Thursday, 13 June 2013

One challenge done, another takes its place

The fat lady has sung, and the money has been sent to the three causes I chose:

One by One Until There Are None (, a group that fundraises for specific animals to come to the UK for rehoming.

Serbia's Forgotten Paws ( or ) , a group that fundraises for the rescue, treatment and rehoming of animals (mainly dogs) in Nis, Serbia.

Irinia Neblea (, a young woman who, with only her poorly mother to help her, cares for 60+ animals at her self-built rescue centre in Constanta, Romania, with no running water, no car to get her to the supermarket or the vet, who carries and pushes on a cart many litres of water and many kilos of food each day, who builds kennels and disinfects the land with her own hands and a brush.... I could go on.  I thank all the fates that I have been able to raise funds to help her a little towards recovering - at least financially - from a recent devastating outbreak of distemper at the shelter.  I know that my contributions are a drop in her personal ocean, but I also know that they are a help and that makes me feel good.  I have also spread the word about her and she has received donations from at least three people because of that - thank you to J, M and S who have big hearts.   

Each cause benefited  from sponsorship money to the tune of £66, which I know will be used wisely.

I learned lessons from this challenge.  I  now know that I can live quite easily on £1 a day at today's prices, but that I cannot do so in a way that will keep me healthy.  I learned that when you have little you don't waste any of it - you scrub carrots and potatoes, you do not peel them, because that peel may make the difference between going to bed comfortable or going to bed hungry.  Literally.  I learned that only refined pasta is cheap enough to eat on £1 a day; you can't afford to pay someone to leave the fibre in.  Go figure.  I learned that people are generous when you are honestly doing something to try to help.  I have also learned that it is the same names, over and over, that you see offering donations and sponsorships.  I have learned a lot, but already just a couple of weeks later I can feel those lessons fading into the background (apart from the donations one - I keep getting reminders of that).

And the next challenge is Ben's.  I will spare you the photograph, but Ben is a dog who died un-named shortly after rescue from an inhumane "shelter" in Romania.  I named him posthumously, because he epitomises the barbarity of those "shelters" in these countries where dogs are largely regarded as vermin to be poisoned, beaten, kicked or stoned to death.  Somehow naming him felt like the decent thing to do, and I would rather he be remembered as Ben than as that dog in the awful photo.

Ben's challenge is open to anyone who would like to raise money for the dogs that are still savable from the same "shelter".  The idea is that you take £10 of your own money (or whatever you can afford) and use it to invest in any way you choose, with a view to making it grow.  You might buy cheap and sell for more, or buy ingredients and bake things to sell, or buy materials and *make* things to sell.  Or you could go door to door offering your services to mow lawns or clean cars.  Anything that will grow that original £10 stake into more than £10, for the animals.  Then you send your profits (with or without the original £10, depending on your circumstances - entirely up to you) to me.  When we have a sensible amount, it will go to Valcea, for the animals for whom it is not too late, in Ben's name.  I think this is a *good* plan, and nobody loses anything except a little time. Please visit Ben's facebook page  Even if you don't fancy joining in, there might be something there that you'd like to buy :o)

See this?  (The string, not the cd.  Ignore the cd)
It's turned into this, over at Ben's £10 Challenge!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Day 5 - That's all folks!

All back to mine for the after-challenge party, 'kay?
Welcome to my last (for the moment anyway - who knows, I might make it an annual event) post detailing the ups and downs of my five days Living Below the Line on £1 or less a day.

I am sitting in my little home office on a gloriously sunshiney Sunday morning, drinking a vast mug of proper tea with actual soya milk (59p per litre) and feeling incredibly, wonderfully fortunate.  In my usual "this is too good to be true, what's going wrong that I don't know about yet?" way, I am nervous inside, but I am trying very hard to banish that so I can luxuriate in the small (tea!) and very large(tell you later - read to the end!) pleasures of the day.

But first - yesterday - did I do it?  Did I live on less than £1 per day for 5 days?  Bet your boots I did!

Breakfast was the usual porridge, not exciting but filling, healthy (mostly) and cheap!  Lunch was the spaghetti and sauce that I didn't eat last night.  As mentioned, it could have done with more sauce, but I gave it a grind of pepper and a pinch of salt and it slipped down easily enough.

Mid-afternoon Husband came into the kitchen with the second ripe strawberry of the year out of his polytunnel, warm and fresh from the plant.  He ate the very first one himself - talk about selfish ;o). The challenge went right out of my head, I didn't even think of it as I sank my teeth into the juicy red flesh and was taken straight back to childhood by the intense, sweet flavour.  You simply cannot buy them in the shops like that!   When he brought the first handful of marble-sized new potatoes of the season into the house later in the afternoon, I complained that I could not share them due to the challenge.  His reply - "That didn't stop you scoffing the strawberry", at which point I realised that I have no way of costing that piece of fruit, so should have refused it.  Mea culpa!

