Saturday 25 May 2013

Where Did The Money Go?

Do you ever have those months where money just slips through your fingers and you just cannot figure out what you have spent it on?  This month is one of them.  I don't know if it is something about months with 31 days in them, but this month I am feeling particularly short of money.  Today is only the 25th day of the month, but already I have completely spent up for the month, so the next 6 days are going to feel very long and painful.

I keep looking at my bank account and trying to figure out where all my money went this month and mostly it seems to have gone on food and non-food groceries and a few extras.  I have paid a large sum off one credit card and a smaller sum off another, but I have done this for the last couple of months and not spent up quite so early.  I did have an extra bill to pay this month which was £80 or thereabouts and I think that this is where the difference lies, as this sort of sum would usually see me through to the end of the month quite comfortably.  I'm wishing now that I had taken more account of this and budgeted better by not spending money on certain non-essential items earlier this month.  A bitter pill.

Fortunately, next week is half term and we are going away on a week's break to the Yorkshire Dales, staying in quite a remote area, where hopefully I won't need to spend too much money as we should be doing lots of walking and other inexpensive pursuits, such as ambling about the market towns and tourist attractions (free ones hopefully).  Unless my partner is feeling particularly generous towards me, I will be keeping my eyes down and avoiding all temptation.  I may have to find some money from my savings to tide me over, as I don't want to have a miserable holiday worrying too much about it.

I've just been looking through my cupboards and pulling out food and other items that we can take with us to save spending money on them whilst we are away.  Fortunately, I have a cupboard full of pasta, rice, jars, tins and various other bits and pieces that should come in very useful for meals, and I have a good supply of toilet paper and cleaning products that we can take with us.  We will however, still need to shop for some food, but I will empty the fridge of anything that will travel and try to minimise the necessity for shopping as much as possible.

I am taking some books with me to read and a new hand sewn patchwork project to keep me busy and help me resist the temptation to go out and spend too much money.  We usually take packed lunches with us if we go out on walks or my partner may treat us to the odd meal out at the pub or a cafĂ©, so we won't be devoid of treats.  It's a good job that one of us is sensible with money, that's all I can say.

Depending on whether I can get a reasonable signal or not on my dongle, I may be taking an enforced break from blogging this week.  If I do have a great week.  Normal blogging will resume the following week.

Friday 24 May 2013

Blogging Workshop

Yesterday, I attended my second Adult Learner's Week workshop, this time the subject was Blogging - A Beginner's Guide and yes I'm not exactly a beginner, but I needed to brush up my skills with regard to the design of my blog and the various gadgets you can add to your blog.

As you can see from the newish look blog, I was able to add a new background, change some fonts a little, add some gadgets and just generally update it.  I was really pleased with the results.  I hope you like them too.  I made the changes as subtle as I could as I didn't want to put anybody off reading, but I might just get the bug for this and do regular redesigns.

The workshop itself was held in the local library where the computers were booked out for us to use for the 4 hour duration of the workshop.  The teacher Tanya was a lovely lady and who uses her blog to promote her work as an illustrator, and who gave us a chance to explore different blogs, before setting up or altering our own.

I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop, it was so exciting to be able to muster the confidence to make changes with someone there to guide you around blogger.  So you can now read my blog in many different languages  for those of you reading this overseas or even if you want to brush up your language skills (although I take no responsibility for the translation provided by Google).  You can also now subscribe to posts by email if you wish to.

I hope you like the new look.  I may be making extra tweaks in the future.  I also met some lovely people who were also interested in blogging.  A great and useful workshop.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Health Food Shop Shopping

Last week I ventured into our local Health Food Shop, which I don't do that often, but am usually glad that I did and this visit was no exception.

Anyway,  I am occasionally prone to a bit of alternative therapy (in addition to seeking medical advice might I add) and on this occasion I came across a new to me product that might help my daughter in the long term.   As a consequence of some health problems, my daughter needs to take regular probiotics to help keep her digestive flora under control and as a consequence I tend to give her these by way of probiotic drinking yoghurts.  Of late her lunch box has been coming home with the yoghurt still in it, so I decided to take a look and see if I could find something that might help in this regard.  What I did find was this product, which is supposed to contain billions of active bacteria. 

They are chewable strawberry flavoured tablets and children need only take half or one per day.  At £10 they weren't cheap, but I thought I would give them a go as they are good value and will provide her with some relief from the 'chore' of drinking the same yoghurt every day.  I will still, however, buy yoghurts for her and put them in her lunch box from time to time but this product will allow her to take one every day very easily and will allow me to monitor her taking it.

Whilst buying this product I  noted that there was a Buy One Get One For A Penny offer on lots of other products in the store so I decided to pick up some of this wonderful Aloe Vera Gel.   I have had this before and it is a wonderful product for use on dry skin or other skin irritations.  I wish I'd had some a few weeks ago when my daughter got a bout of prickly heat and was very uncomfortable, despite attempts to relieve it with good old Calamine lotion.  (So reminds me of being a child!).  Anyway, I managed to get this large 200ml tube for 1p under this offer, instead of £6.99, which was definitely worth having.

I have also ventured into the Health Food Shop on other occasions and am a big fan of the Bach Flower Remedies sold in there.  I love the Rescue Remedy and have used this since having my daughter.   If ever I felt a bit low or anxious I would take a few drops and it might be psychological, but I always found it to be very calming.  I still use it now from time to time when particularly upset or stressed about something. You can also now buy it in chewable lozenge form, only be careful as my daughter had a habit of sneakily eating them, not that they did her any harm, but they are quite expensive to eat like sweets.  (They may even have had a good effect on her!)  More recently I invested in Bach's Emotional Eating Kit as pictured. I can't remember how much this cost, but the Rescue Remedy is usually around the £6 or £7 mark, so it was probably more expensive than this unless it was on special offer.

The idea is to take a few drops of each essence or one or other of the essences according to how you feel,  i.e. when you feel dislike for yourself or something about yourself (Crab Apple), fear losing control (Cherry Plum) or find yourself making the same mistakes (Chestnut Bud). (The last will probably run out first!)  I must admit that I have hardly used this kit since buying it, but have now pulled it out of the cupboard and will try to use it and hope it might stop me eating unnecessarily.  All these Bach products are easy to carry around in your handbag if necessary, but I find the whole concept really interesting and they do not taste at all unpleasant.

