Saturday, 15 July 2017

Alt + Shift

Now I live in Paris on my own, with a cat, a dog and a research pass to Bibliothèque National where I read 16th century documents in the old Palais de Mazarin. It is very warm. I live in a small apartment on the north bank of the Seine. I walk the dog three times a day in the inner city and I cuddle the cat who prefers her life in a window. I eat at home and go for long walks through the city. But I am not a tourist. I have a job to do, a life to live and things to do. Today I've been in the library all day. Tomorrow I am meeting an old colleague for Sunday brunch. We'll compare notes on what we did on Fête National.

This new life will only last five days. At the end of this, I will leave all this behind and return to the man who is at home working hard.

I am house, dog and cat sitting a long weekend for friends of friends.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017


The handle of the colander has been wobbly for quite some time.
Yesterday it broke off.

Now we use the colander like this. A pair of almost worn out tounge-and-grove pliers do their possibly last service.
It works fine - almost fine anyway. Good enough. No emergency. Plenty of time to think if we need a new colander. Maybe we can change our behaviour and use the lid on a pot to pour off excess water? Maybe we can use the smaller colander that we now use as a fruit bowl? Maybe we can use the sieve more although it isn't quite big enough for pasta or salads? Maybe by using the sieve more, it would break too and we could replace two with one. 

Even if we think we want a replacement colander, some thought would be needed as to what that new colander look like? One handle or two handles? Perhaps somebody has invented a collapsible colander/sieve - we are always short of space.
Perhaps if we wait long enough, somebody will even give us one. Or we'll find one on the street or from the second hand shop.
Perhaps if we wait long enough, we'll stop eating pasta and have no need for a colander.
Possibly this is nothing we need to worry about for yet another couple of months.

Because even if the handle broke on the colander, we still have a fully functioning colander, although looking a bit unconventional. So we don't have to buy anything.

The problem, if there ever was one, has been fixed.

If anybody is in Paris over the coming weekend quatorze julliet, for Fête nationale,  let's meet for an aperitif or a café creme.

Saturday, 8 July 2017


"The process of removing obstacles to growth can be as simple as forgoing certain daily habits. Researchers estimate, for example, that roughly half of an American adult's leisure time is spent in front of a television set. Over a period of forty years, that represents tens of thousands of hours that could be more profitably be spent learning a foreign language, practising a musical instrument, developing a new business idea, building a crafts project, or engaging in hundreds of other activities spanning all seven intelligences. Similarly, other common leisure-time activities, such as reading magazines and newspapers, talking to others or "spacing-out", do virtually nothing to move you into exploring new intellectual terrain. Bu simply choosing to stop engaging in these activities, or cutting them back, you can open up windows of time to pursue the development of hidden potentials."

Thomas Armstrong, 7 kinds of smart, revised and updated with information on 2 new kinds of smart (1993), p 160.
The book presents psychologist Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, in an unfortunately rather poor, jumbled and by now completely out-dated way. There are many interesting things in professor Gardner's theory and you can read more here.
In Armstrong's book, only the quote above caught my attention.

Friday, 7 July 2017


I have lost the required five kilos! It does not sound much but I have also lost at least 20 cm round my waist. I am NOT ALLOWING MYSELF TO BUY CLOTHES until I know I can keep it off.

I am still allowed to sew clothes though.
In the house, there are fabric, thread and patterns so several things could be done without really generating any costs.

Naturally, I do not fit any of the standard sizes of the patterns in the pattern guides. (I have never).
Into my pattern making books I went.

I used to be really good at sewing and pattern making in the early 80s (1980s). Me or my mother made all my trousers through the teen years as nothing in the shops would fit me.
I developed into to ballroom dresses, and even made the pattern for a friends wedding dress. She wanted an 80s dress in the 80s, but in the style from the 1880s. With odd requests like that and with her odd size, nothing was available in shops. So I spent weeks making patterns like an ill paid seamstress in a Charles Dickens book. Her mother sewed it together and that was the true slave job. She looked lovely though.

Enthusiastic, thinking I was in my teens and had kept all my skills, I measured, counted, drew and sketched the top part of a skirt (thinking of some projects I've been pondering for some time).
Just the top part. Just something simple and quick. Just to see what my new size and measurements would be. The paper pattern was scaled down and I decided to re-draw it on fabric to make a toile (or maquette if you are more sculptural).

A few months ago the man threw out some worn out summer trousers. I had promptly grabbed them and saved them in my fabric stash. The colour was fine, the texture smooth and soft and the trouser legs could be usable for something.

The perfect fabric for a quick and easy test project.

I drew and outlined the pattern I had made.

