Saturday, 31 August 2013

The Great Household and Cleaning Budget Challenge

Whilst thoroughly cleaning our bathroom this week after an encounter with an unwelcome visitor the other night, I got to thinking and decided to start a new blogging challenge.  Similar to AMrsThrifty's beauty challenge that I'm currently joining in with, I have decided to begin another similar challenge of my own, namely the Great Household  and Cleaning Budget Challenge and in this challenge I aim to keep my Household and Cleaning Budget within £125 for the year.

Now, I know that to many of  you this might sound like an awful lot of money, but as keeping your environment clean and hygienic is an important part of family life and health, and secondly, as I have absolutely no idea how much I spend a year on cleaning and household products and don't want to pitch it too low, I have plumped for this sum.  Bearing in mind that you could easily spend £50 per year on toilet rolls alone,  more if you buy the expensive branded types (which I don't in case you were wondering) and branded dishwasher tablets (which I do use) can set you back at least another £35 or so.

Included in this challenge are all cleaning and household products i.e. washing powder, fabric conditioner, toilet cleaner, toilet brushes, sweeping brushes, mops, dusters, washing up liquid, hand wash, disinfectant, bleach, white vinegar, wipes, bin liners, food caddy liners, toilet rolls, bicarbonate of soda, furniture polish, dishcloths, pegs, cleaning cloths, kitchen paper towels, tea towels, rubber gloves, dishwasher tablets, fire lighters, matches, cling film, sandwich bags, aluminium foil, baking parchment, shoe polish, oven cleaner, hoover bags, Brillo pads, string, etc. etc. etc.  I think I've covered most things there.

Not included are more expensive, occasional purchases such as new crockery, food containers, kitchen equipment, etc.

Unlike the beauty challenge, I don't have quite as huge a stash of unopened cleaning and household products as I have been using them up lately and trying not to overbuy, but I do have quite a few bits and pieces to use up.  I noticed today that my stocks have been quite seriously diminished in recent months, although I do have opened bottles or packets of just about everything to keep me going for a while.

I don't intend to use this challenge as an excuse to clean less, as with a dog in the household I do need to clean all the floors regularly, to get rid of excess dog hairs and prevent the house smelling too much.  Having a Victorian house, living in London and both my partner and I working from home, it does tend to get dusty and dirty very quickly, so I do try to keep on top of it as much as I can.  I use my dishwasher once daily, obviously can't do without toilet paper and wash a ridiculous amount of clothes every week.  I don't clean religiously every day or week, but whenever I feel it is necessary or we are expecting visitors and then when we are having people to stay or I feel the need,  I tend to blitz the whole house.

Here's a picture of my household cleaning cupboard.  A bit of a disgrace I know and not as eco-friendly as it could be.



As you can see there's quite a lot in there and there are also a few other bits and pieces in other parts of the house, but it is not overflowing.   I would, however, like to make a bit more room in there so it is a bit tidier and I can readily see all that I have at my disposal and there are lots of bits and pieces that need using up.  In terms of a stash, I do have a smallish stash of unused products and these are shown in the following two photographs.  I will try to use these and all the half empty bottles first where possible, before buying any more new products although if I see any really good offers such as for dishwasher tablets or washing liquid I will probably go ahead and take advantage of them.





I'm looking forward to this challenge because if nothing else it will help to give me some idea how much I actually do spend yearly on products and where savings might be made.  Hopefully it might also help me to become a bit more creative and eco friendly with cleaning solutions such as using essential oils, lemon juice, bicarbonate of soda, vinegar and newspaper, etc. more in everyday cleaning rather than chemical filled products.  I'll be posting monthly as I do for the beauty challenge and will keep you up to date with my spending.  I may also post about ways in which to save money on cleaning and household products if I happen upon any that I think might be of interest to others.

To make it easy to remember when I started I am starting this challenge on the 1st September and it will continue for a full year. 

If anybody wishes to join me in this challenge please feel free and please let me know so I can follow your progress and pick up tips from you too.  You can choose your own spending limit if your budget requires you to be a bit more careful or if you think it is just too difficult on this one, but please to do let me know how you are getting on as I would love to hear how other people might be faring.

Friday, 30 August 2013

A Lovely Weekend and a Country House Visit

We spent a lovely weekend this Bank Holiday, visiting relatives in Yorkshire, catching up on family news and just relaxing and enjoying each others' company.

We arrived mid afternoon on Saturday after a 4-5 hour drive with puppy in her cage in the boot, stopping to let her out to stretch her legs a couple of times.  It was good to finally get there as continuing jet lag made the journey quite a challenging one.  We spent the rest of the day catching up, going for a walk, having a lovely meal together, etc.

The following day was busy for our hosts as they were also hosting a Pony Club event on the Bank Holiday Monday and needed to get on with preparing jumps for the event.  As a consequence Other Half and I took ourselves off, leaving Little Bird to play with her cousins.  He went to take his nephew to rugby training, whilst I meanwhile, was dropped off at nearby Sledmere House and Gardens,



a local, privately owned Country House and estate open to the public, which I had wanted to take a look around for several years now.

 


I arrived there quite early which I was later grateful for, as it got busier as the morning progressed.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the admission to the house and gardens was only £8, which I thought a very reasonable amount as there was much of interest to see and enjoy in this visit.

I started my visit with a look at an introductory display telling visitors all about the history of the house and the family that still own it, through the generations.  It was very interesting and encouraged me to continue into the house and gardens themselves.

