Tuesday 30 April 2013

Living Below The Line - Day Two

Well, after two slices of brown toast with sunflower spread and a cup of tea for breakfast this morning, I had successfully completed the first day of my Living Below the Line Challenge.  It hasn't been too bad, although I did have a slight headache all day.  I'm not sure if this was a result of the relative lack of food or the fact that I might have been a bit dehydrated from doing two exercise classes today. 

On the suggestion of someone at my aerobics class, I have started to use two teabags in each cup of tea, as I am not going to use 80 in five days and the tea itself isn't that palatable using just one.  I don't normally buy PGTips or anything so luxurious, but I can tell the difference even between these and a store's red label own brand.  Using two teabags, however, does make it slightly more enjoyable, but I realise that this isn't an option for people who are living below the poverty line.

Last night's dinner, as previously mentioned, was a simple one of sausages, tinned garden peas and tinned new potatoes washed down with tap water.  To be honest I was so hungry by then that I would have eaten anything. The sausages weren't the best I have eaten, but I was just glad to have some meat to eat, albeit they were only 40% pork. Everything tasted okay and I will be using the rest of the sausages, potatoes and peas throughout the week, but will be using them in different ways.   I roasted the sausages in the oven last night and saved the fat that came off them to use for cooking later in the week as I only have sunflower spread otherwise.  I treated myself to a dessert afterwards, of half a tin of rice pudding, before heading off to watch Superscrimpers on TV.  Heres a picture of the meal;

The total cost of my food for Day One was approximately 72p.  I did only manage to eat 2 of the 5 portions of fruit and vegetables recommended for a healthy diet though, which wasn't great.  I suspect this will be a common theme this week, although I will try to eat more in future meals.  When I decided to join in with this challenge yesterday, I was so focused on just buying enough food that was versatile enough to produce 5 evening meals, lunches and breakfasts, that I completely overlooked any notion of nutritional value, so my choices could perhaps have been a lot healthier.  Oh well, thankfully it is just for 5 days, but it does make you realise how difficult it must be for people living on such small sums to get a balanced diet containing all the nutrients their body needs.  I think that had my partner and my daughter joined me in this challenge we would have been able to eat more healthily as economies of scale would have allowed a wider range of foods to have been bought, but as that is not the case this year then I will have to manage with the food I chose.

Lunch today will be another ham and beef paste sandwich and a cup of tea, I'm thinking of making the sandwich a bit more interesting by adding a slice of red onion and a bit of pepper.  I may treat myself to a low fat yoghurt for dessert to add a bit of interest and help sustain me through netball practice later this evening.

For dinner tonight  I will be using some of the passata and some of the vegetables to make a vegetable and kidney bean stew which I may eat with a crust of brown bread.  As I don't have any stock cubes of any kind I am not sure how this is going to turn out.  It may be more like a chunky tomato and vegetable soup, but we will see what happens.   I want to prepare it before I go out to play netball at 7.30pm so that I can eat heat it up quickly and eat it when I get in.  There will be no dessert tonight.

Monday 29 April 2013

Living Below the Line - Eat for £1 Per Day Challenge - Day One

I've done it, I've actually gone and thrown my hat in the ring and I'm giving it a go.  The Eat for a Week for £1 per day Challenge.  After reading about the efforts of others on various blogs and admiring their courage, I finally decided to join with them and try to do this challenge myself for the first time.

The final decision was made as I was finishing off my weekly shop in Asda this morning.  I was stood behind a girl in the queue who had mainly smart price items in her basket and I wondered if she was taking part, but didn't dare ask her.  Having noticed as I'd gone round the store, a few items I could get cheaply I started to think that maybe it would be possible to do it myself.  I paid for the few things I had bought and went out to the car.  I sat and did a few calculations and thought of a few meals I could try to make for the 5 days of the challenge then headed back into the store.

It took me another hour of putting things in my basket, recalculating the total and then taking things out again, to whittle it down to bare essentials.  It was incredibly hard and I am a pretty canny shopper.  An hour later I was at the self service till still not quite sure if I'd spent too much but ready to put an item or two back if I had to.  I had earlier in the day bought a tin of kidney beans for 21p at Lidl and needed to allow for this in the total at the till.

So here's my haul.  It was mainly smart price items, but I'm hoping that they won't taste too bad when it comes down to it.

80 Smart Price Tea Bags  27p
1 Pint Semi Skimmed Milk 49p
1 Smart Price Loaf  Brown Bread 47p
Asda Sunflower Lighter Spread 500g 50p
Smart Price Ham & Beef Paste 75g  32p
Smart Price Passata 500g 29p
Smart Price 12 Thick Sausages 681g 84p
Smart Price Tinned New Potatoes 550g 14p
Lidl Tinned Red Kidney Beans 420g 21p
Smart Price Tinned Garden Peas in Water 300g 20p
2 Red Onions 20p
1 Carrot 12p
Smart Price Spaghetti 500g 19p
Smart Price Ground Black Pepper 25g 20p
Smart Price Tinned Rice Pudding 400g 15p
Smart Price Low Fat Yoghurts x 4 33p

Total Spent               £4.92

I realise that I am a bit late starting the challenge as I started at lunchtime due to my late and last minute decision, but as a consequence I intend to finish at lunchtime on Saturday.  My two crumpets and tea for breakfast plus an orange after my Zumba class should strictly be included, but I'm afraid this is the best I can do. 

I am doing the challenge on my own as my daughter requires a high fibre diet which would be more difficult  to achieve within budget and my partner finds the whole thing bizarre, so they will be carrying on with their normal diets and I will just have to cook several things each evening, but for a week only it shouldn't be too bad.

When I got home I immediately set about my lunch which was a ham and beef paste sandwich in two slices of brown bread and a cup of tea with milk.  I'm already feeling a bit deprived as I usually have a huge salad.  I was shocked at how little fruit and vegetables I could afford on this challenge.  Probably as a result of deciding to buy some meat in the form of sausages and have puddings with my evening meal i.e. yoghurts and rice pudding.  Tinned vegetables seemed far cheaper than spending nearly a fifth of the budget on frozen veg.  I might regret some of my decisions by the end of the week.  It doesn't really help that I bought my food after having done my usual weekly shop and the house is now full of lots of nice things to eat that I can't indulge in.

