Friday, 31 January 2014

Z is for.........Zumba

Joining in with Mum from Mum's Simply Living blog in devising a series of posts around the alphabet (backwards).  Starting with Z then, in my life Z is most definitely for Zumba classes, which I've been doing at least twice, sometimes three times a week for a couple of years now.

I love it.  Love the Latin tunes, grooves and moves, love the sweat it works up and I just have a great time doing it.

Here's a little taster I've sourced from YouTube for anyone not too familiar.  It's a pretty old video from way back in the beginning: it's short, funny, the instructor is good and doesn't take themselves too seriously and it epitomises for me the fun of it all.  I can never work out whether some of the participants in this videa are members of the audience genuinely joining in or whether they're part of the Zumba troupe, but some of them are funny.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Great Cleaning and Household Products Challenge - Month 5

This is a challenge I instigated myself to try to last a year spending only £125 on Cleaning and Household products.  I'm finding this a very difficult challenge as an awful lot of products are included in this challenge.  As a consequence, I am way over budget at just 5 months in.  This month was no exception and I came in over the budget of £10.42 once again, spending £19.57.

I have to admit that a few of the purchases weren't truly necessary, namely the toilet brushes and the tea lights and another was a luxury bought for convenience more than anything. i.e. multi-surface wipes.

Here's the list of purchases this month:

Firelighters x 4 boxes £2.76 - These were bought whilst in Yorkshire as I cannot buy them cheaper in London so I stocked up.

Toilet Brushes x 2 - Bought from Ikea - 90p

Tea Lights x 100  - Also bought from Ikea - £1.75 - I was, however, almost out of these and they seemed to be cheaper here than anywhere else I have seen them.  They do give cosy glow to the living room in the winter, but are a bit of an indulgence.

Wash Tablets x 20 £2 - Bought from Approved Foods

Fabric Conditioner £1

Bathroom Cleaner x 2 £1.20 - Also bought from Approved Foods.

Sandwich bags 88p

Kitchen Rolls x 3 £1

Black Bin Liners x 10 £1.25

Multipurpose Wipes £1

Toilet Rolls x 36 £5.83.  Unfortunately I was unable to get my usual 2 packs of 18 for £5 from Poundstretcher, as they were out of stock when I visited, so had to avail myself of Morrisons and then Smart Price/Value rolls at ASDA, Tesco and my local convenience store for the shortfall.  It worked out a little more expensive as a consequence

Food Caddy Liners x 2 Rolls - FREE  -  I finally got around to ordering these online from our local council and saved myself some money.  They are normally at least £1.49 per roll.

Total Monthly Expenditure £19.57

My total expenditure so far on this challenge now stands at £95.87/£125 which is pretty dire.  Not sure I can pull this one back now, as even just buying toilet rolls for the rest of the year will send me over the budget.  I need a really good month next month to even stand a chance of lasting as long as possible on this challenge.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Read A Book A Month For a Year

At the beginning of the year, one of the things on my list of what I wanted to achieve this year was to Read A Book A Month (at least).  The main reason for this is the size of the pile of books by my bed which I still need to read.  It was getting a little silly and I'm trying not to buy any more for a while.  Here's a picture.


After taking this photo I rearranged them into fiction and non-fiction which helps me when deciding what to read next as I tend to read according to mood.  They now look like this:



Fiction - A definite preponderance of chick lit here, but there is some more serious fiction in there too.

 
Fact - More factual reading which I'm in the mood for at the moment.

I counted them and there's currently over 40 waiting to be read.  I just keep on finding them in charity shops or borrowing them from the Little Free Library down the road.  I know one book per month won't really make a huge dent in the pile, but it is a start and is at least realistic, as I don't often take the time to read, except when I get into and before I get out of bed or if I know I'm going to be sat around waiting somewhere or travelling and need something to pass the time.  Very occasionally, if I'm really enjoying a book, I may sit down with a cup of tea and read, but it is pretty rare.  I'm hoping that I will manage to read far more books than just 12 this year, but for the moment I am keeping my ambitions real.

Today, however, I read about a very similar blog challenge created by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees and so have thrown my hat in the ring and joined the challenge, if a bit late.  I have, however, started well enough and in January I managed to read this book by Bea Johnson, which I posted about a few weeks ago.



It was an interesting read and has made me think a lot about waste, overconsumption, repurposing and how to generally simplify life.  It has inspired me to do some more de-cluttering this year and maybe be a bit more brutal.  It has also made me think about how I could reduce the waste created in our household and whilst I haven't put too much into practice as yet, I am constantly thinking about it and thinking before buying more 'things', to consider whether I am going to use them well or whether they will last and are fit for purpose, which is no bad thing.

I must admit that I do tend to enjoy reading self-improvement type books early in the year, when my mind is full of good intentions, so the next book that I'm looking to read is this one. 

 
This book has been in my pile for a long time now, bought new like a few in my pile from a local market stall for £1 or something similar, so I'm finally looking forward to delving into it.  Numerous visits to France mean that I have long admired the 'savoir faire' of some French women, which is what attracted me to this book.  I've already read a couple of books about the attitude of French women to their appearance, clothes, bodies, exercise, families, children, etc. and I find the cultural differences quite interesting.

This book is written by Mireille Guiliano the writer of French Women Don't Get Fat and who has in her esteemed career famously worked at the luxury Champagne brand Veuve Cliquot. (I may have spelt this wrong).   I have read the above mentioned book previously and enjoyed her writing style which I found very easy to read, but this book has a more work orientated subject matter, which I'm hoping might help me be a little more motivated in a work sense.  I started reading it this morning and so far am enjoying it.  I'll post a bit more about it when I've read a little more.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Hellebore Happiness

January really feels like it's been a long month this year.  The weather has been incredibly wet and depressing most of the time, so if I'm totally honest I have to admit that some days I've felt a little dispirited.   On days like this, without wanting to wish my life away, I have secretly wished for February to come and for things to feel a bit more spring-like. 
 
Whenever I have looked out of my patio doors, however, I have been sustained and uplifted by the sight of  my lovely little Hellebores flowering away and bringing me a little bit of spring happiness.



 
Is there anything in your garden that lifts your spirits?

Monday, 27 January 2014

£100 Per Year Beauty Products Challenge - Month 7

Joining in with the challenge set by El from A Thrifty Mrs blog, I am attempting to spend no more than £100 in a year on beauty products and toiletries.  I have been aided in this challenge by a rather large unused stash of products, which I am slowly working my way through.  (I'll do an update of what is left in the stash in next month's post).

January has been a slightly more expensive month than it needed to be, mainly because of treating myself to some new nail varnishes in the post Christmas sales, but even so, I haven't gone too far over the budget of £8.33 as I have actually spent £10.86.  I'm pretty confident that I will be able to make up for this overspend in the next couple of months.

The current spend on this challenge now stands at £59.92/£100 with 5 months remaining.

This month's expenditure was on the following:

Shampoo - £1.89

Nail Varnishes x 5 - £3.50 (A set of 9 bought in the sales (half price) and 4 bottles removed to be used as advent gifts for Little Bird next Christmas)

Cotton Wool Pads (100) - 50p

Smart Price Hairspray - 37p - I must admit that this was not my best purchase on this challenge.  I bought this price range as it was this or spending over £2, as the normal range I use that costs around 70p, was out of stock in two stores I visited.  I wouldn't buy this again as I don't find it holds well at all and I am looking forward to it running out.

