Monday, 6 July 2015

Ikea Hack!

Sometime about 3 years ago, my daughter asked me for guinea pigs as pets.  I said… "maybe when you're six years old"...  thinking she'll forget about it and we will have moved on to something else by then.

Well…  it was a definite mummy-fail of the highest proportion because not only did she not forget… she's been telling everyone who will listen how she is getting guinea pigs when she's six.
*ugh*
I don't have the heart to make up an excuse as to why I'm dashing her dreams at such a young age.

Add to this, a multi-tool for Xmas, my relatively recent discovery of Pinterest and BAM  - the skills, tools, inspiration and rapidly approaching deadline of late July to have everything ready for my daughter's birthday.

In the last blog, you saw the beginnings of the indoor guinea pig hutch….  remember this?


Well, it now looks like this… 




Wanna know how I did it?  


First,  I removed the drawers and the drawer hardware.   



Then I stopped and had a good look.  I had some excess wood left from that sofa bed I dissected to fix the couch cushions.  If you look carefully, you will see the MDF base leaning up against the outside of the cabinet.   I did a quick eyeball and surmised I would only get one shelf out of that sheet of wood.   I desperately wanted two shelves in order to get the maximum amount of space for our little piggies.  

The next step was to decide where the shelves were going to go, how I was going to get two shelves out of the wood I have, what I was going to use to form the base of the cage (as there is no "floor" at this point) and how were the piggies going to move from level to level.

I had a vague idea that I would keep the drawers just in case I decided to revert the piece back into a dresser/cabinet because it really was a nice looking piece of furniture.

That lasted about 10 minutes when I realized I didn't have enough extra wood to do what I wanted… not to mention all the extra cutting and drilling holes I would have to do.   So I used what I had to hand.

 First, I took the drawer runners apart.  I used the inner half of these to hold up the shelves.  This worked exceptionally well since the screw holes were already there and everything lined up perfectly.  

The second step was to take the drawers apart.  I used two drawer fronts per shelf and rested them on the existing drawer runners..  and then found the drawer fronts were just a hair too short to be held up securely by the drawer runners.   CRAP!  

Then I had a bright idea!  Spacers!   I cut long rectangles out of one of the drawer base pieces and used them as spacers to hold the shelves better.  Of course that meant I couldn't use the original screws (not long enough now) so I just popped some plastic screw anchors in the existing holes and used some longer screws I had in the tool box.   Worked like a charm. 


The next step was to fit the shelves on, make sure they held up and fit properly.   Taking shape now!



 The bottom bit was a bit more interesting.  I had intended to use the slats from the sofa bed base,  just the same as in the photo above, and cut them to size.   But once the drawers were taken apart, the boards that made up the sides of the drawers were obviously a perfect fit.  I only had to cut the thin bits off each side of the last board to make it fit.   And it fits like a dream!  And it was so much easier.

By the way, none of the shelves or the floor boards are nailed, screwed or glued down so they are easily removed if need be.  It also means I can easily change the configuration of the cage very easily.

Next step was to decide where the holes were going to go for the ramps and such.   I used one of the drawer end pieces to make the ramp and positioned it slightly more eentral so that I wasn't cutting a massive hole in one board thereby compromising the strength.  I, instead, cut notches in each board to fit the ramp in.




Since the second level is a lot thinner than the top and bottom sections, I figured the piggies could just climb up on a step or something to get into the top section.  That's why there's no ramp.  We shall see if that works.  If not, I'll have to Macgyver something else.

The next step was covering the wood shelves to prevent piggie peepee seeping in and ruining the wood.  Luckily I had quite a good bit of padded vinyl flooring left over from our bathroom to cover all three levels.

I laid out the floor, top side down, covered the top side of the boards with plain white glue and laid them, face down, on top.  Waited 10 minutes while the glue dried a bit then just did a simple upholstering job over the front edge, securing with staples.   I couldn't pull the vinyl over all the sides because then the shelves wouldn't fit so I just cut it to size and secured with staples on the top.