I am feeling a little apprehensive, as I haven't dieted or restricted my food intake for a long time now and am hoping that I aren't going to feel hungry too much or get bored of the food I make.  Tonight, as I am taking my daughter to her trampolining lesson, I am intending a quick tea of sausages, peas and new potatoes when I get back as it will be late, followed by rice pudding.   I will be doing my second exercise class of the day and will need to refuel afterwards.

Sunday 28 April 2013

My Triple A Rating - April Aims Achieved?

It is nearing the end of the month and time to start thinking about what I have and haven't managed to achieve this month.  I don't think I have fared too badly overall although I have indulged in a bit of retail therapy here and there and thus haven't stuck to the straight and narrow with regard to not spending money on unnecessary things.  I have managed another 8 no spend days though,  so my current total is now 31 out of the 50 I am aiming to achieve for the year.

On the gardening front, the allotment was more or less up to scratch by the time April came around, but a visit or two to check all was well before inspections at the end of the month and to water after the warm spell was required this month.  At home in the garden I managed to sow some more seeds in the greenhouse for the allotment and garden.  Not much has germinated as I speak, some salad from impregnated sheets are starting to germinate which is exciting.  I may transfer them to the allotment at some point and let them grow full size rather than use them as cut and come again.  I will probably get more for my money that way.  I have one sunflower, one cucumber or tomato (I didn't label these - naughty) and some fennel that has germinated, which I will probably plant out at the allotment too, when they get substantially bigger.  Everything else I'm still waiting for as they were only sewn a week ago.

We had a good weekend in the garden early in the month, and tidied it up ready for visitors arriving, properly dogproofed the remainder and got the bikes outside.  I must admit that they are creeping back inside now, for convenience,  but at least there's room for them in either place now.  We can sit out in the garden now the weather is better, which is a treat.  The plant pots that had been littering the garden for a couple of years now have all been washed and stacked neatly in the greenhouse and all the clutter has been removed leaving it an enjoyable and useable space once again.  There is still a bit of work to do in the border on one side of the garden, the grass needs attention and more bark needs putting under the trampoline, but other than that it is quite tidy really.

Inside the house, I managed to achieve my aim of clearing out the dining/reception room to make a bedroom for visitors who came to stay, and then afterwards we took out the bed and finally got our dining/reception room back after a year of it being used as a spare bedroom or storage area.  I also managed to sort through my wardrobe and replace winter clothes with spring/summer clothes and generally declutter in this area too.  Both of these tasks resulted in quite a few more boxes and bags being taken to the charity shop.

There were a few things I didn't manage to do that I had wanted to.  One was to make a couple of items of clothing for my spring/summer wardrobe.  I'm afraid no sewing took place this month.  With all the other more pressing tasks to complete, I just never managed to get around to any.  The other thing I didn't manage to achieve was to cycle to the gym at least once a week.  In spite of the weather being a lot better, it was time that was the main deciding factor, as having to walk the dog in the morning means I have less time to make the journey to the gym which takes longer than it does in the car.  I need to think about a solution to this one.

Fitness wise I have resumed my 4-5 classes per week after taking a two week break over the Easter holidays and have taken up netball training once a week with some mums from school.  We had our first session this week with a coach who reminded us of the rules and referreed some short games.  The sessions cost £2 each, but are great value at this price.  They take place in a local secondary  school which my daughter may attend in the next few years, so it is interesting to get a feel for the place.  The first session was really enjoyable, so I think that I will continue to play for the time being and see how it goes.

Financially, I have stuck to my cash budget again and managed to pay a good lump sum off my biggest credit card debt.  I did place one large Approved Food order on this card, which qualified me for their April prize draw.  I also paid off my other credit card, but have subsequently added a few internet purchases to it, so I will need to pay them off next month.  At least I won't need to any pay interest charges on this card any longer which is good.

Although there were a couple of things I didn't achieve this month, there was one thing that wasn't on my list that I did manage and it was quite a biggie, namely the reorganisation of all my financial documentation.  This is a pretty big task which took me the better part of a week on and off.  I had to buy some new files to store everything in but managed to do this for the small sum of £6.  With this done I can start to think about starting to calculate this last year's tax accounts rather than leaving them until the last minute again.

All in all, I feel happy that April has been very busy and productive.  I just hope that May carries on in a similar fashion.  I just need to think about what I need and would like to achieve next month now.  I'll post my aims shortly.  Do you set yourself goals for the month?  I find it helps to motivate me to get things done, but I'm not too hard on myself if I don't acheive them all as life does have a habit of getting in the way of things sometimes.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Sorting Out My Finances

I'm a pretty organised person when it comes to finance and I have kept a record of my spending for years and have notebooks full of the details of  where every penny has been spent.  I also like to know where everything is, so that when I want to lay my hands on something I can, easily. 

In the last couple of years, however, I seem to have let a few things slip, what with being burgled, starting a small business from home and having builders in the house and stuff everywhere.  All my financial information was spread around in different places, some of it I had hidden in case of another break in, there was a pile of papers that needed filing that had been building up as I just hadn't been filing it all away regularly enough, and I just didn't know where exactly everything was.  My solution was to just shove as much as I could into a suitcase, stick it on top of the wardrobe and sort it out some other time.

I don't know if it's something about spring and spring cleaning, but I actually started sifting through it all this week and getting my financial house in order and it feels sooooo good.  To be honest it didn't take too long to break the back of it, but once you start making progress it is hard to break off and carry on with the normal things you have to do every day like make meals, etc. 

It was a couple of days before I finally got back to it properly, and by this time I had bought some storage solutions for filing it all away.  I spent about £6 in W H Smith yesterday and got enough files to put everything in once I had sifted it all down to the mimimum that I needed to keep.  Everything was filed in date order and filed neatly away in the filing boxes.   I believe I have to keep six years of accounts, as I have been filing my own personal tax return for the past 5 or so years for various reasons, so I couldn't be as ruthless as I would really like to be.  The folders, however, seemed to accomodate the various bits of paperwork pretty well and not look too ugly.   They were a definite improvement from previous arrangements anyway.
Finally, this morning, I rearranged some shelves to accomodate the new files and I managed to put a few more bits and pieces in the charity shop bag in the process.   As a consequence, it feels like I've had a productive morning and have finally ticked this item off my to do list after carrying it over for several weeks now.

