Tuesday, 25 June 2013

How to make the perfect latte at home

My Starbucks addiction habit has been going for about 10 years. It started when I was in college - not quite old enough to go to the pub (legally), but a bit too old for hanging out at McDonalds. It was also a pretty good place to bunk off a 9am English class when I bumped into a friend on my way there! Now, I'm a bit of a contradiction because I'm not a big coffee drinker, so I began with hot chocolates. Then about 6 years ago my friend introduced me to the wonders of the Chai Tea Latte, and that's when the habit kicked in - there have been periods when I would buy one on the way to work every day and at £3.35 a time, that's not cheap!

In the last two years I ventured into the world of coffee (one day, my local Starbucks ran out of Chai!) and now my special order is a Grande Half Shot Soya Vanilla Latte. Bliss.

Anyway... my Starbucks habit was getting expensive. Over the last 10 years I have probably given near on £7000 to that big corporation and so we decided that enough was enough! If I can't live without lattes, then we'll make them cheaper at home. Now it did require a bit of initial outlay, but in the long run I'm hoping to save millions. :)

So, off we went to John Lewis and we bought a DeLonghi ECO310.R Icona Espresso Coffee Machine in Red.

And because I know you're all dying to know how it works, I'm going to show you how to make the perfect latte!

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1. Once you've filled up the water tank at the back, switch the machine on and place your pretty mug on the mug warmer at the top (Mine's from Anthropologie). Apparently it's important to warm your mug first and I'm happy to oblige because I think it helps!

2. I'm a big vanilla fan, so I popped down to my local Starbucks and got some of their lovely syrup.

Funny story: A couple of years ago, we moved house within East London which meant I changed my local Starbucks. After about four months, I went in and a barista from my old Starbucks had started working shifts at my new Starbucks... she remembered me and my order! That gives you an idea of how much of a regular I was. I wonder if when I bought the syrup they realised they were losing one of their best customers!

Anyway, I find that you don't need a lot of syrup, (you know in Starbucks they do two pumps?) just pour a little bit in, enough to cover the bottom of your mug.

3. Scoop ground coffee into the filter. Don't overfill it, but make sure it's filled level to the top. On the side of the machine there's a disc that you can press it against to pack the coffee down. Again, don't pack it too tightly. Too tight and the water won't be able to get through, too loose and it will pour through without filtering through the coffee.

4. When the green light shows, press the button. The machine might grumble a bit but the coffee should come out. When you've got the desired amount, press the button again to make it stop.

5. Now's the fun part - frothing the milk. You'll need a stainless steel milk frothing jug for the best effect (I don't know the exact science behind it but it just doesn't work as well in a ceramic or plastic jug - plus it gets pretty hot as the steamer heats the milk as well.) You don't need a lot of milk, it triples in volume as it froths so don't fill up the jug to the top! 

A barista friend recommended for perfect latte milk, stick the nozzle right down to the bottom, as it froths up bang the jug on the sideboard - this pops the bigger bubbles and makes more room. Gradually move the jug up and down to make sure the froth gets heated too. When the jug is just a little bit too hot to touch (probably takes about 30 - 40 seconds) then the milk should be hot enough for your latte.

6. Pour the the frothed milk into your mug about two thirds of the way up. Then pour in your coffee and top up the drink with any leftover frothed milk.

7. Curl up on the sofa with a good book and your perfect latte!

The cost of a perfect latte:
Tesco Colombian Roast and Ground Coffee 227g £2.99 (lasts about 3 weeks)
Alpro Soya Milk £1.19 (lasts about 1 week)
Starbucks Vanilla Syrup £3.75 (lasts about 4 weeks)
Total: £138.04
(obviously once you've bought the machine it's pennies per latte!)

So, say I have to replace the machine once every 5 years (is that optimistic?), over 10 years I will spend:
Alpro Soya Milk £618.80
Starbucks Vanilla Syrup £450
Total: £1853.73
(Assuming the cost of milk doesn't drastically increase!)

