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lessons in frugality from cats

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1. Sleep alot
Cats enjoy just lying around. They wallow in laziness. Our two positively scorn me when I rush around getting ready for work. If sleeping is getting boring, then find an exciting new place to sleep. Grumpy Cat challenges herself to squeeze through ever tigher gaps to get into prime sleeping spots.

cat, doing what she does best   Other Cat

2. Entertainment can be cheap
Noisy Cat likes elastic bands. Alot. Shop-bought toys don’t hold his attention anywhere near as long.

3. Luxury is simple
Radiators provide cats with obvious joy. In summer sunshine does the same. Best not to discuss their feelings about warm bird guts.

4. Be cute and someone else will feed you
I’m not sure this is something you should try and emulate but both our two fuzzballs were once strays. They hit the jackpot when they sucked up to me, winning a warm house, an easily manipulated lady of the house, no kids, no dogs, and a home where alot of home butchery goes on.

They have to put up with occasional humilating fussing from the humans but mostly the cats seem to have the better deal. They even seem to love their super-cheap cat food, known in our house as kitty-crack.

Written by Karen

January 30th, 2009 at 10:14 pm

fantasy farm hunting

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Facebook friends will notice from my status updates that I spend far too much time “fantasy farm hunting”.  To be honest, it isn’t so much fantasy as a little premature. Mostly what I’m trying to figure out is where we should buy this future farm. There’s lots of factors involved.

High volumes of affordable small-holdings:

  • Scotland, esp Dumfries and Galloway, Aberdeenshire, the Shetlands(!)
  • Around Carlisle
  • The Wash and the Fens (particularly anywhere that is at risk from rising sea levels)
  • Wales, and Shropshire borders
  • North Lincolnshire, East Yorkshire and North Yorkshire (slightly lighter volumes)

Our current work:

  • London, esp King’s Cross
  • Peterborough (my optional/alternative base)

Our family:

  • London
  • Yorkshire (Wakefield + Harrogate)
  • Peterborough
  • Bristol
  • Aberdeenshire (never met that branch but they are farmers and apparently welcoming of black sheep)


  • London
  • Cumbria
  • Cambridge
  • Bristol
  • Peterborough

Good for woods:

  • big chunks of Scotland and Wales
  • Shropshire
  • Cumbria
  • North Yorkshire
  • Norfolk

East Coast mainline looks like it may be a significant ‘spine’ for our search, with a slightly weaker pattern along the West Coast mainline. The trains only matter if we’re assuming we want to get back to London for work some of the time. If we cut the London link completely then the range opens up but, realistically, our budget drops dramatically.

This weekend’s fantasy farm hunting delights included :

The Smithy – Shropshire. Scores points for including a blacksmiths shop, some old pigsties and an acre of woods.
Foresters Cottage – Cornwall. Woodland, chicken runs and it’s a foresters cottage 🙂

Neither is particularly viable with that price-location combination. Fantasy farm hunting will continue…

Written by Karen

November 25th, 2008 at 6:05 am

Posted in farms,future

working with my sister

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It is a little strange working for the same company as my big sister, Catherine.

The RNIB is a small enough organisation that,  in-spite of her working in a completely different part of the country, many of my colleagues in London know my sister. They say we look alike. They also say she’s told them all my secrets.

I’ve already had to go to the Leeds office for a meeting so got to stay with Cath and see her in her professional guise. All her colleagues said we look alike too.

I know we’re the same size but I’m not convinced we’re that identi-kit. She does like purple too though.

Written by Karen

November 5th, 2008 at 6:53 am

Posted in family,rnib

dog of the week

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Guide dogs vomiting at work is not actually a new thing for me. That happened at the BBC too. The story became the stuff of office legend but at the RNIB it merits a pan-building email (admittedly to explain why the second floor had been without power):

“Dog of the Week – a new slot. So there’s Jimmy, lying under John’s desk, dreaming of chasing rabbits and sniffing “things” whilst John beavers away earning a crust. Sod this for a game of soldiers thinks Jimmy, I want to go home, and promptly throws up in the floor-box, thus short circuiting the electricity supply to the second floor. Nice one Jimmy – the lads in my Team only do that at Christmas.”