Friday 26 April 2013

A Quick Trip to the Allotment

The other afternoon I cycled down to the allotment to check on the sowing I'd done a few weeks ago and make sure all was in order prior to committee inspections at the weekend.  I've been so busy this month that I haven't made many visits.

When I got there it was looking a bit dry.  A few things had germinated, namely some mustard for salad leaves (to the left of the hollyhocks),

some radish and carrots,

and a few beetroot and spring onions.  There were some notable non-germinations of sweet peas, spinach and parsnips.

Some of the lettuce had germinated but not in the numbers that they usually do.

The rhubarb was doing well though.

As were the broad beans with plenty of flowers on them.  The potatoes were starting to come through, which you can't see from the photos, but this was encouraging as they had gone in the ground when it was still quite cold.

The artichokes and lettuces were coming along well too and the forget-me-knots had gone mad.  It's a pity I don't eat them.

I weeded a little, watered the plot, started to make some plant feed putting some comfrey leaves and nettles in a lidded plastic bucket to break down and then came home.  I'm hoping enough has been done to keep the committee happy.  I await the outcome.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Organising My Spring/Summer Wardrobe

As a consequence of Saturday being a beautifully sunny day and being inspired by my trip to the West End on Friday, where it was mostly spring summer clothes/shoes in the shops now, I decided to finally properly bring out my spring/summer wardrobe this weekend and put away all those winter clothes that to be perfectly honest, I'm completely fed up of wearing.  A little foolhardy?   Perhaps.  This is what my wardrobe looked like before I started.  A bit cluttered up top and down below.  I needed to remove a few bags I'd thrown in the bottom which contained gifts for birthdays and Christmas next year that I usually keep elsewhere.

I started by stripping my clothes back as much as I could, taking everything out that I didn't want to wear this spring/summer. A few things did stay in there, mainly things I haven't worn too much this autumn/winter and others that I'm not bored of wearing.  My wardrobe seems a bit more roomy now, as the thicker heavier fabrics have been banished for the time being.  I carried out a cull of quite a few things that have not seen the light of day at all or hardly ever this winter, and they were put in the charity shop bag along with a few things I can't see myself wearing again.  I then got out all the old favourite and new favourite spring/summer clothes and hung them in amongst the items left.  Finally, I had a last look through the shoes and handbags and removed any that I was unlikely to wear or use this spring/summer, particularly knee length boots and heavier type shoes.  I sent a few handbags to the charity shop too, as I have never and doubt if I ever will, use them.  They were mostly picked up from jumble sales or car boots so cost very little.  Hopefully someone else might make use of them if I pass them on.

On a daily basis, my wardrobe is generally pretty organised.  I tend to organise it by type of clothing.   I have all dresses at one end where there is room for them to hang freely, followed by jackets, then tops/blouses, skirts and finally shorts/trousers.  Occasionally I have a reorganisation and change the order to spice things up a bit but the system works pretty well.

Following on from sorting through the wardrobe, I turned my attention to the drawers stacked full of jumpers, tops and scarves.  Thick woolly jumpers, scarves, etc. were put away for another year, although I kept several cardigans handy for cool nights and days.  I put some vintage mohair scarves to one side in my sewing room to make a cushion with, as they are just far too itchy to wear next to your skin.  Again, a cull was made of things hardly ever worn or not liked too much.  At least drawers will open and close a little easier now.  I found a pile of summer vests and sleeveless tops from last summer tucked away in a bottom draw and put them in a more prominent place where I will be more likely to pick them out and wear them.

It felt really good to get this job done as it has reinvigorated my wardrobe and given me a boost.   I am now looking forward to wearing new combinations and finding it easier to get clothes out and put them away again.   I did the same with my daughters wardrobe too, so she got a nice surprise when she went into her room.  Do you put summer clothes in storage during the winter and get them out again in the spring?  If so, when do you do it?  Or do you get rid of last summer's clothes in the autumn and start again?

Anyway, here's what my wardrobe looked like by the time I had finished reorganising it.  Not too different, but I think it is a definite improvement and I'm now set for spring/summer.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Thirty Ways to Save £1

Following on from several bloggers who have posted their own versions of Thirty Ways to Save £1, here's my own version.

1)  Always take your own water bottle to the gym or out for the day so you don't have to pay the exhorbitant prices charged by vending machines and other places.

2)  Cut up any old or stained clothing that is not fit to send to the charity shop to use as dish/floor cloths.

3)  If you have an open fire, cut up any wood that can be used to burn on the fire to save on buying logs and firewood.  I will often take wood offcuts out of skips (asking first, of course) or use old wooden doors no longer required that my OH will chop up to use on our fire.

4)  Shop around for items that you use regularly and make sure you always get them at the cheapest price possible.  If I know I can get something cheaper up north whilst visiting relatives, I will buy a stock of such an item when on a visit and bring them back to London with me.

5)  If you shop online always Google for voucher codes before making purchases with specific websites.  You can often at least save on the postage costs if a voucher code is available.

6)  Re-use plastic bags as bin liners for waste baskets around the house, to collect up the cold ashes from the fire, to keep your bicycle seat dry or any other use you can think of.

7)  Avoid paying for parking where possible.  If you get a refund by spending a small amount in a particular shop I will spend this amount by only buying things that I use regularly and will definitely use, thus getting the refund and avoiding paying for parking.

8)  If you like certain brands, check out their online websites as you can often get items from the brands you like at heavily reduced prices online in their end of season sales.

9)  Try to have a credit card that gives you loyalty points, air miles or cash back so that you are earning extra money or it's equivalent when using your card.

10)  Join loyalty schemes where possible, (if you agree with this type of marketing scheme) so that you can receive extra goods in exchange for your points or recieve vouchers for items that you use regularly.  Also, take advantage of these schemes by getting the most benefit from your points when you use them.  For example, I get magazine subscriptions with my Tesco Clubcard points and enjoy receiving these magazines throughout the year of the subscription.  I have given them as Christmas or birthday gifts too on occasion.

