[music] Forever Still, an awesome band from Denmark

Do you love female fronted rock bands as much as I do?  Do you feel a little bit sad that there aren’t enough women in rock in the world?  Do you just love a good headbanging tune to rock on with?  Fear not, friends, I have just discovered this AMAZING new band that you will LOVE:

This is a link to one of their songs that you can listen to on their website:

http://foreverstill.bandcamp.com/track/your-light-free-song

And this is their main page:

http://foreverstill.dk/

They’re a Danish band headed by Maja Schønning, and formed in 2010.  As we all know, only the very best rock bands ever come from Scandinavia.  They write, record and mix everything themselves and, while they aren’t currently touring, they are definitely going to be added to my Bands Bucket List – the list of bands I want to see before they kick the bucket.  The guitar is gritty and epic, the drums are headbangy and the vocals have that clear, ethereal quality that Amy Lee used to have.

I can’t wait for tour dates 🙂

Which up-and-coming rock bands do you like?  Of all the genres of music that I love (which is all of the genres of music, I think), rock bands seem to have the most engaging stuff.

I love love LOVE these guys and you should really check them out.

[travel] How Many Pairs Of Socks? How Many Panties?

It doesn’t matter how many times I go anywhere. The size of the bag seems to make no difference. I always find myself, about an hour before I am due to depart, hanging around my smalls, trying to decide on the fundamentals of travel packing: How many socks, how many panties?

Go on, snigger.

Then tell me in all honesty that you’re totally confident with your sock-panty quantities.

Hmm.

If I’m going away for less than a week, I take a pair for every day that I’m away. It’s a bit difficult, as a girl, because there are so many different types of both – there are ankle socks, knee socks, hose, stockings, pop socks, those annoying socks that come between the ankle and the knee. The ones that shrink the first time you wear them.

If you consider colour, then that’s a whole different minefield again. Do you take opaque black stockings or bare leg tights? Will neon brighten up your legs or make you look like a slapper? Can Christmas socks ever be cool if it’s not Christmas? What about that pair of socks you really like, but are as itchy as chilli powder?

Here’s the way the boys do it: Just pack five pairs of plain black socks. Then pack pants according to the following formula (based on actual conversations with men):

n = number of weeks; p = number of pants.

p = 4n, where any number of days is rounded up to the first week (so always at least 4 pairs of pants). So if you were going somewhere for 2 weeks, p = 4 x 2 which is 8 pairs of pants.

I’m not convinced this is going to work for girls. Socks or pants. The thing is, if men wear jeans, they wear the same sock type and pant type as they sport if they’re donning formal trousers, bermuda shorts (unless they go commando to avoid sand deposits), dungarees… are there any other types of trousers that men under 50 even wear? I don’t know about them. Men’s clothing is mysteriously simple. I envy them. It doesn’t matter what else they pack, their socks and pants will go with everything, because they are designed to. Men choose their pants based on what feels most comfy/makes them feel sexy (sometimes), whereas women often have to pick their underwear based on whether people will see it under their dress. I remember when I was at school, doing Maths A-level, and the maths teacher used to wear a plain black cheap suit – but the trousers were so thin that you could see the triangular line of her panties indented through the fabric. AAARRRGH EMBARRASSMENT ALL ROUND! I have always had a horror of that, because there’s nothing more awkward than knowing that your maths teacher buys her panties from ASDA’s cheapest plain multipack. The kind your mum buys you when you’re eight. I can’t even begin to comprehend it. Thing was, I’m fairly sure she was blissfully unaware that she had this huge honking great panty line, and had no idea that people were seeing it – and judging her for it, and making all sorts of assumptions. Don’t be that person.

If girls could get away with that there would be no beauty blogs or fashion blogs, so while I envy men, I also feel sorry for them that they don’t have as much choice as us.

So you will need the following:

For every dress you have packed: One thong and one pair of tights. Don’t bother with stockings unless you know how to ask for a suspender belt in Swahili for when yours breaks. They’re not very well made these days (I’m not old enough to know if they ever were, but people tell me things used to be better in their day).

For every pair of trekking trousers: One pair of bikini briefs* or girlboxers and one pair of socks (the fabric can chafe in thongs).
For every pair of jeans: Thong or girlboxers, and one pair of socks.

For every pair of shorts: Thong or bikini briefs and one pair of socks.

For every sarong: A swimsuit or an actual bikini/tankini, and some flip-flops.
For every floor length skirt: Loose cotton girlboxers and one pair of socks.
For every miniskirt: Thong and bare legs unless you’re going somewhere cold, in which case cover legs with leggings, unless it’s too cold, in which case just leave the miniskirt/dress behind.
*Bikini briefs – not the same as bikini bottoms. A bikini brief is a high leg panty which is halfway between a thong and a girl boxer. It’s useful in hotter weather but the elastic can be just as chafing as thongs, but in a different place. Depends on where your chafe-immunity is, I guess.

You need underwear options so that you feel comfortable whatever the weather and during every activity you undertake, but you don’t need underwear that doesn’t fit properly, is worn or frayed, stained, faded, uncomfortable, or the elastic just doesn’t behave. When do we ever pack for our needs though? Last time I went on a long trip, I took about four different swimwear options (underwired tankinis, so the tops could double as non-swimming tops), but I only actually went swimming once, in an indoor hotel pool in Sindenfingel, and I also went to the beach once. I was delusionally expecting to spend more time at the beach, even though my overland route didn’t allow for any stopping points at any beaches because there weren’t any within range of the roads we were taking until the last day, on the way back through Belgium, when we saw a sign for a beach, and took a detour. It had been blazing sunshine until we started walking towards the beach, then suddenly it turned overcast, the way was filled with prickly plants, and there was a constant stream of sand being blown into my right ear. But I got to wear one of my swimming outfits. Although I didn’t go within fifty feet of the sea. It was far too cold.