Toothpaste x 6 - £3.60 - I bought a supply of these from Approved Food to keep us going for a while.

Nail Varnish Remover Pads 2 x 25 - £1 - Useful for carrying in my handbag as I often do my nails on the go.

Boots Seventeen Blemish Stick - Free with Boots Points (Normally £3.99)


Total Expenditure - £10.86

Not a bad month, but as my school reports used to say.  Could do better.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

52 Projects - Week 4 - A Painting Purge

Joining in with Dreamer at Living a Slow and Simple Life, this week as one of my 52 projects I decided to do something different and proceeded to do a few little painting jobs that have been necessary for a good while.  They are mostly little snagging jobs that just never got finished properly when we decorated this house and although they are irritating to see, they have obviously not been sufficiently so to actually cause me to pull my finger out and get on with them.  Until now of course.

Here's a picture of what the problem areas looked like before and after I completed them.  The skirting board in the bathroom.  A bit of a mess really.  The skirting isn't in the best condition, but I'm hoping a coat of  paint will actually help to disguise the worst of it. (I'm not great with the filler). The pipes from the radiator look a bit ridiculous, so they're getting a coat of  paint too, as is the little step/shelf/nook where I keep my waste bin. 

Before....
 
 
 
After...
 
 
 
 
 
Not the most professional paint job I've ever done as it was difficult to get right into the corner by the toilet.  Once painted though it did make a difference and the bathroom looks a lot more finished - 4 or 5 years on might I add. 
 
Whilst I had the paint brush out, I put a coat of eggshell on the stair handrail.   As can be seen from the before picture, the handrail looked very scruffy and the matt emulsion it was painted with had virtually worn off in places.  It wasn't a nice sight for visitors when entering the house.
 
 
This job did take longer than anticipated though, as I had to paint all of the spindles  and the post too, so that it would all blend in.  A bit laborious, which I think is why I never did it properly originally, but I think you'll agree it looks a lot better now.
 
 
 
 
 Finally, I did one more small job that wasn't yet on my list of 52, namely to paint the boxing in for the boiler pipes, which never got finished properly when OH refitted the kitchen 3 years ago.  It just needed a coat of eggshell too.
 
 
Here it is on the kitchen table once painted.  I'm still waiting for it to dry so I can put it back.
 
 
 
 
So a busy day today, but two of the items from my list completed, plus another not on it, which means I can possibly get more tasks done in their place.  I think OH was secretly very pleased with my efforts too, as at least he won't have to do them himself now.  Only problem is, it makes the rest of the décor look even more shabby, but I'm definitely NOT putting total house redecoration on the list.   NO WAY!
 

Week 4 completed.  Onwards and upwards.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Spring Knitting and Stitching Show 2014 at Olympia, London

I received this leaflet through the post the other day telling me about  The Spring Knitting and Stitching Show, which is being held at Olympia in London from 13th -16th March.



I posted about visiting their last London Show back in October at Alexandra Palace.  I went for the first time with a friend and we had a super day out.  There were hundreds of stalls and lots of exhibitions to look around too.  Unfortunately, said friend won't be able to accompany me to this show, as her daughter is getting married that weekend, but I will still be going, probably on the Thursday, as this is the day the show opens and it stays open until 7pm.  (Having said that, we were completely exhausted by 4pm and came home!)

The price of the tickets is £12.50 in advance (£15 on the day), so I will be sending off for mine as soon as we're into February and I have some spare money.  If anyone out there is going themselves and fancies a bloggy meet up, let me know.

You can book tickets on their website at www.theknittingandstitchingshow.com/spring.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Abandoned

Whilst out walking our dog this morning, I met another regular dog walker just coming back from their walk, who was telling me that they had happened upon an abandoned dog this morning.  It was quite a young dog and had been left tied to a bench by it's lead, no sight or sound of an owner.  They were really saddened by it as was I, as they said it was a lovely dog, very friendly and playful and they was concerned for it's future.

They did the only sensible thing a dog lover could do and took the dog to the local dog warden, which isn't too far away.  I can only imagine how desperate you must be, to do such a thing to a poor  animal.  Whilst I'm not suggesting this is the situation in this case, as I really don't know the circumstances of the dog's owners, I imagine that the dog rescue homes are full of dogs at this time of year, cast aside like toys after Christmas by people who found them harder work to look after than they imagined.  It's very saddening.  I hope a place can be found for it in a dogs home somewhere, so that it at least has a chance of being rehomed with someone else who can give it the love and care it deserves.  If I hear any more about it I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

An Introduction To Spotify

In our household we've had a subscription to Spotify for a while now.  It's mainly been used by OH or Little Bird for listening to music.  Today, I was finally introduced to it myself and I'm so pleased that I was.

I've been wanting to listen to some old albums that I had on tape for a while, but the only player I had was an old dictaphone.  I dug it out of a drawer and at the weekend I finally got to listen to one side of a Nanci Griffith album that I'd not listened to for years.  It was so wonderful, that is until after listening to just one side of the tape, the batteries, having been newly charged, ran out.  I was a bit disappointed that my reintroduction to some old favourites was so quickly cut short.

Now I've downloaded Spotify on my laptop my disappointment is over.  I've spent this afternoon listening to two more of her albums and the complete soundtrack of Nashville to boot.  Sheer bliss for a girl who likes a bit of country music.  It's helped me be more productive too, as I shut myself up in my sewing room and finally got on with some work that I've been needing to do for a few weeks.  I felt so much better for finally pulling my finger out.  I got to use my new headphones too, which was a bonus.

Using a subscription to a site like Spotify fits perfectly with the near Zero Waste and decluttering that I'm trying to adhere to where possible, as it means I can listen to what I like, when I like, without the clutter of cd's, tapes and vinyl or the equipment needed to play them.  Having said that, actually getting rid of said items is another matter entirely, but at least I won't be buying any more new ones for the time being.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Tuesday at the Sewing Machine

January is turning out to be a month of serious crafting.  After spending Tuesday morning catching up with all sorts of paperwork and online reading/banking/bill paying, etc., I headed up to the sewing room to do some work on our double quilt.  The previous day I had cut lots of strips of fabric to make up the front of the quilt and I'd pinned a few strips together.  I wanted to get straight on and start sewing them together as the sooner it is finished, the sooner we can get the benefit of it.

All was going pretty well until I broke my last two machine needles, having completed two thirds of it.  I was a bit annoyed with myself, as it would have been great to have actually completed the top, but it was not to be.  I duly sent off for some needles from eBay, as I had a few pounds in my account to spend.  Delivery was estimated for Monday next, so sadly for now I will have to stick to hand sewing for the remainder of this week so the Christmas lap quilt will be getting all of my attention for now.

Talking of which, it is progressing pretty well.  To take a long term view, I made the decision to try to complete at least 4 blocks per week.  This means I could feasibly complete 200 over the year if I needed that many, but I really don't think that I will need this amount.  A couple of hours in front of the TV at night and I can complete one or two and attach them to the blocks already sewn together.  It makes it quite enjoyable that way, to see it physically grow day by day, week by week.