11)  Try to shop in discount supermarkets such as Lidl or Aldi if there is one near to you, as they are very competitive on price and their products are generally of a good quality.

12)  Shop in charity shops rather than buying everything new.  You can find amazing bargains in great condition if you look carefully.  You can also take comfort in the fact that your money is going to a good cause.

13)  If you are not overly concerned about best before dates on some food products, look out for reduced items in supermarkets and also shop online with websites such as Approved Food.co.uk.  You can save lots of money this way and some products can be frozen to prolong their life.

14)  When you do your supermarket shop always take a list which is based on a weekly menu plan as this helps to prevent you putting lots of unnecessary extras into your basket.

15)  Manage the environment in your home.  Make sure you draft proof windows and doors in winter, set your thermostat to turn the heating off when it gets to a certain temperature ie 18 or 19 degrees centigrade.  Close curtains to keep in heat.  Avoid leaving windows open unnecessarily.  Use hot water bottles, extra blankets and quilts and wear extra clothing to keep warm, rather than turning up the heating costing yourself more money.

16)  Before giving any clothing to the charity shop, consider whether you could possibly alter it or customise it so that you would continue to wear it or alternatively use the fabric for another purpose such as patchwork quilting, cushion covers or other small projects.

17)  Rent an allotment or create a vegetable patch in your garden and grow your own food.  Even if you just grow salad crops you can save yourself quite a bit of money and grow some really interesting varieties of lettuce, for example, that would cost much more in the shops.

18)  Compost your garden and kitchen waste where possible to create good quality compost to use on your garden saving you money by not having to buy so much from the garden centre.

19)  Always make sure you fill your washing machine and dishwasher to capacity before running a cycle.  This saves on detergents and also electricity and water.  Hang wet washing on a clothes horse or washing line to dry instead of using expensive tumble dryers.

20)  Use a salad spinner to wash lettuce leaves as they will keep longer in the fridge and not get soggy and be wasted.

21)  Use up vegetables in the fridge that are slightly past their best by creating casseroles and stews with them. 

22)  Save money on Christmas or birthday presents by starting your shopping in the January sales and by buying things throughout the year when on offer.  This not only saves money, but spreads the cost throughout the year so you don't end up in debt after the festivities are over.

23)  If you are able, make cards or gifts for close family members to cut the cost of gift giving.  I have made cushions as gifts before, using good quality fabric, which would have cost considerably more had I bought them.

24)  When you go to the cinema or theatre, instead of buying extortionately expensive snacks in house, take your own homemade popcorn with you or take some sweets and drinks bought from the supermarket.

25)   If you take the children out for the day in the summer holidays, check on line or in your local library to find free museums and workshops for kids to attend.  Take a picnic lunch, which you could eat in a local park or garden, thereby having a lovely inexpensive day out to remember.

26)  Make use of your local library to take out books and save money on buying them.  They have such a huge range available and you can always reserve books if they don't have the one you want in stock when you visit.  Just make sure you take them back or renew them on time to avoid fees for overdue books.

27)  Get on your bike to save money on petrol costs.  Where possible, cycle short journeys.  With the high cost of fuel you will definitely save money.

28)  I never waste money on expensive branded toilet paper.  I know this is a personal thing, but compared to the nasty stuff we had to use at infant school when I was young, even the basic brands are luxurious.

29)  Don't be afraid to frequent your local Pound shop.  If you are selective you can often find some really good bargains there.

30)  Visit your local car boot sale.  One man's junk is another man's treasure.  This is so true and you can often get great items in fabulous condition at amazing prices. 

Monday 22 April 2013

Loving on TV at the moment....

We don't watch a huge amount of TV, but we do like to relax of an evening and watch at least one good programme.   Lately, there have been some super series that I/we like to watch.  There's at least one good thing on most nights of the week.  Sometimes we don't manage to watch them, but when we remember we record them or watch them on iPlayer.  Here's a list of my current favourites:

Broadchurch on ITV- This drama has been a real gem.  Can't wait for the last episode tonight.  I've even been checking out people's theories of whodunnit on line this week as it has kept us in such a slowburn state of suspense.  Hoping it won't disappoint in the final episode.

The Great British Sewing Bee on BBC2 - Looking forward to the final on Tuesday.  I love the fact that it depicts sewing in all it's complexities.

The Hoarder Next Door on Channel 4 - I can't resist watching this programme as I have a susceptibility to this trait.  It helps to keep my hoarding instincts in check.  -  Not one of OH's favourites! I tape it if it clashes with Broadchurch and watch it later in the week.

Monty Don on Gardener's World on BBC2 - Friday nights just weren't the same without him.  He totally inspires me from a gardening point of view and the programme is filmed in such a beautiful way.

Arne Dahl on BBC FOUR - A Swedish detective series. Very graphic at times, making it hard to watch sometimes, but a wonderfully understated series.

The Village - Great British Sunday night viewing.  Its almost becoming a cliche having a historic drama series like this on a Sunday evening.

Sunday 21 April 2013

A Sunny Saturday

Yesterday was lovely.  Bright blue skies, not a cloud in sight.  (Still a bit chilly though)  It gave me hope that the weather might get better and I might eventually feel warmth on my skin.  We had a lazy start to the day.  I did a bit of work, a bit of blog reading, a bit of book reading.  I'm reading this book at the moment.  I bought it from a market stall the other day for £1.  I'm not very far in, but it seems quite interesting.  It's about a guy who lives in New York and spends a year trying to make as little environmental impact as possible.  Sometimes I find books like this really interesting and sometimes they can be quite a chore to read.  I'll see how it goes.

I had to go out to a Brazilian dance class late morning, which I'd booked earlier in the week.  I hadn't been to this particular class for a good few weeks, in part because I couldn't get booked in and in part due to taking a break.  It was good to get back to it.

When I got home we all wandered up the road to a new Italian Restaurant that has opened up, for lunch.  I'd never been before although my partner had.  It was a lovely atmosphere and the food was great.  I had a Salami, Buffalo Mozzarella and Rocket Panini which was pretty huge to be honest, washed down with a lager shandy.  It was a nice treat on a Sunny Saturday.