My point is, I probably only needed two or three of those swimwear options. I certainly didn’t need four. But if there’s room in your bag or your campervan storage locker, why not have options? I think I had one item that I didn’t even wear on a three week trip with a capsule wardrobe.  Again, I thought there’d be more random stopping points, and was expecting to climb some mountains somewhere during our two alpine crossings, but this did not happen, so I didn’t need the 3/4 length walking trousers I’d packed. **UPDATE AT BOTTOM OF ARTICLE – THEY DID GET WORN – I HAVE PROOF!!**

In relation to the how many socks and knickers question, take as many as you like, as many as you feel comfortable wearing. Just remember, only take what you can carry if you are backpacking. And remember a carrier bag to put the dirties in.

I have been contemplating downsizing my underwear and sock collection in my actual home and am currently still trying to comprehend the formula for this which will create a sock and panty equilibrium that I can live with, as part of my pledge (to myself) to minimalize my life. The last thing I want is to get rid of all my undies then have to go straight to M&S to get sized up for some more because I got rid of too many.

I thought I would have a chance to minimalize my underwear and socks today, and have been looking forward to getting stuck into it all week, but between marking 40 mock exam papers for the school I work at, and my next-door-neighbours playing music so loud we could hear it clearly in our car as we left our house, I haven’t really had the time or space to get this done. Nothing kills my concentration faster than “boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom boom” for 6 hours.

I will update you on the permanent underwear quandary once it is solved. In the meantime, enjoy sorting through your panties and socks, and let me know via the comments if you’ve minimalised this area of your life either for holiday packing or 24/7 living, as I’d be very interested to know what works for you.

UPDATE: I have been shown a photo from our drive to Rome six months ago which shows I definitely did wear the three quarter length loose trousers (aww, my hair was so much darker then).  My packing was all used!! Huzzah! :

Those trousers definitely got worn - Schloss Hellbrun, nr. Salzburg, Austria.
Those trousers definitely got worn – Schloss Hellbrun, nr. Salzburg, Austria.

[minimalism] How I Chose Which Books To Get Rid Of, And Holding a Book Sale

How I chose which books to get rid of and holding a book sale.

So I worked out (between starting a new full time job and running a house and falling asleep in Italian class) how to assess the books.

I took a set of about five books (I started with one bookshelf and just picked up 5 books which were side-by-side). I took them downstairs and poured a cup of tea. I opened one and started reading. If the book was a real page turner, right from the beginning, it was in with a good chance of staying. However, it also had to not be cliched. For example, there was one whose opening chapters appeared reasonably written but it was chucked out because the author was up his own arse about how he’d had the idea to write about a major outbreak of a deadly disease BEFORE IT HAPPENED!!! Only, he was published in 1996, which was clearly slap bang in the middle of the BSE outbreak when everyone in the UK was terrified to eat beef because there had already been cases of CJD, which was the human form of Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (literally translates to cow sponge brain, which was what it did to them, became known in the common press as Mad Cow Disease). People’s brains were turning to sponge and farmers had to kill entire herds of cows and British Beef was banned around the world for years (even decades, e.g. in the USA). I was in Year 4 in primary school and it was the first time it occurred to me that being vegetarian was a great idea. Of course, there was also the first Ebola outbreak in 1972 (ish) and the first AIDS outbreak in 1980 (ish). Verdict: His book wasn’t original. Had the film Outbreak come out by then? Either way it annoyed me that he was all like “I’m so amazing and original” when he was nothing of the sort. Also his treatment of the subject matter was poor and his characters sucked.  I kept books that I lost track of time whilst reading, suddenly realised I’d done more than 10 pages, flowed well or made me feel happy to read.  I didn’t keep books that didn’t make sense or used stock turns of phrase, of the sort often used in “Ye Olde Fantassy Bookes (published 1994)” for example.  They always turn out to be rubbish.  Am I being judgemental?  Yes!  Otherwise we would end up, say, with 1500 books, some of which are damned awful, many won’t ever get read by us, because otherwise we’re being judgemental and critical of other people’s contributions to the arts!

As I worked through the piles, after thirty or forty books, all of which I’d never read before (but which included some which my husband had read, to check I was working accurately enough), I started to get an instinct within the first paragraph or so as to whether a book was worth keeping, or whether it was making me want to scream “who in their right mind published this?!” There were quite a few, since our library is significantly stacked with sci-fi and fantasy.

I have so far got rid of about five shopping bags full of books which have left the house and are in charity shops waiting for some other poor sucker to purchase them. Additionally, I have four stacking crates of books sitting in the living room waiting to be ejected from the premises, some with less force than others. My husband had the idea of doing a book sale.

I have so far earmarked 240 books for removal, some of which have already left the house, others are waiting in those boxes.  Out of over 1500 books, it’s a drop in the ocean but the shelves are looking VISIBLY emptier and since we had boxes of books on the floor that are now on the shelves, this is a pretty big difference.

The cons of a book sale are that we have to put up with huge boxes of displaced books between now and the day we sell them. Since we are waiting until half term (a small school holiday in the UK that lasts one week), I have to wait 12 days to shift these bad boys. Even this isn’t as much of a con as it could be. The obvious advantage of this is that it gives me 12 days to assess more books so there might be a fifth and sixth (and ideally a seventh) box of books to be relocated. That would mean so much more house space!! My books might actually make it onto the ceiling shelves (although they’re looking pretty tidy right now since I downsized them a lot). Then we could get rid of another bookcase and our boxroom’s door might actually be able to close (there’s currently a bookcase in the way).

The pros are that we a) get some money for our books and b) get to rehome our best unwanted books (especially duplicates, of which he had an entire box full and I had one book duplicate that turned out to be a false alarm because the compendium that should have contained it actually did not). This is good because we have a lot of first editions and out of print books ready to go to new homes and it would certainly be nice to get some financial return for having hefted them all the way to Bradford and back again. Also the money we have spent on bookshelves, a larger house to fit them in, extra petrol when transporting them (due to weight) etc.