I sewed it together quickly to see how it would fit.
Well, it didn't.
Fit. It didn't fit. Not at all. Nowhere.
Not over the arse primarily. Very depressing.
Not even when opening all the side- and mid-seams. Not a chance.
More there, less here, lower there, longer there and if everything is redone and recalculated and re-sketched and remeasured - possibly something could be made of it.
So back to the measuring, counting, drawing and sketching I go.
But not right now. Soon, but not now.

I know there is nothing wrong with my behind. It is mine. It is the only one I have. I built it.
But I am glad I made a test piece.
I am glad I did not use the pattern I was so proud of to cut into fabric I paid for.
Do you make a toile when you sew?

Tuesday, 4 July 2017


I have lost 22 centimetres around my waist since March. I have lost at least five kilos since then and possibly close to ten since January.
I have am now down to my target weight, the weight I would never go beyond. I am not thin. I am just where I used to be.
Most importantly, I am within a healthy range of BMI!

I have upper arms that looks like arms instead of water balloons. No more bingo flaps.
I can also stand one one leg again.

In two years, I have gone from an unfortunate shower accident and shoulder physio-therapy with a prescription for exercises to do (or I would have to come back), to an increase into micro-exercises, the daily walk and then on to some more physical activities. Not really sports though, just movement.

The ambition was that whenever I thought I was fat or without muscle tone to get down on the floor, up against a wall, do some micro-exercises.

Lift legs. Bend forward. Lift a book above the head. Pull the exercise elastic. Lift a weight with arms. Stand on toes. Balance on one leg. Try to plank (yeah right..., I still keep trying that one) Do a few sit ups. Try a push up. Lean against a wall. Hold the belly in fifteen seconds.
Doing exercises was the only target, not the amount of it.

The aim was to never watch commercials on the TV without doing exercises simultaneously.
One day I managed to do a push up. On my knees.
I was thrilled. It had taken several weeks!

Three months later I could do three. On toes. Some days.
Then five.
Now I can do almost fifteen - and on my toes. Then I drop to knees and do another five-seven.

When we came back from Lisbon this spring, we caught bad colds and were in bed over a week. When we came up weak and shaking, we decided something had so happen.
Bellies were started.
We found an app in the app-store that was free and contained a short belly-exercises program.
It had no screaming.
There was no fanatic cheering. No music!
Just a normal looking person showing the exercise and a timer that gives a soft bell when starting.

We almost died doing the first program for five minutes. 
We kept it up and after two weeks, it got easier.
We fitted it into the morning routine after drinking coffee and going for a shower, the time previously used for aimlessly browsing the internet.
After a month, we increased the timer to a total of seven minutes. Then to ten.

Then the last week before the cycling vacation we tried to level up the program. We thought we were so fit. NO GO. We are now back to ten minutes on the first level.
I have however, added arm exercises to the program and the man does some of the movements he needs for his sports. We also stretch a lot!

The lesson has been learned: It does matter how much physical activity one has, but a little is better, much much better, than none at all. With time, also slowly performed exercises will generate benefits, and make it easier to do more.

The hardest exercise is never the last one you do, it is the first.
The one that you start with is the one you usually didn't do.

Look at NHS wellness lose weight program. Use their good and common sense advise.
And keep it going. 

Note to self: And keep it off.

Monday, 3 July 2017


The warm weather is alternating with cold weather and the mosquitoes are breeding.
They love it; their paternal and maternal instincts are going crazy. Eggs everywhere.
Three days after the rain stops, the mosquitoes hatch.

I was raised in mosquito-land.
You can be bothered by them or you can focus on something else.
You scratch like crazy and it doesn't limit the itch. All it does is to leave scars.
You can cool the skin with ice, you can sooth the itch with camphor or salt-water, you can spit on it.
The scars fade but leave on me, white spots as the pigmentation is destroyed (not that I had much to begin with anyway).
However, slowly, an immunity can be built up.

A few summers in the early 1990s, I taught canoeing to children and tourists.
This meant I lived by the shore, with the mosquitoes for the entire season.
I decided I needed an immune system against them in full working order.
They were just too many to stay away from.  So I let them bit me. Unrestricted.
Wore sandals and shorts at dusk.

The bites were all treated individually and immediately. In the beginning, each bite was covered with local anaesthetics to reduce the itch and the reaction.
When it got bad, the allergic reaction was reduced with anti-histamines (allergy tablets).
When I worked in Massachusetts, I bought Sting-Eze (product name, I am sure there are many others equally good and this is not necessarily a personal recommendation, just an observation that it worked for me). It contains Benzocaine and had a snazzy little nozzle to apply on the bite by the drop.
It lived in my pocket and in my hand for three solid summers.
As the allergic reaction to the mosquitoes was reduced, I used it less and less.

I bought a new bottle in Wisconsin eight years later, nineteen years ago.