We followed up with ice creams bought from the newsagents, which we ate on the way home.  My first of the year.  We pootled home, looking in a couple of new vintage furniture shops that have opened up nearby and my daughter and I popped into the local toy shop so that she could spend her pocket money on some Fimo modelling clay.  She's starting to make her own jewellery and charms and made a couple of sweet cakes this morning which she is going to turn into charms when the eye head pins that we've ordered arrive.  I've sneaked a picture to show you.  (Don't tell her)  I must admit I was quite impressed with her handiwork.  They need cooking and varnishing yet but look really cute as they are (inspite of the blurry photo).

Talking of making things, my Making magazine came today which was a nice treat. 

So, I sat in the sunshine in the garden with a cup of tea and read it, hoping to be inspired.

We had a BBQ for the first time this year for tea. OH made some homemade beefburgers which were delish. 

Here's a photo of mine which I ate in a wholemeal breadbun with lots of salad and some corn on the cob.  Just as well we had the BBQ really as OH punctured the gas pipe in the front garden whilst digging, and we had to wait for British Gas to come and repair it!  They did a sterling job and eventually all was well again thankfully.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Hot Footing it Back To the West End

It isn't that common for me to head down to the West End of London shopping, but today I made my second visit this week because I needed to go to visit a wholesalers to get something for my small home-based business.  I hopped on the bus which took me all the way to Tottenham Court Road and walked up Oxford Street from there.  The shop I needed to go to was on one of the streets off Oxford Street, but before I headed for it, I popped into M&S for some sushi for lunch. (I hate shopping on an empty stomach).   I like M&S Food Halls, as this one, and the one in my local shopping centre have tables at which you can sit and eat your sandwich instead of eating it on the hoof.  Much more civilised.

Lunch eaten I went and got the item I needed, picked up a few wooden skirt hangers whilst there too, as I'm always trying to hang too many skirts on the ones I have and they end up falling off.  At only £1.38 each they were very reasonable too.

After completing the main task for which I'd gone into town, I decided to do a bit of window shopping whilst there.  Inevitably this usually leads to me buying something which I'm afraid I did, two things, well two pairs of shoes to be exact, but more later.

I was perhaps spurred on by the windows of Selfridges which were celebrating a Shoe Carnival.  What a carnival it was.  Here's what some of them looked like.


 You can't tell from this photo but the heels of the shoes were moving up and down.

The rollercoaster was my favourite as the shoes were moving around and around.  I had to keep waiting until my favourites were at the front. (The multicoloured ones in case you hadn't guessed).
I'd love to have a go on this grabbing machine too.  I thnk I'd go for the turquoise metallic or orange shoes even though I can't wear heels well.

This ferris wheel was fabulous too.  Apologies to the lady walking in front as I took the photo if you are reading this.  It was impossible on a busy Oxford Street not to get someone in the frame.

I loved the transparent pink wedges in this window.  If you look closely you can see me looking like a bag lady as I take the photo.
Finally, some shoes were getting carried away by hot air balloons.
The display really cheered me up.  I do like to see a beautifully creative window display.  It works too as I went and bought two pairs of shoes.  Not from Selfridges I might add.  (I wish).
The first pair were some spotted sandals from the huge Primark store at Marble Arch.  They were only £8 but will be great for the summer to wear with a black dress.
The second were  a pair of black wedge trainers that I've been looking for for a few weeks now.  They were £27 in the sale at Debenhams and were from Dune.  Not to everyone's taste I know, but I can't wait to wear them with trousers as they have a great leg lengthening effect.
A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do I'm afraid.

Friday 19 April 2013

Spring Sowings

It is so wonderful that Spring has finally sprung.  There are some signs of life in my garden, which is exciting.  The dark purple aquilegia is filling out and growing upwards, no flowers yet but I look forward to them when they do arrive. 

There are some blossom buds on my fruit trees, but I did prune them quite brutally a couple of months ago, so I aren't expecting too much fruit this year.

The forget-me-knots are flowering.  I love their tiny blue flowers.  So delicate.

One of the borders in my garden is gradually filling up after laying so bare all winter and I've seen quite a few large bumble bees buzzing around now which is encouraging, but I'm not enjoying the midges quite as much, that have appeared in parts of the Gravel Pits when I walk the dog.

The other day, spurred on by the warmer weather and the fact that few of the seeds I sowed earlier in the year in the greenhouse had germinated, I did a bit more sowing including some more tomato seeds, cucumbers, chives, sweet peas, nasturtiums and salad leaves.  The salad leaves were seed impregnated sheets that you lay on the surface of compost, cover and water.  I've not used these before so it will be interesting to see what happens. 

I also set up my climbing bean spiral ready to sow some beans into in a couple of weeks time.    It was a bit tricky at first to get it to stand up properly, but I managed it in the end.  This was a charity shop buy for £2 so I thought I would give it a go on the decking outside the kitchen doors.  Unfortunately the puppy has taken a liking to it and keeps digging out the pins holding the spiral in place.

I gave up on the sowing front when I ran out of compost, part way through sowing a box of kitchen herbs.  It felt good to get on and try to catch up in this regard, as due to the failure of previous sowings, I am now very behind.  With hindsight, I should perhaps have kept them inside rather than in the greenhouse. 

A visit to the allotment is a must in the next week or so to check up on previously sown seeds and seed potatoes, prior to revised inspections at the end of the month.  I'll keep you posted.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Feeling Lethargic

I'm feeling a little lethargic this week.  It may be just that returning to exercising is making me feel a bit tired, or it may be a result of the intensity of the decluttering and cleaning I had to do last week in time for our guests arriving.  Whatever the cause is, I'm taking it very easy.  My lethargy and the time I've spent sorting the house this month has however been good for something, as I haven't been able to go out shopping, so I have spent hardly any money so far this month.

Just as well really.  One of my credit card bills arrived yesterday morning.  It was a bit depressing as it was the one that I have the largest balance on.  There is quite a sum on it and it needs repaying as soon as possible.  I have bitten the bullet and paid a biggish lump off it this month, which will leave me without too much left for the rest of the month.  I think, however, that I can manage to tolerate this situation for the sake of getting out of debt as quickly as possible, but it will mean very few treats in the next two weeks and spending on strictly necessary things only.  I think perhaps I should aim to do this every month and my credit cards will soon be clear.