Whilst in the Health Food shop I also picked up one of their loyalty cards which I am yet to activate, but am very tempted to do so.  Perhaps I will make a habit of shopping there more often and trying different products now and again.  Let's face it, we can all do with a bit of a boost in the health department from time to time and if you can prevent some health problems by looking after yourself then I am all for it..

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Patchwork Workshop

Yesterday afternoon I headed off to the first of two free workshops I'm attending as part of Adult Learner's Week.  This particular one was to make a Patchwork Lavender Cushion and was being held in a local community garden.

I didn't really know what to expect as I had never been there before and had only seen it from the outside.  I wasn't sure what sort of patchwork or what shape/size of cushion we'd be making either or what machines we'd be using.  Well in actual fact, we didn't use machines at all, which was quite refreshing.

When I arrived we were offered a cup of tea or coffee which was very inviting and had to fill in a bit of paperwork before we began.  The workshop took place in a large lean to greenhouse type structure in the gardens, which was very light and airy and a really nice space to work in.

We all sat around a large long table and got to work.  The very nice young lady taking the workshop told us what we needed to do and showed us some examples of different styles of patchwork.  For this workshop, we were to make a small cushion by hand, using hexagonal pieces of fabric sewn into a Grandma's Flower shape.  We started off cutting out the hexagons of fabric and then tacking the fabric around smaller paper hexagons, before sewing them together, removing the paper and tacking stitches, and then filling with dried lavender and leftover pieces of fabric before sewing up completely.

I had taken some fabric of my own that I wanted to use, some of which I had saved from my daughter's clothing when a toddler and some others which co-ordinated and I wanted to use.  There was fabric there you could use too and all other thread and equipment was supplied which was good.

There was an interesting mixture of people in the workshop, some had never sewn, some had more experience and we chatted as we sewed.  None of us wanted to break off for anything to eat, but we were served tea and coffee as required which was very generous, so we just kept on sewing.  After about 3 and a half hours I had finished my cushion by hand.  Here's a couple of photos of front and back views.


It probably doesn't look much for 3 hours work, but it was painstakingly hand sewn and it smells so strongly of lavender.  I will either give it to my daughter, as she took a liking to it when I got home, or will use it in my underwear drawer if she doesn't want it or loses interest in it. 

I really enjoyed this workshop and enjoyed learning this traditional method of patchwork, which I can remember my mother using many years ago.  I will try to continue using it at home as it was easier than I expected and very satisfying, although pretty time consuming.  Perhaps the most satisfying thing about it is being able to use all those small bits of fabric that are too small to use for anything else, but that you don't want to throw away.  I have already started assembling enough hexagons to make a full size cushion cover in the same fabrics for our bedroom, as these colours co-ordinate perfectly.  Then who knows, maybe even a full size quilt, but don't expect a reveal any year soon!

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Adult Learners' Week 18th-24th May

This week is Adult Learners' Week and on a visit to my local library the other day to renew some books, I picked up the booklet printed and distributed by our local council which offers 80 short courses throughout the week, to enable borough residents to try out new things or brush up their skills.

On looking through the booklet there were quite a few interesting short courses that I thought might be relevant to me and the small business I run from home.  One was an introduction to book-keeping and another was a Web Design course.  Both were only an hour long so were not particularly indepth, but I thought they might be interesting and useful.  Anyway, as it turned out they were both fully booked, so in the end I plumped for a beginner's course in Blogging and a course on how to make a Patchwork Lavender Cushion. 

Although I have been blogging for a few months now, my blogging skills are very basic and I thought this course might be useful and teach/inspire me how to make my blog more interesting and creative and help me to create more links on my posts.  I'm really looking forward to it.  I am also looking forward to the patchwork course as although I do sew, I have always found patchwork a bit of a stumbling block.  (No pun intended).  I'm hoping that by getting me started, this course will inspire me to really get stuck in to some serious patchwork quilting and use some of the fabrics that I have collected specifically for this purpose.

One of the best things about the courses, is that they are completely free and are being held in local venues, so will be very easy to get to.  Their duration is only a few hours too, so they are pretty easy to fit into my week.  I'll post about the courses after I have attended.  Are you attending any courses for Adult Learners' Week?   What is going on in your local area for Adult Learner's Week?  Are you attending a course in something you've always wanted to do or try?

Monday 20 May 2013

A No Spend Sunday

This Sunday, I had a quiet but productive 'No Spend Sunday'.  I spent the day pottering about the house and garden catching up with jobs that needed doing and not spending any money. 

The day starts early on a Sunday for us as our daughter has Gymnastics training starting at 8.30 am so we have to be up and off to the sports centre with her.  This Sunday, for a change, I didn't go along and instead stayed home, read a few blogs, had a leisurely breakfast and took the dog for an hour long walk in the parks.  When I got back I finished painting my tea trolley and mirror (more in another post) for the bedroom and then set about digging over the border in the garden that I had started a few weeks ago.

Here's what it looked like before I started work on it.  (I'm afraid it isn't a great picture as it is taken from some distance away, but it is the only one I have).

It took a couple of hours but I managed to get it all dug over, the weeds and encroaching ivy dug out and I also managed to move a few plants, as some areas were a little overcrowded. 

Here's a picture of what it looked like afterwards.

I continued digging and hoeing around the rest of the garden to leave it all looking tidy and weed free.  My other half cut the grass later and then after a sweep of the decking the garden work was almost done.  I  watered all the pot plants, the seedlings in the green house and the newly planted front garden.  All that's left to do on our garden at home now is to move a couple more plants, buy a few new ones to add to the newly cleared border and add some more bark to the area where the new trampoline will go. 

As a treat for my hard work this morning I made myself a bacon sandwich for lunch before turning my attention indoors.  I did the washing up, put the dishwasher on and then emptied it, put some washing on and then hung it outside, cleaned the downstairs toilet and upstairs bathroom and then finally swept and mopped the floors and stairs before making dinner.

I do love days like these when you get caught up with lots of jobs and don't need to spend any money at all.  It feels very productive and satisfying.  Now at least I can sit back guilt free and watch the highlights of Chelsea Flower Show this week, without thinking I must do this/that/the other.

