Sunday, 23 March 2014

Listography - My Life in Books

I've never taken part in the listography side of blogging before so when I saw Kate Takes 5's post on 'My Life in Books' I thought I'd grasp the moment and link into her discussion of all things literary. If you're wondering what the link is between books and frugal living - the theme of this blog and one I like to adhere to fairly strictly - it's simply that there are few pleasures in life as cheap and satisfying as losing yourself in a book for an hour or two. Everything is (usually) fine in the world with me when I have my nose stuck in a novel and a cup of tea close to hand.

As prompted by Kate Takes 5's theme, here are the 5 books that have played a defining role in my life so far...

1. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume

My introduction to the world of the great Judy Blume. Her era-defining books tend to be remembered in the context of tackling 'difficult' subjects like sex and periods. But what I loved most about them was their 'American-ness', which growing up in dreary '80s Britain seemed so modern and exciting. Judy Blume had a way of vocalising anxieties about becoming a teenager with empathy and humour and I went on to devour all of her books after reading this novel. 

2. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

This book was a first foray for me into the very dark places literature can take you. I read it alongside Susan Hill's equally unnerving novel 'I'm the King of the Castle' for English GCSE and was completely consumed by an unfolding drama that sees good children turn bad against the benign backdrop of a tropical island. Its terrifying examination of the dark side of human nature had a big effect on me.

3. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

My first experience of literally not being able to put a book down. This book reminds me of my mid teens, and staying up way beyond lights out to eek out just one more chapter. I didn't know what 'magic realism' was at the time of reading but looking back I can see how this stylistic device, coupled with Isabel Allende's natural gift for storytelling, ensured this book held a special place in my teenage self's heart.  

4. The Prince by Niccolo Macchiavelli

It might seem a bit pretentious to include a treatise on good governance from a 16th century political theorist in this list but when I think of my university years I always come back to this book, studied during my Italian degree at London University. It sparked an enduring fascination with the Italian Renaissance and influenced my choice to spend the third year of my course in Florence, a city that I ended up falling madly in love with and which I've returned to many times since. Surprisingly, The Prince isn't at all boring and explains political concepts (concepts that remain hugely relevant today) in simple terms - a real political education for me. 


5. Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Just a lovely, lovely book, which I read, appropriately, on my first trip to Greece. Few books have made me cry actual tears, but this one did. I was lying on the beach at the time, the sea was lapping at my feet and the combination of a beautiful setting and lyrical, heart-rending prose got the better of me. The famous 'Love is a temporary madness...' passage might have become rather over quoted, popping up as it does at weddings up and down the land these days, but the sentiment within those few lines is so heart-felt we couldn't resist choosing it as a reading on our special day.

I've also got suggestions for books to read with boys on the blog here.

What are your life-defining books?


Thursday, 13 March 2014

Working From Home - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

I've been a home-worker for seven whole years, I realised with a shock the other day. It only seems yesterday I was waving goodbye to office life, a secure pay packet and actually leaving the house in the mornings. Seven years on, I would still say there's a lot to be said for working from home but there are some things I was perhaps a little unprepared for when I decided to go freelance. It was meant to be the solution to the eternal problem of finding some "work-life balance" but of course the reality has been not quite as cut and dried as that...

There are days when it's great; other days where it drives you to the edge of reason and has you wondering why the hell you ever complained about working in an office. It won't necessarily offer the answer to your childcare/stress/money problems but as a method for paying the mortgage, there are worse things you can do. 

Here are some things I've discovered about the reality of home working over the years - the good, the bad and the ugly...

1. Your home office won't look like the home offices in magazines

It will be a permanent mess of paper, tax documents, invoices and dirty coffee cups. It won't look anything like those sleek home offices you see in the magazines. Even though I've got a nice little space and a wall adorned with cool-looking postcards and prints, applied with fashionable washi tape, it still looks like a crap-hole most of the time. Don't expect your office to be a child-free zone either. Your kids will leave grubby smears of unidentifiable origin all over your key board and discarded apple cores in your desk drawer - and that's a best-case scenario.

2. There is no help desk at home

One of the most painful realisations about working from home. Getting a weird message every time you boot your laptop up? Could be nothing to worry about or it could mean your hard-drive is about to explode. And of course you won't have done a back-up for ages. The trouble is, there's no one around to ask, and you're not 'technical'. My advice would be to cross your fingers and back up ASAP.

3. Your time management skills may need some refining

It's amazing how much time you can waste when working from home. You might have an urgent deadline with a newly acquired client but managing a sudden, overwhelming desire to clear out the junk drawer or descale the kettle can be a challenge. Jobs you never knew needed doing suddenly become impossible to resist, even though there's a nagging voice in your head telling you you really should get on with that 5-hour website audit. You can waste hours on random activities - examining your pores under a microscopic mirror or colour-coding your wardrobe, for example - when you know you should be getting your head down. That said, if you fancy putting your feet up in front of Breaking Bad at 11am - just because you can - treat yourself. There aren't many proper 'tangible' perks of working from home, but daytime TV viewing is one of them, so enjoy it from time to time.

4. Multitasking isn't as easy as you thought it would be

Now that you can load the washing machine in between working and nip out to the shops to pick up dinner, your home life should be super organised and stress-free. But somehow it doesn't seem to be. You will still find that come Monday your child's school uniform is languishing at the bottom of the laundry basket and your husband doesn't have any clean socks. That's not to say you should be responsible for all household chores but the expectation will somehow fall on your shoulders because you're the one 'at home'. Multitasking becomes a byword for taking a client call while on the toilet. 