I am still working on minimalising other areas of our life. This week I also downsized the cleaning products by removing one full carrier bag of unwanted cleaning products, many of which came with the house – the previous owners dealt with all their unwanted stuff by leaving it behind, which left us with loads of crap in the garden too. This is very illegal but we couldn’t be bothered with it at the time of purchase so we left it. Now that they’re using our address to sign up for junk mail (with their names on) I really wish we’d fought the junk at the time. I also took a load of that garden junk to my friend’s house, because she’s just had a new kitchen put in and had hired a giant skip to get rid of her old kitchen, then it turned out there was loads of room in it for other things, and she only lives on the next street to me.  I also took the defunct electricals to the tip (ours is a recycling centre) along with a car load of other stuff:

Defunct electricals and other things get taken to the tip to be recycled.  At the front of the car (back of pic) are books for the charity shop.  Multitasking!
Defunct electricals and other things get taken to the tip to be recycled. At the front of the car (back of pic) are books for the charity shop. Multitasking!

On Saturday, I plan to downsize my stuff some more by taking on my underwear bucket (I keep all my socks and smalls in one of those floppy plastic buckets that are for storage and archaeological trench bail-outs). In Saturday’s article, I will be attempting to address the question: “How much/many underwear and socks do you need, anyway?”

[rabbits] How to hold a rabbit

Everyone who owns a rabbit should know how to hold a rabbit properly because it’s not obvious, especially with a wiggly, squiggly bunny who can’t wait to get away and run around the kitchen and nibble those interesting looking refrigerator wires.

These reed huts are great for moving rabbits who won't let you pick them up - just cover the exits with your arms and hands so the bunny doesn't try to skydive!
These reed huts are great for moving rabbits who won’t let you pick them up – just cover the exits with your arms and hands so the bunny doesn’t try to skydive!

When I was a child, one of my rabbits escaped. It got into the grumpy old man next door’s garden. I know this, because he showed up at my front door and started shouting at my mum for the trouble my bunny had caused. And he was holding my bunny by the ears and waving him at her.

I remember being in tears at this.

You should never, ever, ever hold a rabbit by his ears.
You should never, ever, ever hold a rabbit by his tail.
You should never, ever, ever hold a rabbit by his legs, feet or paws.

Apart from that, hold them pretty much how you like. Some bunnies like a two handed pick up either side of their long body, while other bunnies prefer a hand around the ruff (guiding) and a weight-bearing hand under their bottom. Some rabbits like to be cradled like a tiny baby. They’re all different. Some rabbits just won’t let you pick them up. Katie can’t get over her early traumas before we got her, and if we need to carry her, we don’t pick her up.
We use a dog carrier that’s intended for use in the car. We open the front, place it in her run and wait for her to hop in. Usually we try and keep bunnies paired if they’re in transit so Fifer generally goes in with her. Bunnies get scared when they’re separated from their partners. We try and let Katie have the dignity that she craves and in return we know we can trust her to get into the carrier.

How are you supposed to catch them?
Some rabbits delight in running away from you when you try and catch them. Often it’s a maturity issue, and as they get older they get easier to catch (in my experience). Also younger ones have finer silkier fur so they can slip out of your grip before you can pick them up. The best solution is to persevere – the longer you chase them before giving up, the longer they will hold out for next time, so once you’ve started the chase, you have to see it through to completion no matter how long it takes, how inconvenient it is, and how scratched you get (and you will get scratched).

So be really sure you want to pick that rabbit up!

Sometimes, when I am getting Cleo to stop running away, I throw a soft fleecy blanket over her then scoop her up inside the blanket. It just gives me that little pause when she has to think about where to go, and that gives me an opportunity to pick her up (and discard the blanket – it’s done its job).

If I’ve got a particularly wriggly bunny on my hands I hold them firmly (not tightly – don’t scare them) and if I’ve got a free finger I gently stroke their nose to calm them.  If they still won’t chill out I will flip them onto their back and watch the magic of biology – upside down bunnies go to sleep.  It’s not a long term solution but if your bunny has an injury you need to check (for example) then flipping them can be a useful trick.  Don’t do it often or for very long though because even though it immobilizes them, it also stresses them out.  Tell them what a good bunny they are, reassure them and give them a treat afterwards.  Eventually they will just be still when you handle them because then they get a treat (I like fresh parsley as a treat as it’s naturally low in sugar)!

Bear in mind as well that rabbits hate their back legs leaving the ground as it makes them feel out of control in a situation which scares them and makes them stressy and wriggly, so if you need to hold or carry them for more than just a hutch transfer, you need to plant their back legs on your chest or stomach.  This will also generally calm them down.  Some rabbits will use this as a springing point to escape, these are the sort of bunnies that, if the behaviour doesn’t just fall off eventually, will probably need to be transferred and moved places in a carry box.

Have you ever had difficulty picking your rabbit up? Do you have any special techniques? Let me know in the comments.

Don’t forget to follow my blog either via wordpress or bloglovin’ if you found this helpful!

Vitamin K: The one everyone forgets.

Today I thought I would share an article with you about Vitamin K, the vitamin that everyone forgets because they never put it in multivitamins (because it’s expensive and can’t be absorbed when there’s vitamin E around).

Vitamin K is super-important as a vitamin. It’s fat soluble, meaning you need to eat it with a bit of fat such as coconut oil or olive oil in the meal to get it to absorb properly. It works very closely with vitamin D and calcium to contribute to bone health, but also plays a part in the blood system. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with getting the vitamin K into your diet, even though plenty of foods have a small amount of vitamin K in them.

Vitamin E vs Vitamin K:
The problem with getting the vitamin K that’s present in most foods, is that it fights with vitamin E for absorption, and only one of them can be absorbed at any one time. You need to eat foods high in vitamin K in different meals to foods high in vitamin E, because the higher the vitamin E value, the less vitamin K can be absorbed, and vice versa, making it no good to eat them together.

So where can I get Vitamin K?
Kale. Kale kale kale. Curly Kale is the absolute best source of vitamin K – just 100g cooked provides 768% of your Daily Value of vitamin K! With that much K getting into your system, there’s no way that pesky vitamin C can stop it getting absorbed! Sometimes I accidentally call vitamin K “vitamin kale” because they’re so closely linked.

Broccoli is another excellent source of vitamin K, with 97% of your Daily Value per 100g. However, kale is the absolute best plant source of vitamin K because broccoli has a lot of vitamin C (102% of your DV per 100g) so this will prevent vitamin K absorption.