Finally, on the subject of making, I treated myself to some wool from Lidl this week, as they had some on offer.  It was £3.99 for 4 x 50g balls and it is beautifully soft and chunky, which is just what I was looking for to make a new snood and hopefully some more fingerless mitts.  As there is supposedly enough here to make a short cardigan, I'm hoping there will be enough for the above.  It's a lovely dark grey colour and although 60% synthetic, it is also 20% New Wool and 20% Alpaca wool.  As I very rarely buy wool I don't know if this is a good combination or good value, but it seemed so to me.  The proof will be in the washing, which you can apparently do at 30 degrees.  Here's a photo of it.



I had seen some lovely large chunky balls of wool in Hobbycraft which were big enough to make a snood, but I would have needed to pay £5 for one, plus another few pounds to get some 10mm needles.  As I currently have some 7/8mm needles for this wool, this was a slightly cheaper option.  Hopefully, it won't be one I regret.  Perhaps my February make can be a knitted one to add a bit of variety.  I'll keep you posted as ever.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Making Sacrifices

Sometimes in life we all need to make sacrifices and it was the case for me this month, when it came to filling a box for the Food Bank.  As we're now 3 weeks into January and I have maxed out in the sales buying birthday and Christmas presents for next year, I found myself with just enough money to buy some fruit and veg, milk and bread next week and no extra money for Food Bank purchases.

I had already half filled a box for the Food Bank, but I just didn't have an extra few pounds to spare to fill it.  Not wanting to welch on my commitment to donate regularly, as a consequence, I decided to shop my food cupboards to fill the box.  There is no way we are going to go hungry by my doing so, as we have plenty of food in the cupboards and freezer to last the rest of the month, so removing a few of the excess items that we can well do without, but which may be useful to someone else, isn't really too much of a hardship.  In shopping the cupboards I found a couple of bottles of malt vinegar, some tinned tomatoes, a jar of pasta bake sauce, a box of teabags and a couple of packets of pastry mix.  No jam tarts for us for the rest of the month, but hopefully someone else might be able to make some for a treat.  These were all things that I might normally give to the food bank, but they had not been bought for the purpose in this particular instance.

My food bank donation for this month therefore, contained the following:

Pineapple Sachets x 2  - 50p
Tins of Fruit Cocktail x 2 £1
Bread Sauce - 50p
Pots of Mashed Potato x 3 - 99p
500g of White Rice x 2 - 80p
500g of Penne Pasta x 2 - 98p
2 Cartons of UHT Semi Skimmed Milk - £1.10
Pasta Bake Sauce x 1 - 99p
Tinned Tomatoes x 2 - 66p
Malt Vinegar x 2 54p
Pastry Mix x 2 - £1.14
PG Tips Teabags x 1 box of 76 - £1

Total Donation £10.20

A bit of a random mix this month, but hopefully it might help someone else a little.





Monday, 20 January 2014

Head Start Sunday

This Sunday I managed to give myself a head start for the week, which always feels great.  Some Sundays come and go and nothing much seems to get done and I shamefacedly fail to prepare myself for the week ahead, resulting in complete chaos on a Monday morning.   On others, I get myself together so that I'm ready to fly out of the starting blocks of the new week and I'm hoping this is one of those.

I had to change my routine for today, as OH needed the car  and I had to get the bus to the gym this morning.  As a consequence, I decided to do my food shop yesterday, as the Lidl store I use is near the gym and I was attending my usual Sunday morning class.  It makes no difference really which day I do the shop, but I obviously don't want to hoist heavy bags of food on the bus, as there is a bit of a walk to catch it and when I get off it.  When I got home yesterday all the fruit and veg were washed ready to use, which is another job I usually do on a Monday.

We all spent the afternoon at home on Sunday and OH and I finally did some jobs we've been meaning to do for a while.  Probably the main one being clearing out his wardrobe after a moth infestation.  As the major part of the infestation was at his end, most of the few clothes of mine (none of them silk or cashmere, as I don't have any) that overspill into there were not damaged.  Even the mohair jumpers!  One mohair jacket did get moth eaten though, so that had to be thrown out and another wool coat was slightly nibbled, but I'm keeping that for now.  I had only paid a couple of pounds for the moth eaten jacket at a car boot sale and it did make me look a lot like a Christmas tree (it was bright green!), so I wasn't too heartbroken.

OH on the other hand lost a pretty expensive suit, a wool duffle coat (the main victim of the infestation), some leather biker gear (!) and a few other bits and pieces.  He wasn't particularly thrilled, but was philosophical and vowed to go out and replace them with clothes he actually liked wearing.  Needless to say, the wardrobe was disinfected and to ward off any lingering moths, I hung some cardboard luggage tags doused in lavender essential oil on some of the hangers whilst I await the delivery of a moth trap I ordered online.

With the moth emergency taken care of, I disappeared into my sewing room for a while to clear the bed in there, in readiness for it's move back into Little Bird's room and the return of the double bed moved out for her grandparents to use at Christmas.  I'm so looking forward to normality being restored in my sewing room, as the double bed also doubles up as a cutting table of sorts and I have lots of projects I want to get on with.

Whilst changing the bedding I decided to do another little job.  Little Bird's bedroom is probably the coldest in the house, as it has 3 exterior walls.  As a consequence, I always double up the duvets on her bed in the winter.  Recently, I decided to put both duvets into one cover as prior to this I was putting separate covers on each and creating more washing.  The only problem with this was that one or other of the duvets sometimes got rucked up making the duvet very lumpy and not warm enough.   I think, however, that I found a solution by sewing press studs onto each of the four corners of each duvet, so that I could join them together.  This incidentally also made it much easier to get the cover on in the first place.  A small adjustment, but one which I hope will make a big difference.

The beds were later switched and I could get my linen collection back under the double so that it does not clog up the space in my sewing room.  The Christmas boxes and bags have gone too, having now been returned to the loft and I'm starting to feel like the space is becoming my own again.  I felt truly ready to face the new week.  I rewarded myself with a glass of Baileys and indulged in watching the first episode in the new series of Mr Selfridge.

Why can't all Sundays be like that?

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Project 52 - Week 3 - Going on a Mending Spree

In conjunction with Dreamer at Living a Slow and Simple Life, I am currently attempting to join in with Project 52 and complete a task a week for a year.  Tasks can be large, small, new or old with the my aim being to finish doing all those things that I keep meaning to do, but never get around to.

This week in accordance with my list, published in a previous post, I went on a bit of a mending spree (cheaper than a spending spree by far).  This was made easier as the previous week I had managed to get to the bottom of my colossal ironing pile (whilst avoiding doing my tax return) and as I went through it I pulled out any item of clothing that had any holes in them, buttons missing or needed repairing.  This is the pile of mending I managed to pull out, plus there were three jackets I wear to walk the dog that needed repairs.  The pocket lining of two of them had large holes in them,  and a zip needed re-stitching on the other.




In this pile there were two pairs of harem pants I wear to the gym, four pairs of Little Bird's leggings and two of Little Bird's t-shirts, one of which she wears to sleep in.  Plenty to be going on with.

This task took me approximately 2 hours and was quite a satisfying task to complete, as I was sick of seeing Little Bird dressed in clothes with holes in them (not a good look) or losing the dog bags or treats in the lining of my jacket and having to dig around to find them when I'm out walking the dog.  I have since bought Little Bird some new clothes in the sales, as she was running a bit low, but some of the leggings she had were easily repaired and their lives extended, as they still fitted her well.  Besides, small repairs in dark clothing are not that detectable anyway, so I have absolutely no qualms about doing this.

