Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Allotment Corner

Sunday evening and I managed to sneak out and head off to the allotment.  It was about 7pm when I got there so time was a bit limited to get a few things done.  The main job was to plant out some aubergine plants I had bought this week to fill gaps.  They cost £3 each for two plants, each of which had another little plant attached, so hopefully 4 plants if they all survive.  I also bought a couple of hot chilli plants.  It was all I could get this time of year, as most garden centres are no longer selling vegetable plants. 

I've been far too slack by not sowing many seeds since the spring, so have quite a few gaps to fill.  I also took a tray of supermarket bought living salad and transplanted them into the allotment to hopefully get more salad growing.  I've done the same in the trough in the garden at home and they seem to have taken okay.  I did sow more salad, but it doesn't seem to have germinated, so I took drastic measures for the time being. Anyway, they all got planted and now there's quite a good variety of plants growing.

I harvested a few things whilst there, the last little bit of lettuce, some spinach, a strange fat courgette, a mini cucumber, some potatoes and some rhubarb as it was getting unruly again.  I then fed and watered all the plants that needed it before heading home. 

I'm afraid I didn't take any photos as there wasn't much of interest to photograph to be honest and I was just trying to concentrate on getting the jobs done and getting home before it got too late.

When I got home I washed all the harvested vegetables.  Here's a picture (taken a couple of days later if they don't look so fresh).
I then decided to get myself organised and write a list of what I need to do at the allotment before we go away in order to leave it in good shape and hopefully capable of surviving whilst we are on holiday. (Some things such as the herb bed can be left until we come back).

The list went as follows:

1    Plant a herb bed with a lavender hedge around it.

2    Sow more salad

3    Sow Kohl Rabi and any other late summer/autumn seeds.

4    Tie tomato plants to stakes.

5    Cut back comfrey again.

6    Decant comfrey juice, sieve and bottle, then water and feed plants with it - I need to take the garden sieve and a bucket with me to do this.  (If you watched Gardener's World on Friday you will know that I have been prompted by Monty)

7    Dig up the rest of the potatoes to prevent blight.

A few jobs to be done then in the next week or so.  I might need to make a couple of visits although it can be tricky in the summer holidays.  There are probably lots of other things I should be doing now, so I might take a look in one of my many gardening books and get some ideas.  I ended the evening with a relaxing bath which has become a treat I afford myself after allotment visits these days (it helps soak the mud out from under my fingernails).

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Another Storage Makeover

Here we go, yet another storage makeover.  I seem to do an awful lot of these.  Will I ever have enough storage?  I've been looking for something to use to store some things under my bed, but have struggled to come up with a solution that seemed hardwearing and wouldn't just last a couple of years and then fall apart.

On my way up to the shops to post a parcel the other day, I took a look at the things on display outside the antique shop, not intending to buy anything, but isn't that always the case.  It was the same shop that I bought the ottoman from and they have some lovely items both in and outside their shop every time I go past.   Anyway, on this particular visit I saw this vintage/antique wooden box.

At £20 it probably was a pricier solution than I had anticipated but I like the size of it for the use I had in mind and I liked the rope handles on each end to facilitate pulling it out from under the bed easily. 

I had admired similar ones on eBay, but the postage had been prohibitive.  I bit the bullet so to speak and bought it.  I probably should just have sanded it down and oiled it as advised by the guy in the shop, but it seemed a bit oily as if it had been used as a tool box so I sanded it and then gave it my usual sort of dodgy paint job.  Shabby chic it most definitely is.

Here it is painted.

I lined it loosely with vintage Laura Ashley wallpaper I'd had for ages, but hadn't yet found a use for and it is just the right size for all the bits and pieces I want to keep in it. This has now cleared a pile of stuff from the bedroom floor that was cluttering up the space and I'm another step closer to having a restful room to retire to.

