Thursday, 23 June 2011


'Awesome' is not a word I use very often, but I honestly can't think of a better one to describe this fabulous cover designed for Edinburgh Fog by Suzannah Safi for Muse It Up!

And I'm SO thrilled, I'll even let you have an excerpt!

“Another pot of coffee, boss.”

Ben shattered Greg’s getaway plans as he slapped his notepad on the marble bar-top. “And Mr. Smarty over there says could that be with hot milk, because he wants a macchiato
caldo, not freddo. I told him the milk comes hot out of the machine anyway, and is Freddo no’ that wee bloke with the big feet out Lord of the Rings? Don’t get smart-arsed with me, pal, is what I really wanted to say.”

Ben curled a lip and turned to face the growing crowd in the bar as he waited for Greg to top up another coffee jug. “Mind you, for a smart arse, he must have something.”

Greg glanced over at the object of Ben’s ire. “How’s that?”

Ben gesticulated with his chin towards Julia’s table. “Look at him! Manky wee ginger git, and he’s got those gorgeous babes with him. What’s he got that I haven’t?”

“Well, let’s think.” Chrissie wandered over from the other end of the bar to join in the conversation. “Wit? Intelligence? Charm and personality?” she offered, giving Greg a sly wink.

Any opportunity to wind up Ben about his ways with women usually wasn’t to be missed, but tonight Greg’s heart wasn’t in it. He pulled out a wooden tray inscribed with the Tellers’ logo and set the coffee pot down. “Probably just friends from work.” He half-filled a stainless steel jug with milk, jammed it under the foamer nozzle and let it rip.

Chrissie wrinkled her nose and nodded. “He doesn’t look like the world’s greatest lover to me, Ben. Your crown’s safe, big man.”

Ben grinned as he reached for the tray. “Aye. You’re right there. Watch me go.”

Greg frowned. “Go where?”

“To show lover-boy how it’s done, what do you think?” He flicked a look over his shoulder. “Those babes’ll be nibbling their complimentary biscotti from my hand before I’m done. Man, oh, man...gimme an older woman any day. There’s no substitute for experience. What age do you reckon?”

“Twenty-nine,” Greg said, with much more precision than he’d intended to let show. “Or thereabouts,” he added lamely, relieved Ben hadn’t noticed the fact that Greg could have given him Julia’s date, time and place of birth too, had he asked.

Ben tipped his head, weighing up the facts. “A bit older than my usual conquests, but then, what’s life if not a challenge, eh, boss?” He balanced the tray high on one hand and sauntered in the direction of Julia’s table, six-pack abs and butt muscles on display, looking like a walking anatomy chart.

Edinburgh Fog will be released by Muse It Up Publications in September.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Skint, Scrimping And Saving!

We all are, right now. I am, and I bet you are, too! Costs are going up, and we need elastic bank accounts to stretch our pennies from one end of the month to the other. 'Frugality' is such a buzz-word right now, and no wonder - it makes sense to cut outgoings and trim back wherever we can. I haven't stooped to knitting my own yoghurt yet, but some days I think we can't be far off.....! Anyway, here are some of my money-saving tips - and if you have any to share, PLEASE, feel free to leave a comment!

1. E-Bay.

EBay has become my first go-to for just about anything I need to buy for the family or friends, besides food. It makes perfect sense to for people to sell on items they don't need any more and let someone else get the benefit of them for very little cash. I've bought loads of my children's clothes there, and I'm just about to have a going at selling on some things of my son and daughter's that are in perfect condition - they just don't fit any more - as well as bits and pieces of my own. If I can make a little cash back, then that's great. I can honestly say I haven't bought anything on EBay that I haven't been pleased with.

The other thing I adore about EBay is the way small businesses can set up, especially for craft items. I've just ordered some gorgeous hair slides and bobbles from a gal who calls herself Bobblelicious - great name! - and I would never have found them anywhere else. I know a little girl who's going to love them on her birthday.

For me - I just bought a brand new pair of Italian leather boots for £15. There's nothing wrong with them other than they're just not this winter's must-have. As the Angel of Couture passed by my door many moons ago never to return, I'm not bothered - and I've got a bargain.