In the interests of minimising waste and household product costs, any items I found that were not worth repairing or giving to charity and had been outgrown, were cut up for dish rags.

Another project completed. What next?

Project 52 - Project/Week 2 - Reversible Cushions for the Living Room

Following on from making my table runner for the living room last week, I decided to have a go at making some new matching reversible cushion covers this week.  I couldn't wait until next month for them, so I just got on and made them.  It took a couple of hours to make the two, and I used less than half a meter of the Botanical/Insect fabric again, with the Laura Ashley I already had and the navy skirt zips that I already had and had bought wholesale for pence.  I sewed the zips in first which is probably the trickiest bit, then sewed around the cushion cover before trimming up and turning out. 

As the zips were intended for skirts they were quite short and this does make putting in and taking out the inner cushion a little tricky and time consuming, but it is possible with care.  If I were making these without budget restrictions or for a gift I would definitely use a longer zip for the job, but I was pleased with the result.  I do like zipped cushions much better than the envelope openings  I have made previously.  Here's a picture of the finished cushions.

 
 
Project 2 completed and I've now got a spruced up new look in my living room for 2014.  As we are now at the end of week 3 in this year I am also posting Project/Week 3 in this challenge today.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A New Quilt Project

Having spent almost two whole days pouring over my tax accounts, now that this year's tax return is all but completed and next years also well on it's way, I feel a sudden sense of liberation.  The cloud that had been hanging over me since the New Year has lifted and I'm itching to get on with other more enjoyable pastimes.

As a treat to myself, I decided to spend some time yesterday deliberating on what fabrics to use to make a double eiderdown/quilt for our bed.  I'd like to get straight on with this project, as if it does turn cold in the next month or so we will be able to snuggle under it at night and keep warm.

I made the mistake of taking a look at quilt designs on Pinterest and an hour later I was still trying to peel myself away from the screen.  Anyway, what my lost hour did bring home to me was that despite the hard work and creativity that goes into some of the more complex quilt designs, I find myself eternally drawn to the most simplistic designs I see.  I think this is possibly me looking for an easy life, but as a consequence, this quilt/eiderdown will be made in a similar vein to past efforts made up of strips of fabric.

As I'm making a double quilt I will need lengths of fabric at least 1.8 to 2 metres long for the width of the eiderdown.    This did limit my choices somewhat, as I could only use fabrics that I have at least 2 metres of for this project, so I proceeded to have a good sift through all my fabric stash to find appropriate ones.

I had already sourced a pretty backing fabric for the quilt, namely a vintage ditsy floral sheet, which  was purchased at a local jumble sale for pence and will do very nicely indeed. It is also going to double up and be used as a few strips on the front too, as it is larger than what I need for the backing alone.

The colour scheme is going to be blue and white, as I seem to have a preponderance of fabrics in these colours, blue is supposed to be a relaxing colour for bedrooms and good for helping to induce a good nights sleep and it also ties in quite well with the décor of our bedroom.   I'm feeling quite excited about embarking on this project as it is a relatively simple one and so very practical and useful too.

Here's a picture of some of the fabrics that I have sourced so far.  There may be a couple more additions or changes along the way, but these will give you some idea of what it might look like once complete.

 
In addition, in an attempt to cut down on waste and consumption, instead of buying some new wadding for this quilt I am hoping to use our current duvet which has seen much better days and really does need replacing, as it does not seem to keep us warm enough in the winter even with additional wool blanket and a handmade quilt on top!  I am going to wash it at the launderette first though.  We will then use the spare room duvet which was bought last year and is very thick and warm, until we get around to buying a new one, which will probably be in time for having visitors later in the year.
 
 
 
Just by way of an addendum to this post, Little Bird
has been busy working with some Fimo clay she got for Christmas this morning, and made this really sweet bag/phone charm.  I think it's really cute, but I would say that wouldn't I?
 
 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Project Near Zero Waste

Since I've been doing the £100 a Year Beauty Challenge and have been using up my rather large stash of soap bars, I have been faced with the extremely serious dilemma of what to do with all those small bits of soap left from the bar that are difficult to use at the end of it's life.  I've been storing them up in a soap travel container, until there are enough of them to make up a new bar of soap.  It got me thinking and remembering how I used to have a soap saver many years ago, probably 25 years or so to be exact, when I was living at home with my parents.  I think I got it from the Betterware catalogue that was delivered regularly.

I  happily saved up all those little bits of soap from the bathroom and the soap saver began to fill up.  I was looking forward to creating a whole new bar, when one day it mysteriously disappeared.  I was a bit upset when I found out that my dad had thrown it away whilst cleaning the bathroom.  All that effort for nothing and I never got to make a single bar.

Anyway, with the advent of the wonderful internet and sites such as eBay I got to thinking the other day that I might be able to get hold of one again and sure enough a search of eBay resulted in me buying one.  Thinking I might be the only individual who purchases things like this, I decided to take a look at the list of how many the seller had sold recently and to my surprise they have been steadily selling them over the last few weeks.  Maybe I'm not the only one on a frugal near Zero Waste mission in 2014.

Now I know that it isn't really in the spirit of Zero Waste to buy something in order to reduce waste, but this was more of a nostalgic purchase, which will hopefully be useful in trying to minimise waste.  I paid £5.89 for it, quite a large percentage of which was the postage cost, so it will take a while for it to even pay for itself, but it was nice to be able to give this method of recycling another try after all those years.  As I do intend to carry on using bars of soap instead of shower gels and liquid hand washes (except in the kitchen in the case of the latter) in the future, hopefully I will make good use of it.  Here's a picture of it complete with instructions. 




I may have to put it somewhere safe this time so it doesn't get discarded again! 

Does or has anyone else used one of these before?

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Filing My Tax Return

For anyone who is self-employed, files their tax return on line and like me usually leaves it until the last minute, the month of January is not always a month that is looked forward to.  I've just spent the last two weeks procrastinating and doing everything I can think of to avoid knuckling down to it.  Little Bird's birthday and Parent consultations at the school this week have helped of course.

Yesterday and today, however, prompted by a Radio 4 phone in on the subject, which induced a bit of guilt, plus the fact that the ironing basket is now empty, meant that I could put it off no longer, so I bit the bullet and dragged everything out to start work on it.  With only 16 days to go until it has to be filed it is a bit late, but I think I'm the sort of person who needs a bit of pressure to perform and there's still plenty of time left.

Yesterday evening was spent poring over figures, receipts, bank statements, computer print outs, and bookkeeping ledgers in an attempt to work it all out.  It took a few hours and there were a few distractions, such as having to make the dinner, the dog having a toileting incident, Little Bird having an accident (not too serious thankfully) and the printer not working, etc.  All pretty normal things really, but just very distracting when you are trying hard to concentrate.

Today has been spent checking out last year's return, making some extra last minute calculations and then transferring the information to my online tax account.  It made interesting reading.  I have just a couple more adjustments to make to it and I will be ready to click the 'File Your Return' button. Phew!

Fortunately for me, my accounts aren't that complicated and I find it quite interesting to do them.  It is useful to know how to run a small business and keep accounts.  It all adds to your personal skill base and it is good to be able to look back and see if you've actually made progress (and profit). Not as much as I would like in my case, but businesses do take time to build and I don't apply myself as much as I should really, treating it more like a hobby than a serious enterprise.  I have good intentions, but they always seem to get lost along the way.