The gardens were beautiful and the view from the house of the fountain, down to the deer enclosure and beyond was fabulous. 



I wandered around the unusually shaped octagonal walled garden.  They always remind me of the infamous 'Secret Garden' and I would secretly love one myself.


I strolled around taking in the beautiful flower borders,



 

the wisteria walk (still under development) and the potager or vegetable garden which was started in 2010.  It was wonderfully peaceful with just a couple of other visitors in there at the same time.  I admired some of my favourite flowers, such as these lovely ragged looking monardias,

 
 

the lovely lambs ear,



some fabulously huge blousy dahlias,


beautiful collections of succulents (I can feel a new obsession coming on)


and these lovely water lillies on one of the smaller fountains plus many more.



I imagined myself lying under the canopy of this lovely old tree reading a book and enjoying the shade on a hot sunny day.

 
I particularly loved this little statue a girl and her pet rabbit.  So sweet.
 
 


I later wandered through the grounds and admired some of the magnificent trees. 


I spotted some beech nuts on a huge beech tree which reminded me of how I used to sit under a beech tree at my primary school and eat the beech nuts which tasted delicious.  I looked for some nuts to eat, but of the ones fallen to the ground, none were sufficiently developed to merit eating them sadly.



I wandered round to the parterre garden with it's neatly clipped hedges and topiary and brightly coloured flowers between. 


After visiting the chapel with it's beautiful stained glass windows, I ventured into the house where I wasn't able to take photographs unfortunately, but spent another hour wandering around the various rooms filled with paintings, furniture and other family possessions collected over the generations most having being salvaged when the original house was destroyed by a fire in 1911 or thereabouts.

The Turkish tiled room was exquisite and a particular favourite, covered from top to bottom with tiles shipped from the East in the early part of the 20th Century.   It reminded me of our visit to Morocco a couple of years ago.  I was told the story, by a very helpful member of the staff, of how the tiles were shipped to England on two ships and how one ship had sunk en route, and consequently only the drying off room was able to be completed.  It was incredibly beautiful.

There was also an exhibition of paintings by a couple of artists who have captured the beauty of Yorkshire's east coast and the Yorkhire Wolds (aside from David Hockney of course), one of whom I will definitely be checking the website of on my return to London.

Sledmere House, which is still incidentally inhabited by the Sykes family, is well worth a visit if you are ever in the vicinity of Sledmere, located 7 miles NW of  Driffield, or 19 miles South West of Scarborough, East Yorkshire.  The history of the Sykes family who have owned the house through the centuries is a fascinating one and although I had just a couple of hours to explore this property and it's grounds, I could easily have spent much longer here. The house also has a programme of events throughout the season which you can check out on their website www.sledmerehouse.com.

Please note that this is not a sponsored post.  I am just sharing my experience of a very interesting place to visit.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Holiday Post Part 2 - Picking up the Campervan

After a couple of days in Las Vegas we were ready to set out on our road trip to California.  We took a taxi to the depot, getting there early in the hope of a getting on our way.  Three hours later and we had our van and could finally set off with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

Here she is.  We called her Skylark and she looked after us well for the duration of our trip in her.

 
I'll give you a quick photo tour so that you can see how we lived for the 10 days we lived in her.
 
 
Hob, microwave and extract fan, our sole cooking facilities save barbecues on campsites and the occasional toaster in campsite shops.
 
 
Kitchen sink (full of dirty water - I think I'd just washed up when I took this photo)
 
 
Fixed double bed in the back of the van with curtains you could pull around for privacy.
 
 
Shower and toilet in the back of the van along with bathroom sink just outside with cabinet above.
 
 

 
Big fridge freezer next to the wardrobe and drawers for clothes storage.
 
 
 
Little Bird's bed over the cab.
 
Dining table and benches (which also formed another bed if required) and finally, probably one of the most important things, was the air conditioner which was vital, especially in the desert.
 
 
It did take a little while for OH to get used to driving the van.  It was large, although this in itself was not a problem, as he has driven many HGV's in the past both at home and on the continent, but the crosswinds in the mountains and desserts did make it quite tricky to steer at times.  We set off at 3pm or thereabouts, drove straight to the Hoover Dam to take a look, before heading down the Colorado River to a place called Lake Havasu, where having picked up a leaflet in the van depot, there appeared to be quite a few camp sites with pools and it seemed a good place to stop en route to California.

It was quite a long drive, distances always seeming longer in the US than they look on the map, on account of it being such a huge country.  Here's a picture of us driving on that first afternoon.  Note the relative absence of traffic on the desert roads.



We arrived in Lake Havasu at around 7pm to find that it was the town which now houses the old London Bridge, sold to them in the 1960's.  We were pleased to stumble across it, not having known this when we set out.  We drove across it on the way to the campsite.

 
By the time we found the campsite, booked in and then did a shop at the local supermarket so that we could eat, it was starting to get dark and we were pretty exhausted, so we had some food which I won't pretend was anything special as I had not yet put on my campervan cook's head.  In actuality, we bought a hot roasted chicken from the supermarket which we ate with tinned sweetcorn, the remains of which kept me in chicken and mayo sandwiches for the next few days.  We then unpacked and went to bed after our first day on the road.
 
Unfortunately, it was probably the worst night's sleep I had on the entire road trip as the air conditioning tripped and it was far too hot.  I ended up getting up at 5.30am and trying to figure out how to resolve the problem using the van manual as I just could not stand the heat any longer.  Thankfully, there was a very simple solution and normal functioning was resumed very quickly, thank goodness. 
 