2. Plan Your Meals Ahead.

I make an effort to do this most weeks, but I don't beat myself around the head with it, either. Life is about spontaneity and some surprises - but when I DO do this, it makes a huge difference to my shopping costs.

I keep a running list of all the meals I cook, and over the weekend, I make up a dinner menu for the following week. That provides me with the week's shopping list, so I only need to visit the supermarket once for a 'big shop,' and then either pop back there or shop locally for fresh bread, milk or other things that need to be absolutely fresh maybe one more time in the week. After a few weeks, you end up with a big menu of dinners you can chop or change as you need depending on the season, your finances, or just what you fancy - and it's a list you keep adding to all the time.

4. Grow Herbs and Easy Leaves and Veggies.

One of my local supermarkets sells little pots of fresh herbs for 50p - you couldn't buy them cheaper. If you treat them like houseplants, i.e., give them the sunniest windowsill, and keep them well-watered and drain it off so they don't sit in the water, they will last for ages and ages. I have enough fresh basil growing to make pesto for a pasta meal for four of us, using other staples that I always have in the fridge and cupboards, and I have an almost constant supply of mint, parsley, coriander/cilantro and thyme. As well as their culinary uses, they make really pretty plants! If they begin to get a little leggy, just cut the stems back and drop them in the pot when you make fresh stock....see below!

Herb seeds are even cheaper, and you can easily make space even if you have a small garden or even no garden at all. I bought a packet of rocket - arugula - seeds for £1 and have four big pots of it growing outside that I can pick whenever I want it. A small pack of the stuff costs £1 in the supermarket, and it only keeps a day or so. Rocket pasta is delicious, too.

Tomatoes are easy to grow, and even if you don't have space to bring on seedlings you can buy sturdy little plants for very little money from your garden centre. Last summer I paid £3 for four cherry tomato plants that sat in recycled tubs outside on my living-room windowsill, and I harvested nearly 10lbs of delicious, sweet fruits over a period of months. We not only used the lot, we gave some away to neighbours! I actually had six plants growing, not just the four I bought - a lady along the road grew plants from seed and ended up with so many, she gave some away for nothing. Talk about free food!

5. Freecycle.

If you haven't done already, Google and join your local Freecycle network. It's an international network operating through the Yahoo Groups system on a local level. People post details of things they want to get rid of or ask for things they need in the hope someone has one to pass on. It's free - no money changes hands, and it keeps things out of dumps or landfill. I've passed on baby goods like prams and strollers and clothes, bikes the kids have outgrown, toys, a couple of old sofas, loads of things. In return, I've got things like a mint condition IKEA CD storage unit and a brand new and unused pestle and mortar, which I use at least once a week. I've seen everything from driveway bricks to brand new juicers to pianos offered! Freecycle is a great thing, and well worth joining.

6. Make Stock.

I make two kinds, vegetable and chicken, but you could make fish stock and probably beef stock too. You'll want your biggest saucepan!

For the veg stock, I start with a big handful of frozen peas in the pan with a splash of olive oil and add whatever I have left in the fridge that needs using up - carrots, onion, celery and celery leaves, courgette/zucchini, some potato, leeks, etc. Chop them roughly, this isn't an a la carte dinner. I add parsley stalks or a small bunch of lemon thyme. Don't add salt and pepper, and I tend not to add garlic to veg stock, but will add a whole, unpeeled but bashed clove to chicken stock. For chicken stock - I clean the carcass of the chicken we had for Sunday lunch and set aside the leftover meat. I make up what's pretty much the base for my veg stock, then add the chicken bones (and the skin, if it's not too fatty). Top up with water, bring to the boil, and turn down the heat and simmer the veg stock for about an hour, the chicken for up to three hours. Turn of the heat and let it get completely cold, then strain away all the veggie and bones and pack the stock liquid into tubs for the freezer.

I usually get around 2 - 3 litres of stock in one go, and then I have a base for soups, risotto and other rice dishes, pasta sauces, loads of things. It takes next to no time to do, and as it's made with things you would have thrown away otherwise, it's virtually free.