I gave a lot of thought to dinner, and this is what I came up with.  I chopped an onion and a piece of carrot very small and simmered them in a quarter-pack of passata with about a quarter of a stock cube and a pinch of value mixed herbs until mostly cooked but still slightly crisp (add a splash of water if it gets too dry).  Meanwhile, I sauteed the last of the made-up burger mix in a dry frying pan over a gentle heat, stirring often and breaking the mixture up with a spatula into small pieces, so that by the end it resembled fried mince, all loose and browned.  I mixed this in with the tomato mixture and put it in a casserole dish, thusly:
Looks good, smells good and by golly...
(if you can't finish that sentence then you are enviably young).

Then I dissolved the rest of the stock cube in boiling water and used it to make up half a pack of value instant mash (you can see where I'm going with this, can't you?).  At this point I thought I'd made a ghastly mistake because frankly it smelled horrible.  I tasted a tiny smidge and it tasted better than it smelled, but still....  So I added a heaped teaspoon of Lidl's stone-ground mustard (less than 40p per jar if I remember correctly, no idea how much per heaped teaspoon!) and tasted again.  Much better!  I topped the casserole with this delightful mixture, roughed up the top a bit and bunged it into the oven at gas mark 6 to brown.  About 20 minutes later I had this:
Excuse the state of the casserole, it's the one in which I made up the burger mix and it's burnt on.
This shows the ratio of top to bottom.  Unfortunately my own top to bottom ratio is exactly the reverse.
I took this to show you how big the casserole is.  That is an ordinary half-pint mug, so you can see the dish is not huge but not tiny either.  Easily enough for a good meal for a woman my height, 5' 2".
At this point in the proceedings I wasn't expecting much in the way of enjoyment from this meal.  I thought that the mince would be soggy, the sauce unexciting and the mash probably pretty dreadful, but it was dinner and it was mine and it was all there was (under the rules of the challenge), so I ate it.  

It was delicious.

A smidge too salty, if I am to be completely accurate, so next time I would use only about half a stock cube in the potato, but apart from that and a slight rubberyness to the texture of the mash (I seem to recall this is standard for instant mash) I would have absolutely no hesitation in cooking this again, or even serving to someone else.  It just plain tasted good, which is fairly amazing because I am usually a duff cook to say the least.  A small happy dance took place.  My last below the line meal and it was a good'un.

I had 4 rich tea biscuits later in the evening, just because I could, really, I wasn't hungry.  I had budgeted for 8, but could not justify eating 4 more biscuits for the sake of it, and then I went to bed, job done.

Fiscal matters:

Breakfast - 50g oats and 20g peanut butter - 7.5p
Lunch - leftover spaghetti and sauce - 17.3p
Snack - 4 biscuits - 2.3p
Dinner - Burger mix (30p), 115g onion (4.6p), quarter pack passata (7.3p), stock cube (1.5p), 60g dry weight value instant mash (10p), 65g carrot (5.2p) = 58.6p
Dessert - 4 rich tea biscuits 2.3p

I make that 88p!  Of course out of that I have to take the following uncostables:  1 strawberry, 1 heaped tsp stoneground mustard, 1 pinch value mixed herbs (made ALL the difference to the sauce), a pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper.  I can't believe that adds up to anything like 12p, so I WON!  Another happy dance, I think.

I'll probably post again, drivelling on about lessons learned, effects of the challenge (one of the better ones being that I am 2lbs lighter this morning than I was on Tuesday morning before I started) and other self-indulgent stuff, but you can always skip that.  On the other hand, if you choose to read this blog in the future, you will be most welcome and please do feel free to comment.

I will be contacting my wonderful sponsors today with payment details, now that I know I completed the challenge, and will post the grand total here when I know it myself.  I am still hopeful for more sponsorship, so please comment here or send me an email if you can squeeze even 10p per day out of your budget (50p total, but I know that even that is not possible for everyone).  50p is two dog's bellies full for a day, and I'm not too proud to beg for that!

Now then, here is the end bit that made yesterday a very special day.  We have been waiting to see whether two dogs that we would like to adopt from Irina Neblea in Romania are good with cats.  Yesterday we received the video of their "cat test", and the decision has been made.  Two dogs rescued from the harsh streets of Romania will be coming here to live with us and be part of our family.  My chest constricts and I cannot breathe out as I type these words.  Two dogs.  Mine (ours, must remember to say "ours"!).  Two lives with sadness behind them and all sorts of love and adventures in front of them (breathe woman, breathe).  It's almost too much to bear, the sheer joy of this knowledge.  So please have a look at the video and meet our Mamy (shaggy) and our Gloria (pup with one paw missing) -

I'm going to be a mummy.