Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Is the Supermoon disturbing your sleep?


The last three nights I haven’t slept well at all; tossing and turning, unable to get comfy and weird, vivid dreams. I have awoken in the night feeling like it’s time to get up, like my body clock has messed up.

Last night when I woke up in the early hours to go to the toilet D also stirred, “Look at the moon” he said. I squinted out the window (we don’t have a blind at the moment) and looked at the moon which was behind a tree. “It’s really bright and beautiful” D said, “ It was right in front of the window a while ago.” It was strange because D doesn’t usually wake in the night and he had been looking at the moon a while he said.  I didn’t think much of it and went back to my restless sleep. When the alarm went off, as like every other moring D asked whether I had slept well. I hadn't and neither had he.

This afternoon, while researching bloggers at work, I stumbled across the hodgepodgedays.co.uk and read author Jane’s post about her recent anxiety and the moon. That was it! It’s the moon that has been causing me and D problems at night.

I asked my 6 colleagues in my office if they had experienced bad sleep the last few nights and 4 of them said they had and went onto describe their issues which also included vivid and horrible dreams. ‘It’s the Supermoon!’ I exclaimed and went on to say I have heard somewhere at some point that a full moon is the worst night for crime and that it can send people, and animals, a bit crazy.

I have looked at a few articles on the web and there are some studies that claim to prove the moon effect our sleep and others say it’s lunacy (haha). I’m convinced the moon does have some sort of effect on us.

Have you experienced any Supermoon symptoms in the last few days?










  

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

How I got 9 tents for free



I am very proud by the fact that we own 10 tents. Yes TEN.  We have pop ups, we have single berths, double berths and a huge 4 berth with a porch. And they were all FREE! (Well, apart from my original one which I purchased a few years ago).

How? I hear you cry. Well, we take them from festivals.

No, no we don’t steal them from unsuspecting punters while they are occupied by the entertainment; we wait until the end of the festival.


Most festival goers will leave the site on a Monday morning but we hang around and wait for the masses to leave, then we begin to look for tents that are clearly abandoned. It’s quite obvious which ones these are; ones that have half fallen down, ones with no other belongings around, ones with only rubbish sprawled all over the tent floor. After eyeing up the tents we ask anyone who is near the tent if they know whether the people have left. If we are confident that the tent has been abandoned, we take it down, collect the pegs, strap it to our sack barrow and move onto the next.



Each year, Glastonbury festival creates around 2000 tons of waste and in 2009 that pile included around 400 gazebos, 9,500 roll mats, 5,500 tents, 6,500 sleeping bags, 3,500 airbeds, and 2,200! Despite festivals bombarding punters with email and videos encouraging them to take their belongings home, it doesn't work.

We go to a lot of festivals and I can completely sympathise with how most people think and feel on the Monday morning when it’s time to leave. It’s horrid. Your hair is a mess, you are either too wet or too hot, you have a thumping headache, need the toilet and it’s time to leave. There’s a long journey in the car or on the bus ahead and the last thing you can be bothered to do is to dismantle a tent and attempt to get it into the ridiculously small bag it comes in. Then there’s the thought of dragging it across several fields then up and down endless rows of cars while you try to locate your own. I do get where these people are coming from but I think they are mad.

The biggest tent we claimed is a Coleman and is worth £200 and it came with the additional porch worth £40! It’s crazy what some people discard such valuable commodities because they simply can’t be bothered with the effort. 



Even more shocking is what one sometimes finds in tents. Poo. It must be because they get so drunk and haven’t time to reach a toilet or time to queue so they just go in their own tent-yuk! D found and amazing tent at the last festival we went to. He scouted around for signs to confirm it was abandoned and when he popped his head inside it had a large pile of slop in it! Even more disgusting, D spotted another guy packing that tent down a while later. D warned him about the tents contents and the guy said he had cleared it up! 

We have acquired many other items from scavenging at festivals including camping lanterns, gas cookers, a huge bean bag, cans of beer, tinned food and many camping chairs. A friend even gained 3 pairs of trainers a hoodie and a vest from the last festival we went to! As long as you can see past a bit of mud, then a festival field is your oyster.



Friday, 1 August 2014

Marrow madness





Back in March I wrote about my attempts and germinating seedlings and hopes for a fruitful veg patch in the summer. Well, I’m reporting back and the news is great! Check out these bad boys!



Followers of my Instagram will already know that we are over run with marrows, We grew courgettes but we just can’t eat them fast enough and they keep growing into stupidly big marrows within a couple of days.


I can’t get over how fast they grow. I go out to the patch to select an appropriately sized marrow for our dinner, find that most are far too big and take just a couple of smaller ones. Two days later I return and the bad boys have got even bigger. I just can’t win. We have eaten marrow every day for the last three weeks and we have both given away many to work mates.