For the bottom shelf, since it was several pieces of wood, I just laid the flooring inside the hutch and cut it to size in situ.  Not as clean a finish as the other levels but it will work.   It was secured with staples all the way around.


I replaced the shelves and started working on the plexiglass fronts.  Basically, I measured the plexi to be half the size of the opening on the top and bottom and about 80% of the space in the middle section.  I want the middle section inaccessible just to give the piggies more security in case of cat invasion.  I also have a hunch the pigs will either want this section for nesting/sleeping or for eating…. In that case, the extra height on the plexi will hopefully keep any of their hay or bedding inside, rather than on my floor.  

I used my multi-tool to cut the plexi, which was fun because this stuff is a bitch to cut.  Go too fast and you'll end up with a big pile of cracked plastic.  Go too slow and you'll cut the stuff in 14,000 places other than the one place you intended.  

I did find out that if you score the top where you want the cut to be and then slowly trace that first cut, the friction will melt the plexiglass and that will reduce the chance of splitting, cracking or breaking.  

Once all the pieces were cut, I predrilled holes in the shelves, marked the hole positions on the  plexiglass and then pre-drilled holes in that.   

When that was finished, it was a very simple matter of screwing the sheets in place.  

For stability, I used these little telephone wire holders nailed into the sides to hold the plexiglass.  Just turned the litle plastic u-bend bit around and nailed them into place.  The plexiglass fits perfectly. 

Can you see the little clips on the sides of the plexiglass?


Finally,  I intend to make doors from big sheets of thicker plexiglass to keep the piggies safe from the cats.  I have hinges and a clasp ready to go…. Just have to get to B&Q!  






Friday, 3 July 2015

It's FREE!

I've had a really good run with Freegle lately and now I've expanded to Freecycle and Gumtree. 

The latest acquisition has been an amazing ladies bike with not a damn thing wrong with it aside from a clunky gear.   Good brakes, good tires and it's pink!

So happy. 


Before that, I drove to some place called Yateley (more like Poshland) to pick up a sofabed with a thick foam mattress.  Remember how I said that getting seating or bed foam was really hard?  I had to take the whole bed but I now have enough wood to finish my guinea pig hutches AND harvested enough foam to re-stuff our couch cushions! 

Just in case I haven't mentioned it before....  our couches, (a major bone of contention with my partner and I), are extremely well built, big, solid and heavy quality furniture BUT they're old.  The fibre cushion filling is lumpy and flattened.  I would like to buy new couches but alas, we don't have the budget.  I once priced out having the cushions redone at £80 per cushion!  We have 8 cushions!  To hell with that....   so I've been searching for free upholstery foam or bed foam off and on for about 3 years.  

So please believe me when I say, there was nothing in the world that made me happier on that day when I cut up a load of foam and re-stuffed our couch cushions.  You have no idea. 

I've also got enough decent cushion cover material, miles of zipper and lumpy fibre fill to make a couple really nice pet beds.  One for Frankie and one for Mia.  Plus, possibly, a couple more smaller ones to donate to the RSPCA.  That would be nice. 


I've also scored a few more bits which will be the basis for the next couple blogs.  First, I got this....





Which I hope to turn into something like this.....  only with plexiglass doors.  I need the doors because I have Frankie, who would eat the guinea pigs....  as appetizers. 
I found this picture on Pinterest which came from a site called www.guineapigcages.com which is the thing that got me inspired to do my own.
 
 
 
The plan:
 
* Remove the drawers.   We are keeping the large cabinet-y bit on the top to store guinea pig stuff.  Food, hay, toys etc. 
 
* Cut two or three shelves out of the sofabed base I got from Yateley.  It's thick MDF so should be perfect.  I will have to run out and get some more shelf paper to line the boards so the pee doesn't soak in.  (ew.)
 
* Cut ladder holes in said shelves
 
* Use existing drawer hardware to hold the shelves in place.
 
* Caulk around the shelves to prevent transfer of anything yukky from one level to the other or to the floor.   (The dresser/cabinet has no "floor" under the bottom drawer)
 
* Cut plexi to fit across the fronts of the shelves. 
 