Anyway, I always feel a little better when the accounts have been done, and I always promise myself that I won't leave it until the last minute the following year.  In fact, I've enjoyed it so much this year when I finally got down to it, that as a consequence, I have started to actually get ahead of myself and have been calculating next year's accounts, so that they are ready to go for when they need to be filed.  I may even file them early this year, you never know.

It will nice not to have 'Tax Return' on my to do list every week for the whole year (and then ignore it) as I did last year, it is great to do as much as I can of it now, put it right aside until April when I can complete it,  and then get on with other aspects of the business.  This might just be the year when I actually do a head start.  I hope so.

Does anyone else have to file a tax return at this time of year?  How do you go about it?  Are you really organised and get yours in early or like me does it get left until quite late?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Christmas Lap Quilt Update

I know that this Christmas is only just over, but as I had my Christmas fabric scraps to hand I've been spending quite a bit of time getting to grips with my new hand quilting project, namely making a Christmas lap quilt  for next year.   I've started early as this is going to be a long haul project.
 
 I have an awful lot of Christmas fabric scraps and this is turning out to be the perfect project for them.  I've sewn together the first few diamond blocks now and it is beginning to come together slowly.  I need to remove the paper backing and basting from these blocks, but here's a very early look at how it is panning out.  Each block is made up of nine small diamond shapes.

 


I was really happy with the effect after having sewn some of the diamond blocks together.  I'm hoping as it gets bigger and more fabrics are introduced that I will continue to like it.  I've now cut out hundreds of small diamond shapes from the scraps and have managed work my way through the large carrier bag of scraps I had.  I'm now nursing a sore thumb, from so much use of the scissors.  Just the accompanying paper diamond shapes to cut out now.  Here's a picture of the fabric ones cut so far.  There should hopefully be enough to complete this project here.

 
Having sorted through the scraps and cut diamonds from any suitable sized ones, I now have just very tiny scraps left or larger scraps that could be used for slightly bigger projects so this has been a very useful exercise in sorting out some of my fabrics.
 
I'll post again when I've got a bit further on with this project.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A New Nail Colour for a Birthday Celebration

Following my post the other day in which I pampered myself by painting my nails with a new Boots Seventeen nail colour I bought as part of a set in the sales, I thought I'd show you the next colour I have used from this set.  This week's colour is Navy Glint. 



Worn out on Little Bird's birthday, with my new trousers (pictured) bought from French catalogue La Redoute in their online sale. (Cost approx. £10).

We, that is OH, myself and Little Bird went out to eat and enjoy a game at our local bowling alley.  It was a lovely evening.  Little Bird said it was her best birthday yet and was thrilled with her presents which is always good to hear.  She does, however, say that every year bless her.  She's growing up so fast.

Talking of La Redoute, I mentioned in another post that I got a free miniature bottle of Baileys Chocolate Luxe liqueur when my sale order arrived last week.  I drank it the other evening.  Didn't like it I'm afraid.   A bit too chocolatey for me if that's possible.  It made me feel a little sick.  Give me the original Baileys's Cream Liqueur any day.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Wrestling with the Bank of Smurf!

A couple of months ago whilst I was in the midst of trying to pay off my credit cards by the end of the year, I was reading around and looking for ideas to help me achieve this aim.  I decided to start putting loose change (apart from coppers and 5p's which I save for Little Bird) into a jar so that I could use it to help pay off the cards.

I decided to make use of this Smurf moneybox which was sat on a shelf upstairs doing nothing.  Cute isn't he?  I thought so too, but don't be fooled.  He was merciless.



All seemed to be going well until one day I got curious to see how much I'd saved and tried to open it.  It was jammed shut.  I continued putting 10p's, 20p's and 50p's into it, but as I couldn't open it I didn't end up using the money inside for the intended purpose.  To be honest in the lead up to Christmas I didn't have the time to fiddle about trying to open it or get the contents out and more or less forgot about it until the other day. 

In the course of my general blog reading I came across lots of different references to Sealed Pot saving which kept reminding me of the money inside the Smurf.  Eventually, I decided to try to get the money out and see how much there was.  I started off using a bookmark and shaking the Smurf to release a few coins via the slot.  I soon got fed up of this as I could have been there all day.  Instead I called upon the brute strength of OH who managed to persuade the Smurf to surrender his stash.  Albeit reluctantly.  There was £14 in there, which I was quite pleased about, as I hadn't religiously emptied my purse into it daily.  I decided to carry on saving it, but looked around for a different, less covetous vessel.  In the end I decided to use a gift box in which we'd been given some luxury food items at Christmas.

In true Blue Peter fashion it was prettified with some sticky backed plastic and washi tape et voila!




a new sealed box for savings.  It's quite roomy, so I'm hoping I'll be able to save quite a bit in here if I really put my mind to it.  I don't know what I'm going to earmark it for yet, but hopefully will think of something as the year progresses.  If I don't manage to pay off my overdraft, it can always go towards that. 

(Sorry Smurf, you did a great job, but you were just a little bit overly conscientious.  Take it easy from now on.  Put your feet up, read your book, enjoy life on the shelf.  No hard feelings.)

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Make Something Every Month/52 Projects in 2014 Challenges - January Reveal/Project 1

Last Saturday was a quiet day spent mostly at home, often the best kind in my book.  After lunch I decided to head up to my sewing room and complete my make for January on the above challenge and for the first week in January on Living a Slow and Simple Life's challenge to complete 52 Projects in 2014, namely the reversible runner for the blanket box in our living room.  When the decorations came down on Monday I needed a runner to replace the Christmas one I've had out for the last few weeks, and my others were down at the bottom of the ironing/washing baskets, so the timing was perfect.

It was really simple to make.  Just two strips of fabric 18" x 54" wide, sewn together all around leaving a gap to turn out and then the gap was hand stitched closed and the runner ironed ready for use.



The fabrics I've used here are two favourites of mine.  The botanical/insect print one is a current IKEA fabric called Blavinge which is currently stocked by my local IKEA.  The other printed fabric is a vintage Laura Ashley design from 1975.



I figured that by making it reversible I could utilise two fabrics that I've been itching to use for something for a while now and also minimise the need for washing as the runner can be turned over when dusty/dirty to reveal a clean new design on the reverse.  Because the fabric is so dark, I wanted to do this to minimise fading, not because I'm slovenly might I add.

I intend to make reversible cushion covers for my living room in the same way too so that if I get fed up of looking at one design, I can turn them over and display the other side instead.  Perhaps these will be my make in February, we'll see.

I must admit that I did have to buy some of the IKEA fabric for this project, but at £4 per meter, and having used less than half a meter it worked out very inexpensive.  The thread and Laura Ashley fabric I already had, so costs were kept to a minimum where possible.  In the case of the cushion covers, I may need to buy some zips of the right length or I may manage with 9" skirt zips which I have already.  A quick and simple start to this challenge to ease me back into making.  I'm looking forward to making more things in the coming months.

This is the first make for my challenge Make Something Every Month in 2014 and doubles as my first project for the 52 Projects challenge devised by and featured on Living a Slow and Simple Life's blog.  (A bit of a cheat I know, but otherwise the workload might be too extensive). 

Aiming for Zero Waste?