Which makes a daily latte about 50p a time!
So over the course of 10 years I save... £5146.27

Cost of the early morning coffee spent with the husband... priceless.

**This post was originally posted on my old, redundant blog a while ago but was too good not to share here too**
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Monday, 24 June 2013

Finding my Passion

When I first started this blog it was in preparation for the launch of a glittering freelance journalism career. I was on maternity leave and thought that if I put in a bit of groundwork while all was quiet, then being a writer once the chaos ensued wouldn't be that hard.

But I had a problem.

I lacked focus.

I knew I wanted to write, but I didn't know what I wanted to write about.

All I kept thinking was 'write about what you know', and then I found that actually I didn't know much and what I did know - the world of craft - didn't seem good enough.

So I fell into the trap of directionless blogging. Some of it was good. Some of it not my best work. And I got sucked into the world of stats, linkies and twitter.

But today I made a decision. Go back to your roots. Write about what you know. What you're passionate about.

What am I passionate about?

What gets me excited?

Beauty, pretty things, gorgeous interiors, whimsical crafts, upcycling, photography, flowers, untouched balls of yarn, pastel colours, tea parties, bunting & cake.

I guess, in the absence of a more modern, hipster word, I'm passionate about 'homemaking'. I want people to walk into my house and instantly feel at home.

It's more than interiors, more than design, more than crafts - it's creating an environment where one can relax and let the pressure of the world melt away.

It's the smell of fresh flowers, mixed with freshly baked muffins and ground coffee.

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It's finding the beauty in the little, simple things of life. Finding the wonder in the every day.

It's the sound of bare feet padding across fluffy carpets. The sunlight flickering through the trees, into the kitchen and bouncing off the shiny taps.

It's hospitality, friendship, family and fun along with relaxation, serenity, tranquility and the sound of silence.

It's turning a house, a room or a space into a feeling or an emotion or a memory.

It's not a physical thing, it's not a noun. It's a verb that's so intertwined with a state of being and maybe that's why it's hard to put your finger on it. Hard to know that that is your niche.

So in the future you might notice a shift in my blogging endeavours. I'm not a mummy blogger, I'm not really a craft or design blogger. I wouldn't even class myself as an interiors blogger. I'm somewhere in cyber space that combines all of these things to create that indefinable thing that turns a house into a home.

It can be done by baking, crafting, decorating, thrifting, gardening or hosting. But however you do it, it will be unique to you because it's your home.

Incidentally this week we moved into our first family home. It's a sweet little house with a garden, a lovely kitchen and just enough space for the three of us.

So I invite you to join me on my journey of discovery as I endeavour to turn our house into a home and the three of us into a family. There will be crafts, there will be interiors and there will be parenting but ultimately, I hope to find a creative outlet to write about the things I'm passionate about, a motivational tool to get me to be creative and a place to showcase my best work.
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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Word for June: Courage

~ The ability to do something that frightens one; bravery~

I've always been a bit of a wimp.

I'm the kid who had no interest in tree climbing, rope swings or water slides. I would be found quietly making daisy chains, drawing pictures and dreamily writing stories about pixies and gnomes.

I was the little girl who would shyly hang around the outskirts of the group, waiting to be invited further in. I wanted to observe and work out the social rules before gaining the confidence to make a friend.

And though I'm now far from shy and am quietly confident in myself and my abilities, many of those traits remain.

But for the first time ever, I find myself in an environment where building relationships isn't as easy as just showing up every day and gradually moving into the social circle. Now I have to actively go and find the social circle in the first place! There is a certain amount of pro-activity involved! I am waaay out of my comfort zone, and as someone who actually enjoys her own company, I have to force myself to do it!

So June has been a month for being brave! I've made friends with total strangers, sparked up conversations in supermarket queues and arranged to meet friends of friends who I've never met before!

And you know what? The more time I spend actively building relationships with people I didn't previously know, the more I want to do it! My confidence has grown in the process and I find myself seeking out opportunities to meet new people and do new things.