I have concluded from my first courgette/marrow growing experience that one does not require 9 courgette plants. With each plant producing an average of 6 vegetables that means we are to expect a yield of around 54 individual vegetables. FIFTY FOUR MARROWS!


When I first planted the little seed in their pots I feared that some would die and some would be attacked by slugs so would naturally be left with the right about of plants. But the things kept growing and growing


I recently read that courgettes can be planted as late as July to guarantee an autumn crop. With this knowledge I plan to grow batches of courgettes next year to ensure a consistent and sufficient supply throughout the season.


We have mostly had stuffed marrow the garlic, feta or halloumi and tomato as its very easy, quick and versatile side dish.


The lettuces also did extremely well but they all matured at the same time meaning we had lettuce for lunch and dinner every day for a month before becoming sick of easting the stuff. The remaining lettuces have now sprouted their flower heads so Bluebell the bunny now has a ready supply.
I promised to report back on the Aldi compost I purchased for just £1.99 and used for our lettuces in May. I was sceptical of its rough and bitty constancy but it did he job brilliantly.


The runner bean crop began last week and we have enjoyed 4 batches of beans so far. The season didn’t start so well. 2 of the 4 plants had their storks nibbled through by pesky rabbits. Luckily, the plants grew new stems which saved the plants. 

Last night we ate our first beetroot- it was fantastic! It was served grated in a mackerel salad. The beetrrot also had their leaves nibbled by the rabbit quite easrly on but they grew back fine.

I am very happy with my little veg patch the yield it has produced. The seeds were so cheap from Lidl and the compost from Aldi was only £1.99 Other than some time and care the vegetables haven’t cost us anything else. We have definitely saved money by growing our own vegetables as we have bought less from the supermarkets over the last month. Cross-fingers this will reflect in the amount we have spent on food shopping in July which I will port about in the July Budget Roundup.










PS. Have you grown vegatables to save money this year?

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Thrifty wedding: Wedding flowers on a budget










The average spend on wedding flowers in the UK is between £300 and £500 and can be much higher if your wedding takes place over two venues such as a church and a reception hall.


My sister and brother-in-law married in June and had a beautiful wedding on a low budget. A few weeks ago I posted about the vintage style name cards I hand made for just 37p each. They also kept the cost of their wedding flowers low by making these practical choices:


Choose seasonal flowers


It sounds obvious but having flowers that are not in season will cost more to produce therefore they cost more for the flower arranger and for you. Keep the cost of your flowers down by choosing to get married when your favourite flowers are blooming. So, if you have your heart set on Lily of the Valley then you will need to get married in May. If dictating when you get married by the flowers you want isn’t practical, then look for alternatives that are similar to your ideal flower. For example, Waxflower are similar in colour and daintiness like Lily of the Valley, are available all year round and are considerably cheaper. Bridalguide.com has a really useful tool showing seasonal flowers by month. Visit the page here.


Arrange the flowers yourself


You can reduce the cost of your table flowers by arranging them yourself. The downside is that it’s another thing to do before your big day but we had great fun cutting and putting the flowers in to vases. You could always nominate a family member to help. If you want immaculate designs then this option probably isn’t best for you but if, like my sister, you prefer a more natural and irregular display then it’s really easy to achieve the look yourself. Sheryl purchased her seasonal flowers in bulk from the flower arranger for just £120 to arrange into 12 small to medium displays.


Use your flowers for both venues


Traditionally the church is decorated with flowers for the ceremony and the reception venue has different flowers. Why not use the same flowers for both venues? Just nominate a few people to grab the vases and put them into a box which can be transported to the reception. If it’s timed right, the flowers can reach the venue while the remaining congregation are having their photographs taken. We did exactly this for my sisters wedding. While the guests left their tables and made their way to there cars to get to the reception, we scooped up the flowers, popped them in the boot of the car and whipped them out as soon as we got to the reception. Yes it was a little faffy but if your funds are restricted then beggars can’t be choosers if you want stunning blooms!


Here are some photos of the flowers we arranged and how they were displayed on my sister's big day.


The flowers arrived a couple of days before the wedding in large tups. We covered the kitchen table with newspaper and got cutting










The next morning the light poured through the window and the flowers in their vases looked wonderfu. We decorated jars to use as vases; another budget yet beautiful idea. I will post about these soon!



The arrangements were carefully placed into a fruit box after half of their water was removed, then popped in the boot of the car to be transported to the venue the day before. 



China tea cups were presented with a rose head and decorated with a handmade name card. Stunning yet cheap as chips!




Each table was decorated with the arranged flowers in the hand decorated jars alongside our vintage china and my sister’s handmade hessian table runners.
 