I'm currently reading this book, that I received for Christmas and am finding it incredibly interesting.  I heard about it in a comment posted on Just a Little Less's blog and it ignited my curiosity, so I put it on my Christmas list.  I'm not expecting to reduce my yearly waste to absolute zero, but I do think reducing waste is a great idea and would like to get ours down as much as I can.  We're not too bad on the waste front, throwing out only one bin bag full per week usually (our collection is weekly), but wouldn't it be great to get that down to half a bag or even less. 



In her book, Bea Johnson describes her journey to downsize, simplify and minimize her life and possessions and try to live a zero waste lifestyle.  This idea appeals to me at the moment, as despite constantly trying to de-clutter, I still find that our house just has far too much 'stuff' in it and in 2014 I want to tackle this problem, but needed to engage in a bit of reading around the subject first.

In her book, Johnson explains that by getting rid of what you don't use or duplicate items in your possession, you free up your time, space and life to do the things you really want to as well as having a beneficial effect on the environment.

The main proposition of this book is the promotion of the practice of the 5 R's, namely, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.   The sequence of these R's is particularly significant, she suggests. 

Firstly, Johnson urges readers to refuse by not accepting items of junk mail, freebies, single use plastics (i.e. plastic bags), etc., and not engaging in unsustainable practices such as excess and unnecessary car usage, for example, that waste and pollute the earth's resources, and in doing so, the production of these things is discouraged. She suggests that even politely refusing things offered to you by friends and family is okay, if you explain to them that you are minimising your possessions in order to simplify your life.

In order to reduce, she suggests that we should evaluate and curb current and future consumption as much as possible and learn to find satisfaction with what we already have.  Avoid unnecessary shopping trips or over consumption.  Ignore or avoid clever advertising and merchandising to encourage us to buy what we don't really need or want.

With regard to reuse, Johnson refers to the items we consume that we cannot refuse or reduce.  She suggests making things you own but can't or don't use, into other things that you can use, such as old sheets or towels into tea towels, reusable bags, washable sandwich/food wraps, etc.  Repair items, rethink the way you use items and share the use of large or expensive tools/machinery through borrowing and loaning them from/to others. 

Recycling, Johnson argues, refers to the items that we cannot refuse, reduce or reuse, that can be recycled by way of using various recycling initiatives in our communities be they charity shops or waste management initiatives.  She argues that we should not aim to create large amounts of recycling, but that we should instead try to avoid the convenience of buying over packaged products and polluting plastics and disposables and instead use reusable packaging, products or storage where possible, to avoid the creation of as much recycling waste as possible.  She says we should think carefully before every purchase and think about the lifespan and recyclability of every product we buy and bring into our homes.  Much of what she refers to is not new and I have read some of her ideas in various books before, but there are some very good ideas in this book that are completely new to me.

Finally, in relation to the 5 R's, Johnson talks about rotting or composting as much of your waste as possible.  This is something I have been doing for many years now and is just part of our daily life.  For anyone new to composting, she gives a rundown of the sort of systems that you can use to suit your circumstances.  I can vouch for how less smelly your rubbish bin is if you no longer put food in it.  We are very fortunate in our borough, that even meat, cooked food and bones are collected by our recycling team, so we no longer need to put any food in our bins.  The dog helps too, of course, as suitable leftovers can be given to her and mixed in with her regular food.

The rest of this book goes into more detail about simplifying different areas of your life and after starting to read the first chapter on kitchen simplification on Boxing Day, I immediately started this process and was surprised at how much I was prepared to put in the charity shop bag in a matter of minutes.  How many napkins do you really need when you rarely entertain?  How much simpler life is, when your napkin/kitchen linen drawer is no longer bulging and getting stuck every time you try to open it.  How much better it is to use dark coloured tea towels, that don't show up the stains and dirt visited on them as a consequence of daily use.  Very obvious things, but ones that can make a difference to the lifespan and continued use of your possessions.

As you have probably guessed by now, I'm really enjoying this book and I am hoping that it can help me to let go of some of the things that I have hung onto for years, but never use, and that it will help me to buy better quality items where I do need to buy new.  I'm hoping it will help me make our home a much simpler, more enjoyable and less time consuming place to live in 2014.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Thursday

Thursday was a good day, if not a particularly productive one.  I managed to take the dog on a good long walk this morning and the dark grey sky managed to hold off from opening up whilst we were out, so we didn't get wet thankfully.

All of Little Bird's birthday presents were wrapped and put away today, until the big day itself.  I just have to sort out a cake now.  Made or bought is the dilemma.  I'm not a good baker, but feel I should make the effort, I think she'd like to help me make one too.

I did some work on my hand sewn Christmas lap quilt today which I enjoyed.  It will take a while to finish, but I do like a project I can pick up and put down as and when I feel the urge.  The diamond shapes are a lot quicker and easier to sew together than hexagons due to having fewer sides.  I'm making up larger diamonds from smaller diamond shapes and then will eventually sew them all together to produce a type of harlequin effect.  I have so many Christmas fabric scraps - a large carrier bag full.  It feels so good to finally use them for something.

Tonight, I cooked us a lovely Shepherd's Pie for supper, which I later washed down with half a miniature bottle of (orange flavoured) Cointreau with (diet) lemonade and ice.   (I'm definitely not having a dry January).  An old favourite that I haven't drunk in years.  It came out of my Christmas cracker. (Put in there by me of course!)  I'm surprised I haven't drunk it before now. 

Talking of miniatures, I received a free Bailey's Chocolate Luxe miniature with a sale order that came from La Redoute today too which was a nice treat.  I'm really looking forward to trying this one.  I've been curious since it came out last year, but didn't want to indulge in a large bottle in case I didn't really like it.  Daren't think about the calorie content though.  Oh well, you only live once.

The best thing about Thursday, was that it was a no spend day.  Only the second so far this year.  With birthdays, food shopping, sale shopping, posting off presents, etc., January isn't the best month for me in this regard.  I'm hoping momentum gathers as the year progresses.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

A(nother) New Handbag

Whilst out shopping in the sales this Christmas I managed to find myself a new handbag.  Well, OH treated me to it, which was very kind of him.  Anyway,  my current red handbag, bought from the same store, TK Maxx, had lasted all of 8 months before the zip broke and the lining started to develop holes in it which is very annoying.  Minutes can be lost when things slip through and you have to rummage around for ages to find the hole and then recover the lost items.  Normally I would repair the lining and carry on using it, but as the zip had gone too and seemed to be beyond repair, I started to look around for another one. 

To be honest I've used my previous bag constantly for 8 months and at times put an awful lot in it, so I'm not surprised about it's demise.  I did really like it as it was nice and slouchy, but hopefully someone else will be able to enjoy a bit more life from it as I'll be sending it to the charity shop.   I might be a bit overly theft conscious, but I like to be able to zip up my bag, especially in crowds, to avoid being victim to pickpockets or opportunist thieves, which is a risk especially when out and about in London.

I'm hoping the new bag's lifespan will be a little longer than the previous one, but was pleasantly surprised at the price considering that it is leather.  It's a little smaller than my previous bag, but I'm hoping this will limit the amount of stuff I carry around with me and reduce the resulting back ache.  It has adjustable straps too which I always like in a bag, so I can wear it on my shoulder or across body, and it has plenty of internal pockets for bits and pieces.  Here's a few photos.

