decluttering worth this kind of experience?

Would it have been better if I had lied? Said it had gotten ripped or broken?

I have found increasingly that other people place a far greater value on objects than I do. In fact, in some cases, other people disapprove of what they perceive as a transient attitude to things and find me difficult to understand.

What can I do about the guilt I feel when another person takes a rejection of their gift as an insult?

The Minimalist Mom sensibly suggests that you let potential gift givers understand your desire to live without a lot of stuff. We have tried to do this, on many occasions, but we live in a house that is still a work in progress, and I think until our family walk through our doors and see a zen paradise, they will not truly understand our desire to have less.

She also says, at the end of the day:

“It’s your home and you can decide what stays and what goes – regardless of if it was a gift.”

As a person who struggles with worrying constantly about what other people think, this helps me. It is my house. Do I want my house to be a shrine to keeping others happy and not myself?

No I do not.

But I still need a real reason, a solid emotional affirmation that letting go of these things is not an ungrateful, bad, or mean thing to do.

So I thought about it like this:

  • Would the gift giver want their gift to be sat in the loft gathering dust?
  • If the gift-giver genuinely cares about me, would they want me to keep something they had given me for no reason other than guilt?
  • Would my relationships be closer if I could let gift givers know what I really needed in my life?
  • Should I make more of an effort to request items that I want around Christmas and birthdays? (I am very bad at this, because I don’t want a lot, but then I end up being given things I don’t want)
  • Do I want to feel overwhelmed and unable to declutter my home because I keep getting stuck on gifts?
  • Do I want my home to be my own space, or not?
  • Do I want to live my life my way, or the way other people think I should?
  • Would a future me, living my life the way I envisage, have these things in her home?

The answer to all of these questions is simple.

Keeping and using a gift from someone else is not proof that you care about that person or that you have a good relationship with them.

So I think I can let go of these gifts now. With kindness and an open heart, and no guilt.

I was grateful to receive them, but they are not right for us, or our home.

And what will I say the next time someone asks me about a gift they have given that is mysteriously absent?

I will be honest. That we were very grateful for it, but we didn’t use it, and we don’t have space for it.

Because all we can do is live our lives honestly and truthfully, and those that love us should be OK with that.

Chilli Baked Aubergine with Basmati Rice

roastedaubergine

Gluten free, and, if you leave out the eggs (which I sometimes do), it goes from vegetarian to vegan.

This is the first in (hopefully) a series of simple dinners that I’ve been meaning to post for ages.

I love this recipe because it’s easy to make and it has a real kick. Skip the chilli if you prefer a milder taste.

Ingredients – serves 2

1/2 brown onion (use a whole one if you love onion)
1 aubergine
3 flat/portobello mushrooms (a couple of courgettes can be used if you have no mushrooms, which is what I used in the photos, the flavour however, is much better with mushrooms 🙂 )
1 red chilli (I tend to use about 2/3 as a whole chilli makes the dish very hot)
140g basmati rice
2 eggs (optional)
scant teaspoon cumin
sprinkle of paprika
oil (olive, grapeseed, rapeseed, whichever you prefer)
salt
pepper

ingredients

Method

1) Dice the aubergine and mushroom (or courgette), finely chop the chilli, chop the onion into large chunks, then pop everything in a roasting tray. Glug some oil over the top and add the cumin, paprika, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Mix it all up with your hands and then bung the lot in the oven at gas mark 7 for 35 minutes.

veg

2) Shake the roasted veg around after 25 minutes or so.

3) Cook the basmati rice and drain.

4) Cook the eggs (I like mine just turning from soft to hard)

5) Assemble: mix the drained rice with the roasted veg. Top with the eggs, halved (the husband doesn’t eat eggs, so I got both!).

The only downside with this dish is that it’s too hot for the boys. Even without the chilli I don’t think they would like it at all. It’s a great weeknight dinner for when the kids are in bed though.

 

Quick and Easy Shortbread

shortbread

You know me. I do not bake.

Ever.

I’m not a big cake or biscuit eater, pretty much every cake or biscuit I’ve tried to bake has been a disaster, and I am always terrified by the sheer amount of butter that has to go into any of these recipes.

But as you also know, money is tight.

For years now, because they are sugar free and organic, I’ve been buying these for the boys:

animalbiscuitsbabybiscuits

They have no sugar in them and contain only organic ingredients.

However, they are also £1.39 and £1.29 respectively for a pack of 100g.

Hmm.

So today I did a search for some really basic biscuits, and I found a wonderful recipe at a great blog I have discovered. So simple, even I could do it!

I used half the amount of each ingredient (there are only 3), and it is foolproof, because we didn’t do any resting or chilling – we just mixed and baked.

Cost?

£0.49 for 10 (150g) biscuits. It would be even less if I didn’t use organic flour, butter and sugar.

AND

The boys got to do this:

boysbaking

Which is a super-rare treat with a non-baking mum like me.

Paying Off My Debt

Not working, having children, spending as if I’m still bringing home a decent income… these things have left me in a mess.

Financially, things are not good. Ha!

That’s OK, because I’ve been here before.

After completing my second degree, over 10 years ago now,  I took a programming job which meant a move across the UK. My salary at the time was less than my monthly outgoings. I had to rent a flat AND buy a car, and I had a huge student loan to pay off. In the first six months I had to supplement my income with credit cards, simply so that I could make ends meet (I wouldn’t advise this).

Luckily, my job prospects were good, and payrises and bonuses meant that within a year I could actually live within my means. Three years later, not only had I cleared every debt, including my student debt, but I’d also saved enough for a house deposit with the husband (then boyfriend).

I vowed I would never get into debt again.

But that was before motherhood and the transition to being a stay at home mum (something I never even imagined I would do).

So, after keeping my head in the sand for the best part of 4.5 years, I’ve finally taken stock.

I owe, today, £5786.06.

Ouch!

One of my 12 goals is to pay this off within 5 years, which means a monthly commitment to at least £96.44 each month towards my debt. That’s almost double what I currently pay back.

Initial problems are that:

a) I’m also paying around £25pcm in overdraft charges. This is £300 a year. I know this figure will reduce as I reduce my overdraft, but by shifting this debt onto a long term 0% credit card, the transfer fee (<£100) will easily beat the overdraft charges, and leave me with more available cash. I’ve made an application, but for the first time in my life I am not sure if I will be accepted. Having to put “homemaker” in the employment field doesn’t fill me with confidence. So, we shall see.

b) Aside from my massive overdraft, I have one other credit card, which actually contains the debt from some work we had done on the house last year. This has been at a 0% rate for 18 months, but runs out in July. This is bad news, as I’m not sure if I can obtain another card to shift this debt to (see above).

So, action points:

  • Wait for card application result (not hopeful, as these things are usually instant).
  • Either shift debt around, or replan budget.
  • Finish monthly budget and consider withdrawing cash at the start of each week rather than using cards.
  • Set up payments to meet at least the minimum repayments.
  • Start selling on ebay!
  • Commit to a monthly summary, to track debt reduction.

 

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