How can I get Vitamin E as well?
You can still get all your vitamin E, just make sure your vitamin E- focussed meal is a separate meal to your vitamin K-focussed meal. It’s actually very difficult to NOT get your vitamin E requirements in any given day, given that the majority of nuts and seeds in our diets contain vitamin E, as well as the humble avocado – look up the nutrition facts for any given food so you can make sure your vitamin K meals don’t get eclipsed by vitamin E content.

What does Vitamin K do?
Reduces bruising, helps blood clotting, increases brain sulfatide action (so thickens the protective myelin sheaths around nerve cells – in studies in mice, a shortage of sulfatides caused paralysis and subsequently increasing vitamin K levels reversed the paralysis over several months), reduces nerve cell death (so protects against Alzheimers), stops unabsorbed calcium building up in the blood stream, thus preventing calcification of arteries, there’s also good evidence from Japan that it prevents post-menopausal osteoporosis.

Signs of a Vitamin K deficiency:
Bruising easily, including finding bruises you don’t remember getting, redness of skin, difficulty concentrating and tiredness. Long term vitamin K deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis and coronary heart disease.

What if I still can’t get enough Vitamin K?
Vitamin K is really important. It helps your blood to clot properly and prevents calcification of arteries. Without vitamin K, you can’t absorb calcium properly. If you aren’t getting enough vitamin K in your diet, a supplement is probably in order.

All vitamin K supplements are not created equal, however, as they can either be vitamin K2 or vitamin K1.
NOTE: Do watch out for anything claiming to be “vitamin K3” – it’s a toxic synthetic form of the vitamin which has been banned by the FDA, because in large doses it can cause hemolytic anemia and cytotoxicity in liver cells. Sometimes “vitamin K3” is called “menadione.” Either way, avoid K3 at all costs.

Vitamin K1 is a plant source, which we convert in our bodies to vitamin K2. Conversion to K2 is less efficient than directly taking in vitamin K2, so you will need more vitamin K if you follow a plant based diet. Vitamin K1 is a vegan source of vitamin K.

Vitamin K2 is an animal source, either as an animal slaughter or dairy industry byproduct, which is ready for use where your body needs it. It’s more efficiently absorbed, which is why vitamin K deficiency is unusual in our meat-centric society. If the packaging just says “vitamin K” and doesn’t specify, it’s probably vitamin K2, in which case, avoid it if you’re vegan or dairy free.

Additionally to the actual sources of the vitamin K, you need to check the other ingredients on the label to check for the usual suspects like “magnesium stearate” “stearic acid” or “gelatin” all of which are animal slaughter byproducts, unless the product is stated “suitable for vegetarians” at which point it’s safe to assume they’re vegetable magnesium stearate or vegetable stearic acid. There is no vegetable gelatin, veg*an things that do the same job have totally different names like pectin.

So there you have it.  Vitamin K is a very real and important vitamin that is most abundant in kale and broccoli.

parsley, courtesy of wikimedia commons.
courtesy of wikimedia commons.

[beauty] Neutrals Full Face Tutorial Video

Hey guys so I thought I would mix it up a bit today by putting my latest Youtube video as a blog update as well!  I know Makeup Geek do this quite a lot and thought I’d have a little experiment.

The video assumes you’ve started by putting on your normal daily face cream, and that you are ready to start putting make-up on.  On reflection, I should probably have started with an introduction as I know a lot of YouTubers spend a few minutes at the start introducing what they’re doing, and I just jumped right into it, but I was excited to get on with the make up!  This look is for everyday wear and is intended to be understated and subtle.

Let me know what you think of my video either by commenting on this article or on the video on YouTube, and don’t forget to subscribe to my channel if you want to see more delightful randomness, I do videos on allsorts!

[rabbits] How to keep hot, happy bunnies over winter

Ideas for keeping your bunnies warm, and how to move indoor bunnies outdoors or outdoor bunnies inside:

Sometimes the weather gets cold. Like, really cold. As you know, rabbits love to go out whether it’s rainy, sunny, snowy, windy or foggy. Rabbits just love to play. Pet rabbits are different to wild rabbits because they do not have the same ability to keep warm in the cold – particularly if they don’t have a very large run. Wild rabbits keep warm by running fast over entire fields and by snuggling up underground in big groups for warmth. They sleep during the day when it is warmest and they come out at night when it is coldest so they can keep themselves warm in the chilliest time of day. Domesticated rabbits lack a lot of these instincts, and can become uncomfortable in the cold, so you need to help them out a bit.  Also, older rabbits can get arthritis so it’s essential for any bunnies over 6 years of age to be kept toasty warm in winter.

A bit of frost never stopped Katie and Fifer.
A bit of frost never stopped Katie and Fifer.

Here are some ways you can keep your bunnies warm during cold weather:

1. Heat up a brick: Get half a house-brick and put it in the bottom of your oven after you’ve finished cooking dinner, while the oven cools. When the brick is warm, put it in the rabbit’s housing. I never put bricks directly in the hutch, but in the shed where the hutch is kept, to warm the air and so they have the option of snuggling up with it but aren’t forced to keep going past it every time they want to leave the hutch. If you only have a hutch and no shed, however, put the brick in one corner of the hutch, moving the food bowl if necessary so they can lie next to it. Don’t put it in the private sleeping area as this should remain undisturbed as much as possible (see below).

2. Give them extra straw: During winter, rabbits like to build a big snuggly nest in part of their hutch. Females especially love to do this. Make sure they’ve got lots of straw available to do this (but don’t put it directly in the nest – they like to build it themselves), and try not to disturb that part of the hutch – they probably won’t poo in there until Spring.

3. Fill their water bottles or bowls with warm (not hot) water: This will mean that if temperatures go sub-zero, their water will take much longer to freeze, because there’s more temperature to go down. Team this with a thermal bottle cover and it will take an extremely low temperature to make ice out of their water.

Fifer, enjoying a brisk morning hop.
Fifer, enjoying a brisk morning hop, has bulked up for winter to stay warm.