The next area that requires courage is in building my freelance portfolio. I've been less proactive since Ruby was born, for obvious reasons, and it's time to jump back on the horse, grab hold of some direction and start getting out there and pitching ideas.

Wish me luck!

Looking for Courage inspiration? Check out my Pinterest board!
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Saturday, 22 June 2013

A Father's Day to Remember

Sunday was a very special day for us as a family. Not only was it Father's Day, but it was our first Father's Day. And not only was it our first, but it was also all of our brother's firsts too (bar one, he'll have his turn one day!). That's right, my brother and two of Jon's brothers celebrated their first father's days too, and Jon's dad celebrated his first father's day as a Grandad!

We started the day by giving Jon his presents, we went to church, we prayed for all the dads, Jon preached and then we went home t join all of Jon's family and we all trooped off to a lovely carvery for lunch. Eight adults and four babies under nine months. We like to make an impact!

In all truth, it was a lovely, understated, relaxing day (and Ruby slept through the whole of dinner so I got a nice break and a hot meal!).

But the really lovely thing was watching Jon be a proud dad on Father's Day. He wanted to hold Ruby at any given opportunity because it was his day for cuddles! I know he's been waiting a long time for his first father's day and it finally came, and it was perfect. 
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Friday, 21 June 2013

The Rights & Wrongs of Baby Routines

I'm confused.

Before Ruby was born, I was keen to establish a routine. I just thought it would be easier. And I wanted to focus on freelancing and writing so I thought the sooner she had a routine, the more free time I would have to work.

I bought Gina Ford's Contented Little Baby book. I read the first few chapters. All makes perfect sense in theory! Then Ruby was born. How anyone finds the time to even read the bloody book is beyond me! It's so detailed and so comprehensive, there's so much to take in and then adapt to your own child, by the time you've even thought about it you've missed the boat on the timings, you're weeks behind and no closer to a routine than you were to start with!

So here's what I've done so far:
  • I followed the advice of midwives and health visitors and breast fed on demand. It's working fine. I've had no problems and I don't mind feeding in public so as long as I stay flexible with my schedule we do alright. 
  • Ruby, on average, feeds every two hours during the day - which seems like a lot and really I think she should be going longer between feeds.
  • She has a long nap (up to two hours) after lunch, but usually because that's when I go out and she falls asleep in the pram.
  • She wakes to feed once or twice during the night, depending on when I put her to bed.
This is working. I'm not exhausted. She's a very content baby. She rarely cries.

HOWEVER, my concerns are:
  • Am I getting into the habit of feeding her to sleep as she rarely sleeps of her own accord?
  • Am I getting into the habit of taking her out in the pram so that she will sleep?
  • Surely by 12 weeks she should be able to go more than two hours without feeding?
  • At what point will she sleep through the night?
  • Am I aware when she's just tired and needs a nap, or am I just feeding her when she doesn't need it?
  • She often falls asleep on the breast so is she even getting fed properly? Does she need those feeds?
Basically, I work on the principle that if it's not her nappy or wind, then she wants feeding. So that's what I do. When she was newborn, her weight fluctuated because I wasn't feeding her enough (taking too much notice of other people's well-meant advice!) and it took a while for her to get back up to birth weight. So I'm reluctant to be too strict because she's still very slight. But at the same time, at some point you must stop feeding on demand right?

Anyone got any advice on settling her into more of a routine and getting her to go longer between feeds?!
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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

You: The Expert {19/06/13}

I've found myself this week furiously googling all manner of things, from how to settle a baby into a routine, to how to make your own roller blind. And you know where the most informative, unbiased advice can be found? The blogging community!

So hurrah for all you bloggers who are so keen to share your knowledge, creativity and ideas! And that's why You: The Expert exists, to gather together all your tips, tutorials and advice. From recipes, to DIY crafts to parental advice - I want to know about it!

So, link up your tutorials, old and new, here before Friday at 5pm. The only rules arre that you spread the word (e.g. via Twitter) and that you comment on someone else's link.

I pin everyone's links so to see what people have linked in the past, click here.