 
 




At £34 I thought it was a really good price.  Lets hope it lasts the course.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

52 Projects for 2014

I have decided to join in with Living a Slow and Simple Life's challenge, 52 Projects, to complete a project every week in 2014.  I must admit that when I first read about this challenge I was immediately tempted to  join in, but concerned that I might not be able to keep up.  The desire to complete lots of unfinished bits and pieces at home convinced me, however, and I have thrown my cap in as I desperately need the motivation to do some projects which have been on my to do list for over a year.

This week's project has been the making of  a table runner for the living room.  I've made this jointly for this project and my Make Something Every Month in 2014 challenge.  I will be posting separately to reveal this make, as this post is more to give some idea of the projects I will be attempting for this challenge.  I haven't thought of a great number as yet, but so far have come up with the following:

1  Get my over locker serviced/repaired.

2  Make a bean bag for Little Bird's bedroom.

3  Fill a couple of new frames that I have in the sewing room, with either fabric/prints/photos.

4  Sort through our photos and fill the albums I have.

5  List some items I want to sell on eBay to earn a bit of extra cash.

6  Thoroughly de-clutter the kitchen.

7  Get my new smart phone set up for use.

8  Download some of my favourite music onto my new smartphone.

9  Make some new cushion covers for the living room.

10  Make a double eiderdown/quilt for our bed.

11  Make a Christmas quilt/throw.

12  Sort and sift the shoe basket.

13  Make 2 new large shopping holdalls to use on the weekly shop.

14  Sort and sift my wardrobe.

15  Repair holes in clothes to extend use. (To do this I intend to pull out any clothes with holes from my colossal post Christmas ironing pile, repair them before returning them to their respective wardrobes/drawers, or alternatively, if beyond repair, cut them up for cleaning cloths).

16  Paint the bathroom skirting board.

17  Paint the stair handrail in eggshell (it is currently painted with matt emulsion which is wearing off and gets very dirty, very easily).

18  Re-upholster a chair.

19  Make a small succulent/cacti garden.

20  Make a herb bed in the garden.

21 Visit the newly refurbished William Morris Museum in Walthamstow.

22 Visit the Chelsea Flower Show or Hampton Court Flower Show.

23  Try to bake some bread by hand.

24  Replace the glass in a couple of picture/photo frames.

25  Try soap/candle making.

26  Make a quiche for the first time.


That's a few things to be getting on with for now.  A few things on this list are dependent upon having the funds to do them so I may add and complete things not on this list in the weeks to follow.  I will post another list when I've thought of a few more things to add.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Twelfth Night

It was that time of year again when the Christmas decorations had to come down and be packed away for another year.  It is always with mixed feelings that I carry out this task as I enjoy having the house decorated, but am always be pleased to have a little more room and a less cluttered look.

I was reluctant to throw this lovely Christmas bunch of flowers out, as they were still looking quite reasonable.  I bought them from Tesco just before Christmas as a treat for myself.  I very rarely buy flowers, but at £10 I thought they were exceptional value and very attractive.  I decided to keep the sea holly going for a while longer, the pine cones on sticks have been dried and put away until next Christmas, when I will hopefully use them again and the berries I have put outside for the birds to eat.  The remainder of the greenery has gone in the garden waste bin to be collected and composted by the council.

 
It always takes me a while to get used to the bareness of the living room once the decorations have come down.  Fortunately, due to the fact that I did a thorough clean before our guests came for Christmas and due to the fact we were away for much of the New Year period, I didn't need to do too deep a clean.  A quick once over with the hoover and a duster was enough.
 
Christmas bags and boxes now refilled, the house feels a lot less cluttered.  I now feel ready to  face 2014.  First stop tax return.  See you in a couple of weeks.  (Only joking!)  I may, however, not be blogging quite as frequently for the next week or so until it has been completed.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Sunday Afternoon at the Homestyle Salon

Sunday afternoon I decided that I needed a little pick me up, so I spent a couple of hours on myself doing a little bit of desperately needed beautifying.  It's not a common occurrence for me, as I never seem to find the time or inclination to do all those essential things such as shave my legs and pluck my eyebrows, but heading back to the gym that morning made me think, was it really fair to expose my hairy calves to the other people in the class? - definitely not - so I set to.

The eyebrows were long overdue a tidy up and were getting a bit bushy.  A sure sign of self neglect.  I'd meant to do them after I'd had my hair cut and coloured before Christmas, but just never got around to it as the run in was so busy.  It felt good to get them thinned out though, as it always gives ones face a bit of lift.  Cheaper than cosmetic surgery and expensive face creams too.

Next in line were the nails, toes and fingers.  Toes hadn't been painted for a good few weeks as I just didn't get around to it.  Not a bad thing as they got a rest from being varnished and as they were hidden in socks or tights all over Christmas, no one saw them anyway.  Fingernails had the chipped remnants of Christmas nail varnish on them with  some China Glaze glitter varnish on a couple of them.  (I was trying out some of Little Bird's Christmas presents.  You can tell she's going to be more high maintenance in the beauty department than me.  Not sure where she gets it from.)

I started with the toes, using a lovely new Boots No. 17 nail varnish I bought in a set with 8 others, half price in the sales.  At £6 for 9 small bottles, and some great colours, I just couldn't resist treating myself.  In the end I kept only 5 of the colours and the other 4 I'm putting in Little Bird's Advent crackers next year, as they aren't really colours I would wear.  Anyway, I digress.  The colour I chose to wear on this occasion was called LOVE.  Great name.   It's so pretty and fingers and toes were suitably adorned with it.  It's a kind of candy pink with a slight purple hue.  Just the right side of girly and not too in your face.  I love it.  Here's a quick snap of it on. 



It took a couple of coats, but I think looks pretty good although my nails aren't the best.  A 70p treat and it has rocked my day.

I felt so much better after spending a bit of time on myself.  I think I might try and do this more often.  Sunday is a good night for it as you can start the week with newly painted nails.  Perhaps I'll add this to my New Year resolutions.  I'm kind of getting a feeling of deja vu here.  I think I might have failed this one last year.  Never mind, I'll have another go.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Birthdays Galore

January is quite a busy month for birthdays in our household and families.  Little Bird's is coming up quite soon, I have a nephew in Australia with a birthday soon after and a friend in Yorkshire whose son's birthday is coming up too, plus my sister's birthday at the end of the month although we grown ups only exchange cards these days.  So, as soon as Christmas is over, or even before, I am thinking about what presents/cards I can find for them, which isn't always easy when they have received most of what they want for Christmas.  Then I find myself posting off gifts here and there so that they get them on time.  Fortunately, the January sales can be quite useful in this respect, as I can often get more for my money so that they get better gifts.

With respect to Little Bird, I have usually bought most of her presents before Christmas, but may add one or two small extras from January sale shopping, if I see anything she particularly likes.  This year I don't have a lot to do for her birthday, save wrap.   She doesn't want a party for once.  She wants us to go out as a family together, which is rather nice and much less stress.

I must admit that as I never had a birthday party as a child (ahhh!), I never actually wanted one, might I add,  I do find birthday parties quite a source of anxiety, worrying that everyone turns up, enjoys themselves and has a good time. Not to mention the preparation involved and the cost of it all.  This year I'm getting a rest, which is much appreciated.  There will still be cake, presents and possibly a meal out, but just for the three of us.  Bliss!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Back to Normal Eating/Exercising/Spending Thank Goodness

I don't know about you, but come January I am always so glad to get back to my normal eating patterns.  I have to admit that I do tend to overindulge over the festive period, no matter how hard I try not to.  I think it is partly the nature of the traditional foods we buy in over this period such as Christmas cake, pork pie, cheese, chocolates, crisps, etc., but also I have to admit to a bit of sheer gluttony on my part.