4. Give them extra food: Only a bit, mind – you don’t want fat bunnies! Extra food gives the bunnies more energy which they will need to keep themselves warm. Staying warm burns extra calories – just ask any mountaineers – so the extra food is very important.

5. If it’s really cold, or if it’s snowed heavily, bring your bunnies in periodically to warm them up – at least once per day. This will enable them to fight the cold and you will get a chance to check them over and make sure they’re healthy.

Katie wishes it would snow more so she could build a snowman.
Katie wishes it would snow more so she could build a snowman.

6. When you check your bunnies, check their bottom for mud build up. Rabbits who have been playing outside in the mud sometimes get a shell like coating of mud around their bum and back legs that needs cleaning off ASAP to avoid skin and fur problems, especially if they’re old and can’t or won’t clean themselves.

7. Cover their hutch with a blanket: even if their hutch is in a shed or conservatory, covering it with a blanket will ensure they don’t get too cold. Make sure they still have ventilation, though, otherwise carbon dioxide will build up which can kill them.

8. Protect the hutch from the wind. Either situate it so it’s touching the house (but not where any guttering might leak onto it) or so it’s touching a fence. Ideally, make a double-skinned hutch by getting a small shed and putting their hutch in it, take the hutch doors off and improve the shed with some extra platforms.  This would keep them warmest of all, if you can’t have them in your house.  It also means they have lots of play space for days when they want to stay in their indoors.

Katie and Fifer's hutch is in the brick shed in the background, to keep it extra warm.
Katie and Fifer’s hutch is in the brick shed in the background, to keep it extra warm.

Katie and Fifer used to be one of our two pairs of houserabbits, and used to play outdoors about six to ten hours a day, but one day we expanded their outdoor play space and they’ve refused to come indoors since (they literally hide under their wendy house – although they do also love playing in the whole garden when we let them out of their run).  All the photos taken are of them in their run, which is pretty huge.

They didn’t like being cooped up in the living room without a constant supply of fresh grass, so even though we have read lots of articles about how rabbits are best suited to living indoors, we have decided it was the right decision for this particular pair of bunnies to move them outdoors.  We repurposed a brick outdoor shed and took the downstairs doors off their two storey hutch so they had 24/7 indoor outdoor access.  They have been a lot happier since then, since they don’t have to wait to be put outside anymore and if it rains they can go into their hutch now instead of under their wendy house.  Banacek and Cleo, on the other hand, hate outdoors and run straight back inside when we try to get them to go out into the garden, so we would never move them out permanently and certainly not in winter.

I have been told and read from a number of sources that if a bunny was kept indoors last winter, they should not be put outside the next winter, and vice versa.  This is not true, you just have to make it a sensible, managed move that takes their needs into consideration.  Cleo used to be an outdoor bunny and lives indoors now, and Katie and Fifer moved out in September.  You can’t just throw them out in a 3 foot hutch and expect them to cope.  Be aware that they may be surprised at the temperature difference, make sure their hutch is snuggly warm and cosy, and that they have a constant supply of hay and fresh water (especially when it snows as this covers up the grass and plants).  If they are coming indoors, they might honk, circle and generally display sexual behaviour (even if they’re neutered) as bunnies think it’s spring when their temperature suddenly and prolonged increases, and their hormones all come out in their behaviour.  It passes after a couple of weeks.  Make sure indoor bunnies have a cooler part of the house to retreat to for those times when they get too hot as rabbits don’t cope well with heat either and don’t adjust very quickly.  The main thing is to ensure your bunny is happy.  If they’re happier outdoors, put them out.  If they’re happier indoors, bring them in.  If they like both, get a cat flap and show them how to use it.

What do you do to keep your rabbits warm and toasty in winter? Do you move them indoors or let them get accustomed to the weather?

Vanlife fail: Pimp my ride? How ’bout M.O.T. my Ride…

My Citroen Xsara Picasso Camper Conversion has a minor problem today.

In the UK, there’s this pesky thing called an MoT (short for Ministry of Transport, as in, inspection on behalf of the Ministry of Transport) which means you can’t have a car on the road that doesn’t meet some specific criteria.  It was actually a pretty good system, if a little annoying once a year, until the EU intervened 18 months ago.  Basically, they changed the rules and added a bunch of things that were aimed at high-end car users, but which us ordinary people with cheap cars can easily fall foul of.  My car is 10 years old, it cost £600 last summer, and it has taken us all over Europe last summer.  I was rather hoping it would do the same this summer, and get us to Morocco.

1. Light alignment – this was because of all those cray cray bright headlights on expensive cars (you know, the ones that are always dazzling you when they pass, even though they don’t have their brights on).  Instead of saying “these headlights are stupid, and cause accidents by dazzling oncoming traffic” they decided “these lights reduce accidents because drivers can see better.”  Y’know, totally failing to see that most drivers don’t actually have these headlights (they’re even brighter than Xenon) and just get dazzled.  So they decided that they might *might* be a problem if headlight alignment was slightly incorrect and decided to make that an MoT fail (regardless of type or brightness of lights).  This, of course, means that anyone with a car that’s been accident repaired (like mine) now has an MoT fail on their hands.  In my case, the headlight is literally millimetres out of alignment but the first garage I took it to deemed it an MoT fail.

2. LED anything – any LED in your lighting system has to work.  It’s because of the propensity for these LED brakelights on fancy new cars.  What this means is that if any one LED in any part of your car gets blown, you get an MoT fail now instead of an advisory.  It used to be a common sense line, where as long as the lights were fit for purpose (i.e. lighting up your registration plate etc) they were good to go, but now, if one single bulb has blown, you have an MoT fail, because they didn’t know how else to draw the line so brake lights were 100% functional on all cars.  This carries over to any LED so my car failed on a registration plate bulb.

3. Bush damage – any cover that is covering a part of the car has to be totally 100% ok.  Previously, it could be damaged as long as it was preventing the ingress of dirt,  Now, if it is damaged at all then it’s an MoT fail.  BUT… if you have a fancy car with an under-car tray such as a lot of Volvo estates have, they can’t actually remove it to check the components so your car is exempt from being checked for this and a raft of other, potentially dangerous damage to components.  How messed up is that??