Now, let's link up!

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Monday, 17 June 2013

How to save £££ on baby essentials

Babies need stuff. FACT.
Stuff costs money. FACT.
Money is tight. FACT.

So what do you do? You can't deprive your tot of things that she needs. But you can get savvy when it comes to your shopping.

As they say, every little helps!

Here's five tips for saving pennies on baby essentials:

1. Keep an eye on waste
So many baby essentials are disposable. Babies are messy little beings and life is, quite frankly, easier if you can dispose of things rather than wash and reuse. But be mindful of what you are using and whether you can use less. Using less means those packs of nappy bags last longer and you won't need to buy them as often. As I am the most dis-organised and squeamish person on the planet, cloth nappies are not for me. However, I've found that nappy bags can take up to three wet nappies so I don't use a fresh one every time (use a fresh one for soiled nappies and dispose of straight away, and keep them out of the little one's reach while you're filling it!).

2. Buy in bulk
Sometimes things can seem more expensive when you're buying bigger packs, but they do last longer so it is a saving. Buy the biggest box of nappies you can find (my box of 74 costs £10 from Asda and lasts nearly two weeks), buy multi-packs where you can (four packs of Huggies baby wipes costs £3.50 in Asda = 256 wipes, I don't have to re-stock that often) and make sure you shop around for the best deal!

3. Shop at Discount Stores
Discount stores ares great for things like nappy bags and baby toiletries so make sure you pop into Pounland or The 99p Store when you're in town. Don't buy blind though, often pack sizes in these shops are smaller so although you're only paying £1, you might be getting a worse off deal.

4. Know what's going on in the community
Your local NCT or SureStart Centre are bound to organise Nearly New Sales where you can pick up some bargains on toys and clothes. There might be a local Facebook group where mums advertise things they want to get rid of too so have a search and see what you can find. Why not go along to some groups to make friends? Mums often just want to clear space from their cluttered homes so they may end up gifting you some good quality items!

5. Join the Baby Clubs
Boots, Mothercare and most of the main supermarkets all have Baby Clubs that you can sign up to (you may need to register for a loyalty card). In exchange for your details and sometimes your shopping data, they will send you exclusive offers and coupons on a regular basis. Beware that they're aim is to get you to spend money though, so only use coupons on products and brands you would normally buy anyway!

What about you? Any money saving tips on baby essentials?
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Friday, 14 June 2013

The Baby Diaries: 2 months

You are two months old (ok, so more like two and a half now because this blog post is late).

You weigh 9lbs, 10oz. Which means you gained 10oz in two weeks Miss GuzzleGuts!

You have just discovered your hands. You spend an insane amount of time staring at them in wonder, as if you've just realised they're attached to your arms and you have control over them.

You're probably no closer to settling into your own routine than you were a month ago, but that's ok, we work around it.

You're a beautifully content baby, whenever we are out in public everyone comments on what a good girl you are - they obviously don't see you at home!

Despite having a beautifully heart shaped face, long eyelashes and very petite, feminine features, as soon as I dress you in your blue jacket it seems the whole world, (including intelligent doctors who have all your notes in front of them), assumes you are a boy.

We still don't know what colour hair you have. Sometimes it's blonde, sometimes brown and at other times there's a distinct gingerness about it (you can blame your aunty Tamzyn for that!).

You're just getting to a stage where I can leave you on the floor and you're perfectly happy for an hour or more while I do chores around you.

You've learnt to smile! You smile when you're happy, you smile when you see Daddy and you smile on demand if we coax you into it!

Sometimes you smile when you're sleeping, a big beaming smile that we can never seem to get out of you when you're awake! It's gorgeous.

You've begun to maintain eye contact with me when you're feeding. But then you start smiling - which means your feeds take twice as long!

You're a very long baby, but very petite. I think you may have inherited your dad's height and metabolism! (Lucky girl!).

When you're asleep I like to just look at you in all your perfection.

When you cry I now know exactly what you need.