* Screw plexi to the shelves.  I have purchased some little u-shaped bits with nails which I will use to hold the plexi onto the sides of the dresser.
  
* Cut more plexi for the doors. (if I have enough left!!)   Affix to the dresser with hinges and attach "hook and eye" fastener to keep it closed.
 
* Use slats and offcuts from the sofa bed as ladders between the levels.
 
* Add guinea pigs. 
 
I will post some pictures as we go.   Wish me luck. 
 
 











Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Build a Free House - Almost....



I was having a conversation with my partner yesterday about building our own house.  He bet me I couldn't figure out a way to build the entire thing using Freegle.  I bet him I could.  

We had to agree on a few things though....  there was no way I was ever going to find the stuff to build the structure of the house - at least not to modern building code - on Freegle.  So it was agreed that I could have £50,000 to build the structure of the house, electrical, plumbing, gas, windows & doors.  No money for flooring, plasterboard, furniture, fixtures or fittings.  And not including the cost of land, footings/foundations or having any utilities connected. 

I have a cunning plan..... 



Yep.  I am one of those crazy people who think you can turn a steel shipping container into a house.  In fact, if I ever get the chance, that's what I'm going to do.

Now... you may not know that there are literally millions of these things hanging around in dockyards all around the world.. unused.   I have done some research and found out that every time one of these babies makes a trip overseas, it's never used again.  That's a whole bunch of wasted steel.   In fact, there are enough shipping containers rusting in storage yards to make homelessness obsolete.  

So why not?

Here's what I've got so far. 

There are 3 standard sizes for a shipping container.   They are always 8ft wide and come in 10ft, 20ft and 40ft lengths.   The interior dimensions are going to be a bit smaller of course, once the finishing goes in but for arguement's sake, these dimensions are easier to work with for now. 

Cost?:  
The going rate for a used shipping container in water-tight condition is on average - $2800 or £1650.  However, I also know you can purchase damaged, dented and rusty containers for less.  Even as little as $10 depending on the condition.    Pay attention to where windows and doors will go and which sides of the container will be hidden in your design and choose your containers carefully.   It could save a small fortune!

So, that means if you were to use 10 shipping containers to build your house,  it would cost roughly $28,000 or £16,500.  That's less than a new car. 

So I got to designing.   I used 3 8ft x 40ft containers to design this....





The garage outer dimensions are 16ft wide x 20ft long and has enough room for a car and storage.  Behind it, are the laundry facilities, home gym and the stairs to the main floor, also 16ft x 20ft.   To the side,  a 40ft long music room for my partner's obsession..... including vinyl racks on both sides, seating area and credenza at the top end for the stereo equipment.    Cost = £4950 for the containers and probably another couple thousand for the structural work to reinforce the containers once the walls are removed.   I've seen one website selling structural steel beams for £58 per metre... so a couple thousand for just these three rooms, including labour is probably pretty close. 

Everything else has to come from Freegle.  

Should be an interesting bet. 








Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Grocery Shopping

I'm a self-confessed food dictator in my house.  I keep a close eye on what we buy and where we buy it.  Not only for price concerns but for quality concerns as well.   Making the move to the UK from North America also opened my eyes to the shit quality of the North American food industry.  It's actually scary what is considered eat-able in N.A.  High quantities of sugars, salts, fats, preservatives, pesticides, hormones.  All of which, we don't really have in the UK. 



The amount of research and comparison shopping I've done in order to whittle down the weekly grocery bill is immense.  It's actually quite satisfying to know you have saved a significant amount on your food bill and still been able to stuff your cupboards with good products.   The blog I could write on this topic would be miles long so I've decided to cut it down into a few blog posts.

First,  it is imperative you understand a few key elements.  
  • Bigger/More is not always better. 
  • Big chain grocery stores don't give a shit.  They only want as much of your money as they can get and they will pull every trick in the book to get you to spend more than you have to.  
  • The food sold in big chain grocery stores is not always of better value or quality... don't believe the hype! 
I will likely do a separate blog on each of these points later.



So here are my tips and tricks to making your weekly shopping easier, cheaper, better.