After breakfast we headed down to the small beach where OH and Little Bird took a swim in the lake,
 
 
before we all spent a lovely couple of hours by and in the swimming pool which we virtually had to ourselves.  It was immaculately clean, with views of the lake and the sun was scorching hot at 9am in the morning.  We loved this about the desert and very often our day would start in a similar way if the campsite had a pool.  We then set off on what was probably one of my favourite days of the holiday, which I will talk about in another post.

 
 
 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Tuesday Catch Up

Tuesday this week was a quietly productive day spent catching up with myself.  After our holiday and weekend away I needed to get down to some serious ironing and blog post writing and reading in order to catch up.   Thankfully our intruder alarm, which had been set off over the weekend whilst we were away, wasn't as a consequence of a burglary, but we suspect was caused by the unwelcome visitor we had had whilst we were in the US, whom we are still trying to track down and eliminate. With my mind at rest on that score and the fridge full of food from my shop last week, I was able to spend the day creating a few blogs about our holiday, booking gym classes for the coming week, and tackling this pile of ironing that had accumulated since our return.


Thankfully after a couple of hours I'd managed to reduce it to this, which felt very good indeed.



Little Bird had come home from our weekend away feeling unwell, so she was confined to the sofa with a virus and OH was very busy all day going out on appointments and trying to do some serious work in order to catch up himself.  So I was able to get on with the things I needed to do, whilst keeping an eye on Little Bird inside and the puppy outside, who is causing us some problems at the moment as she can be quite noisy barking and disturbing the neighbours.  Thankfully she was quite well behaved today, which was a relief.

I also managed to do some work for my small business, which I'd promised myself I would do whilst away and by the end of the day I was starting to feel a lot more on top of things and ready to resume my normal routine, as far as is possible during the school holidays.  I'm certainly looking forward to returning to my aerobics class tomorrow and getting my fitness levels back.  I do however still need to fit in a visit to the allotment as soon as I can and I'm not sure what kind of state it will be in after 3 weeks absence, so that will be my next priority.  By way of a reward, my day ended with a glass of wine whilst watching the Great British Bake Off.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Beauty Challenge - Month Two

I have come to the end of month two in AThriftyMrs's challenge to spend less than £100 on beauty products in a year.  It has not been too bad a month in spite of or perhaps because of taking off on holiday for two weeks.  This month I spent £10.59 on beauty products, which again is a bit of an overspend, as I should be averaging somewhere in the region of £8.33 each month, but was tempted whilst on holiday to buy a few little treats when out shopping with Little Bird.  Well, you've got to let your hair down on holiday haven't you?  That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Items bought this month included:

Deodorant x 3 to stock up as I started using my last one -  £3.10
Facial Wash x 1 bought from Approved Food (in spite of having several waiting to be used already - not sure why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time) - 99p
Toothpaste x 4 as above.  I'm beginning to realise that I'm not too good at this not spending on beauty products lark - £2
Nail Varnish Remover Pads x 2 - Now these were essential and very useful for taking on holiday - £1
Bath and Body Works Hand Sanitisers x 4 bought whilst on holiday - don't ask why, but they are sweet and trending on You Tube! £2.75
Sephora Nail Varnish  x 1 in Teal Green - another holiday spend 75p

It could have been a lot worse believe me, especially when browsing in Duty Free shops and US Beauty Stores.  I also managed to persuade Other Half into getting very organised and buying me some more Coco Chanel for my birthday in a couple of months from the Duty Free.  I think this is allowed under the terms of the challenge.  I won't of course be receiving it until the said date.

Fortunately, I easily had enough in my current supplies to virtually have nothing to buy for the holiday and I even came back with some lovely little travel sized tubes and soaps from the hotels we stayed in, so these have been added to my stash and will hopefully be useful for weekends away or if I get desperate in the latter stages of the challenge.  Here's a picture of what I acquired on my travels.



I'm feeling pretty confident though, as I still have a huge supply of products to use, and wore so little makeup once I'd got a bit of a suntan, that I didn't even use much of my makeup whilst away, which will make it last that little bit longer.

All in all, despite the overspend it has been a good month and I'm hoping to come well under budget next month if I can start to really put my mind to it and get myself right back on track.  I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Holiday Purchases

Sorry for being incommunicado for a few days, but we were staying with family in Yorkshire with no mobile signal and I couldn't use my dongle.  However, now back on the road to London, hoping that we haven't been burgled, as our intruder alarm went off over the weekend (OH got a text from a neighbour), I thought I'd publish a post I prepared before we set off.  So here goes.

Having spent a lot of money to go off on our holiday this year, we tried to be very careful in our spending, although this did prove quite difficult for us at times.  As a consequence, I didn't come home with suitcases full of new things much as I would have liked to, but managed to limit myself somewhat and just buy a few small but useful items.

I must admit to getting a bit obsessed in the washi tape department and bought 6 rolls of washi tape which was available quite cheaply in supermarket craft aisles, such as in Walmart and Target.  These were the tapes I picked up and in total they probably cost about $7 which is about £5.  There are some pretty designs amongst them.

I also bought a few rubber stamps whilst rummaging the craft aisles.  One was this very cute set of bird cage, bird, etc. which cost less than £1 and these alphabet stamps which cost £1.50 ish.  Here's a picture of the washi tapes and stamps I bought.