That bottle just ran out.

This home-made immunisation worked a very long time and for the type of mosquitoes I had where I lived. The Guatemalan mosquitoes were different but also had malaria so there was a strict-no-bite policy for them. Later on I lived inside in an office for many years and did not get bit by mosquitoes very often..

Now 2017, my immune system is wearing thin and I am again starting to react to mosquito bites.
I bought a German product Juck-Reiz in an emergency a few years ago. It is oil-based and more natural I think. I'll keep with me from now on. For two reasons.
One to apply to mosquito bites hoping it will work on the reaction
Two to keep me amused as I smile every time I read the name. (I am easily amused.)

If need be, I'll stay outside and let the mosquitoes bite me for a season to re-immunise myself again.

Note: Mosquitoes are very different in different countries and regions. Some carry deceases and you should not let them bite you unrestricted. People are even more different from each other. If your initial allergic reaction is severe, do not do this without medical support. You have been warned. I am not responsible for the consequences.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

(FI36,11) EDIT:FI34,98

The English speaking countries of the world have just dragged the financial markets of the world into volatility and decline. Yes, you should be sorry Canada, and no, it is not all right, mates down under, but still, you are not the main culprits.

So when counting my assets this morning, logging on to all bank accounts, pension institutes and including the money in my wallet, it is clear that the value is a lot less than it was just a week ago. But also a lot of bids for shares at ridiculous prices have gone through on the market, looking good for a possible future. I am  not overly concerned, it could be the traditional summer vacation/intern activities and the markets have been very-very-very hot the past half a year or so. Most financial bloggers have reported all time high and my assets have rolled through all predictions like a steam train on crack.
So it is cooling down. Take some time in rehab.
I have margins.

With my frugal lifestyle, careful spending and unusual set-up, I indeed have margins. The margins are a financial independence value of 36,11. (NO, IT ISN'T, SEE BELOW) Meaning all my assets (except the value of where I live as I always will have to live somewhere and pension rights which I can not control or touch) divided with my annual budget, would last me 36,11 years. (NO, IT WON'T, SEE BELOW.) This includes a hope that interests, value increases and dividends will cover the cost increases and inflations of the future. I have six months of emergency funding on a savings account and the rest in funds, stocks and locked savings.

It is easier to live frugally when there is a cushion to catch you if bad things happen, to deflate when the pressure increases and to pump back up when nothing unusual happens and most certainly to spread the annual payments over the different months of the year.
It is well worth continuing to live frugally after the hard dog years are past and the savings cushion is pumped up.

I am very grateful to my younger me who did not spend the well earned high income on socks and doughnuts but on education, property and shares.
I will do my best to make my older me equally proud of me.

EDIT: I AM A NINCOMPOOP, A DING BAT AND A NILLY WILLY and I can't count before breakfast. Financial independence number is actually 34,98 (I had included pension-money so it wasn't wrong, it was just wrong because I never do as I can't touch them. The incredibly high FI-number bothered me the entire day and I just recounted. I am a fool. So now you know. 

Friday, 30 June 2017


Weight loss

I have only one advice to anybody trying to lose weight.
No, two. Three perhaps.

1. Look up NHS Weight loss plan online. It is a 12 week help to lose or keep weight off. It is free, it is in English, it is no nonsense, it is healthy and it has an excellent calorie counter.
2. Go vegetarian as much as you possibly can.
3. Don't drink calories, avoid alcohol, juices, smoothies and all those high-calorific liquids
And move, move, move. It doesn't really matter what you do as long as you move.

Of course, if you really want to lose weight, actually really want to, not just wish that you would lose it without the work, you have already skipped the soda and the take-outs. 

Boil an unlimited amount of vegetables with salt, put a slice of cheese on top and dinner is done.
Boil three eggs for in-between meals if you need them.
Boil porridge in the morning. 
Boil vegetables and mix it in its liquids until soup for lunch
Move more. Exercise if you can, but move, move, move.

The instructions are really that simple. 
Move and eat simply.
It is the execution that is hard. 
The first step is the worst.

Don’t be the biggest looser. Lose your weight slowly, no faster than 0,5 kg/1 pound per week unless it is coming off quicker naturally.
Don’t be the biggest looser and don’t quit.
Eat, eat, eat – never go hungry. 
Move, move, move – never stop the muscular motion.

I refuse to look at new targets until I have reached my target weight and proved that I can keep it. Meaning for me that I stay within a kilo (about 2 pounds) of my target weight for at least three months.
Still not quite there yet, and I need to stay motivated. 
This is really hard. Much more difficult than work. 

Thursday, 29 June 2017


I wore glasses until 2006 and never could wear sunglasses. Then I got lenses and the world of sunglasses opened up to me. Currently, I am going through sunglasses like I have nothing else to do.