First tip, decide what you will absolutely not skimp on, then try to find it as cheap as possible.  Keep it down to only a few items though,  we are trying to save money here.  

For us, we absolutely will NOT skimp on ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and tomato soup.   Everything else is up for negotiation.  Although.... that said,  I do buy the Aldi version tomato soup and we actually like it just as much as our normal one. 

Second tip - Find a store loyalty points program you like and use it as much as possible.  Some places have loyalty points programmes that allow you to collect and spend points in other places rather than just the stores themselves.  Don't get crazy and sign up for dozens of them...  just concentrate on one or two that you would use most or gives you the most flexibility for spending points on other things you need.    (IE:  I redecorated my entire front entry and stairs using only store loyalty points!)

Once you've done that, get your husband, wife or partner to join a different rewards scheme for a different store you use.   Then, order two cards or key fobs from each programme so you both can collect the points at the same time.   I love the key fobs!  So handy!

Third tip - compare, compare, compare..  especially when shopping for the bulkier, more expensive, household items like laundry soap, meat, pet food, toilet paper, specialty food or pantry stuffers.    It takes a little time but well worth it.  Spend an hour or two in an evening comparison shopping online.  Pretty soon, you will get to know which store has consistently cheaper prices for your frequent purchases like butter and ketchup then you can concentrate on comparing prices on your less frequent purchases.   DO NOT assume a sale or multi-buy is the best possible price you will find.

The way I comparison shop is to get the websites for my three most frequently used retailers up at the same time.  Then I just search for what I need on all three.  Whoever comes out cheaper is the winner.
Yes, it takes a while but it's a lot better than watching inane reality TV of an evening.   However, a little time spent planning will save you lots.

In the UK, there is also a website called www.mysupermarket.co.uk   I found it doesn't always pick up on everything in a store's inventory but it does the job for more everyday items.  Frankly, I always think I'm missing something so I usually go to the individual store's website to confirm what I find on there.  It's just me.. I'm a bit OCD.

Fourth Tip - If you are in the UK, do not avoid the discount grocery chain stores.  Trust me.

Fifth Tip -  buy cheap and pimp it up at home.  Generally you get better value out of making things yourself...  this goes for food as well.   Frozen pizza and spaghetti sauce is a great way to save money.   This also means you will have to spend some dough on stocking up your spice rack but again,  it is well worth it in the long run.   I recommend buying the best tasting cheap (but not the cheapest!  That crap is grossss and no amount of herbs & spices will save it)  spaghetti sauce possible then just add some herbs & spices to it at home.    You would be amazed at what a little sea salt, pepper and Italian herb mix will do to a cheap spaghetti sauce.
 
Frozen pizza is another good one.  I buy the cheap cheese pizzas and then use whatever I have in the fridge to pimp it up.  Add a little extra grated cheese... then chuck on whatever I want.  Sometimes it's bacon and mushroom, sometimes it's leftover chicken and sweetcorn, sometimes it's onions and leftover bolognaise sauce, sometimes I even use the last dregs of salsa in the jar.   It's cheap, easy and can be tastier than the expensive frozen pizzas.  

Sixth Tip -  Take a calculator shopping with you.  Not to calculate how much you are spending but to calculate the cost per unit of something so you can compare it with other brands.  Toilet paper is the best example.   Which is the better deal?   24 rolls at £8.00 or 12 rolls at £3.59?   *said in my best game show announcer voice*   Well Stan,  it's cheaper to buy 2 packs of 12.  
It's a simplified example but you get my point about taking a calculator. 

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Like I said, a bit of planning goes a long way.  As an example,  we do a grocery shop every two weeks and generally buy the same sort of thing every time.  Fruit, veg, meat, pet food and popular pantry items.  We do a pantry restock every 1-2 months which consists of cereals, laundry soap, cleaning products, dishwasher tabs, toilet paper, cooking sauces, soups, herbs, spices and more. 

For our normal 2 week food shop (about 7 or 8 standard plastic shopping bags worth),  I used to pay between  £90 - £120.  (CDN $153 - $204) at one of the cheapest retailers.....  now, with a little extra effort,  our 2 week food shop is now £50 - £70 (CDN $85 - $119).