Whilst outside in the garden painting it I had a visitor,  this lovely butterfly stopped by for a while and paused on the door of the garden shed long enough for me to take a picture. So beautiful.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Beauty Challenge Update - End of Month One

A few weeks ago I posted about a blogger challenge, inspired by El at AThriftyMrs, that I was joining in with.  The challenge is to spend only £100 or less on beauty products for the whole year.  The challenge began on 27th June and we're now one month in.
In my previous post, I listed the many beauty products that I have been hoarding for a while and part of the challenge was to work my way through them before buying any more.  Here's a couple of pictures of what I was starting with.
As you can see there's a lot of products to get through and I have been slowly working my way through them, but must admit that I have added to these too this month as there were some gaps in my stash.  I'm afraid if I get down to my last bottle of something I can't help myself and have to go out and buy a replacement straight away so that I don't actually fully run out of anything.
So, what did I buy this month?
4 x 75ml tubes of Aquafresh toothpaste -  £2 (yes I know I had lots in my stash, but I ordered these from Approved Food before I decided to embark on this challenge.  They are, however, small tubes so run out quite quickly.)
2 x Coconut Body Wash - £1 (Again ordered from AF when I had just one bottle of shower gel left.)
2 x 500ml Shower Gel - £1.58 (bought in a panic as I was down to one bottle and they were such good value from Asda so I couldn't resist)
1 x Pantene Shampoo - £2 - (Down to the last bottle of shampoo and this was half it's normal price in Asda - I had lots of conditioner, but not much shampoo!)
1 Tin of Hairspray -  79p  (Almost completely ran out save for a small handbag size, which I like to keep for my handbag.)
Bath Foam 1L - £1.19 (I've been having a few baths lately, especially after allotment visits and was down to the last bit of the current bottle).
Toothpaste - 75p (Bought whilst away for the weekend and ran out.  Bad planning as I should have taken a new tube from home, but didn't).
Cotton Pads - 65p (Put my last pack in the jar so bought another to replace it.)

Total Spent in Month 1 - £9.96

As a consequence, I overspent a bit this month as my monthly spend should be somewhere in the region of £8.33.  However, I still have a stash that is far too big and shouldn't run out of much next month or even get close enough to panic and buy more of anything.  I think the initial feeling of panic and wanting to stash more away at the beginning of the challenge when I saw things for sale at reasonable prices, did play a part too.

In case you weren't sure, my version of this challenge is really only for me, not other members of the family, as I have a makeup mad daughter and thought it unfair to make her curb her makeup habits  because I wanted to enter into a challenge.  Other members of the family will, however, be using many of the products I am using too, such as shower gel, bath foam, shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, etc. 

Not included in the challenge are toilet paper, sanitary wear, contact lenses and solution and any medication as these are not things that I consider beauty products (although it can be argued contact lenses are, but they are also essential to see when doing certain activities such as exercise or driving whilst wearing non-prescription sunglasses).

I also received a very kind gift this month from Penny at The Hen House of some lovely Lancôme products that she couldn't use herself, which I am now using and they are lovely.  So a big thanks to Penny for her kindness and generosity in sending them to me and helping me along in this challenge.

Month one then, not doing too badly, but could do better.  Sounds like a school report.  Next month will be interesting as it includes our holiday, so a few things might need to be bought for travel purposes. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

A Lovely Day Out on the Olympic Park

This Saturday we had tickets to go to the Open East Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to celebrate the re-opening of the Olympic Park to the public.  Well, strictly speaking, the re-opening of part of the Olympic Park, as only a small area is open to the public after this weekend, for the moment anyway..

The festival itself was great.  A lovely chilled atmosphere with lots of families and people of all ages enjoying a day out. On entry we encountered this guy, the horse from War Horse, the theatre show.  He was amazing.  He looked and moved in such a horse-like manner.  It was fantastic to watch.

They even made him rear as we all shouted whoah boy!

We wandered past the stalls of crafts, food and art until we happened upon the main music stage where we promptly plonked ourselves down for a while to listen to some Latin music, which being a lover of Zumba I relished of course.  OH and Little Bird weren't so fussed I might add, but it was good to see lots of people really enjoying the music and dancing to the rythyms.