I said about setting aside the leftover chicken. The biggest, nicest pieces are set aside for tomorrow's lunchtime sandwiches or for dinner - see 'Chicken,' below - and the smaller pieces are shredded and will go into chicken soup. Sauté a leek, an onion, a couple of carrots, a couple sticks of celery, some peas, maybe a chopped courgette. Add water, bring the whole lot to the boil then simmer until the veggies are nearly tender. About 10 -15 minutes before you're ready to eat, add a handful or two of uncooked rice or some spaghetti snapped into one-inch pieces, and let those cook down. Add the shredded chicken and let it heat through. Season the soup, serve it, and feel restored! They call this Jewish Penicillin - well, I'm not Jewish, and I'm allergic to penicillin, but other than that, they got that name right!

7. Chicken.

I can get three meals out of a chicken, and you can too - easy. Roast chicken for Sunday lunch, leftover chicken to go with a warm Cesar salad bulked out with new potatoes, tomatoes and French beans the next day, and the wonderful soup the next. And no, no-one tires of it three days running because each meal is so different.

I should say here, I won't buy the cheapest chicken. I buy a good quality organic, corn-fed chicken, and make sure it has all the RSPCA and Freedom Food labels a chicken can have. If I'm going to eat a chicken, I want to be sure it was a happy one. Cheap meat does exactly what it says on the tin - it's cheap, and that's pretty much all it has going for it.

8. Fabric Conditioner.

I buy a 1 litre bottle for £1.00 from my supermarket. I decant half of it into a 2 litre bottle and top it up with water. You really, really don't need to use fabric conditioner in its concentrated form, and this way, I halve the cost. And talking of supermarket own brands....

9. Value ranges.

Supermarkets' own-label 'value' or 'basics' range used to be, frankly, a bit rubbish, but things have changed a lot. Most supermarkets seem to have upped the quality of a lot of their 'value' stuff and it's worth giving it a go. Kitchen paper towel rolls, toilet tissue, (I mean, do you really need patterned, embossed toilet tissue??) laundry and cleaning products and so on are all usually substantially cheaper than brand names and are excellent value. Kitty litter is another good example! Also try own-brand baby products like cotton buds, bubble-bath and body moisturising lotions.

10. Reuse, recycle, and think before you buy.

I never throw anything away these days without wondering what else I can use it for. If it's not worth money, can I put it to another use, even if it's just my children using it for a craft project before it ends up in the recycle bin? I also try to buy things with as little packaging as possible. If you buy loose vegetables, juts the amount you need, instead of picking up one of those plastic-wrapped packages, then it's almost always cheaper and you don't have so much waste to dispose of.

Don't forget the most vital thing when you're thinking about buying! Your mantra needs to be 'do I really NEED this?' I suggest, when you see something you think you really can't live without - walk away. If you still can't sleep without dreaming of it a week later, then yes, you probably do need it, so go get it! If you're a bit 'meh' about it after a cup of tea and a sit-down, I'd say maybe not. This of course does not apply to gifts for children or friends - impulse buys bought with love shouldn't be so easily dismissed!

11. Don't Buy Too Cheap!

Might sound like I'm going against everything else I've said here, but no - there's a lot of truth in the old 'buy cheap, buy twice' adage. Children grow so fast, there's little point in spending lots of dosh on their clothes except the ones for really special occasions or specific uses - e.g., cheap waterproofs will let in the rain, so don't skimp on things that have to do a really good job. For those of us who've done all our growing, though (except maybe outwards!) it's better to buy the best you can afford because it will last much, much longer. I say 'you can afford' - if you must have the latest thing, then by all means go for it and pay the price if it's going to make you happy! But cheap sweaters, shoes and leather goods, furniture and a load of other things just don't last. Far better to save up a little extra to get the really good quality product that will do you for years.

Don't forget charity and thrift shops - old style second-hand furniture, for example, will still be solid and have a lot of life in it yet, but might just need an update with a lick of paint, new handles, whatever you fancy. I have a little three-drawer cabinet that cost me £20 almost twenty-five years ago. Dark brown varnished wood, dull as dull could be, but solid as a rock and with lots of storage space. I sanded it down and painted it up with the leftover paint I was decorating my bedroom with. It's been clothes drawers and a dressing table, did a brief service as storage for cassette tapes (remember them!) and is currently in a corner of our living room housing the everyday clutter like my kids' pens, pencils and paints, notepads, comics and magazines, catalogues and brochures - and everyone who comes into the house wants to know where I got such a beautiful piece of furniture!