I remember that in 2010 when I started reducing my possessions, I had several pairs of sunglasses. I know I wore an ugly pair for a few months until I just got rid of them so that I could wear a nicer pair that I had. As soon as I did, I promptly broke the nice pair.

I know I bought a pair in panic on a day out in 2012 for probably €2,50. That pair now has a large crack in each of the glasses but are still serviceable as an emergency pair.
Today I keep 1€ as my maximum price for sunglasses (because that is what the cheapest cost around here). I've bought I think two €1 glasses in the last three years.

I suppose I could double or even triple the budget for each pair of sunglasses that but I am not at all sure that I would get better quality. They all are sold on the European market by reputable importers and are marked with the correct standard and CE-labelling (because that is what I look for - regulatory compliance). They are what they are and since I am a human destroyer of sunglasses, I will not pay for brands.

The fourth pair of €1 sunglasses in three years broke in my bag this spring. That was a pair I had high hopes for. I even spent 20% more on them than before. 1,20€. They broke  within three months.
Yes, I know, I could use a case and not let them rattle around with all of my other stuff in my bag. Do you do that?

I don't. After all, the previous third pair lasted over a year!
And the second pair before that survived four years.

I brought the broken sunglasses on the bicycle trip. I did buy a fifth pair after the fourth pair broke but although quite stylish, they turned out to touch my apple cheeks when I wear them. That is very annoying. I really do not like that. (Yes, I have huge apple cheeks.)

The cracked glasses was not a problem, but one day I woke up in the tent and the side frame was broken. Easily fixed with a little metal piece found on the ground and some duct tape. However, a new pair was urgently needed. Three days later when we cycled through a relatively large town, a new fifth pair was bought in semi-panic due to the strong sun-light.
The cost was enormous: 4€. Horrible.
But they fit well, are in my type of design, the glasses are very dark and the only thing I have to say against them is that the frames are blue. Bright blue. Electric bright blue.
Hey-ho, what is a girl to do. At least I will look cool. (Yes, I do look cool, don't argue with me.)

This brings the total amount spent on sunglasses since 2012 to 5,70€ + the above mentioned 4€.
7,20€ in five years is more than 1€ per year but I hope the blue and the touchy pair of sunglasses will last several years.
Otherwise, I always have the stylish cheek-touching pair and the broken pair in reserve.
This is also a story on how to accumulate stuff.

How many sunglasses do you have? How many have you had in the last five years?

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Air mattress

I bought a light weight air mattress for camping in Scotland probably around 2006. It weighed around 500 grams and packed into a small pouch the size of a bread roll. The best thing with it was that I could finally sleep in a tent without a) having my hipbone digging into the ground and b) freezing. The light weight air mattress increases the protection from the cold ground. I sleep very cold and often freeze during the night, even it if is warm outside during the day. I have a mountain down winter sleeping bag that goes down to -15 degrees C to keep me warm. The only time I did not zip it up during night was in August during the hottest summer along the Côte d'Azur (outside Nice).

The Scottish mattress lasted many years.
Eventually one of the ribs started leaking and a replacement was found, probably 2011 (although I remember buying it and where, I cannot remember when).
The man had an identical air mattress. When his broke in the middle of the night on a hiking trip in the German mountains 2012, we went into a village-town, found a very exclusive camping/outdoor shop and on the spot he bought the best air mattress they had.
The man has slept peacefully and happily ever since.
Me, I have been happy with my 2011-mattress. I have however had a new air mattress on my wish list for a long time. I had researched it. I knew exactly what the market was. I knew size, weight and volume of what I wanted to buy. I looked at all available models and I have lain on many shop floors trying them out. The prices are high and not a purchase to make on a whim unless needed.
I would buy a new air mattress as soon as the existing air mattress gave up - under the condition that we continued to sleep outside regularly.

We still sleep outside every year.
The old air mattress lasted five years.
During the cycling vacation 2017, it started to leak.
I was not exactly happy about it. I was however immediately looking at the map for larger towns that would have a camping shop. (General sports shops does not generally have this sort of outdoor equipment.) Two days later, one minute past opening hour and after having cycled for two hours, we stood outside a shop from our favourite chain of outdoor equipment.

Ten minutes after, I had a new air mattress. Better than expected because of technical development and cheaper than predicted. That week the shop had a 15 % discount on sleeping mattresses. Thank you for that, serendipity! In the end it cost me €140 (or the equivalent of 1 to 2 nights in a hotel-ish location).

The remaining nights of the cycle trip I slept on my new air mattress - just as well as I always sleep outside. This means that wish list item air mattress is crossed out and placed on the do-not-need-to-buy list for the next 5-10 years.