In addition to rubber stamps and washi tape, I had a bit of a splurge on cotton fabric in Walmart.  As many of you sewers out there know, cotton fabric can be very expensive in this country and 100% cotton hard to find for under £5 per metre.  In Walmart, I managed to buy 9 yards of fabric which averaged out at about £2.50 per yard.  I'm afraid this is one indulgence I just couldn't forgo.  I had to limit myself with regard to weight and room in my luggage and from the point of view of how much money I had, but I could happily have bought much more had these restrictions not applied, so it is just as well that they did.  I'm looking forward to using them on different projects.



There was a huge variety to choose from too and all in the local supermarket.  It was great.  Not so great for Other Half though, as food shopping took much longer with me and Little Bird perusing the craft aisles for ages.

I did also buy a couple of bits of clothing, some lovely purple shiny shorts for the gym (£5), which reminded me of some I wore when at school that were cerise pink satin.



I also bought a black racer back vest (£3) and some black jersey shorts for Little Bird (£2) that were so cute on her.   Even Other Half who hardly ever goes clothes shopping bought a couple of t-shirts.   He also had to buy a new suitcase too, as his old one gave up the ghost whilst on our travels.  I also bought a rather more expensive pair of high waisted navy shorts from a retro style store too, but they were on the sale rail.

The last few things I bought that are worth a mention are a little more strange.  Call me weird, but I have a thing for brown paper bags and these sandwich bags were on sale for 68 cents for 50 which is less than 1p each.  I bought two packs and Little Bird is keen to use them for her sandwiches and pop corn when she goes back to school and yes, I did carry them out of the store in a brown paper carton.  It was great, just like on TV and in the movies.  Whatever happened to them.  In the same store I also bought this plastic jam funnel which is something that I've wanted for a while for my jam-making endeavours.  It only cost a few dollars and will be very useful in the future.



Finally, I bought this lovely little pot of balm for skin irritations made by the Navajo Herb Company based in Arizona.  I bought it from the visitor centre at the Grand Canyon, which is located in a Native Indian reservation.  I have a bit of a penchant for alternative lotions and potions and just couldn't resist this lavender, sage and orange combination.  I'm classing it as a medication for the purpose of the beauty challenge.



A strange mix of things I know, but on a limited budget small things appeal.  Don't get me wrong I could have spent hundreds of pounds, but just couldn't afford to I'm afraid.  If I'd been a bit more farsighted I could have done some Christmas shopping too.  Maybe next time, if we're lucky enough to return to the US.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Settling Back In

After my post the other day where I was feeling a little deflated by being back from our holidays, yesterday I started to feel a bit more settled and pleased to be back in my own home.  Getting properly unpacked helped, as did doing a food shop to refill the fridge and freezer. 

When I got to the till in Asda, I started an Asda Savings Card to help towards saving for Christmas, and rounded up the balance of my shopping to the nearest £10 adding this sum to the card.  It was a small step and one that I had read about on frugalmummy's blog A Beautiful Life, and which I thought was a really good idea.  Now I just have to make sure that I shop at Asda as much as I can between now and Christmas, but I do keep acquiring vouchers to do my weekly shop at a couple of other supermarkets at the moment and save a few pounds, so I might not get as much put on the card as I would like.  Still, it gets me into the habit of doing it, so that next year it will be second nature.

The rest of my day has been taken up with catching up on computer and paperwork, post and financial matters as much as possible.  I'm always relieved to see that my bank account hasn't been defrauded or my email hacked into, both of which have happened in the past, making me slightly paranoid in this regard.  Anyway, all was well so I was a happy bunny and I still had enough money, just about, to get through the rest of this month.  I was glad that I was able to keep up to scratch with reading the blogs I follow on Other Half's phone whilst away as catching up with that would have been a major endeavour and I don't like to miss anything.

I managed to exchange a school uniform skirt I had bought for Little Bird a while ago whilst out shopping today.  I bought one which she didn't like and managed to exchange it for one that she liked better.  I'll say no more.   At least she has a complete uniform(bar the shoes), to start the new school term.  I will need to go out and shop for these and a couple of other items in the days before school starts.

Next week will be about taking time to do a few things with Little Bird in what is left of the school holidays, plus getting on with a number of other jobs.  There is a film (about One Direction) that Little Bird would like to see (and which I will probably enjoy!) and a possible trip to the fruit farm in the pipeline, to stock up on sweetcorn for use over the winter, not to mention work to do on the allotment, the ironing and various other items on my to do list.  In addition, I am hoping to get back to the gym and do as many of my usual classes as I can get booked onto, although I am very pleased to report that I didn't put on any weight during our holiday, which was both a great relief and an even bigger surprise.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Holiday Post Part One - Las Vegas

Having had a good night's sleep last night and feeling a bit refreshed, I thought I'd start today with my first holiday post.  Our US holiday began with a 10 hour flight  to Las Vegas.  We were staying at the Golden Nugget in Downtown.  This is the older part of the city with older more traditional style hotels and casinos. 

The hotel was quite inexpensive at around £60 per night for the 3 of us, no meals included.  We had the usual large double bed, plus another single for Little Bird and the room was pretty big with views over the pool.  If you like a more contemporary hotel room this might not be for you, but it was perfectly adequate for our first few days.  I would say, however, that finding a bed around the pool could get difficult at times as this was a very busy hotel, with mostly American guests, but there were other nationalities staying there too.

From here, we were a very short walk to a bus stop and for $8 each per day, you could travel up and down from Downtown to the Strip in the newer part of town, as many times as you liked.  The buses did get very busy though and it was often standing room only.