Yes, this makes me insanely happy. 

How do I do this?

1.  I shop at the discount retailers that most people despise... except for those of us who have figured out that the products are generally just as good, if not better, but you aren't paying for national marketing campaigns and fat cat salaries.   And you know what?  Most of the cars in the local discount retailer parking lot are luxury SUVs, BMWs Mercs and Audis.. go figure.  

Yes, you have to throw all your items in your cart and pack them over by the window but who cares?!  I'm paying half of what you are.

And don't even get me started on the product quality.  Try comparing Harvest Morn cereal (87p) to Kellogg's Special K.  (£2.09)  You would be appalled at the amount of salt and sugar in Kellogg's most famous "healthy" cereal. 

You also have limited choice in the products you can get but it's not necessarily a bad thing.  Who needs to choose from 17 different brands of chicken soup??  I like the one at the discounter and I pay 47p a can. 

2.  I make a list of what we need and decide which items I can get at the discount retailer.  Then I go looking online for the best deals on the other stuff.   Right now, in the UK, we are in the middle of grocery store price wars so it's a great time to comparison shop.   I currently get groceries from three different stores.  My main food shop store, Store A which has the best deals on toilet paper and Store B which has much better deals on pet food (and much better sales). 

3.  I then plan my attack.  I hit the discount retailer first for all my staple goods.  It's usually quick and dirty because their prices don't fluctuate that much.  I know what I want and where it is.  Bang bang done. 

Since I know that Store B has some amazing deals that won't appear on their website, I usually go to the store myself and check out the shelves in person.  For example,  I bought the last 4 bottles of brand name dish liquid for 50p each!   So what if it was their Christmas scent?  I don't normally smell my dishes so who gives a shit if they smell like cranberry?  Point is... I got 300ml bottles of dish liquid for 50p!! 
*fist pump*

Another day,  I managed to arrive just as the bakery was putting out their "perfectly fine but not oven fresh" bread items.  I bought 3 packs of rolls, 2 loaves of tiger bread and a tray of 6 baguettes for 25p each!!   I also picked up a few bags of stale bread for only 10p EACH!   The "not quite fresh" bread got put in the freezer until we needed it and the stale bread was made into heaps of breadcrumbs!   *another fist pump*

Store A doesn't normally have outstanding sales so it's not really worth the drive... They do have the best offers on toilet paper and laundry soap so I stick to my normal purchases and do home delivery.  They do £1.00 delivery slots in the evenings.  Bonus!  

Although, just yesterday, I saw Store A was having an OUTSTANDING sale on boxes of Whiskas cat food pouches.  I bought 8 of them and they are being delivered this evening.  *yet another fist pump*


Yes,  this makes me insanely happy.   I really do just sit back and bask in the bargain-obtaining satisfaction.   It's like a competition between me and the grocery stores... I don't like to lose. 




Friday, 20 March 2015

Making Stock



Making stock. 

I think, if you are going to pay good money for a nice roast, best to get every single scrap of value from it.

There are many, many recipes on the interweb about making stock, some more involved than others but, really, do any of us have the time or energy to dedicate to making gourmet stock?   I certainly don't want to spend my Saturday afternoons standing over a pot of stock, do you?   Thank goodness for the crockpot! 

Stock in a crockpot is actually super easy to make and will save you from having to buy little pots of over-salted, meat flavoured stuff.  Sure, store bought stock is much more convenient but the whole point is to not waste anything, right?    Not to mention, homemade stock has less salt, preservative and god knows what else. 

Just out of curiosity...Why don't we have a closer look at store-bought stock?   

Let's look at a very popular brand of cube stock available at every major grocery retailer. 
24 cubes for £2.20. 
1 cube will make 100ml of stock. 
100ml of stock has almost 1GRAM of salt! 
That translates to 16% of your daily salt intake in just the stock alone. 

This means that one little box contains almost 5 teaspoons of salt.
 