I watched the first episode in the new series of 'The Hoarder Next Door' on TV the other night, and it never fails to remind me that I am always in danger of developing a serious hoarding problem myself.  I think paying more off my credit card and having no money to spend, is definitely the way to go and a good thing, as it prevents me bringing more 'stuff' home that I have to find space for.   I think for the moment I will concentrate on appreciating everything that I have already and  resist any temptation to add to it, difficult though that is sometimes.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Getting Back on the Fitness Wagon

Well after two weeks of virtually no exercise, save walking the dog, I got straight back to the gym this Monday morning to start trying to lose the few pounds I've gained in the Easter Holidays.  It felt so good to go to a Zumba class and get sweaty and tired.  I also returned later that same day for another Aerobics class, whilst my daughter had her trampolining lesson.  I've got all my classes booked for the week now and I am looking forward to getting back to normal again.  My time away from exercise has had the desired effect and I am back feeling enthusiastic and ready to embrace it again.  Sometimes I think that my mind and body both benefit from a rest from classes so that they don't become too repetitive and unchallenging.

Now the weather has picked up, and it is a bit sunnier, I am going to try to cycle the 10 mile round trip to the gym at least once a week, maybe on a Wednesday, (I didn't manage it today though), when I have no weekly shop to do.  The extra 40 minutes of exercise makes a big difference, especially in terms of toning thighs.  Luckily the route is mainly through parks and along canal paths, so it isn't too treacherous, save for other cyclists flying past at high speed on their way to work. 

I must admit that I do tend to pootle a little, which I imagine can be a little frustrating should anyone be stuck behind me.  The bell on your bicycle comes in really handy when you get behind a cyclist like me.  It is common practice to ring twice when you approach the rear of another cyclist and intend to overtake, to let them know you are there.  The same two rings are made when you approach an overhead bridge tunnel and can't see if any other cyclists or pedestrians are approaching from the opposite direction.  It is interesting to note that before some bridges, give way markings have been painted on the canal path to encourage cyclists to  stop and prevent them flying into the tunnel and colliding with pedestrians or other users.

I must admit that when I first started riding my bike along the canal paths of East London I was most affronted by other cyclists ringing their bells at me, but now I understand the cycling etiquette I realise that it is nothing personal and just for safety and courtesy.  That's okay then.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Reclaiming Space

As mentioned in previous posts, I have spent the last couple of weeks gradually clearing our dining room, which had become a depository for all kinds of clutter since we had our basement converted into an office last year.  Once cleared, I was able to make it into a reasonable spare bedroom for some visitors at the weekend. (See The Great Spring Clean - Part 2 post)   Once our visitors had left, however, and with no pending large party visits on the horizon, my other half wasted no time in restoring it to it's former use as an extension of our living space.  We call it our dining room, but it has never been used as such and is more of a second reception room.

With the bed removed, dividing doors opened up and the sofa and other bits of furniture repositioned, we now have a lovely dual aspect living space once again, which brings much more light into our living room and is especially welcome after such a long winter.  The transformation has breathed a breath of fresh air into the house and it feels great.  We can once again reach the record player and put some vinyl on the turntable from time to time.  We can sit in the back room and listen to music or read quietly.  Normal life has finally resumed and we truly do appreciate it.  Here's what it looks like now from the living room through, a wonderful de-cluttered space.

Monday 15 April 2013

From East End Jumble Sale To West End Sightseeing

Last Saturday was an interesting day.  Having family visitors here from Yorkshire, who wanted to do a bit of sightseeing, everyone headed into town early to board the tourist bus.  I, on the other hand, stayed back to walk the dog and then headed in to meet them a little later. 

On the way into town I stopped off at one of my favourite jumble sales at our local Hospice.  It is an Aladdin's Cave, which is actually the name of the basement area where most of the stalls are set out.  I always head straight for the linen stall and check out the fabrics and linens and wasn't disappointed.  I found vintage table cloths,  pillow cases (new in packet), napkins, aprons and a floral scarf.  All for £2.  I haven't shown all the items here as some I need to wash before photographing.  If they come out okay I will post pictures later in the week.


I then headed to the shoes where I found a pair of nearly new leather shoes for £2 which fit beautifully and are really comfortable. they've got a bit of a 'granny chic' look and feel about them which I quite like.

Finally I headed to the book stall and got 3 books for £1. 

So I managed to fill a small bag for just £5.  I didn't buy anything else, as I would have to carry it around all day, and headed off into town.

Whilst making my way to meet the others in Hamleys on Regent Street, I did a slight detour and popped into Liberty for a quick look around the haberdashery department.  Always a favourite.   I then wandered up the road to our arranged meeting place.  Just as I got there, a procession of vintage bicycles and cyclists dressed in vintage clothes came past.  It was a fabulous sight.  It's great when you happen upon something randomly like that.  I took a few photos to share with you.  The costumes were fabulous with very authentic attention to detail.

After a quick phone call to find out where the others were, I joined them in the store where we had a look around the vast array of toys.  To be perfectly honest I find the store quite overwhelming at times, so I can't imagine what it must be like for a child.  I love to visit at Christmas though, as one of our pre-Christmas family rituals.

From there, we wandered off down Saville Row (the tailoring shops are fascinating) and Burlington Arcade to Green Park where we rejoined the tourist bus route and we all continued on with the sightseeing.  I've been in London over 15 years now and it was the first time I'd been on a tour bus.  It was pretty cold upstairs with no roof.  I soon took cover under the roofed part of the bus, especially when it started raining.  I was slightly disappointed that they didn't have real life guides on all of the buses, as their live commentary beats a recorded version every time.  We did get a real live guide on one short bus ride and it made such a difference.

We had a lovely afternoon sightseeing, then stopped off at St Pauls and the Monument, before returning home.  Sometimes it's great to have visitors and to go into London and just be a tourist for the day.  You forget what it is like to travel around looking at and appreciating what is around you, instead of it going unnoticed most of the time as you go about your daily business.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Getting Back into the Old Routine

After lunch today, our guests for the weekend set off on their four or more hour journey back up to Yorkshire and we were left slightly bereft by their absence.  It always feels strangely quiet when visitors leave.  The house which has been full of children, adults and activity all weekend, suddenly becomes relatively quiet and calm again.  It takes a while to adjust.  My daughter felt especially sad on her cousins departure and the thought of school resuming tomorrow. 