Sunday 19 May 2013

A Spot of Quilting

Today, I managed to get my hands on a copy of the Great British Sewing Bee Book.  I didn't buy it, I happened to see it in my local library.  I think I might be one of the first people to borrow it as it is in immaculate condition with patterns still in the back.

I had a flick through when I got it home.  None of the clothes patterns,  particularly appealed to me personally, but there are some nice patterns.  I did like the Hacking Jacket, but am not in a hurry to make another jacket as they are quite tricky and time consuming.  What did appeal, however, was an idea for a throw or quilt.  It was made with full width strips of fabric sewn together.

I decided to head up to my sewing room later and have a go.  I found some reclaimed and vintage fabrics that I had been meaning to use for a while and which went together quite well and started cutting strips up.  I then placed them how I thought they looked best and finally I sewed them all together, so have essentially finished the top of the quilt or throw.  Here's a picture of one half of it.

I  ironed the seams flat and I've managed to buy some wadding for £5, I just need to find a fabric for the backing and the binding around the edge.   I am using a thinnish synthetic wadding to give it a light but comfy feel, as it is intended as a quilt for snuggling under on the sofa, or for my daughter to use in the car when travelling.  I'm not sure how well it will work as I have heard other quilters suggest that it doesn't give great results, but I'll give it a go.  It wasn't too expensive to make this as all the 100% cotton fabrics have mainly been picked up from jumble sales, car boots or charity shops often for a few pounds each or less. It is a single sized quilt as that was the width of the fabrics I had.

I was surprised at how easy this was to make.  It took just over two hours in total to get to this stage.  I think the thought of sewing together of lots of little squares has actually put me off quilting so far, although I do admire the effect in other peoples' quilts, but this seemed far simpler with no overlapping seams to contend with.  I quite like it aesthetically too.  I know a lot of people use Liberty lawn fabrics to quilt in this way.  I have seen them in the store and they are very pretty, albeit the strips of fabric are cut much thinner.  I'll post again when it is finally finished.

Saturday 18 May 2013

It's Arrrived!

Well, exciting news, my Zatchel's satchel arrived the other day and it is lovely.

I ordered it a few weeks ago when they were having an amazing half price offer for 24 hours only, as mentioned by Miss Thrifty on her blog.  I had to wait a few weeks for it to arrive as each one is made to order.  It was well worth the wait as it arrived, beautifully packaged in a box, and with it's own drawstring dust jacket.  It is a lovely specimen.  Here's a photo.

I bought the charcoal grey, as I just love the colour grey at the moment.  It is the 14.5" size and it is plenty big enough.  In fact it is bigger than I expected.  I am very happy with it and it was a bargain at £52 including postage.  I can't wait to use it.

I wasn't so happy, however, when my credit card bill with this item added, dropped through the letter box a few minutes later.   Hmm, back to reality.   Actually, I'm not too concerned, as having paid off one credit card completely this month, I will be snowballing this particular card from next month and hopefully it will soon be paid off too.  Sometimes a great offer just cannot be ignored.

Talking of offers, I watched a couple of episodes of Extreme Couponing the other day.  For some reason, and no one is admitting to it, our TV recorded five episodes so I thought I'd take a look.  It is an American TV programme on TLC channel with the Virgin TV Box. It was amazing how using coupons available in newspapers and online, some families in the US were buying up to $1000 worth of groceries for as little as $50.  One woman spent 60 hours per week researching in order to do this.  Not something that most people would have or want to spend their time doing I'm sure.  Some did go to quite extreme measures to get hold of coupons in the first place, ie getting inside dumpsters or taking junk mail from empty properties, but good for the if it is worth it to them.

Whatever did happen to coupons in this country?  We don't seem to get them as often as we used to. I only ever seem to get any from Tesco clubcard or receive the odd one at the till in shops after I've done my shopping.  I guess online voucher codes and loyalty schemes have replaced them somewhat or maybe I just aren't looking in the right places.  I must admit that many of the products that were being bought with them on the programme were not particularly healthy or things I would personally purchase (i.e. flavoured waters, fizzy drinks, etc), but if you have very little money you often can't afford to be so selective and anything that you can get for free is a bonus.  It was inspiring that in one episode one couple (the man was a minister in the church) did this to give most of the groceries away to people in need in their community.  I can't quite see supermarkets or food producers here being so generous with coupons.  Supermarkets would probably pass the cost onto producers and put them out of business or throw perfectly good things in the rubbish rather than give them away.  (I know not all supermarkets do this, but some definitely do and sabotage them into the bargain to prevent freegans getting hold of them).

Changing the subject a little, I have just signed up with Quidco, and hope to save some money in the future by way of cashback offers and voucher codes.  Most of the brands I normally buy from are signed up with them, so I am looking forward to using the site when internet shopping in the future.  I'm just hoping it won't make me buy more than usual.

Friday 17 May 2013

Cycling Along the Canal

In order to get to my allotment, I have to cycle along a canal path.  I love this cycle ride as I love to look at the canal boats moored along the canal.  On a sunny day it seems a wonderful place to live.  All compact and bijou.  Some of them even open up their boats as book shops or cafes during the summer months.

On the way back from my allotment the other week, I had a bit of time to kill so I took a few photos.  This is the marina where many boats are moored and quite a lot of people seem to live on their boats.

I took my bike over a little bridge onto the other side of the canal to cycle alongside the Nature Reserve.
The large blue building is the Kayak Club clubhouse.  Nearby (within 10 minutes walking) there is also a couple of pubs, a rowing club, an adventure playground, two large parks with three different lots of tennis courts, rugby pitch and club, cricket pitches, Ice skating rink, horse riding stables, cafes, golf range and a couple of allotment sites.

We are very lucky where we live, to have such wonderful open spaces and facilities only a short walking distance from our house.  Although we live just a few miles from central London, you would never think so when you are out here along the canal. Part of this marsh was used for training facilities for the Olympics, with temporary buildings put up here, but it has now been restored to its original state thankfully.

These spaces are so precious to local residents and are of course fantastic for walking the dog.  Our puppy loves nothing better than gamboling around in the grassy marshland chasing after her ball and checking out the other dogs.

More narrowboats moored along the canalside as you approach the footbridge back over the canal.  I love the way their owners make little gardens on their roofs.  I admire their resourcefulness and the simplicity of their existence.

There were some swans gliding around in the canal and one preening itself in the background as I came past.