Salt. Bad.
Now, let's look at the ingredient list: 
Wheat Flour (with added Calcium, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Salt, Maize Starch, Yeast Extract, Flavour Enhancers (Monosodium Glutamate, Disodium Guanylate), Colour (Ammonia Caramel), Beef Fat (4.5%), Autolysed Yeast Extract, Dried Beef Bonestock, Flavourings, Sugar, Acidity Regulator (Lactic Acid), Onion Powder


Do you see it??  MSG.   Not to mention a load of other things I'm not sure I want in my stock.  


So let's do it ourselves, shall we?  

The first thing to know is stock doesn't have to be made in one particular way every time.  There is no set recipe and this means you can play around with flavours and find one you like.  I usually keep a mental list of ingredients which *could* be used in a stock then just chuck in whatever I have on hand when the time comes.    Less stressful !!

That said,  there are a few "must haves" for a basic meat stock. 
  • Bones - obviously.  
  • Cold water - makes a difference  
  • Carrots, Onions and Celery - as a base
  • Mixed Herbs or bouquet garni 
  • Salt & Pepper
These basic ingredients can be thrown in a slow-cooker and left to simmer.  Some hours later, you will have the stock mostly done.  Strain, skim the fat and boil the bejesus out of it  to reduce and voila - you have stock.   Good stock will turn to jelly when cooled so if that happens... YAY!  You did it!

If you'd like to see what I normally do.. read below.   Don't forget to check out the end of the recipe for clever storage ideas.


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You need:
 
Bones
Crockpot
1 Large Carrot
1 Large bit of celery
1 medium onion
Herbs
Splash of white wine or tomato paste
 
 
 
 
 
1. Throw ingredients in a crock pot and cover with cold water. 
 
Rough chop 1 celery stick and 1 large carrot.  Quarter an onion and chuck that in. 
(Don't bother peeling the veg, just make sure they are clean because you are going to take them out later anyway.)

Throw in 1-2 bay leaves and a bouquet garni, if you have it.  If not, just chuck in a tsp or two of your favourite herbs.  (Tip: I find adding a little cumin amps up the flavour so try starting with a good pinch and see what happens.) 


Add some sort of acid.  It's not essential so don't worry if you don't have any. 
However, if you do and you want rich brown stock, try adding a tablespoon of tomato paste.   If you want a lighter stock or if you are making fish stock, use a splash or two of white wine. 
 
Season lightly with sea salt and black pepper.  If you feel fancy, just throw some whole black peppercorns in.
(you will adjust the salt/pepper to taste later)
 
Turn the crockpot on high and leave it for a good 3-4 hours, minimum, or you can leave it on Low overnight. 

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If you are making stock from fowl or shellfish,  give your bones a little bash with the meat mallet or rolling pin.  Cover with a towel or cling film first to prevent meat flying everywhere. 

 
Don't go all Rocky Balboa on it either, killer.  If you beat it too much you may shatter the bones which will leave very sharp, tiny shards in your food and this definitely won't get you invited back to the family pot-luck.

If you happen to be thinking "hmmm... tiny shards of bone could kill people...."  AND you happen to have a family pot-luck dinner coming up;
 
"I don't know you and I have no idea what you are talking about."
 
 
If going with the stovetop method, you will do the same except don't let the water boil!  Just let it simmer gently. 
 
I used to boil the crap out of the bones, thinking I was going to have some lovely soup for lunch only to find my soup ended up looking and tasting like old dishwater.   But not anymore - hah haaa!! 
 
YES, DAD,  I HAVE LEARNED TO MAKE SOUP PROPERLY SINCE THEN!  STOP BUGGING ME ABOUT IT ALREADY!
 
 
When it's finished, you should have a nice rich colour and it will smell awesome.

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2.  Strain liquid, Skim the fat and harvest the meat.
 
Strain the stock, putting the liquid into a saucepan, and set aside to cool a bit.    You will need to skim the excess fat before you reduce it. 

While it's cooling, pick through the bones to get the good meat chunks out.  These can be put back into the finished stock to make soup or used for pies, goulash, pasta salad, given to the dog or cat.  Point being, don't waste it.  It's still good, tasty meat.  Use it!
 