5. You will experience moments of crushing loneliness

In all seriousness, this is something you should definitely take on board if you're considering going it alone. There might be days where you literally don't speak to any one all day and even if you're not the most gregarious of people (I'm not) the lack of social outlet can be soul-destroying at times. As you'll be taking in parcels for everyone on the street now you're a home worker you may find that exchanging a few pleasantries with the postman or courier is the highlight of social exchange during your day. But even if you have the nicest postman, it's not quite the same as having a gossip with a colleague over a coffee in the canteen. 

6. On a positive note, your health may improve

It can go either way when working from home. Now you don't have a walk to work and you can eat as and when you like you may find that a few extra pounds creep up on you. There's something about working from home that makes me ravenous so the key is to strip the house of biscuits and chocolate. Being able to take an exercise class during the day is a real perk of working from home but even if you can't do this, it's important to integrate some sort of exercise into your routine to get you out of the house. If you're prone to flatulence, no worries - your home, your rules. Feel free to blow off at will and enjoy the sensation of not arriving home each night crippled with trapped wind. 

7. You will be permanently freezing

Working from home makes you frugal. Whereas company budgets stretch to luxuries like round-the-clock heating and air con in the summer, when it's coming out of your budget (whether you claim it on your tax return or not) things can get a bit puritanical. My self-imposed 'no heating until 4' rule means I'm usually to be found sitting at my desk clothed in a dressing-gown over my clothes, sometimes with a hot water bottle in my lap and a blanket over my legs. 

8. But on the whole it works

And the flexibility and freedom makes up for the not so good things. If you're self-employed you will probably find yourself working much harder than you ever did before and it can be just as exhausting as office-based work. There are frequent irritations to deal with - invoice chasing and filling out tax forms - that perhaps you didn't have to worry about in your previous life. All this stuff takes time and will frequently spill over into your home life. But as a way to mix some semblance of a career with looking after children - particularly when they're at school and long summer holidays become a childcare nightmare - you could do a lot worse...

If you're a home-worker I'd love to hear your experiences - add a comment below...


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Easy, Low Cost World Book Day Outfits

As usual, we forgot about World Book Day. Held each year in March, if your child is at school, chances are they'll be expected to participate in this event. Unfortunately, this will require a costume of some sort. I'm not against the idea at all, but with everything else going on within the spheres of school, work and home life, it can be an additional stress to add to the ever-growing list of things to tick off the to do list. For some parents dressing up can mean an costly excursion to the local costume hire shop - we've seen some pretty impressive outfits rock up school over the years for the various other dressing-up occasions (ancient Egypt day, Roman day, Victorian get the picture) that crop up with amazing frequency during the school year, but to me that kind of defeats the object. Not only does this set you back a few quid each time, but surely the idea is for the child to participate in some way, perhaps by making a head-dress or customising an old t-shirt? Isn't that part of the fun and learning experience? 

On the other end of the scale are those parents who manage to create the most fabulous home-crafted costumes - the kind of costumes that look as if they involved several trips to Hobbycraft and a weekend labouring over a sewing machine. I take my hat off to them for their dedication to the cause, but my excuse is I don't have a sewing machine...

So, with precisely two hours at our disposal to get something sorted for World Book Day, here's what we did this year:

Tin Tin

Our five-year-old is a big fan of this classic book character. Luckily his look is a really easy one to replicate and cost me precisely £2.50 to put together. If you have a son in Beavers, the Beaver jumper is the exact shade of blue of Tin Tin's jumper. If it's covered in badges, simply turn it inside out and pop one your child's white school polo necks underneath, with the collar showing. We used some tan coloured trousers we already had, turned up to expose a pair of white knee-length socks. School shoes will be fine to finish things off. Toy Snowy (which we already had) optional - we bought ours in John Lewis a couple of years back. You may also need to buy some hair gel to create Tin Tin's trademark quiff. 

Roderick from Diary of a Wimpy Kid

This is a good one for older children who are perhaps a little less willing to dress up because it's 'not cool'. Our son is in year 5 and becoming increasingly image conscious so choosing a cool character to emulate is becoming more of a requirement. I can't take full credit for this one, but a friend suggested choosing a character from Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Our kids love this fantastic series of books and we took our inspiration from the film, choosing Greg Heffley's older brother Roderick as our model. With his 'Emo'-style clothes and involvement in a rock band (the brilliantly named 'Loded Diper' (sic)) he ticks the boxes for irreverence and ease. 

We bought a pack of white t-shirts and some black permanent marker from Asda - total cost about £4. I then customised the t-shirt with the Loaded Diper logo, creating a t-shirt not dissimilar to the one worn by Roderick in the Wimpy Kid films. Worn with jeans and some skater-style high-tops (both of which we had already) we were almost there, save for a quick application of hair gel and some black eye liner (a Roderick trademark) from my make-up bag. 

Other ideas

Last year our youngest went to school as the Very Hungry Catperillar for World Book Day. This was pretty easy and cost-effective too, as we put him in a pair of green trousers and long-sleeved green t-shirt, and added a green puffa gilet to give his top half a suitably caterpillar-y look. All of these items were foraged from our son's wardrobe. He wouldn't let us daub his face in green face paint which would have added to the effect, but he was happy to wear some antennae which we made from cardboard and covered in green paint. We also cut out some big cardboard lollipops like the candy featured in the book.

Where's Wally is another super-easy idea which will set you back just a few quid. We bought a red stripy long-sleeved t-shirt in Primark, worn with blue jeans. We picked up some round pretend glasses in the local joke shop for a couple of pounds (which can be used another time for a Harry Potter costume) and picked up an old walking stick that had been gathering dust in my mum's garage. You might also be able to find a white or red bobble hat to finish the look off.

© Bristol Bargainista. All rights reserved.
Blogger Templates by pipdig