There were another half a dozen swans just out of frame.  Two of them, believe it or not, were making a heart shape with their necks as they canoodled.  Several people were trying to get a snap of them doing it.  It was amazing. 

Who says life in London is grim and overcrowded?

Thursday 16 May 2013

Currently Making......

I've had a bit of a lull in the making department recently.  I don't know why but I just seem to have been busy with other things and my workroom has got a bit cluttered up of late with things that shouldn't be in there, which is putting me off going in and getting started on anything.

As a consequence I am going easy on myself over this and trying to coax myself back in there with the idea of something small and simple that will not take much thinking about.  Inspired by this jersey snood/scarf I bought for £4 from Primark a good month or so ago, I have decided to try to make a similar thing myself as it seems to be very simple in it's construction.  It is just basically a width of jersey fabric sewn together at the ends.  The edges aren't even hemmed or overlocked so this seems like a great project to get me restarted.

Original Primark bought scarf

I had a root around one of my fabric drawers to find suitable fabrics to try to use for this project and came up with quite a few.  I attempted it in various types of fabric namely cotton lawn, jersey, and a couple of polyester type fabrics.  I cut a width of the fabric approximately 24-30 inches long by at least 56 inches wide for this project and sewed the short ends together.  This seam forms the back of the scarf which sits on the back of your neck and by double looping it around your neck you have an attractive summery scarf for slightly cooler days or to keep the sun off your chest.  This is so simple I would almost call it a genius idea.  You could perceivably even sew it by hand as it would never actually be seen.  Here are some pictures of the scarves I made in just one hour.

Navy/white polka dot polyester/sheer crimpolene (sounds awful but is actually quite nice).
Lightweight cotton lawn
100% Polyester.  I would say this was the least successful fabric to use but I do like the pattern.
Slightly heavier jersey with vertical as opposed to hoizontal stripes.
Lighter jersey, similar to original but with back clearly different to front.  A pretty fabric but I had to arrange it carefully on the mannequin to prevent the back showing. When wearing it this would be impractical and would look untidy if it showed.
I would say that by far the most successful fabric to use was a light jersey similar to the original as this does drape well, but it is important to use a print that is almost the same on the back as on the front as the back can show when wearing it.  Spots and stripes are pretty good usually from this point of view as are plain colours.  Having said this, however, I do like the navy spotted one which was made from a vintage polyester, almost like a sheer crimpolene, and will wear this one with a skirt I made in the same pattern but a different fabric.  I may make some more scarves in different jersey fabrics if I can source some as this seems virtually foolproof and will work out remarkably cheaper than the £4 I paid.  I would say that most of these scarves cost less than 50p to make as the fabrics were all bought either at charity shops or car boot sales for £1 for much more than I have used.   I have in the past been reluctant to use jersey as it can be difficult to sew with, but for this simple garment it is perfect as it drapes beautifully.

Anyway, it was good to get making again and even better to use some fabrics that have been languishing in a drawer and that I have had difficulty deciding what to do with.  Are you making anything at the moment?

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Jumble Sale Vintage Linens

A few weeks ago now I posted about a visit I'd paid to a local jumble sale and how I'd bought quite a few vintage table/bed linens and pretty aprons  for £2.  I didn't post pictures of most of the items I'd bought as there were a few stains on them and I wanted to wash them and see how they came out.

I washed them normally on a hot 60 degree wash for the whites and  a 40 degree wash for everything else, but unfortunately most of the stains didn't come out.  A week or so later I tried again, this time with a scoop of a stain remover I'd bought from Approved Food and never used.  Result.  This pretty table cloth came out much better.  There are still some very feint stains but they seem to blend in pretty well so are hardly noticable.  I may actually use this fabric for something else anyway as I like it so much.

This pretty little gingham pinny came out almost perfect too, save for what look like a couple of tiny nail varnish spills.  They too are hardly noticable though.   The floral pinny didn't come out quite as stain free though, but I still like it.  I may still try again using the stain remover and see what happens.

Another table cloth, which I have since decided I don't actually want to keep, but which has come out much better after the stain treatment, I will give to the charity shop and I may do the same for some  napkins.  All in all though, I am pretty happy with the haul and will be keeping most of the items which will be added to my vintage linen collection.

Have you picked up any bargains at a local jumble sale or car boot recently?

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Bedroom Blitz

On my 'To Do' list for May is the decluttering of our bedroom, which has been the resting place for not just us of late, but lots of clutter from other parts of the house.  Well, enough is enough, I need to get the space back to being a restful one again and began the quest a few weeks ago. 

After having already reorganised my wardrobe and clothes drawers last month in time for spring, I have continued by rearranging some of the shelves on my side of the bed and putting most of the winter clothes away on top of the wardrobe.   I have also sorted through the blanket box and removed any items that could be stored elsewhere.  We have also changed over the bed base and got rid of the previous one plus one that was stored underneath it which has meant we have much more room under the bed to store anything that we need to.  So we have made some small inroads but there remains a lot to do.  Here are a couple of photos to give you some idea of  some of the clutter spots that need addressing.  There are a couple more hotspots for decluttering too which aren't pictured.  (Please excuse the dust visible.)

The top photo shows the shelves on my partner's side of the bed.  I need him to have a good look through and hopefully remove some things to his office so that they look a lot less cluttered and untidy.  The majority of this pile here on my side of the room in the bottom photo is made up of various clothes and toys that either need selling on ebay or putting away into a winter clothing/shoes bag until later in the year.  There is also some paperwork that needs sifting through and a new home found for it. 

There are books on the bookshelves and in the bookcase that need a thorough sorting through.  Many have yet to be read, but some have been read and won't be read again or have somehow lost their appeal and will probably never be read and so they will be sent to the charity shop once sorted.  I also have baskets full of photographs which badly need sorting out.  Some I may put into frames as I must admit that I haven't changed some of the family photos in our living room for quite a few years now.   I also have frames that I have yet to use and albums which I need to collate.  I may have to save this particular job for another month.

The whole of the bedroom needs a good clean too, with all the furniture being pulled out and skirtings wiped down and floors hoovered and mopped.  It is incredibly dusty in parts.  On changing over the bed the floor underneath and the skirting behind has been cleaned but there is still a lot of furniture to be pulled out and cleaned behind.  As it is coming to that time of year when my and my partner's hayfever starts to kick in, this will also be helpful to reduce both of our symptoms.