It cost me just under £300 (plus a £40 MoT) to get my car fixed.  A well known garage chain who advocate a rapid fitting service quoted me over £500 then refused to do the work because they said my car was dangerous (but they knew someone who could fix it) due to the accident damage under the front bumper.  Thing is, my car is a category C accident damage.

Here’s the categories of accident damage:

Category A – must be crushed, no part of the vehicle can be reused.
Category B – some parts can be used, car will never be allowed on the road again.
Category C – car is unsafe to drive and must PASS A SPECIAL TEST BY VOSA once it has been repaired before it’s allowed on the road.
Category D – the car is damaged and the damage was too expensive for the insurance company to fix, but you can buy it back and fix it yourself.

As you can see, it’s actually safer to buy a Category C than a Category D, because the Cat C car must pass a special safety test whereas the Cat D can just be put straight back on the road no questions asked.  My car was a Category C, so the repairs made to the car might not have been picture perfect, but they were certainly sufficient for VOSA to certify it as safe to go back on the road.  Not only that, but its accident happened in 2008, six years before I bought it, and it’s been passing MoTs since then with no problem.  I had this worry that my car would have to be scrapped if no-one would do the work to fix it.  Luckily, I was worrying unnecessarily.  I left it until 21st January (my MoT runs out on 27th) then realised I should take it to another garage for a second opinion.  So I did.
For under £300, they fixed up the car so it could pass its MoT.
That should be the end of this story, but I have been left with a lot of questions about the garage industry.  For example, why can one garage say “this car is unsafe, but my friend round the corner can fix it up for you” while another garage can say “well if it’s been certified legal by VOSA we’ll just do the work no problems.”  I thought the whole point of an MoT was to make sure that cars all met the same standards, but instead it seems to be a reason for people to extract more money from you and fund their sidelines.  I wondered how many other people with Category C cars had been told the same as me, had accepted it and gone and paid hundreds of pounds to get the unnecessary work done.
Before I took my car to a second garage, I researched it thoroughly online.  Sites such as Pistonheads are really good (although they have a no badmouthing policy, but people get around this and if you’re vaguely intelligent you can work out what garages they’re talking about).  The discussion I found on Pistonheads narrowed my search down to three garages in my area.

I dismissed one before I even went to make enquiries, because I used to live on the same road as them and they’d been really unhelpful about four years ago, when my first car was being pronounced dead, such as quoting me £200 for a new petrol tank when I could buy one myself for £70, then, when I questioned them on it, they said “but that’s not one of our suppliers and we couldn’t guarantee the quality of a repair if we didn’t order the parts” which is funny because other places quoted £70 for a petrol tank.  Curiously I decided to fix the petrol tank myself, then found out the chassis was rusted through so badly that it was never going on the road again.  I remember crying as the scrap merchants took it away, and I knew I would feel the same way about my current car if I couldn’t get it fixed up and had to scrap it.

The second garage was round the corner from my current house, so I tried there first.  I went to talk to them, and the man I spoke to (who I think was the owner, I’ve seen him around) was less than helpful.  You know that specific type of individual who won’t actually talk to you about mechanics/plumbing/construction/types of paint because you’re female, and that means you’re a) Stupid and b) Lack the capacity to understand something as complicated as car repairs.  I’m sure that if you drive, you might have met someone like this.  I smiled and nodded and said I’d get back to him and he was very surprised and confused when I didn’t hand over my car keys.  I drove around the corner to garage number three and the woman behind the counter got it all arranged and calculated the price for me and booked it in for two days later.  I brought the car back on the allotted day, and they finished two hours before they expected to, having done exactly what they needed to get it through the MoT, with no hidden complications.  My car is on the road again for another year.  Which means I can finally start planning my drive to Morocco.

[beauty] Ten Vegan Beauty Ingredients

1. Aloe Vera Gel – Put it on burns, sunburn, dry skin, greasy skin, dehydrated skin, untoned skin – aloe vera’s soothing and skin-enhancing properties are near-legendary, don’t underestimate this gentle giant.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.

2. Coconut oil – Melt a little between your hands then rub your hands through the lengths and ends of your hair (stay away from roots). Use all-over before blonding to protect hair from the damaging effects of bleach. Use on your face as a moisturiser and on a cotton wool pad as a make-up remover. To get the oil out of the jar more quickly, turn your hairdryer on and aim it inside the jar (but don’t put the nozzle inside the jar – the glass might shatter or the hairdryer could overheat due to lack of ventilation). Put some on before sunbathing to ensure you tan more quickly (but obviously use a sunscreen as well – despite what many people say, there are NO sunscreen properties in coconut oil, otherwise it wouldn’t have taken us until the 1950s to invent a sunscreen that goes on colourless).

courtesy of www.Peta.org
courtesy of http://www.Peta.org

3. Water – Drinking enough water keeps your skin plump, healthy and looking hydrated (and therefore younger). Using frozen water (ice cubes) on sunburn will help calm the sunburn before it sets in too deeply. Lastly, washing face and hair in pure water will make you look and feel fresher.

courtesy of wikipedia
courtesy of wikipedia

4. Rosemary – an excellent astringent to get your skin clean and oil-free, rosemary also works to wash your hair and give it a natural healthy shine – although it will make blonder hair turn brown, and dulls your highlights, due to its strong antioxidant properties, so this one’s only for the brunettes.

rosemary plants, source: wikipedia
rosemary plants, source: wikipedia

5. Cinnamon – The main active ingredient in Lip Venom, the original lip plumper, cinnamon can cause your lips to tingle and swell. Of course, the effects are fairly short-lived and depend on how you react to the cinnamon.

source: wikipedia
source: wikipedia

6. Tea tree oil – Got some spots you’d like to get rid of? Worried about how to avoid getting nits whilst volunteering in an orphanage? Want to keep the mosquitos away? Tea tree oil works a treat.

source: wikipedia
source: wikipedia

7. Bicarbonate of soda – cleans teeth, gets the stains right out. Also gets the foundation-stains out of clothing. Just in case you accidentally caught your face on your favourite top.