A Few More Mini-Tips:

Cotton wool - a winter tip - it doubles in size if you take it out of the packet and leave it on a warm radiator. Make up/foundation - mix a small amount with a dollop of moisturiser and it will go a lot further. Freebies - if you don't mind the emails, sign up to a Freebies site. In the past few months I've had samples of men and women's perfumes, herbal teas, full-size make-up products, books and magazines, granola bars and all kinds of things - for free.

Whoah! Until I started writing, I hadn't realised how passionate I am about this! What are YOUR scrimp and save tips? Please share!

Monday, 13 June 2011

.....And What The Cat Said.....

After 'what the dog taught me,' the other four-legged creatures in my life decided it was their time for a look-in....but it wasn't quite what I might have expected.

Right now, I seem to know a lot of people going through enormous changes in their lives. Some of those are in their professional lives and some intensely personal, and all of it is pretty major. There's very little I can do to help practically - all I can offer is an ear, a hug, lots of love and empathy. Yesterday I found myself inwardly railing at the injustice of it all the things that some of these gals are going through, and none of it their doing. It seems so often that it's the really nice folks who bear the brunt of other people's nastiness and selfishness, and I'm so mad and so sad that my friends have been put in these situations.

Upshot was, late yesterday I found myself in tears. Now, I know from my holistic therapist training that this is not necessarily a good thing. Sure, I'm going to cry if those I love are hurting - wouldn't you? Wouldn't anyone? But I also know that it doesn't help to be a weeping wreck if you're trying to give something positive to a person who is in a very negative place. Pulling negative thoughts into an already negative situation isn't going to help anyone.

Where do the four-legged ones come in? It's like this. One of my cats likes to curl up next to me at night. I find his presence hugely comforting - in fact, when I'm away from home, I really miss his soothing purr. True to form, knowing I was tired and out of sorts, he came in for a cuddle just before I turned off the light, and I think he was there pretty much all night.

Then I had the oddest dream.

I dreamed that all the cats I've ever owned came to visit me, with all the purring and hugs and love they could muster. I was overwhelmed to see them, and the joy I felt was indescribable. When I woke, I felt quite tearful because the dream was so moving, and while I'm a little tearful now writing about it, in fact as the day goes on, I've noticed how much calmer and stronger I feel.

Now, don't get me wrong, please. I'm not a great believer in the supernatural of any kind, and I don't really do much of the 'woo-woo' stuff. I don't do cards or talismans or charms. But I do believe we can influence each other on a very deep level, either consciously or sub-consciously - for me, that's a given - and I also know that the soothing and comforting effects that animals can have on us has also been well documented. I'm wondering now if my sub-conscious mind, knowing that I was at a low point and in need of strength, somehow brought that inner strength and comfort to me in that dream.

I dunno. As I say, I'm not big on that sort of thing. But whatever it was that the cat had to say, he said it so it could be heard.

And I'm glad of it.

Friday, 10 June 2011

It's A Dog's Life

You can learn a lot from a dog.

Here are a few of the life-lessons my dog's taught me:

1. Live in the moment, make the best of it you can. And if it sucks, no worries - there's another moment coming along any minute.

2. It's not the weather that's important - it's what you do with the weather you've got that matters.

3. Life's so much better if you're prepared to dive right in and get your paws mucky. You can always have a bath afterwards.

4. Sleep is good for you. Get as much of it as possible

5. A hug, given with genuine love and warmth, really does change everything.

6. If all else fails, go chew a blanket.

7. A waggly tail always helps. If you haven't got a tail, a smile does just as well.

8. The old chestnut about a stranger being a friend you just never met before is often true - but remember to listen to your instincts too.

9. Don't underestimate the little things - the roof over your head, dinner in your dish and the love of the people around you is pretty much all you need.

And finally...

10. Never stick your nose in the nettles.

Yup, you can learn a lot from a dog.