We all wandered off into our own little worlds, I spent the afternoon hanging out washing in the sunshine, reading the Sunday newspaper and then catching up on reading blogs and creating new ones.  The puppy also bereft of little toes to try to chew, fell into a dreamfilled noisy sleep alongside me on the kitchen floor.  Tomorrow we get back to our normal routine.  School, dog walking, gym, work, housework, afterschool activities, etc. etc. etc.

In some ways I'm quite looking forward to it, as it is nice to have a routine, but for this afternoon I'm hanging on to what is left of the Easter holidays as tightly as I can.  Let tomorrow take care of itself is what I say.

Saturday 13 April 2013

The Great Spring Clean - Part 2

Part two of the Great Spring Clean commenced late Monday morning.  After walking the dog, I came back and decided to tackle the shoe basket and coat hooks in the vestibule.  This is what it looked like before I began.  Not a pretty sight.

I don't think I had sorted out this basket for at least 10 or 11 months since the builders were working here last summer - judging by the amount of dust, rubble, etc in the bottom.   I took everything out throwing things onto piles for the charity shop, ebay, washing machine, wardrobe, winter clothing bag, waste bin, etc.  It took an hour approximately but it was time well spent.  I managed to make myself part with a couple of pairs of  my boots, some outgrown shoes of my daughters, some well past their best pairs of sandals and slippers of my other half's.  I must admit that most of the rest were put back in even though some of them had seen better days. 

One pair I'm going to try to dye a rich oxblood if I can get some dye this colour.  Another pair I use to go to the allotment in the summer and as they are comfy old Converse Hi Tops I am loathe to part  with them even though they are well past their best.  Some shoes just get better with age.  The odd pair were thrown in the washing machine due to being muddy from winter walks (only waterproof or canvas ones might I add).

The remainder I sorted into 3 rows, the biggest was for my shoes and boots, next was my daughters and the smallest row was my other half who has a far more sensible approach to shoe buying.  One out one in.   The only boots he wears are wellies which are kept in the boot of the car.   I wish I could be more like him in that regard, but sadly I'm not as I am a bit partial to boots and they do take up a lot of room.  Some I wear in the spring or summer too, if they go nicely with a skirt.

After tackling the shoe basket I had a sort through of the coats hanging on the hooks above.  I removed a few heavy ones to go in the winter clothing bag until later in the year.  I kept a few macs and slightly warmer coats out for the spring and just rearranged the rest onto my hooks (3 of them), my daughter's hooks ( 2 on a lower level) and my other half's sole hook.  A similar ratio ensued in terms of coats too -  surprise surprise.  Here's the end result of my toil.  A vast improvement.  I know it won't stay that way for long though.

Next, I went back to sorting through some of the things in the dining room. I also needed some new storage bags for what I would be keeping, so after lunch I headed into town to get a couple.

After managing to find a couple of attractive storage bags (above) for storing things where they are going to be visible, and a couple of less attractive but bigger bags that will be stored in the shed, I persevered with sorting the things still cluttering up the dining room.  I managed to collect quite a pile together for the charity shop, which just goes to show that if you can't throw things away initially, if you go back to them a little later you often feel more able to dispose of them, as was the case here. 

The more attractive storage bags I'm saving to use for winter clothes and shoes.  They are going to be stored on top of a cupboard or wardrobe upstairs, so I'm going to see them on a daily basis.  Although the weather still isn't great I took all the spring/summer clothes out of the suitcase I keep them in to make room to put away some heavier winter items.  I haven't removed all winter items from the drawers, but the heavier ones, the ones I wear the least and the ones I didn't feel like wearing again this year, have been packed away and more items, both winter and summer, have been put in the charity shop pile.

Eventually all the 'stuff' cluttering up the dining room was rehomed or donated and the room was then ready to clean, in readiness for our visitors.  It was a great relief to get it done, freeing up more living space.  Here's what it looked like when it had been cleaned and a bed set up for our guests. (Apologies for the quality of the photo but this was taken in the evening before they arrived).  Hopefully they will be comfortable after their long journey.

Friday 12 April 2013

A Day Out at the Seaside

We've had a bit of a staycation this Easter Holiday (apart from visiting family for the Easter weekend).  I thought that we might find it a little boring, as we usually manage to get away for at least a few days somewhere.  Not this year though, so a couple of days ago we decided to take ourselves off for an afternoon at the seaside, to make us feel like we'd had a bit of a holiday.

Getting out of London, as I've mentioned in previous posts, is always relaxing, even if just for an afternoon.  The day was a lovely sunny one, although it was cloudier on the coast and still pretty cold.  We headed off after lunch  to one of our favourite places, Whitstable in Kent.  It is only 50 or so minutes from East London so is very easy to get to.  It has a lovely pebbly beach, lots of lovely shops to mooch around, and is a beautifully picturesque seaside town.

We took the puppy for her first visit there and were hoping that she'd like it.  I think she did.  She especially like the fish supper in Herne Bay, the walk along the beach at Seasalter and  a stroll along the front in Whitstable, sniffing other dogs and crunching shells and crab claws. 

I took a few photos:

the beach at Seasalter and a huge bumble bee on the grass path as we made our way back to the car;

the fishermen's huts you can stay in on Whitstable seafront and the view therefrom;

the beautifully colourful beach huts as you drive towards Herne Bay and a view towards the bay itself and the clocktower.

We had a lovely afternoon out, but really appreciated coming back to our lovely home, lighting the fire  and settling in for the evening.  Even though we haven't been away much this Easter Holidays, we've had a lovely relaxing time in our own home, getting up when we want to and doing whatever we want to, with no prescribed routine.  It has been quite blissful and has cost us very little.  In addition, I have more or less finished the remaining decluttering left from the building work, which makes me feel much more organised than has been the case for years now.   We have almost got our home back to normal.  There is still plenty of things to do, but I feel so much more ready to face the new school term.   Maybe we should do this more often.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Taking Delivery

I did a spot of internet shopping towards the end of last month, as there were some very good offers on a few of the websites that I visit regularly, namely Boden, Joules and La Redoute.