8. Salt – Natural rock salt is a good all-rounder – it can be used with a teeny bit of water to act as a scrub for elbows, knees, feet etc. It also has the property of making an oil layer where it’s been used, which helps keep moisture in and solve longer-term problems. Lastly (don’t over do this one) you can use it to whiten your teeth, although be careful with that, it’s highly abrasive. It will help remove highly resistant dirt and sterilise gums, but it can also cause its own problems too, like wearing away tooth enamel.

rock salt, courtesy of wikipedia.
rock salt, courtesy of wikipedia.

9. Parsley – You know those times when you’re out and everyone’s standing five feet away from you, holding their noses? When, every time you try to talk, everyone turns away? If you have halitosis-related networking issues, get some parsley, put it in your mouth and chew it. It freshens breath. It’s also packed full of healthy minerals, so swallow it once your done.

parsley, courtesy of wikimedia commons.
parsley, courtesy of wikimedia commons.

10. Lemon – Lemon’s a useful fruit in the beauty war – it fades sunspots (apply lemon juice directly to sunspots, using a q-tip), lemon can add golden highlights to blonde and light brown hair too – just put some on your hair, then go out in the sun, where the lemon juice reacts to the sun causing a blonding effect.

lemon, courtesy of wikipedia.
lemon, courtesy of wikipedia.

Which beauty ingredients do you use that are vegan?  I love discovering new ones so let me know in the comments or via Twitter: @InvokeDelight

How much are those first editions REALLY worth??

How much are those first editions REALLY worth??
Or, how I decluttered some of my bookcases (because it’s DEFINITELY not been minimalised yet).

I wanted to leave this until last because it’s going to be the hardest part of the whole minimalism thing, but I have briefly forayed into it today. We have both brought books into this relationship (I came with two entire boxes – and now I have an actual bookcase of books, although it’s also filled with comics and so many sideways stacks wherever there is space. My husband had over 2000 books when I met him and has also acquired more over the course of our relationship). The mere mention of getting rid of the books is enough to put strain on our relationship. But over the last five years I have realised that most of these books don’t get read, and we will probably never read them.

A couple of years ago, we were living in a Gothic Mansion in Bradford. We moved into it from a 2-up-2-down (a Victorian terrace with 2 small downstairs rooms and 2 small upstairs rooms – when I parked my small hatchback out front, the car was longer than the house was wide), and moved out of the Mansion into our current, significantly smaller 3 bedroom house, so, I think the only name for the place in Bradford was Gothic Mansion. It had a sweeping staircase and everything, and cost the same in rent as the 2-up-2-down in York had done.

When we moved out of the Gothic Mansion, we realised just how many belongings we had accumulated over the previous 2 years of living in so much space. When it came time to pack the books, we got rid of about 100 of them – my future husband gave his to other people and I gave mine to charity shops. It was a drop in the ocean. Somehow, when we unpacked at our new house, we still had far too many books. It was shocking. I got my Significant Other to put ceiling shelves up around the top of the two largest bedrooms (we sleep in the smallest because it helps my night terrors significantly), and we filled them with books. We had two full bookcases of books left over, and that was after I got rid of an entire box of books. We gave our other bookcases away to someone who was setting up home and to a community furniture initiative.

The house is so cluttered that you can't actually see the ceiling bookshelves behind all these boxes on top of the storage unit.
The house is so cluttered that you can’t actually see the ceiling bookshelves behind all these boxes on top of the storage unit.

I was just about coping with the book situation because we had worked so hard designing and making the ceiling shelves (they look like a book border around each room, it’s awesome). Then my mum died, and I brought another box of books back, which were books I’d grown up with. I actually brought two boxes back but decided to let the second one go before it crossed the threshold of my house – it was all my Award Reprint Famous Five books, which I’ve by and large replaced with a beautiful collection of First Edition Famous Five books. I decided the Awards would be better served living with someone else where they would actually get read.

Suddenly, though, we are drowning under items, books especially, and I have to make some very hard decisions about books. The thing is, and the big reason that I haven’t addressed it, is because I feel it’s very unfair for me to have to get rid of some of my one bookcase of books when my OH has about five times that many books. Inherently, I am biased towards thinking that my books are better, because I chose quality over quantity. I’ve fallen into the trap of that excuse my pupils come out with sometimes: “Ben is setting his EYEBROWS on fire, why am I getting a detention for SMOKING??” Obviously, just because someone nearby is doing something worse than me, that doesn’t make my behaviour okay. Another problem is that I am keeping more than half of my books for children. If I have any, or if any close friends do, I’m going to be ready to give them books to read. Unfortunately, that time hasn’t come yet. The third problem is that I have a lot of first editions – I very carefully collected them all, and they’re all great books. Because it all seems so complicated, I am trying to be very deliberate and careful in my decisions.

So I decided to throw caution to the wind and do the following:
1. Fill a box with the books I’m keeping for kids.
2. Fill a box with the books I’m keeping for myself.
3. Fill a box with all the duplicates we’ve got that belong to me (then hash it out with my OH about whose copy of each duplicate we are keeping/getting rid of. This will be hard because we both have an entire collection of Terry Pratchetts each, and I think we’re both very reluctant to downsize because they mean so much to each of us and what if we both wanted to read them at the same time????). I can’t decide whether duplicates in a foreign language count, since they clearly serve a purpose beyond the story content of the original (I have a few duplicates in French and English because I find it a great way to help immersively learn a language).

One idea I particularly liked was “if I keep it, is it worth the two (or more) books that I must get rid of when I put this one on the shelf?” (https://unclutterer.com/2007/06/25/read-a-book-and-pass-it-on/). It inspired me to take this further and order my books in a sort of preference. Kind of like book trumps. Which books would I never get rid of another book to keep? Which books would I get rid of any other book to keep? I think this could become a game. Once I’ve boxed all the books up, I am going to do this when I put them back on the shelves – starting with ten of the ones I know are least important, and every time I add a book to the shelf, taking another one off (if there comes a point where I can’t take any more books off the shelf, that’s ten books worth keeping, so I will start again with another set of ten books and do the same). To avoid sample bias, I will need to re-check the shelf afterwards.