Another job I need to do is to take control of some of my 'collections' of costume jewellery, and other things, or at least find a way of storing them that takes up as little space as possible, collects as little dust as possible and doesn't look too cluttered.

At the moment I'm also currently contemplating a new storage solution for the perfumes, cosmetics and other beauty products that I use on a daily basis.  I would like to have them all together in one place, where they are easily accessible, but look tidy and organised.  I'm considering the idea of some sort of beauty trolley under the mirror or at least a small table with baskets containing the products I use regularly.  I'm still considering the solution to this but will post my solution when I manage to figure it out.

Finally, we also need to resolve the lighting in the bedroom.  For a long time now we've wanted reading lights by the bed, but have never got around to finding and fitting any we like, so this will be the perfect opportunity to do that and co-ordinate lighting by finding a new matching lampshade for the main ceiling light too as my partner has never liked the current one.

There's plenty to be getting on with and plenty to think about too, so I better get on and get doing.  I'm looking forward to reclaiming this last space in our house, and finally feeling like we have got our home back the way we want it.   I'll post pictures as I go along as the different parts of the room are resolved.  Do you have any problem rooms that need tackling or redecorating?

Monday 13 May 2013

Bargain Beauty Post

The other week I popped along to a Boots Clearance Outlet that is a few miles from where I live.  I like to go there occasionally and sometimes you can get the odd bargain if you look around.  On my last visit, I managed to get some contact lens solution which was reduced because it's box was damaged. and I also got some last minute stocking fillers for Christmas, as my visit was a week or so before.  So, I headed up there again for the first time this year. 

There wasn't an awful lot that took my interest on the main shelves, but whilst looking around the makeup shelves I found a few things that interested me at really reasonable prices.

Firstly, I bought this 17 red lip stain in Berry Crush for £1.  I've never used a lip stain before so I was curious to see how effective they are.  It has some sort of lip balm on one end and a stain pen on the other.  I might be using it incorrectly, but I have been putting the colour on first and then putting the lip balm on over the top. 

I tried it the other way around but the lip balm seems to clog up the pen so I think I was right in the first place.  There's no instructions on the item itself might I add.  I've been quite pleased with it's staying power as it does tend to stay on even after I've eaten, but I have found my lips do get a bit dry on occasions.  I'm assuming I'm not using enough of the balm.  I quite like using it although the shade is a little darker red than I would normally use.  As a consequence, I would definitely consider using stains again in the future.

I also bought a couple of 17 nail varnishes in Tiger's Eye and Bolt from the Blue, that cost 50 pence each.  I liked both this pale icy blue, although it might be better for toenails than for finger nails, and this brown/nude type colour.  They may not be the colour of the season, but I think I might enjoy wearing these over the summer.

The final make-up items I bought for myself were this dark green No.7 eyeshadow and this Boots Botanics concealer stick for £2.  I tried the tester of the concealer and the colour match with my skin was pretty good.  I usually pay almost double this price for a concealer so I thought I would give it a try.

On my way to the till, I noticed a bowl on the counter which contained lots of jewellery.  I couldn't resist a good rummage and managed to find this lovely pair of navy blue ball studs.  I wear this type of earrings a lot and have them in lots of different colours, but I didn't have any in navy.  As I wear this colour a lot, I couldn't resist buying these for £1.  I also bought this pair of huge silver-coloured hoop earrings.  I'm not entirely sure that I will ever wear them as they are pretty enormous, but I just liked them at the time.  At only £1 I didn't mind taking a chance on them.

In addition to buying the above items for myself, I also purchased a few items for my daughter, which probably cost £4 or £5 in total for 7 different items of makeup and jewellery.  These have been put away and will be great stocking fillers at Christmas.  I can't go into too much detail here, as she has been known to read my blog sometimes, but I think she will like them as she is makeup and jewellery mad at the moment. 

So, it was well worth a visit and I found some pretty good bargains for myself and my daughter, most of which will definitely get used, for £12 or thereabouts in total.

Have you ever been to a Boots Clearance Outlet?  Have you found any bargains there?

Saturday 11 May 2013

The Return of the Community Skip

Yesterday, was the day that the Community Skip was due to appear in our locality.  As there is no Refuse Site for public use in our borough, the council very kindly place community skips in various locations on certain dates, so that people can get rid of any rubbish that they have around their houses and gardens.

We knew it was coming as my partner had checked out the schedule, so we were up early and out putting stuff in it.  We had a couple of bed bases we no longer needed, the broken trampoline and some garden waste left over from our efforts the previous weekend.  All of it went into the skip, along with lots of other things put in there by other people and by 11.30 am the skip was full to overflowing.  I took a picture around this time on my way out to my Zumba class.

I'm not sure if the system gets abused sometimes, as you do get the odd van or car pulling up and emptying it's contents in there, but they may nearby residents too.  I think it is partly designed to prevent people fly tipping their rubbish elsewhere, so it is preferable for people to put their rubbish in the skip rather than dump it in parks or canals and cause potential harm to wildlife and animals, not to mention causing an unsightful mess.

It is a really useful system once you get used to using it and get a little prepared beforehand.  By doing a bit of homework and getting up early to make sure we could get our stuff in, we have now cleared lots more clutter from our house and garden and having removed our current bed base I have been able to get underneath and hoover and mop the floor before my partner assembled the wooden bed base that replaced it.  It was very satisfying as that is  another part of the bedroom spring cleaned into the bargain. 

In the evening, to reward ourselves for our hard work today, we treated ourselves to a meal out at our local Italian restaurant.  We had a lovely time, it was very busy, full of families from school actually, which was pretty weird.  Anyway, on the way home we came past the skip again and I saw this lovely little basket amongst the detritus spilling over into the street. 

It looks very clean and in very good condition.  Apparently, according to my daughter, it was thrown out by our neighbours, so it came home with me as I am sure I can find a use for it.  Perhaps it will turn out to be one of my future storage solutions.  Who knows!  Waste not, want not is all I can say.