Go back to your liquid and skim the excess fat from the top and get rid.   Throw the bones and veg in the bin.  (You can compost the veg if you like but not the bones... it's up to you if you want to increase the PITA Factor and separate the two for composting.)

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3. Reduce liquid, adjust seasoning
 
Once skimmed, boil vigorously until the liquid has reduced by half or more depending on how strong you want your stock.   Have a quick taste, adjust the seasoning or reduce further if needed. 
Take off the heat and let cool.

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Now,  this is the clever part.  

4. Storage
 
Unless you are going to make soup straight away... you will need to keep the stock preserved and handy for when you need it.   You are also not going to need all of this stock at once.  So, pour into ice cube trays and pop it into the freezer.  When it's frozen, you can pop out the cubes and store in freezer bags until you need it.   

If you don't have any free ice cube trays, try freezing the (cooled!) stock using one half of a plastic egg carton.   Once frozen, pop out and store in freezer bags.  Remember to use the plastic ones, not the cardboard ones.  ;o) 



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Photos courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Thursday, 19 March 2015

I LOVE Freegle




It's all Kirstie Alsopp's fault!! 

I was spending a nice evening on the couch watching one of Kirstie's many crafting shows and she drops a bomb into my world.  The F-bomb.  The Freegle bomb.

She's evil in perfectly matching patterns and cute shoes. 

Kirstie introduced me (and possibly millions of other people) to the world of Freegle.  It's been both a blessing and a curse.  If you ask my partner, he'd likely side with curse.   He gets this look on his face when I say I'm heading out to collect something I got from Freegle...  not sure if it's pain or resignation.   Either way,  I'm pretty sure he's not as ecstatic about my Freegle finds as I am.  

That said, however,  after seeing the things I bring home, he usually comes around with a compliment, eventually. 

For those who don't know of this place... 

Freegle is a lovely online world where loads of people advertise their free stuff.  It's a mishmash of just about anything you can think of. 

Let's have a look and see what the first 5 things on the page are today... 

A slightly rusty microwave
3 wooden pallets
20 sheets of greenhouse glass
Ecotherm insulation offcuts
A working but old dishwasher

This is a pretty good indication of the sorts of things which appear on Freegle daily.   You also get lots of old furniture in various states, leftover tiles, bricks, fence panels and more. 

You also find lots of people looking for stuff for free.  Bricks,  paving slabs, bicycles, appliances, phones, baby stuff and furniture.

Very occasionally though,  you can find a gem or two.      

Sewing Machines, camping gear, good garden furniture, aquariums, chicken/rabbit/guinea pig runs, chicken wire, fabric, seating or bedding foam and good condition bicycles just fly out the door.  Be prepared to be very quick or very lucky if you ever try to snag one of these items on Freegle. 

As with everything of this sort,  Freegle depends on a community of people who will participate in the exchanging of free stuff with goodwill and integrity.  Meaning, don't take the piss you jerks.  Be honest in what you are offering and show up to collect the stuff you agreed to take, when you agreed to take it. 

This is part of the unwritten etiquette to being a "Freegler"

Other points of etiquette:
  • You should be prepared to offer some things as well as take. 
  • You should not harass the posters with multiple emails.  Send one and if you don't hear back, you can assume you didn't get it. 
  • If you use the Fair Offer Policy, actually use it.  Wait at least 24 hours before contacting people about the item.
  • Be polite and remember this is an item which is FREE.  It's not going to be perfect and may not even work properly....  this is why it's free.  Don't complain.   Although I will say I was less than impressed with the woman who advertised a single blow up mattress but "forgot" to mention the gaping hole in the side of it. 

So, if this place is so great,  what gems have I uncovered?

Let's see,  I've gotten:

A gorgeous old school desk with chair - my very first Freegle score and it's amazing.  Solid wood, flip-top desk with brass ink well (bottle missing), cast iron legs with original wood chair with metal reinforcements.  It's luuuuurvely.   Kirstie would be chuffed to bits, I think.

Pond weed - because I cleaned out the pond but needed something in place to clear the water and keep it from stagnating over the winter. 