All the items came in the last week or two so I've taken delivery of a few parcels.  I bought myself this Navy/white Rainy Day Mac from Boden for dogwalking in this spring/summer.  It was reduced in the sale.

From Joules I bought these lovely flip flops for me for the summer.  I wanted a nice pair as I often wear them when out and about when it is really hot as they are so easy to wear.  These were full price, but I didn't mind too much as I really liked them.  I snook in this notebook from Joules too, which was reduced to £3 from £10 in the sale.  I thought it would be nice for keeping in my handbag to jot down inspirations, etc. when I'm out and about. 

I also got these hare wellies for my daughter in their sale which are really sweet.

Lastly, I placed an order with La Redoute for some items which were heavily reduced mostly.  I bought some shorts, leggings, tee shirts and pumps for my daughter for spring/summer.  She will probably wear the pumps for school as there is a no sandals allowed policy at her school.  All of these items were very reasonably priced;  the shorts were £4.50 and the two t-shirts and two pairs of leggings cost only £4.50 for each set of two.

I did order a few things for me too.  Namely two racer back vests which were £5 each, a black linen dress for £19 and a pair of print trousers for £9.50.  I've ordered lots of things from this company in the past and they tend to be pretty good quality and very well priced if you wait until the sale.  I made sure I read the reviews as they can give a good guide to sizing, which can vary from item to item.  I'm glad that I did as all the items I ordered for myself were a good fit.  The only slight surprise was the length of the dress which was a bit on the short side for me, but I like the style of it and will probably wear it with trousers or three quarter leggings.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

A Beauty Steal

On a previous post I was discussing my daily beauty routine and had some interesting comments from people that made me think about perhaps trying a tinted moisturiser.  One particular blogger said she always used a Nivea Tinted Moisturiser and when I was in Boots the other day I saw one on the shelf and decided to buy it and give it a try.  It was very reasonably priced at £3.66. 

I tried it for the first time a few days later.  It felt light and velvety smooth, but not oily, on my skin, effected good coverage, although I did also use a concealer for a few persistant blemishes and smelt lovely.  Another thing I liked about it was that it gave a natural kind of look, which didn't make me feel overly made up like some foundations do.  I was very pleasantly surprised and also pleased to find a product that does more than one job and has an SPF factor of 8 so gives some protection from the sun too.  All giant leaps forward for me.  In addition I think it will work out much more cost effective than using concealer sticks which are marginally more expensive.  They will certainly last me a whole lot longer now as I barely need to use them at all anymore.

I only saw one shade on sale, which was Natural, but this was a good match with my skin.  The product looks like this, although it actually comes in a box which I've already recycled.

Thank you bloggers for guiding me to this product and keeping me in touch with what is out there.  It's good to step out of your comfort zone sometimes and try new things.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

100 Today

Posts that is.  Today's is the 100th post I've made on this blog and I can't believe how quickly this has come around.  I know this might not sound like much of a cause for celebration or even mention but when I started this blog I didn't know if I'd be able to create more than a few, let alone 100.  I couldn't even add in photos at the beginning, but I am adding to my blogging skills very slowly and gradually and I hope to keep on improving.

Thank you to everyone who has read or commented on my blog posts in the past few months.  I truly appreciate your taking the time to drop by, hope that you have enjoyed your visits and that you'll stay with me a little longer on this enjoyable journey.  Normal blogging resumes tomorrow.

Monday 8 April 2013

The Great Spring Clean - Part 1

The Great Spring Clean in time for our visitors next week started proper a week before they were due to arrive.  With an ironing basket that hadn't been touched for two weeks and in danger of falling over, I set about getting to the bottom of it.  The ironing was eventually put away (after spending 3 hours ironing, it usually takes me another day to get around to it) and a start made on tidying my daughters bedroom which was a pit.  Following on from this I started decluttering the dining room.  Here's what it looked like to begin with again.

Faced with this sort of task it can often be hard to know where to begin.  I started with clearing the wooden shelves you can see behind the bikes and finding an alternative place for everything or getting rid of some items.  The wicker basket was full of back copies of Vogue, which I decided to send to the charity shop and see if anyone might be interested in buying them.  The metal tin I found room for in my newly decluttered hall cupboard.  The other two shelves contained craft and sewing materials which I promptly relocated to a craft box situated under the chest of draws which got a good sort through too or to my sewing room as appropriate.  A small but significant start as this helped to motivate me to carry on to the next phase.
The next phase involved doing some work in the garden.  The following day (Saturday) it was lovely and sunny and was forecast to be 9 degrees centigrade, so I didn't want to miss an opportunity to get out there.  Although this might not seem relevant to spring cleaning the house, by clearing and finishing dog proofing the garden, we could then get the bikes outside and put some of the items from the dining room in the garden shed. Also, washing the garden pots and putting them away tidily meant we could create space for ourselves and our guests to sit out there when they come, should the weather be nice and would make it easier for me to reuse the pots for spring sowing.  The sunshine also meant that I could get some more washing on the line instead of drying it in the dining room.
Before we started parts of the garden looked like this.
The area under the trampoline was a particular mess.
 Pots everywhere waiting to be washed.

The bins were set out across the part of the garden to the side of the house to stop the dog going through to next door's as this part of the garden wasn't yet dog proofed. 
You can see the difference a day makes when all of us were on the job from these after photographs.
Pots cleaned and stored in the greenhouse.
Table clear and ready to sit around once chair covers replaced, area under trampoline cleared.
The part of the garden down the side of the house now properly dog proofed and bikes moved outside from the dining room clearing more space.
Potting table moved to just outside the back door for easier access and use.
My daughter very kindly helped me wash all of the plant pots which helped enormously.  We both now have very wrinkled hands, but after two years or more of not washing them they are now finally done and it is a fabulous feeling.  In addition, we've cleared all the rubbish that had lingered for months, put the bikes outside and I have washed the outside chair covers which had unfortunately been out all winter due to having nowhere inside to store them.  Finally, I managed to dry 3 loads of washing in the sunshine, saw my first bee of the year and my ironing pile is now back to square one, so I've come full circle, but with progress made.  A thoroughly satisfying couple of days' work.  Garden order now restored I can sit out there with a cup of tea and enjoy it again.