Someone recently said that you were one of only two babies that she'd ever seen who was absolutely, symmetrically perfect looking. I'm your mum so I wholeheartedly agreed that yes, you are perfect looking. And that's ok, to be biased and proud, because I am your mum.

I still don't feel like a mum. I look at other mums and think 'yes, you are a mum'. I don't feel like that, but I do know without a shadow of a doubt that you are mine!

This month we started giving you bottles so that I could leave you of an evening. You took to it like a dream. I was secretly disappointed because it means that at some point, I will have to leave you of an evening! And if I left you, I would miss you too much.
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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

You: The Expert {12/06/13}

It's been one of those weeks. We all had bouts of sickness, including Ruby who bled out her ear one night! Turned out to be a minor ear infection but still slightly disconcerting to find a sizeable patch of blood on her sheet! And then, I was left always on the back foot, never quite catching up. Hence my absence online, so apologies for the lack of posts, tweets, You The Expert and Moneywise Mondays! But I'm back today for You the Expert and that's the main thing!

So, if you're not familiar with this linky then basically it's your chance to show off your expertise! There's no limit on the topic, just link up your tutorials, recipes or How-to Guides so we can all learn something new. Tweet the link with #YouTheExpert to spread the word and be sure to comment on other people's.

Don't forget I pin every entry, you can check out the board here.

Right then, let's link up!

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Monday, 3 June 2013

How to... Create a Budget

Budgeting. That thing you know you should do, but you never quite get round to? You have some rough figures in your head on how much you spend but those figures never quite add up?

Maybe you do have a budget, but it's sticking to it that's the problem? Or you get your timings wrong and forget about those final direct debits that go out towards the end of the month?

Is there always a little too much month at the end of your money? I know that feeling!

So, this week was the week I sat down and got serious about our finances. Our circumstances have changed a number of times over the last six months - we've gone from two healthy incomes to one healthy maternity pay packet, added in job seekers, saw that maternity pay packet slowly reduce to statutory, added in another lower income. Despite all of this, our expenditure was greatly reduced by living with in-laws so at times we felt very rich! Then after a couple of large, essential purchases, we felt very poor. We've saved, we've paid off debt, but have we budgeted? No. So we probably could have done more.

And now we're starting to think about moving out so we really had to take a look at where our money was going and what we could afford.

What is a budget?
In its simplest of forms, it's where you add up your income and break it down between all your financial obligations. If there's more outgoings than there is income, you work out where to cut back and then you stick to it!

How do you do it?
Personally, I have a spreadsheet that lasts a whole year. Why does this work?

  • We have some direct debits (e.g. magazine subscriptions) that only go out once every six months and they always catch me by surprise.
  • You might have a large payment (e.g. MOT, holiday) which would be more manageable if you set money aside each month rather than finding it a stretch at the time.
  • You can see how your savings and debt repayments accumulate over the course of the year which is a great motivational tool!
I thought I'd share my spreadsheet with you so you can use it too!

Monthly Budget BLANK.xlsx

Click the link to download your own blank version.

This spreadsheet contains all the formulas to add everything up for you. It will:

  • Add up your income and outgoings, and then subtract one from the other
  • Work out your tithe (I believe in giving 10% of my income to the church, if that's not your thing, just ignore it, or why not consider giving a percentage of your income to a favourite charity?)
  • Work out how much you're transferring into savings throughout the year
  • Work out how much you're paying off a credit card throughout the year

The only thing I didn't work out was interest payments on the credit card and savings - bit too complicated for me! But there is a box where you can manually enter it and it will add it on to the totals for you.

If you want to adapt it to suit your own needs (e.g. add in an extra row for another income / expenditure) then the formulas should automatically adapt to accommodate the change.

The great thing about this is that if one thing changes (e.g. your electric bill goes up, or you receive a bonus) then you can just amend that cell and everything else is worked out for you. Simples!

This spreadsheet gives you a great overview of what you're monthly outgoings are, and how that adds up over the course of a year. Of course, the challenge is sticking to it, but we'll save that for another post!
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