From there we passed the giant Stonehenge bouncy castle designed by Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller. 

Unfortunately the queues were very long, and remained so every time we went near, so we didn't partake sadly, but it looked like fun.  I'm hoping we might get another chance to go on this sometime somewhere abouts.

Whilst OH headed to the beer bar, and then went to watch the athletics taking place on the big screen, Little Bird and I went for a wander, used the toilets with no queues!

and headed into some of the side attractions.  She was particularly attracted to the Crafternoon Tea Tent, where there were alternative Life Drawing classes going on, and she stayed to join in and did a couple of lovely drawings.  Here was the subject dressed as a Kingfisher

and here was LB's drawing. 

Sweet.  It was a great, well thought out attraction with a DJ too, playing a song about a little bird.  Really apt in LB's case.

We found ourselves some drinks, I had a bottle of Spanish Cider and LB had a can of fizz for a treat.

By now we were feeling pretty hungry and so we all headed back to the food stalls where there were some pretty long queues.  As LB wanted a beef burger we all decided to have one, to save queuing several times over in different places.  It wasn't a bad choice as it was a gourmet burger bar, the burgers were very tasty and only cost £4.50 which was pretty reasonable we thought.  It came with tomato relish (or ketchup), salad and pickled gherkins that tasted minty and were gorgeous. 

We took them over to the grassy banks in the shadow of the Aquatic Centre to eat, and enjoyed watching children rolling down the banks again and again, just having great fun.

After eating we moved on to explore some more of the park.  There was a fantastic new children's play area.  I forgot to take photos I'm afraid.  It even had a rolling log which I was amazed at, as I would have thought it might have been banned by now in case a child fell off and hurt themselves.  Next to the play area was a fabulous café which has some great activities going on throughout the holidays such as Zumba for kids, drama and dance workshops, Zumba for Adults, Yoga classes, Free Samba drumming classes, Free Enterprise or Business Start Up workshops, Free knitting groups and more.  I might even consider going along to a Business Start Up Workshop or a knitting group meeting at some point.  I'd like to learn how to knit better and I might pick up some useful business tips and advice.  I'm hoping activities like these will extend into term times so I can attend, although I could potentially let LB play in the park next door with a friend whilst I did a workshop, if it wasn't too long.

We passed another music stage with a beer festival tent, but didn't really have time to stop by as OH was suffering with his injured knee and we needed to get back to the dog.  We had a last stop by the main music stage on the way out to listen to some great African music and then headed home just as the heavens opened and it started to rain.  Lucky for us, as we had no rainwear or wellies with us.  (Spellchecker just changed wellies to something else! - How rude.)  We were a bit wet by the time we cycled home and the dog had to wait for a walk until the rain stopped two hours later!

To be honest, we only scratched the surface in the 4-5 hours we were there and could have done and seen much, much more had we had a timetable of events and moved ourselves seamlessly from one thing to another.  Sadly, we weren't that organised and just ambled around.  At £9.50 for an adult ticket and £6 for a child, it would even be worth going back tomorrow, but we have some other things we need to do.  I'm hoping this is the first of many similar events to come, that hopefully won't have a ridiculous and socially exclusive price tag as it was a truly great day out.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

An Exciting Weekend of Events

Well a year on and we've got a chance to revisit the Olympic Park this weekend.  We have tickets to attend the Open East Music Festival on Saturday, to celebrate the reopening of the Olympic Park to the public.  We are quite excited about it and are looking forward to seeing what has been done with the park in the intervening months since our last visit.  There are various bands playing and other activities to get involved in as well as different foods on sale.  Tickets were pretty inexpensive too, at less than £10 each for adults and £6 for children.  It should be a good day out.

Also happening at the Olympic Park this weekend is an athletics meet in the Olympic Stadium to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Olympics.  The daughter of a friend of mine has tickets to go, but we didn't manage to get any.  We watched it on TV on last night though and thoroughly enjoyed it.