I paid for my sins this year as when I got on the scales on returning to London, I'd put on quite a few pounds which was devastating.  It does tend to come off again quite quickly, which is lucky and sure enough two days later and 3 lbs lighter I'm feeling like I'm getting some way towards normality again.

Just in case we've hidden the massive stack of chocolate we received out of view, so that we don't keep on overindulging and then when we feel like some chocolate we can get some out and treat ourselves.  Otherwise it sits on the side beckoning to us, like a mermaid to a sailor.  We still had lots of leftover food that I bought before Christmas and we are still working our way through that, but on Friday I headed out to buy some normal everyday foods and staples, as I just can't wait to get back to eating normally.

It was a big shop, apart from Christmas I haven't done such a big shop in ages.  I guess I've reverted to buying the month's meat/fish in one shop and then planning our menus from that.  I needed to do that this month as I'd got totally out of the habit of menu planning and didn't know where to start, so this way of shopping kick started me into creating this month's menu plan. I now have a fully stocked freezer and am ready to go.

I also threw in a few bits for birthdays, the house, etc. which is always a temptation when shopping in the big supermarkets.  I bought a new bale of towels and matching bathmat as they were in the sale and I find if I buy one set here and there then it spreads the use of the others so they all last longer.  It's a pretty colour.  Sort of pale aubergine, if you know what I mean. 




I also treated myself to a jazzy thermal mug for taking a cup of tea with me when I walk the dog.  It's for those mornings that I don't have time to drink one before setting out as I get a bit grumpy going out without having had one.  (It has happened quite a lot lately.)  At £2 it didn't exactly break the bank and I've been promising myself one for ages now.




Friday evening I started back at my first exercise class too, which was a relief, bearing in mind the weight gain.  I do miss it when I don't go for a couple of weeks, but it's good to have a complete break now and then to keep me motivated.   It's so much part of my life now that when I've not been for a couple of weeks, getting back to it is like coming home.  I've got several classes booked for next week and I am hoping once I've settled back into my weekly routine the extra lbs will disappear.  Fingers crossed.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Make Something Every Month Challenge 2014

This year, I've decided to set myself the challenge of making something every month of the year.  By this, I mean actually complete a project, be it small or large, a newly made item or an upcycled one.  This can be made by any method including sewing, knitting or some other craft/skill.  It could be items of clothing, home linens, accessories, storage solutions, decorative items, cards or gifts and I preferably need to make them without buying any materials, so that I utilise materials I already have at home.

Part of the reason for this challenge is to get me making more, ideally doing more dressmaking, as there's been a bit a drought in this department lately, and the other reason is to use up some of my collection of fabrics, which is currently sat in storage boxes in my sewing room.  To be honest, I could do with a few new and interesting items of clothing in my wardrobe, which is looking a bit lack lustre at the moment. 

I haven't got many specific projects in mind as yet, although I would like to make a double quilt/eiderdown for our bed and some new cushion covers and table runners for our reception rooms.

I made quite a few things in 2013 and by way of a recap, here's a few pictures of some of my favourite homemade or upcycled projects from last year.

 
A pencil skirt I made with some vintage fabric.
 
 
 
This was a laundry basket I made for Little Bird's room from some leftover plastic coated cotton fabric and an old frame.  It is such a useful item for helping to keep her bedroom tidy.
 
 
A brooch holder upcycled from an old plastic gilt frame.
 
 
A hand sewn patchwork cushion cover inspired by attending a patchwork workshop.
 
 
A blanket box upcycled using one of my favourite vintage Sanderson fabrics.  Since this photograph was taken it has been finished off with some co-ordinating braid around the lid.
 
 
 
 
 
One of several jersey snoods I made myself.
 
 
 
A machine sewn eiderdown/quilt made for Little Bird.  She loved this.
 
 
 
A Christmas stocking for Little Bird.
 
 
My hand sewn lap quilt.
 
So, here's to making in 2014. 
 
As this month is going to be busy due to having to file my tax return, I made a start on January's make last night by cutting and pinning together the front and back fabric pieces for a simple reversible table runner, to cover a blanket box in my living room.   Now I just need to sew the back and front together, turn out and sew up the end, then iron.  I'll post a reveal when it's done.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2014 - Aiming to be Debt Free.

In the lead up to the New Year I started to think about the things I wanted to achieve in the coming year.  2013 was mainly about paying off my credit cards, which I'd let run up over the past couple of years.   There were other goals related to spending that I set myself, but I've not achieved all of them in 2013, which is a bit of a disappointment, but maybe I was expecting too much of myself.  After all life is about living too.  I think for most of the year I've struck a reasonable balance, but I must admit I found the last 3 or 4 months of 2013 tough in a financial sense.  I almost wasn't able to meet my aim of paying off my credit cards as time almost ran out.  I don't want next year to be a repeat.

In 2014 I really would like to be more organised financially and not find myself short of and worrying about money at the end of each month.  I have one more major financial goal to achieve in 2014 in my bid to become debt free.  Here comes the big confession.  Every month I utilise a very generous overdraft from my bank and have done for many years now.  My aim in 2014 is to clear this overdraft and finally be in the black spending only money I have in my account and not money borrowed from the bank.

To be fair, my overdraft is a very inexpensive one.  It costs me no more than £5 per month, which is extremely reasonable considering the size of it.  It's over £1000, which I think is very inexpensive borrowing.  I've had the overdraft for over 20 years now, since I was a student, and it is only in the last 5 or 10 years that I've even had to pay any interest each month.  The convenience of having it has made me rather lazy, but it is time to grow up once and for all and face my responsibilities head on.  I need to clear it.  I have cleared it in the past and then let it run up again, but this time I want to clear it for good and live my life in the black.  I don't want to owe anybody anything.   I'm giving myself a year to clear the whole of it and be in a credit balance.  It should be plenty long enough, whilst not making life too much of a financial struggle.

I must admit that I am slightly embarrassed to admit to having an overdraft at my stage of life, but that is where being relaxed about your finances can lead you.  I could pay it off from savings if I needed to in an emergency, but I don't want to do that, it would be too easy and I may just let it run up again.  No, this time I want to pay if off bit by bit, month by month to remind me how difficult it is and how important it is not to allow myself to run it up again.  In this way I'm hoping it can serve as a big life lesson in being more responsible and living within my means.

Aside from this major goal for 2014, I'm not setting myself too many other goals.  I would like to achieve 100 No Spend Days next year if I can, I managed a total of 89 this year which was way more than the 50 I wanted to achieve and the 38 I achieved the previous year so spending seems to be slowing down or maybe I'm just spending more on spending days!  I want continue to pay off my credit cards each month from now on too, but other than that I am happy to just carry on as normal.  I will be continuing with the Beauty Challenge I started last year and the Household challenge and I may even join or invent new challenges as the year progresses.  One other thing I want to do is to be more organised for next Christmas and put a bit of money aside to pay for food, presents, etc.  I might do this by saving on my ASDA savings card which I started to do a bit late in the day last year or by putting a bit of money aside each month in a bank or building society account.  I have done this in the past too and it really does make life so much easier at Christmas.

Does anyone else have any financial goals for 2014?  I'd love to hear of other peoples' plans and hopes for the New Year.