I hope I have convinced you that you don't need to spend a fortune to decorate your wedding with beautiful flowers!







PS. Did you take steps to cut the cost of flowers
on your big day? I would love to read your tips.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: Photos of the Farne Island from by Lara Nouri



Last week I was involved in a Twitter debate over the fate of a family of wild beavers who were facing capture and a life in captivity. The conversation was started by ATM, a graffiti artist I wrote about a few weeks ago, and Lara Nouri, a nature photographer.

I stalked Lara’s profile which lead me to her Facebook page covered with amazing photos of sea birds. Despite our conflicting views over Twitter, I had found another lady who loves birds- hurrah!


Lara Nouri lives in Radcliffe-on-Trent, not too far outside of Nottingham and studies MSc Biological Photography and Imaging at the University of Nottingham. It’s an all-encompassing course on wildlife photography, film-making, and some graphic design.

Check out Lara’s beautiful images of birds on the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland.



I caught up with Laura to find out more about her and her work 
 

Why did you choose to study  MSc Biological Photography and Imaging?


I knew I wanted to do this Master’s degree before I’d even chosen what undergraduate degree to do! I had to produce a whole magazine for one module, which was based on wildlife – very much like the BBC Wildlife magazine. The effort I had to put in was incredible. All photographs, articles, and adverts had to be taken, written, and designed by me. It was such hard work but hugely rewarding. It has been pieces of work like that which helped me to exercise and hone my skills.


Do you specialise in a certain area or subject of photography?


Birds – I love them! The River Trent is just a short walk from my house, so I love walking down to the river bank and photographing the yellow wagtails, sand martins, great-crested grebes, swallows, swifts, terns, gulls, lapwings, and even the odd oystercatcher! It’s paradise.
I recently visited the Farne Islands for the second time. It’s such an amazing place to explore, not only for photographers, but for anyone who appreciates wildlife. Although the arctic terns are a nuisance to most visitors, I have to admit I have a soft spot for them. I spent at least an hour photographing just the terns on the Inner Farne Island!


What message do you hope to get across with your photographs?


I hope to inspire people with my work. A lot of people are out of touch with the natural world nowadays, which is very worrying, as we are just another part of it. Humans have become increasingly detached from nature, and we need to remember that we are still animals. Just intelligent animals.
What I’m really passionate about is science communication – conveying information and scientific findings to the general public using my skills in photography. I am very passionate about conservation and animal welfare, so I often try to raise awareness of certain issues using my photography. If I could encourage more people to take an interest in wildlife with my work, I will be very happy indeed. That’s what I hope to achieve.


What equipment did you use to snap wildlife?


I use a Nikon D600 and a Sigma 150-500mm telephoto lens, usually with a Giottos monopod – that lens is not the lightest of things! I also use my Samyang 14mm wide angle lens a lot. Super telephotos are great for getting up close shots, but sometimes, there is nothing better than a wacky wide angle shot of wildlife. Wide angles are underused in this field.


Do you have any advice for people wanting to photograph nature?


Use whatever you can afford. Super telephoto lenses can be very expensive, but there are 300mm telephotos which are relatively cheap and can help you get some lovely shots of wildlife. If like me, it’s birds you want to focus on, then make sure you get to grips with identification. Learn what birds look like, what their songs sound like, and what their flight patterns are. I hadn’t learned the songs and calls of birds until more recently, and it has transformed my photography trips and my life in general. You can listen to the green woodpecker’s laughing call, the sweet trills of a wren’s song, or the twinkling of an overhead goldfinch, and revel in the fact you know they’re there without being able to see them. Often now, I am ready for a shot because I’ve heard the bird before I see it.


What are your plans for the future? Do you have a career in mind?


Oh no, not the dreaded question! I don’t have one particular career in mind yet, but I know that it will involve the things I love: photography and wildlife. Does that mean I’ll be a wildlife photographer? I guess so, but going freelance is very difficult. I hope freelance is the way I’ll go once I’ve made a bit of money, but first I’ll be applying for jobs. BBC Natural History Unit – here I come!

What an inspirational lady! Here are a few other snaps I love form her collection.






I thank Lara for letting me interrogate her and post some of her wonderful work.  Check out her Facebook page for more amazing snaps and you can also follow her on Twitter; she loves a good old chinwag about nature.





Monday, 14 July 2014

Review: BioLite CampStove



This BioLite CampStove has been on D’s lust list for quite some time and one he could finally justify buying with the money he received for his birthday. As a lover of gadgets and anything to do with camping, the CampStove is the ultimate off-grid item in his collection.