Storage Solutions

I'm a great believer in finding the best storage solutions you can within your budget.  Everything should have it's place in your home, but sometimes finding the right solution can take quite a while and can involve thinking a bit laterally.  Okay, not having so much stuff in the first place helps, but sometimes it's not easy to just throw things out.  I always think the most unlikely things can come in handy and I hang on to things for years with this in mind.  Sometimes I eventually find a great use for them, or customise them to use and sometimes I don't and I let them go.

My partner jokingly calls me Mrs Receptacle as I always like to put things in things.  Whenever I say I need to find a storage solution for something, he groans.  It drives him mad, but do you know what, if it stops things falling out of cupboards on top of you and keeps the house looking tidy and organised and allows me to lay my hands on what I need when I need it, I don't care.

I very often wish I could be more minimal and I'm working on it, but I'm afraid it is not really in my nature.  A lover of most things vintage, who has various collections (I always did as a child too) my instinct is more to hoard than chuck out.  I'm getting better, I've all but stopped collecting now, but I've still got a long way to go.  It's just as well I only have one child as if I had more the house would probably be bursting at the rafters with sentimental things I can't bear to throw away.

Besides, I do like my house to feel like a home and a bit of clutter does seem homely somehow.  It's getting the right balance.  Over the years my obsession with putting things in things has led me to seek out lots of storage solutions from charity shops and car boots.  I love picking up wicker baskets, for example, and have several in my bedroom housing various things such as photographs and photo albums.  These were usually picked up for £4 or £5 and have been worth their weight in gold as you can pay up to £50 in the shops for similar solutions.

Fortnum and Mason hampers are always good to look out for too and I have a couple of these.


I also like to use wicker baskets to hide clutter in the bathroom and in other rooms.  They are great for storing magazines and when the basket gets full it's a good indicator that perhaps you need to sift through it and get rid of some.  These small baskets, which cost a few pounds each from Ikea, fitted perfectly onto these shelves built into a small alcove in our bathroom and provide ample and tidy storage for toiletries and other items in a very small room.

This pretty underbed storage I picked up in a charity shop or car boot sale is also great for housing my vintage bed linen collection. 

My current linen cupboard is an old 1930's men's wardrobe that I bought second hand.  It needs a bit of work.  I might even sand and paint it if I ever get around to it, but it has lots of room in it for bedlinen and towels and even has a small amount of storage under the lift up lid.  Every so often I need to thin it out a bit which does prompt me to get rid of older worn out linen and it fits perfectly on our landing upstairs so is handy for getting at the bedlinen when you need to change the beds. 

It was looking particularly full when I took this photograph so I had a bit of a sort out and it now looks a lot tidier.  Here's a picture of what it looks like now.  You might beg to differ on the point of view that it is now a lot tidier, but trust me there is a little more order to it.  As you might be able to tell, I don't iron bed sheets and quilt covers these days, as it frustrates me grappling with them on the ironing board, so I just fold them and store them.  (I do iron my towels though)

When looking for storage solutions I always find that more is better i.e. the more you can get into something the better.  If faced with two options I always tend to go for the one that offers that bit more or is more flexible in terms of the ways you can use it.  Don't rush into buying the first thing you see.  I have done this in the past and regretted it only to look for an alterntive solution soon afterwards.  Take your time and get it right.  Get something that you can live with over a period of time and that will fit with your decor.  If you are looking for a storage solution for a particular place in your house, good luck, I hope you find just the thing.

Friday 10 May 2013

A Spot of Internet Shopping and Making Do

I fell off the wagon a couple of  weeks ago, in the sense that I did a spot of internet shopping using my credit cards, and thus outside of my cash budget.  I know, not great really, but I happened upon a couple of offers that I couldn't ignore and indulged.

The first was a 25% off items from Joules.  I've had my eye on some mugs they sell for quite a while now and have put them in my basket and then removed them several times so when this offer dropped through the mailbox I thought I would go ahead and just get them.  They were £8.95 each full price, but I managed to get this down to just under £7 each approximately, with postage of £1.  I bought six in total.  Two each of three designs, striped, floral and pheasant.   Here's a photo.  My partner said they were a bit 'farmhouse', (he's an urban type of guy), but I like them.

The second purchase was a bit of a selfish one.  It didn't start out that way.  Miss Thrifty let slip on her blog that Zatchels, a satchel company, were having a flash 50% off sale for 24 hours only.  I thought that I might have a look and get one for my daughter, as I recalled her telling me on a recent shopping trip that she wanted one.  With the discount they worked out at just over £50 for a real leather satchel in whichever colour/design you wanted.  I found one I thought she would like, a pastel-coloured purple one, and put it in my basket with the view to it being a birthday or Xmas present for next year.  I left it in the basket and then had a look at the different colours and styles you could get and I happened upon a lovely one in grey.  Now I have a bit of a passion for grey at the moment, so I popped it into the basket too, justifying it to myself in that the previous two handbags I've bought in the last two years or so have been synthetic and not cost more than £25.  Surely a girl deserves a nice leather handbag from time to time?
I minimised the screen so that I could think about it before paying and moved on to do other things.  A bit later, my daughter happened to mention in conversation something about a bag that she wanted.   I said that I thought she wanted a satchel.  'Oh no' she said 'I'm not really bothered about one'.  As a consequence I was back on my computer removing the one for her from my basket and then after a bit more deliberation went ahead and paid for the one for me.  It's not a huge one, as from my memory of them from school days, they can be quite heavy to carry around.   I'm still waiting for it to arrive, as apparently they are made to order, so it might be a while after such an offer.  I'll post a photo when it does arrive.  In the meantime, I just need the charcoal grey converse trainers to go with it now!
Talking of my fetish for grey, I popped up to our nearest IKEA the other week, to look for some storage solutions for my bedroom shelves and for files to house some financial documents I was reorganising at the time.  Unfortunately for me it was a wasted journey as the store was being renovated and they didn't have their full range of storage items on display.  I didn't really see anything I liked amongst what was there so headed out of the store.  Now being a frugal sort, I never leave IKEA without first popping into the Bargain Corner, as I have bought some fabulous bargains in there over the years.  Whilst in there on this occasion,  I happened upon these two dark grey lampshades, which would look great in our living room and co-ordinate nicely with the current scheme. 
They were 70p each.  Needless to say I bought them.  I hope I might have just redeemed myself a little here in frugality terms.  If not please read on.
On the way home I had a lightbulb moment.  I had been considering a solution for storing some of the many vintage plastic and lucite brooches that I have collected over the years, some of which I wear, and wanted a way of storing them so that they could be easily accessible and displayed at the same time.  Well, an idea on Superscrimpers the other week came to mind, about using a photo frame.  I remembered that I had put a large gilt coloured ornate plastic picture frame in the charity shop bag the week before and as I'd not yet taken it I figured I could use it and paint it a colour that co-ordinated with our bedroom (grey again I'm afraid) and pad the board and cover it with a pretty fabric to pin the brooches to.
As a consequence of this idea, I stopped off at B&Q on the way home, to get a spray can of paint for use on plastic.  It wasn't cheap at £8, but I figured I was going to make something really nice and useful, so I didn't mind.  I took it home and then set about renovating the frame.  When I took the lid off the can of spray paint, the nozzle which allows you to spray it wasn't there, so I couldn't use it after all.  As my partner had taken the car to get it serviced, I couldn't take it back, so I dug out some ordinary grey matt paint and used that instead and it seemed to work okay.  When later my partner said he was popping out to the DIY store I asked him to take back the can and get a refund which he did.  So I saved on the potential £8 spend.  I forgot to take a before photo as I was so keen to get on and finish it, but here's the result of my handiwork. 
I used a vintage Laura Ashley grey and white floral ditsy cotton fabric and some toy stuffing I had to cover the board and make a pad.  I really like it and it looks so much better than it did.  In the end it cost me nothing, but my time and a bit of creative inspiration.  I just need to find somewhere to hang it now.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Making the Most of May