Written by Karen

October 14th, 2008 at 6:51 am

Posted in dogs,rnib

sheep in a box

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We’ve got in the habit of buying whole pigs direct from the farm but I’m more comfortable buying supermarket lamb (they don’t tend to be intensively farmed either way). Mutton, however, is still a rarity in the supermarket so we’ve shelled out on a whole sheep, which comes as:

Pile of mutton

Also known as:

  • 4 Leg Joints
  • 4 Shoulder Joints
  • 10 – 14 Loin Chops
  • 12 Cutlets
  • 4 Chump Chops
  • 4 Pieces Scrag End
  • 2 Breasts Rolled
  • 2 Kidneys
  • 1 Liver

All in all, about 20kg of the stuff. That should see us through to pig-time.

Written by Karen

August 9th, 2008 at 6:40 am

Posted in food,thrift


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Went blackberrying yesterday with Mum & Dad in the Lee Valley park, up near Turnford. And yes, as countless dog walkers and cyclists asked us, it is a bit early for blackberries. But global warming being what it is, we still came away with 2kg of blackberries. If the number of green berries on the brambles is anything to go by, then the next couple of weeks should see a blackberry bonanza.


So my half of the haul was a 1kg of blackberries, earned from a half an hour ramble through beautiful woods with M&D. The walk is something we’d normally do so the blackberries are effectively effort-free. Tesco’s blackberries are on special offer at £1.99 for 150g so my tub of berries is worth around £13.

Mum will make jam but most of mine will become blackberry frozen yoghurt.

Written by Karen

July 27th, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Posted in food,thrift

cherry crumble cheesecake: a slow exploit

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This cheesecake is one of those all day baking exploits. It is very easy (apart from the flipping at the end which really requires two pairs of hands) but you have to make sponge cake, bake, mix up the cherry layer, make crumb topping, make cheese layer, put it all together, bake, bring to room temp, refridgerate for hours, flip, remove foil, eat.

I made it more complicated by using fresh cherries so there was the extra painful step of stoning cherries. It took me all day and a lovely day it was too. So what if I got nothing else done?

The resulting creation is huge and PW will be able to feed off it for days, sparing him last week’s fate of eating a whole box of muesli.

And yes, we did eat some for breakfast.

Written by Karen

June 22nd, 2008 at 9:57 am

Posted in food,happiness,speed

slow movement

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The slow movement seems to be booming. In the beginning there was Slow Food. Now there is:

And I got bored at slow management so I’m sure there are more. Slow IA, anyone?

Written by Karen

June 7th, 2008 at 9:53 am

Posted in speed

my mum couldn’t use that

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One of the goals of personas is to challenge stereotypes and preconceptions. This worked nicely when we were working on persona creation for the redesign of bbc.co.uk.
The personas were all based on research from our audience research team but the team was questioning the pensioner profiles for using too much technology, complaining that “my gran is nothing like that”. This is when you have to point out that the pensioners AR were talking about were 65. That makes them most of my colleagues’ parents not our grandparents. And reminds us all we’re getting old.

The research was nicely validated by an interview we did a few weeks later with a recently retired librarian. She was using digital television (including catch-up TV), mobile phone (texting and taking photos), digital radio, PC (internet & email), digital camera & skype with a web-cam. She’s wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about technology but was heavily influenced by her children and her need to stay in touch with family elsewhere in the world.

But even when we’ve recalibrated our understanding of who pensioners are….it is still a common cliche to hear web workers challenge something complex in a product on the grounds that “my mum couldn’t use that”.

Now my mum and dad are retired computer programmers. They’re seriously old school. When I was a kid I played with abandoned punch-cards and that green bar printout paper. Dinner time conversations involved mainframes and COBOL. I thought this was all normal for grown-ups.

Given how extraordinarily geeky you needed to be in early days to get into programming, they’re probably more technically able than many of today’s geeks. So my mum could almost certainly use that. If she wanted to.

Now my sister… she thinks the rest of us Harvey’s are weird. She’s a much better touchstone for the real world.

Written by Karen

June 2nd, 2008 at 11:03 am

Posted in bbc,family,past,ucd

a bit of a luddite

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I recently completed an online survey on the Guardian website which made me realise what an utter disappointment I must be to the advertisers involved. The whole survey seemed to be focused on establishing the breadth of my electronic life and it really brought home to me how far from an early-adopter I am.

I didn’t get a mobile till 2000 and it still doesn’t access the internet or take pictures. I’ve only had digital camera a year. I don’t have digital telly, don’t download music, don’t own an iPod (or…whisper it…another MP3 player) , and I really don’t want an iPhone. Really.

In my household our wishlist includes a pig (and the farm to put it on), a telescope and a Malamute. Buying throw-away electronics just fritters away the pig fund.

Would quite like an EEE though.

Written by Karen

June 1st, 2008 at 9:39 am

Posted in simplicity,thrift