Due to being very jet lagged on our first afternoon we unpacked, had a few hours by the pool and then headed out for pizza and salad at a great bar/restaurant we found Downtown, before retiring to bed.  We restrained ourselves from having one of these burgers that was on sale from a burger bar down the road. (Please excuse the quality of this photograph, there was a reflection from the glass window).



The next day after a few hours by the pool, we headed up onto the Strip which is the name given to the main street along which all the new resort hotels and casinos have been built in recent years.   We caught the bus up to the furthest end of the Strip from where we wandered back through some of the huge resort hotels with a view to booking a few days at the end of our holiday.  The first we visited was our absolute favourite, The Mandalay Bay, however, at $700 for two nights it was a bit beyond our budget, but fabulous if you can afford it.

After wandering through a few hotel resorts (they all interlink along the strip and you hardly have to come out into the open if you don't want to) we had had enough and ventured out onto the Strip itself to do a bit of shopping and sightseeing from the outside.   Little Bird was excited to visit some of the US shops she'd heard about on You Tube.  We plumped for the Planet Hollywood Mall for our shopping as it contained some of the stores that Little Bird was desperate to visit such as Bath and Body Works and Sephora.  I personally enjoyed shopping at Bettie Page which is a retro clothing shop selling new retro style clothing for all sizes and I ended up treating myself to a pair of Navy high-waisted shorts.  For anyone into vintage style fashion, especially those looking for bigger sizes, this store is great and they sell internationally through their website.  (We later saw another store on Hollywood Boulevard and there are more throughout the US.)  Visit their website at bettiepageclothing.com Do bear in mind that US sizing is generally more generous than in the UK.

All shopped out and legs aching from walking up and down the Strip in 39 degrees C of heat we got back on the bus and headed back to the hotel for a well earned rest.  That evening we were pretty tired so we ate in the hotel restaurant and then had a soak in the hot tub (this was the view from there)


before wandering out into the Downtown area to see the neon lights which famously light up the street.  There were bands playing and lots of things going on up and down the street.  The atmosphere was great and the lights were an amazing sight and definitely give a feel for a bygone age.  I took a few photos to share. 

 
 
 
 
Unfortunately, we couldn't really partake of the casinos, as children were not allowed in, and most of the shows worked out to be a bit more expensive than we could afford and again didn't allow children, so we didn't have a wild time gambling on an evening, but we didn't mind and were happy just to soak up the party atmosphere going on around us. 

We had one more morning in Las Vegas before we headed off on our road trip.  On our final morning we partook of the buffet breakfast at our hotel, which incidently, is one of the cheapest in town at $10.99.  This included as much as you could eat and there was such a variety on offer from cooked food to fresh fruit/pastries/cereals, that it was really good value compared to paying separately for everything as we had done the day before in the hotel cafĂ©.   A good breakfast inside us and our last morning in Las Vegas was spent by the pool before packing up and getting a taxi to the depot to pick up the Campervan.

Las Vegas is a fun party city with a large personality and lots of fun things to do.  It does, however, easily part you from your money and after a couple of days we were looking forward to experiencing a different and slower kind of life in the US.  More about that in another post.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Home Again

After a fabulous holiday in the US, we came home today.  We were ready to come home, but I must admit to feeling a little deflated now we are here.  We had such a lovely time that it takes a bit of adjustment, getting back into our normal routine.  It didn't help that we came home to some unwelcome visitors of the rodent variety in our kitchen, so I had to spend a couple of hours blearily (due to jet lag) disinfecting every surface.

I managed to do almost all of my washing before coming home, so I have unpacked a huge pile of ironing.  I took far too many clothes and didn't wear approximately one third of them.  I never seem to get it right, but live in hope.

The puppy is back home with us, although she feels a bit of a stranger, she's settling back in though.  I think she really enjoyed her temporary home, which I am grateful for, but I really didn't enjoy leaving her for two weeks.  Every dog we saw we thought of her and missed her, and there were lots of dogs in California.  I think we'll be staying nearer to home for a few years now and she will hopefully be able to join us on our future holidays.

This bank holiday weekend, we are heading away again, to visit family in Yorkshire, and are taking her with us this time, so resuming our normal routine will take just a little bit longer thankfully.

I'm now going to have a much needed shower and get an early night.  Hopefully I will feel a lot better in the morning.  I will be creating a few blog posts about our travels, with lots of photos, over the next couple of weeks.  I hope I won't bore you too much.  Thank you very much to those of you who sent their wishes, that we have a good time.  We truly did.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Las Vegas/California Here We Come

As I've mentioned in a couple of recent posts we are taking a very special holiday this year that we have been meaning to organise for over 10 years.  Now our daughter is of an age which makes travel much easier, we are finally heading off to explore the West Coast of the US and we are really excited.  I know that this holiday is not exactly an example of frugal living, but we do try to live reasonably frugally and carefully on a day to day basis, to enable us to enjoy our lives and have interesting holidays, as we all love to travel.  Whilst I greatly admire people who choose to pay off their mortgages early and have freedom in later life, my philosophy is definitely geared more towards enjoying the here and now and doing what you want to do as and when you can afford to as none of us know if we will get the chance later on in life, as was sadly the case for my own mother.