Following on from a very busy and productive April, I thought I had better think a little bit about what I want to achieve in May.  The months are passing by so quickly this year, it is hard to believe we're here already.

May is the month of my partner's birthday, so that is perhaps one of the main focuses of this month financially.  I have started to buy the odd present for him, and he has now given me a good idea for something that he would like as a gift, he's not a person that really needs much.  I do like to get him nice presents though as I think birthdays are special days.

Aside from this major birthday, and an annual renewal of a policy that is due, I don't have many other outstanding events or expenses that necessitate a huge amount of money being paid out this month, so hopefully I will be able to pay off one of my credit cards again, and make a reasonable payment on the other.  I want to continue to increase no spend days and keep spending under control generally this month.  I don't rule out a few lapses in this regard though.

May, I think, is going to be a month for continuing to get my house in order and even getting ahead of myself if that is at all possible, by which I mean possibly making a start on my tax accounts for the year just ended, rather than leaving them until the last minute, which I have done for a few years now.  Now that would be great, no looming sense of doom in January knowing it needs doing.

In addition, our bedroom is perhaps the worst room in the house now, and is so cluttered with things left in there temporarily due to the building work, that it needs a good sort out and declutter to try to restore it to a restful place.  I've made inroads such as reorganising the contents of my wardrobe and drawers and sorting a few other small areas, but there is a lot of work still to do and I think I would like to improve this space next as a priority.

Horticulturally, I want to spend a bit more time at the allotment and get more things growing in the garden at home.  Finishing the last few bits of our garden that need improving such as laying more bark under the trampoline, sorting out one of the borders, getting my water butt up and working again and doing some work on the grass.  We started on these over the Bank Holiday weekend, but still have some work to do.  I would also like to plant up some hanging baskets, window boxes and pots and get some flowers and colour going on.  I've already sowed some pots of English marigolds and potted up some red geraniums and pink verbena, which should be pretty when they start to flower.  I would also like to prepare some plants for the school summer fete, although I'm not sure when it is going to be held yet.  Now I have a small greenhouse, this should be easier. 

In terms of fitness I want to keep on doing at least 4 classes per week, keep trying to cycle and walk more and keep on with the netball training that I started last month.  I would also like to spend some time on me and pamper myself a little more.  I need to paint my nails and toenails a bit more often and make myself generally more presentable for wearing lighter clothing and sandals this spring/summer.

Sewing wise, it would be fantastic if I could get back to making something, even if it is just something small like a scarf, cushion covers or a table runner for the newly decluttered dining/reception room. I'd also like to get my overlocker serviced as I can't seem to get it working properly and it is so useful when you are making clothes, especially when the fabrics fray easily.  I have a few dressmaking projects in mind for which it would be very useful indeed.  It helps to give a lovely professional finish to handmade items.

Finally, I need to spend more time on my home based business too.  It has taken a back seat this last month or so and I need to spend some time developing it and helping to get it on to a sounder financial footing.  I think  that is enough to be getting on with to keep me busy.  Have you got any aims for May that you'd like to share?  I'd be interested to hear about other peoples' to do lists for the month.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

A Stay at Home Bank Holiday Weekend

This Bank Holiday weekend we stayed at home for the entire weekend.  The main reason was that our daughter was not feeling too well on account of having had her MMR jab last week.  I don't like to see her feeling unwell, but console myself with the thought that at least she was not suffering from the full blown measles, which was a risk that we have now hopefully minimised, albeit a lot later than many parents.

Anyway, the traffic in London was pretty horrendous at the beginning of the weekend.  I made the mistake of going up to Asda on  morning to get some ingredients for some Tiffin for the school fundraising stall at the market on Sunday, and was stuck nose to tail in traffic for almost an hour.  (Asda is 10 minutes up the road!).  I wasn't going to make that mistake again.

I made the Tiffin to a recipe given to me by my partner's sister.  It is the first time I've made it myself, although I have eaten hers quite a few times and always enjoy it.  It turned out like this.

The recipe and the instructions for making this are very simple (although a bit of a cheat and quite expensive although it does go a long way as you can cut it into small pieces as it is so rich) and as follows:
Half a packet of Digestive biscuits
Half a packet of Rich Tea biscuits
A tin of Evapourated Milk
4oz of Butter
2 large bars of Chocolate
You can make it slightly more healthy by adding dried fruit, nuts, etc.  (Okay, not that healthy, but sometimes an indulgence is just what the doctor ordered).  You could also use white or dark chocolate if you prefer, or other biscuits of choice such as ginger nuts or whatever you have to hand.

To make it you melt two thirds of the chocolate and the butter over hot water being careful not to overheat it.  Crush up the biscuits.  I just put them in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin, but don't crush them up too small as they need to give a bit of a crunch so some small chunks are okay.