The CampStove is, like the names suggests, a camp Stove. It’s can for cook food and heat water but it has some amazing technology that enables it to produce power to a USB port. That means mobile phones, tablets and many other USB powered devices can be charged by the power produced from the fuel the Stove burns.


How does it work? 

Solid biofuel burns in the canister and converts heat to electricity to power a fan to make the burning process ultra-efficient. The extra electricity produced is sent to the USB port to power small gadgets. This awesome technology uses a Thermoelectric Generator (TEG) to convert heat into electricity. The Biolite produces electricity to power the integrated battery that powers a fan. The fan improves combustion which increases the efficiency of the device and the surplus generated electricity powers the USB port.


How much does it cost and where can it be purchased from?

D bought his for £129.95 from Outback Trading which was around £20 cheaper than many of the other online retailers.



How much fuel does it require?

To keep the fire hot enough for the device to produce electricity via the USP port, the fire needs to be continuously stoked with sticks. This was a novelty for the first 20 minutes of charging a mobile phone but it then got a bit tedious. The canister is so small and the device needs so much heat to produce the power meaning it needs very dry sticks to keep going. After a few unsuccessful attempts to light the Stove using sticks collected from wherever we were at the time, D resorted to carrying around a bag full of dry sticks of the preferred dimensions from home, just in case.



How long does it take to charge a phone?

We tested the following makes and models:
iPhone 4s: It was already partially charged and didn’t see any increase in charge after 20 minutes
HTC Wildfire: The phone was charged from flat for about 45 minutes. The phone gained about 15% battery power.
Sony Experia SP: Didn’t work at all.


How long does it take to boil a kettle of water?

It took about 5 minutes to boil the kettle of water which is quite impressive. The kettle contained enough water to fill 5 mugs with some left over.



Watch this clip to see the CampStove in action

Pros


  • Fun, off grid gadget.
  • Free to run after the initial outlay.
  • Can be used at most campsites and festivals as it is ‘off the ground’ and doesn’t use gas.
  • No waste compared to gas-run Stoves.
  • Carbon neutral and eco friendly (technically but realistically as it is made from plastic and metal and we haven’t replaced the trees we’ve burnt).
  • Good talking point with friends (D’s contribution to this review!)

Cons


  • Requires very dry sticks of a specific size to get going.
  • No storage of power for the USB port. It has to be running to charge USB devices.
  • Takes a very long time to charge a mobile phone making it unpractical for this purpose
  • Runs out of fuel quickly so requires constant stocking.
  • The device doesn’t justify the price tag.



Conclusion

It’s a novelty gadget that D has had great pleasure showing to friends that have an interest in off-grid living and/or mechanics but it isn’t suitable for its purpose. It’s not practical for charging phones while ‘in the wild’ because you will be so busy searching for perfectly sized dry sticks that the Stove will have burnt out before you have found any.  D does not share my thoughts on the review and thinks it is ‘amazing’ and takes it on every camping trip or visit to friends’ houses.  It’s a costly gadget but I love the idea of a Thermoelectric Generator that can run on solid, natural fuel that can power technology. This particular device may be quite impractical compared to other solutions but it does what it says on the tin and it’s great that companies have an interest in developing technology that one day could solve the world’s sustainable power problems.


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Wildlife Wednesday: The song thrush's nest

A few weeks ago I posted about the abundance of bird nests in the wood and some were in awkward, inconvenient places.

A song thrush had nested under the bonnet of the dumper truck meaning it couldn’t be used for several weeks while mother and father thrush hatched out their eggs and reared their brood.





The chicks fledged successfully and the nest could then be removed. Leaving the nest could be a potential fire hazard as it was located right on the mechanics and electrics of the vehicle. The dry twigs could ignite easily but also mice like to make use of old nests and mice do not go well wires! It also may have tempted other birds to nest in there. Elsewhere in the wood a pair of robins have built a nest on top of a used thrush’s nest and it currently has young in it. We didn’t want the same to happen with the thrush nest under in the dumper so it was best to remove it.






Holding a nest allows you to get a really good look at how intricate the design is. The inside is a perfect circle with a domed bottom, evenly formed from a layer of mud. It’s extraordinary how birds are able to create such accurate geometric shapes, and be so artistic, all with their little beaks



For comparison, this is a blackbird nest. It is very similar in size and construction but the main difference isn’t visible here. Blackbirds line their nests with soft dry grass but it will have been worn away by the chicks leaving the mud layer beneath that makes it look similar to the thrush’s nest.

Left: thrush nest Right: blackbrid nest
Thrush nest                                                                                                blackbird nest 

Here are the two nests side by side. They are very similar, probably because both the song thrush and blackbird are members of the same family, Turdidae, so have similar behaviour traits.

Aren't nests just amazing?







PS. Have you had any nest in your garden this year?