Last year, because of the Olympics and having builders working on our house, we caught a week in Majorca, which was very nice, but this year we wanted to go a bit further afield and explore somewhere we've always wanted to go to.  Everyone has different priorities in life and I am a great believer in respecting peoples' choices in life whatever I personally might think or whatever my personal priorities might be.  We don't live our lives or choose our holidays to impress or keep up with anyone else, we just do what we want to do and live as we want to live and we realise we are fortunate and are grateful that we are able to do so, especially when many people struggle to have a holiday at all.

So, we're flying off to the US and Las Vegas later this week and staying in a hotel for a couple of nights before embarking on a big road trip in a Camper Van for 10 days, hopefully visiting such sights as the Hoover Dam, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, before heading for the West Coast cities of Los Angeles and San Diego.  We're not sure of our itinery just yet, but now I've managed to find a copy of a road atlas, a guide to Los Angeles and another to San Francisco if we have time to visit there too we should be able to start planning.  We are planning to live relatively frugally whilst there but still enjoy our holiday.  We will be shopping in supermarkets and elsewhere for food and making our own meals much of the time but will also enjoy some meals out in restaurants and diners.

We decided to hire a camper van for the simple reason that we like to travel independently.  We find that it is so easy to overeat and overspend when you stay in hotels and motels with large breakfast buffets and restaurants, etc. and we want to be able to choose whether to eat out or cook for ourselves.  Most of all we want to be able to make our own salads and lunches or picnics to take to the beach, all whilst being able to travel about and see as many things as possible.

The camper van and flights have been booked and our visas have been granted.   A dog sitter has been arranged for the puppy who also happens to be a dog trainer, so we're hoping to come back to a very well behaved dog.  We have our insurance organised and have acquired some currency and we're ready to go.  It is very exciting.

I've watched the video for the camper van which is very detailed and there seems like an awful lot to remember with generators, batteries, sewage, water supplies, gas etc. etc.  I'm sure we'll get the hang of it, but it is a bit daunting.  The caravan parks are supposed to be pretty good, many with pools and lots of facilities which should be great and when we get to the coast there is of course the ocean.  We haven't yet booked any, but hopefully we shouldn't have too many problems.

As anyone who has been to the States knows, it is a vast country and it took us over a week to travel from Boston to Chicago over 10 years ago now when we last did a road trip there.  We had a fabulous holiday, but ate far too much and spent far too much time sat on our backsides in the car.  We had some late nights driving to find a motel and we stayed in some places that we wouldn't have chosen to, but were desperate and literally had to stop so that OH could have a rest from driving.  Hopefully with the van, we shouldn't have to worry too much in this regard as our room is travelling with us and we can always stop and make some food if we need to, or bed down for the night.

What I'm looking forward to most is just living the journey.  Shopping for food, moving from place to place, seeing new things and enjoying another culture, experiencing life in the US again.

There was quite a lot in the news a couple of months ago about the heat wave that was sweeping Nevada and Arizona at the time and I was very saddened to hear of the 19 brave fire fighters who were tragically killed whilst trying to control a wildfire.  Our hearts went out to   their friends and families at such a terrible time. 

I will be taking a two week break from blogging during this holiday as I won't have access to a computer and am not sure how to post blogs from OH's phone, but normal blogging will resume on my return and I will make sure that I take lots of photos and post about our adventure on our return.

Getting Ready for the Holiday

Well, tomorrow we go away for a couple of weeks on our main annual holiday and although I've been working towards it slowly over the last week or so packing my suitcase and washing and ironing clothes in readiness, the pressure was now on get organised and be ready to go.

First job of the day was to cancel the milk for the next few weeks, followed by hanging out the last bit of washing for the holiday.  Next I needed to get up to scratch with work for my business before heading off on a last long walk with the puppy, as she is going to her trainer today to stay for the duration.  She has no idea.  I think she will enjoy it though as there is another dog there to keep her company.

Once back from the walk it was lunchtime and then after lunch I pottered about getting the dog's stuff together and tidying around.  As the time for her to go approached I made sure to give her a big cuddle.  I couldn't face going with her to the trainer as I would have found it hard to leave her, so I let OH do the dirty deed.  In the end she was really happy and the dog sitter sent us a photo soon after, once she'd settled in which was very thoughtful.

As soon as the dog had gone I set to cleaning through the house;  sweeping, hoovering and mopping floors.  With the dog gone it made the job much easier and the house was in desperate need of some attention.  I broke off for a while to take some library books back and get some currency from the Post Office and then came back and got straight back on with it.

Once the downstairs was finished it was a quick hoover upstairs and a quick clean of the bathroom.  There is nothing worse than coming home from holiday to a dirty house that just begs you to start cleaning it the minute you get in.  I even did a few little jobs that I haven't done in a while like clean out the washing machine detergent drawer, the oven and fridge. OH helped by checking us in online, cutting and seeding the grass and then completed some last minute home security jobs around the house.   Finally the plants were watered, the bins were emptied and the rubbish put out and I could sit down and watch Kirsty's Fill Your Home for Free as a reward before having a shower and falling into bed.

With all the jobs done I could finally start to relax and look forward to our holiday.

Monday, 5 August 2013

100 Things in 10 Days Challenge

The other week I decided to join in with another challenge after hearing about it through Sue at A New Life in the Country.  It's a challenge posed by MortgageFreeinThree blog and the aim is to either throw out 100 bits of rubbish lying about the house in 10 days for a Bronze medal, get rid of 100 items of 'stuff' from your house in 10 days for a Silver Medal or alternatively get rid of 100 carrier bags of stuff from your house for the Gold Medal.  I think the gold is perhaps a little bit too challenging for me as I am a bit of a hoarder, so I aimed for the Silver and Bronze. 