An apartment sized clothes dryer - it's old but despite what the family said, it does heat up rather well!  I only had to take the back off it and clean out the crap from the heating element.   Easy peasy.  We can't dry an entire washload of clothes in it but it does a great job on munchkin's school uniforms, underpants and the odd bit we need dry in a hurry. 

The single blow-up mattress with a gaping hole in the side.  Luckily I had some rubber left over from the pond repair kit I bought and fixed the hole.  2 years later... it WAS still holding until my two children... (the 5 year old and the 47 year old) decided to use it as a bouncy castle.

A double blow-up mattress exactly the type we used as floating beds in our grandma's pool.   No gaping holes.   

A box of leftover orange wall tiles - Contrary to my partner's opinion, there is a plan in mind for these.  I am still flirting with the idea of using leftover wall tiles to tile the upstairs bathroom.  Mosaic style.   Look out for that blog MUCH later. 

A box of jars for canning - Intended to be for making jam and stuff but are now sitting in the shed.  (It's not always a smash hit)

An old German coffee grinder - Just because I wanted it.  It's not as pretty as I'd hoped which is probably why I can't remember where it is right now. 

 
 
 
 
A massive, solid wood wardrobe - it's gorgeous.  Yes,  it's battered and worn but it's a heavy, quality made piece which will be with us forever.   At some point, I will refinish it and change the knobs but I'm actually not allowed to do that until the 400 other DIY jobs I've started get done.











Paint cans - tin cans that munchkin and I are going to use for a project which will appear here later.

Most recently, I've acquired a massive office credenza which is going to feature in another blog post by July and a pretty big sheet of plexiglass with a couple offcuts.    The plexi was a real coup because you never see that sort of thing on Freegle.   I posted a "WANTED" ad on the site and had a response from a lovely man named Mike about an hour later.   I'm so happy because it's exactly (EXACTLY!!!) what I needed. 

 The credenza


For the most part,  I've met some really nice people who were happy to have a little chat and were genuinely interested in what you have planned with their old stuff. 


You should try it.  www.ilovefreegle.org  or you can try Freecycle if you are not in the UK.  www.freecycle.org  


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The PITA tax

Before I get going on more blogs, it might be helpful to understand one of my own underlying theories about saving money, recycling, upcycling and the like.  

It's called "The PITA Tax"   Or...  "The Pain In The Ass Tax"

This is the difference in cost between what you could be saving  and  paying full retail price.   If you are paying the PITA Tax, it means you are paying more than you need to for something in order to avoid any real or perceived "Pain In The Ass Factor".   

The PITA Factor is simply how much of a pain in the ass you think something is or is going to be. 

This factor depends on many, many things.    Whether you can easily get what you need from alternate sources.  Does it go on sale often?  How long can you wait before getting said item or service?  Do you have time, style, colour, size, shape constraints which are unmoveable?  Do you have the time or energy to source everything you need?  Do you have your kids with you?   How tired are you?  How hacked off?  Have you just crushed your iPhone in the car door and really need a replacement this minute?? 


Let's say we have a 1-10 scale, although in reality it is much more complicated than this, but let's go with this, for simplicity's sake. 


IE:  I would like new curtains in my bedroom.   I could either;

A) go to a nice pricey design store, have them measure, cut and install a nice pair of curtains
PITA Factor = 0
PITA Tax = 10  (meaning the most expensive option)

B)  Go to John Lewis and pick out curtains off the shelf which are as close as possible to the right size and colour.
PITA FACTOR = 2
PITA Tax = 8 

C)  Buy the fabric I want, cut and sew the curtains myself
PITA FACTOR = 8
PITA Tax = 2

D)  Troll charity shops and discount websites for a few weeks until I find something I like.  Cut and sew curtains myself.
PITA FACTOR = 10
PITA TAX = 0

So you see,  the PITA tax generally goes down as the PITA Factor goes up.   Of course, this is assuming you would find making your own curtains a giant pain in the ass.  And even if you did, would the PITA Factor be high enough to make you pay the PITA Tax?


Does that make sense?   You will hear this term used a lot in future blog posts.