90 Minutes Later
That was hard. There was a huge and ginormous problem with my method outlined above – it assumed I had some boxes to put books in. I didn’t. All our packing boxes left over from when we moved house? They’re all full of books from various times when we’ve had to move a set of books to do something or get at something else. All I could find was a shoebox and a box of crisps (now empty). I filled the shoebox with cast offs, until it got full, then I filled the crisp box, until it got full, then I filled the shoebox with the 10 books I would keep if the house was on fire or I was a refugee or something. The books I’d put in a campervan if I took one to places.

There was also a set of books I’d been keeping for their value. I decided to challenge myself on this in case I was holding them for flawed reasons. I looked them up on AbeBooks today to find out how much they’d grown in value:
Jo’s Boys (Louisa May Alcott) – 1886 edition. Worth about £5. Plenty of copies about. Passed down in my family for generations, just inherited from my mother, so not getting rid of it that easily!
School Friend Annual 1955 and Pets Annual 1959 – Worth £5 and 0.66p respectively. Still keeping because they were my grandmas (on my dads side) and again I inherited.
I think the School Friends and Jo’s Boys are my sentimental books. There were other books in both my mother’s and grandmother’s houses that I got, but these are the ones I would have great difficulty getting rid of. The School Friend annuals really sum up the culture and world my grandma lived in and grew up in, and Jo’s Boys is very reminiscent as a glossing-over of my own childhood, which could generously be described as “Old Fashioned” (and un-generously as Draconian).
Artemis Fowl – the Opal Deception. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl – the Arctic Incident. Worth £2.
Artemis Fowl and The Time Paradox. Worth £3.
Terry Pratchetts – worth £2 (very fine condition hardcover series books) to £8 (Hogfather Screenplay) to £10 (The Last Hero Hardcover) to £25-35 (The Art Of Discworld) to £35 (A Blink Of the Screen).
Anthony Horowitz: Necropolis. Worth 0.66p.
Anthony Horowitz: Snakehead. Worth £4.26.
Diana Wynne Jones: The Game. Worth about £10.
Diana Wynne Jones: Reflections. Worth about £10.
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Worth £5 (children) to £6 (adult), I have one copy of each.
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Worth £1. LOLOLOLOL. Seriously £1.
JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Worth £5 (children or adult). I have one copy of the children’s edition.
Agatha Christie: Around £2.50 each. As paperbacks that take up 1/3 of the space of the hardback first edition books, I am more willing to keep these on the shelves. Also I inherited them off my recently-deceased mum who inherited them from my grandma. That shizzle needs time to settle.
I valued my Famous Five red hardbacks at about 66p each. That is fine though – I am keeping my Enid Blytons for sentimental value.
**UPDATE (9pm same day): Tales of Beedle The Bard by JK Rowling?  Worth 0.66p.  It’s so getting ditched (the story wasn’t that great anyway).**

I should probably ditch the Artemis Fowl novels and the Harry Potter, since the Order Of The Phoenix was my second least favourite book and film and I think the Artemis Fowls have sadly had their day, been and gone. I guess they got over printed. The only Artemis Fowl worth over £3 is the only one I don’t have, because I couldn’t obtain a copy at the time and decided it would probably never be worth anything. Oh the irony. I guess this is the false economy of buying books – I always think getting the hardback first edition is better but I guess it really isn’t because they don’t hold their value as well as you would expect. HOWEVER, the value of the book cannot be judged by price alone, as I have demonstrated with the number of books I am keeping for sentimental reasons. Having said that, the prices are what they’re being sold at and I always think with anything under £3 that you have to work out how rapidly they’re actually selling at that price point, because that could just be what people hope to get for them, and there’s not a lot of price-slash wriggle room to get them shifted and it’s no indication about whether they would sell if I listed them on Amazon for that amount, taking up space in my house while I waited for them to be bought.

That’s my first round of book culling pretty much finished, just a few stragglers to round up from other parts of the house because they don’t fit in my bookcase. I will, of course, have more to do but not right now because I found it very difficult to get rid of a lot of books that I probably don’t need. Also I was very hindered by the rabbits, in whose room my books live, as the books must stay out of their reach otherwise the bunnies will nibble the books, which would be sad. I was comforted by the number of minimalists and de-clutterers who had encountered the same emotional difficulty when parting with their books. I know I can read them online, I know I can go to the library, but it’s not the same as seeing them on the shelf.

Before I try and cull them again I think I need to change strategy. Perhaps putting my “safe” books in a separate room, then sorting the remainder in order of… something. I don’t know. Some of them are useful but not essential. Some of them could be useful in the future. Some of them were 10p and the text might not be available at the same price again.

My OH’s books, by contrast, include a great deal of impersonal and generic sci-fi and fantasy (I love love LOVE sci fi and fantasy when it’s good – but you wouldn’t actually believe how much dross there is. Time Snake and Superclown? There’s a reason you haven’t heard of it), and I’ve got a plan to get rid of some of these – I’m going to read them. Yep. I’m going to open each book and try to read it. If it’s boring, unreadable, overly-pretentious or full of “Said He”-isms, it’s getting queued for removal from the house. No second chances. My OH has given me permission to do this as long as he gets veto power over the books I’ve discarded before they get chucked. I think of it as a secretarial service – I’m filtering the junk mail so the Boss can spend more time on the important letters.  I don’t think any of those are worth anything because they’re all a bit crap – he was given about 700 books about 15 years ago by a “friend” who was moving away and needed to get rid of his books.

Resources that I found helpful for book downsizing:
http://www.becomingminimalist.com/breaking-the-sentimental-attachment-to-books/
http://thejunkpyramid.blogspot.co.uk/2008/08/how-to-decide-what-books-to-junk.html
https://unclutterer.com/2008/04/15/bringing-your-bookshelves-back-to-order/
https://unclutterer.com/2007/06/25/read-a-book-and-pass-it-on/
http://www.quirkybookworm.com/2012/01/bookworms-debate-when-to-get-rid-of.html