I did an audio visual de-clutter a couple of weeks ago and put aside lots of DVD's, CD's and books to take to the charity shop.  Since then they have of course just sat on my spare sofa and gone absolutely nowhere.  I need this challenge to make me take them out of the house and to the charity shop.
After hearing about this challenge, I made a start and counted what was in the pile.  There were 48 items made up of books, games, and a few other bits.  In addition, there were 66 DVD's and CD's. So, 114 items in total, all to go to the charity shop.  I'm wasn't entirely sure, however, if the charity shop still accepted  DVD's and CD's as some have been inundated in recent years.  Yesterday, however, just in time to complete this task in the 10 days allowed I headed to the charity shop I usually donate to and thankfully they were happy to receive CD's and DVDs and in addition also accept videos too.  I will be returning shortly with the 19 video and cassette tapes that I am also throwing out.

As well as attempting the Silver Medal winning part of the challenge, I decided to try to complete the bronze medal part too so was on the hunt for rubbish lurking in drawers, on shelves, under beds, etc.  To meet the target a few days ago I decided to head up to Little Bird's bedroom, it's always a good bet.  One corner of it needed desperately de-cluttering and I had bought a couple of co-ordinating plastic storage boxes a few weeks ago to put her 'stuff' in, but hadn't yet got around to having a sort out.  Little Bird decided to help me and for a couple of hours the two of us went sifting through her bedroom disposing of lots of used cotton pads from her makeup sessions, lots of half done drawings and doodles, which she had abandoned because they weren't quite perfect, lots of dried out felt tipped pens and odd pen tops, etc. etc.  

As it was the day before our rubbish gets taken and I was doing this particular challenge I did actually count exactly how many items we put in her waste bin and it came to 95.  In addition to this, 5 or 6 items were put in the recycling bin which also went out to be collected the following day.  Two or three small items also got put in the charity shop box.  The room looked so much better once we'd finished, so I hopefully achieved my bronze medal in this challenge too and a much needed task got ticked off the to do list whilst at the same time making packing for our holiday much easier as we can now find everything we need.  Result. 

Thank you MortgageFreeinThree for this inspiring challenge.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

July Juggling

The month of July has been a bit of a juggling act with lots going on and lots of smallish outgoings for various things as the school term came to an end.  The very beginning of the month saw our Little Bird taking her first solo flight on a trip with school for 5 days.  We missed her, but enjoyed a few nights out which is a very rare treat for us, having no family living close by.  A night at the cinema, a night at the theatre and a night at the Jazz club and we'd had enough of going out, staying home the rest of the time.

Once Little Bird came back, the end of term seemed to come around really quickly.  There was the summer fair, school day trips, sports day, new logoed school uniform to buy before the end of term and school class photos.  Luckily I had bought the teachers small gifts earlier in the year, so was reprieved from spending money on those as well at this time.  We then had a family christening, involving a trip up to Yorkshire for the weekend, plus of course the first week of the school holidays, which has involved swimming sessions, sleepovers and a day at a local festival in the Olympic Park.

To be honest, I was quite glad to get through the month relatively unscathed.  The last week was a bit tight financially with a very slim shop and an emphasis on using what was in the cupboards and freezer.  As a consequence we have used up most of the food in the freezer and for once have no meat at all left in there, just a couple of pieces of fish, plus vegetables and leftovers frozen to use at a later date, which I'm hoping to use up before we go away.

I managed to pay off one of my credit cards again in July.  It was a bit of a mix up really as I managed to misplace the statement and couldn't send off the payment.  I remembered in time to request another statement, which the credit card company said they were going to charge £5 for, but which didn't come for another 4 or 5 days.  If I had waited this would have made me late in paying and I would have incurred a £12 fee so I decided to pay online, which luckily went through successfully, avoiding the late payment fee.   I intend to use this method every month from now on and save on postage costs.  This might sound petty, but every penny counts.  In the end their lack of urgency has done me a favour.

A lot of my focus this month has been on my small business and thankfully the hard work has started to pay off and generated more income.  Next month will be a totally different story I suspect though, as our holiday is going to mean a drastic reduction in business income.  I can only hope that some planning I've done this month to maximise business in the run up to Christmas, will serve to make up the shortfall.

At home, I have continued to try to declutter our bedroom and have made important inroads in this respect.  It is almost a very relaxing space at last.  Just a couple of simple solutions left to find and a bit of structural and decorating work and we'll be there.  It might take a while as it isn't me doing it, but it's great not to have piles of stuff lying everywhere now.

I haven't done much making this month, dressmaking particularly, has taken a definite backseat.  I have done some patchwork, but even this has ground to a halt in the last few weeks as I need to cut out some more pieces.  I just haven't had any motivation with the weather being so hot.  My energies have mainly been focussed on keeping on top of the allotment which I've been attending regularly.  We've had quite a bit of salad, rhubarb, potatoes, broad beans and other produce from it, but no tomatoes and few courgettes and cucumbers yet.  Hopefully there will be plenty of these to come next month and in September.

The No Spend Days tally now stands at 52 so far this year and for the first time in a couple of months I haven't had to put any major expenditure on my credit card which is good.  A couple of small things went on right at the end of the month, but these will be paid off shortly.  After our holiday I will definitely be in a position to start snowballing my other card in the hope of paying it all off  before the end of the year.  I really can't wait to be credit card debt free.