Mix the biscuits into the chocolate along with as much evapourated milk as required to get the right consistency for it all to stick together but still set.  I didn't actually use much. 

When it is all mixed in and fully coated with chocolate, spread it out in a baking tray and cover with the remainder of the chocolate melted and spread over the top.  Then leave to set.  I didn't put it in the fridge as it can make the chocolate discolour.

Sunday morning I  cut it up into squares and lifted them out of the tray and took them up to the market.  I'm hoping it will help raise some money for my daughter's school trip later this year and makes a pleasant change from making decorated buns.

I also took a few plants I had left over from potting up and some other bits and pieces of clothing, books, etc.  I was told by one of the mums that they had raised £120 which was pretty good and will be put to good use.

Most of the rest of the weekend has been spent gardening.  On Saturday, my partner replanted and mulched with bark, what was left of the front garden after the basement lightwell was built last year.  It is nice to finally have it looking tidy.  We just need to wait for the plants to grow a little now.  Here's a couple of pictures of it as it stands.

There's a honeysuckle which we hope to grow up the iron railing (we are adding wires to train it when they arrive) and will hopefully smell nice as you come out of the front door.  There's a clematis on the back fence and a passionflower which I'm hoping will grow up the back of the wall along with several ivies which have also been placed around the lightwell and will hopefully hang over and soften the look of the concrete.
Sunday was spent on the back garden, my partner re-laying and weatherproofing the decking down the side of the house where the builders put in all the drainage and me working on the remaining border that needs attention.  I've been pulling out some of the old shrubs that had become very woody and were overhanging our small lawn and generally clearing ivy and weeds that had taken over the border.  I'm hoping to inject a bit of interest with some new plants, but haven't decided what yet.  I'll post a picture when it is completed.  I've given up for now as my brown bin is full and I have nowhere to put the green waste for the moment, so will have to continue next weekend or during the week, weather allowing.  It feels good to get started anyway.

We also started to remulch under the trampoline, but ran out of bark.  The trampoline itself has finally given up the ghost with a huge tear in the base, so we need to buy a new one.  We've had this a good few years now and it has seen quite a lot of action as my daughter and her friends love to play on it when the weather is good.  Working out at £20/25 per year for useage I think this is great value for the exercise and fun it has provided.  We're going to order one on line and get it delivered after we've done a bit of research.  Luckily next weekend heralds the arrival of the communal skip so hopefully we will be able to dispense with the non-metal parts of the trampoline in here and the metal parts will be left out for the metal collectors that come around regularly and who accidentally took our step ladders the other day!  (They were broken and had been left in the lightwell at the front unfortunately, so I can't blame them.)

Sunday evening we treated ourselves to a lovely meal at our local pub on the canal, which was very enjoyable, more so because I didn't have to cook it.

Bank Holiday Monday was a day for cleaning inside the house.  I swept and mopped through the downstairs, cleaned the cloakroom and did some washing, drying it on the line.  I also aired the dog bed and washed her blankets and toys. (I don't know if she liked this as much as I did!)  I felt much better once it was all done.  I did a bit of painting and spruced up these shelves for the greenhouse. (I needed more space for seedlings). 

I was going to bring it in the house and use it in my bedroom (the shelves that is) but as it has stood outside for a few years now it is starting to rot at the bottom and I didn't want to risk that rot spreading to floorboards, furniture, etc. 

I also managed a cycle ride to the allotment on Monday evening to weed and water my plot after the warm spell we've been having.  I harvested a few sticks of rhubarb as the plant had gone a bit mad in the last few weeks.  When I got back we finished the weekend with  a lovely Lamb roast dinner and an evening getting ready for the week ahead.

All told we've had a very productive Bank Holiday Weekend at home, we've not spent too much money or had to face the crowds and I now feel rested and ready to face the coming week.  How was your Bank Holiday weekend?

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Charity Shop Tales 7 and Vintage Shop Shoes

On Saturday afternoon during the Bank Holiday Weekend I took a stroll up to our local shopping street.  It is becoming more and more interesting of late with lots of new vintage furniture shops opening up.  I was looking for a storage solution for the bedroom but didn't see anything and got a bit side tracked.

I decided to take a look in our local charity shop.  I don't think I've been in one much lately as I've been more interested in getting rid of clutter rather than adding to it. Well, today I was glad I did.  I ended up spending £15 in total.  I bought 2 cardigans, a top and a scarf for me and a shirt and cardigan for my daughter for this amount, plus a small wooden picture frame. 

I tried all the things for me on.  They all fitted more or less.  Well, to be honest, one of the cardigans was a little small, but as it wasn't one that fastened I still bought it as it was grey, oh so pretty, was by Cynthia Rowley and was 100% Merino wool.  Here's a photo of it on my dressmaking dummy.  It will be great for chilly spring days and cool summer evenings and only cost £3.99.

The second cardigan was grey too with coloured spots and also cost £3.99 which I thought was reasonable.  I do like a nice cardigan. 

I also bought this blue and white striped scarf which was from H&M.  I don't exactly know how much this cost as it didn't have a price on it.  Probably 50p or something similar.

The last item I bought for myself was this French Connection top with fruit all over it.  It says small on the label but it fitted me.  It is probably supposed to be super baggy, but didn't look too tight on me.  I do like it when that happens.  It makes me feel thinner than I am.  Anyway, it cost £3.50.

The two items I bought for my daughter were this Jigsaw ditsy print shirt and this Primark striped cardigan, both of which I thought she might like.

On the way back home I popped into a local vintage clothes and furniture shop to have a look around and spied these lovely white leather tasselled loafers.  I can remember having a pair in Oxblood when I was at school and always loved them.  I've wanted another pair for a while now and when I saw these I couldn't resist as they will be great for the summer.  They were £20 and the lady who runs the shop, who is French, said she bought them in France.  They are leather and in great condition considering they are white.  They were a little big, being half a size too large, but I knew I would never see another pair of such quality at such a price again so I  bought them, with the intention of adding in inner soles and gel heel cushions to make them more snug.  When I got home I had some gel soles in the cupboard so cut them down and put them in and they did feel a bit better.  I just need the heel cushions now and hopefully I'm sorted.

So, it was a pretty expensive trip to the shops, but I think good value and I'm never one to walk away from a bargain when I see one.  Have you bought anything interesting from a charity shop lately?