So, what is in the pipeline for August?  Apart from trying not to spend too much money on holiday, I will be trying to just to get to the end of the month on what I have left when we return.  I placed an order with Approved Food which arrived the other day and this will hopefully help us through the month and beyond, meaning we will have plenty of food to come home to after our holiday. 

I have paid for Little Bird's trampoline classes starting in September and already put aside a few things for August's food bank donation, which I will add to and take to the food bank on our return from holiday.  Haircuts have been procured for both Little Bird and myself in readiness for our holiday and the new school year.  Some school uniform has been bought, but the remainder will have to wait until the week before school starts, which hopefully won't be too late to get what is needed.

I will be continuing with the beauty challenge set by El from A Thrifty Mrs blog, whereby the aim is to spend less than £100 on beauty products in a year and instead use up products I already have.  I am also aiming to complete a challenge set by Mortgage Free in Three blog before we go on holiday, to discard 100 things in 10 days, which I am part way through.  (Blog post to come.)

Finally, one credit card payment has already been made this month and the other I will make when we return, but unfortunately this will not be a large payment.  I just have my niece's birthday to send a present for, before we go away and then the main focus will just be to relax and enjoy our holiday without worrying too much about anything.  We all need a break from reality now and again.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

It's That Time of Year Again

Yes, it's that time of year again when I can't ignore the birds nest with dark roots that is my hair and have to get it cut and coloured again.  Little Bird had her hair cut the other day and now it was my turn.  I didn't, however, inflict a four hour wait on her and headed off on my own to Supercuts once again in the  hope that the same lovely lady could do it that did it last time, back in January/February.

It's pretty expensive getting one's hair cut and coloured and I managed to halve the cost by going to Supercuts.  You can't book there though and have to wait until a stylist is free, which is the only drawback, but the service I received last time was good and I liked the result so am happy to go back.  As we're going on our US holiday road trip soon, I wanted to look presentable before we go.

So, off I went first thing Friday morning.  As luck would have it I didn't have too long a wait for the stylist I wanted and she then set about putting all the foils in.  As I was having only a half head done it took a lot less time than my usual full head and I passed the time reading this book which I got from the library the other day.  It is Dave Gorman's America Unchained - A Freewheeling Roadtrip in Search of Non-Corporate USA.



It's a book about the author's (an Englishman's) coast to coast trip of the US, setting off from Los Angeles and heading to New York, in a Classic American 1970's Ford estate car/stationwagon, with a cameraperson to record the trip for a film, by way of funding it.  The premise of the trip is to find and patronise non-corporate America, an America, if it still exists, where independent motels, stores and gas stations prevail and there is no need to give any money to The Man (or big business) and it's bland motel rooms, duplicate fast food outlets and stores and big Oil Company owned gas stations.

I am so enjoying this book.  I remember reading Bill Bryson's 'Notes from a Big Country' on our last road trip in the US over 10 years ago and it made me chuckle as I recognised some of the things he was talking about.   Being written by an Englishman, this book is very different, but nevertheless very entertaining and documents the highs and lows of the trip which took place some 6 or 7 years ago.  Most of the chapters are pretty short too, which makes it very easy to pick up and put down and there are photo's too, which help bring the trip to life.  I'm hoping it will prepare us a little for our road trip, if this is possible.

Anyway, after 3 hours in the hair salon I'm now two thirds through it and hoping to finish it before we go, as it is due back at the library before we come back.   The hair cut and colour by the way was great, and I left the salon feeling very happy, with another item having been ticked off my holiday/weekly to do list whilst having chuckled my way through quite a few chapters of the book.

Please note that this post is not sponsored. I am just giving my honest opinion of a book/product/service that I have read/experienced and found to be positive/enjoyable and a review of which might be useful to others.

Friday, 2 August 2013

A Henna Treat for the Holidays

One afternoon this week, Little Bird and I ventured out to our local library.  There was a special holiday event for children whereby a henna hand painting session had been organised.  We took our bikes and got there on time as there were only a limited number of places available. 

As it turned out it wasn't full to capacity so it was nice and relaxed and the children got to draw some designs and do some word puzzles whilst waiting for their turn.  I left Little Bird creating her designs with the other children, whilst I popped downstairs to have a look in the library.  There was a book sale outside with books at 20p each and of course I had to indulge, causing the pile by my bed to get yet bigger.  I bought these 5 books which judging by the jackets look like they might all be enjoyable to read.  I also took a few travel books out relating to our holiday to do a bit more research before we go.




When I returned to the henna hand painting, they had almost finished painting the hands of all the children, so the lady organising the event asked the few mums present if they would like their hands painted.  I jumped at the chance as I don't think I've ever had it done.  The young lady who painted my hand painted a very beautiful floral design.  It took minutes and I was delighted with the results.  The henna they used was one without chemicals and they warned us of the dangers of some henna hand paint products that can leave burn scars on the skin.  Here's a picture of the design painted on my hand.  I think it is lovely.





The dark brown henna crumbles off when dry to leave a reddish brown tattoo like stain which lasts a week or two.  Here is the henna tattoo after the henna paste has come off. (I don't think I'll be making the grade as a hand model any time soon, it's amazing how hands can show your age sometimes).

 
And here is Little Bird's tattoo.
 
 

Perfect for our forthcoming holiday, but I fear it might have worn away by then.   I took the details of the hand painters for future reference, as it would be a lovely activity for Little Bird's birthday party one year.   I know she and her friends love having this done and I'd enjoy it too!