In addition to both of the above, it is also the Open Weekend for the Copper Box where the Handball events for the Olympics were held.  This is now going to be a leisure centre and sporting venue run by the company who run the leisure centres I currently attend, and hopefully my membership will be valid for this venue too, so that I can take advantage of the gym and aerobic classes they will be running.  I am really keen to take a look.  They have free aerobic and other classes taking place all day long on both Saturday and Sunday. I'm so excited that a new venue is opening as I am always looking out for extra classes I can fit into my week and it is even closer to my home than the one I currently go to.

All in all it promises to be a pretty exciting weekend.  I'll let you know how we get on.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Inexpensive Low Calorie Fruity Treats

After reading a recent post on the blog A New Life in the Country, I was reminded how I used to make my own smoothie ice lollies a few years ago, but in recent years I just haven't bothered.  During the current hot spell and the school holidays it is nice to have something in the freezer that I and Little Bird can reach for, to cool us down on a hot day.  Shop bought lollies can work out quite expensive and it's good to have something that is quite healthy too and not too loaded with calories. With this in mind, I splashed out and bought myself a new small lolly mould set (£1.50 from our local discount store) and decided to make some lollies again.

I used a handful of frozen berries from the freezer (approx. 10p), one Morrison's Saver low fat strawberry yoghurt (8p approx.), added a splash (100ml) of semi-skimmed milk (10p - I get mine from the milkman by the pint, so it is a little more expensive) and whizzed the whole lot up with a hand blender.  It took minutes and I had more than enough to fill the six small moulds, plus a bit left over to drink for less than 30p, much less than you would buy them for in the supermarket.  If you want to go a bit upmarket and you are not counting the calories, you can always use other types of yoghurt with fresh fruits or fruit lollies can be made with fresh fruit juice (watered down or not) or juice with fruit added. 

Once whizzed it looked like this.
Voila! - Fruit Smoothie Lollies.

I don't know what the calorie count of these lollies would be, but I suspect easily less than 50 calories as the moulds are pretty small and all the contents pretty low in fat.  Although the moulds were an added expense, they will pay for themselves time and again hopefully, and they fit in the freezer perfectly (unlike the current set I have which annoyingly catches on the roof and shelf).  I'm now looking forward to eating them once frozen.

Whilst I had the fruit out of the freezer and wanting to use up a sachet of low calorie jelly I found in the cupboard, I also decided to make some low calorie fruit jellies.  I put a few of the berries in the bottom of some French ceramic yoghurt pots and added the liquid jelly once made up before leaving them to set in the fridge.  The 1pt sachet of jelly and 100g (approx.) of fruit made 5 jellies which will make great light puddings over the next week or so. 

Very simple and inexpensive.  Great for kids parties too.   They can also be made in clear plastic cups or glasses so that the fruit in them can be seen.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Bargain Corner (Not the one in Ikea!)

From time to time I venture upon things which I think are really good value and I like to share them on my blog with anyone who might be reading.  On a recent shopping trip I ventured into good old Wilkinson's to see if I could find some lolly sticks or moulds as I was keen to make some smoothie lollies.  Whilst wandering the aisles I came across these really sweet washi tapes in the craft section and just couldn't resist buying them.  They cost £1.75 for the two which I though was very reasonable, as I have seen similar for sale at £3 or £4 each.

They did have a pack with a couple of other designs in it too, one being a red/white polka dot plus a multi-coloured check type design.  If you are looking for washi tape and are on a tight budget you could do a lot worse than popping down to your local Wilko to see if they have them in stock.  I may go back for the other designs when I have some spare cash.
Whilst still looking for the elusive lolly moulds, I also took a quick look in Poundland.  I didn't find what I went in for, but came out with this, which is a TangleAttack hair brush. 
It is a very similar design to a much more expensive brand, one of which Little Bird received for Christmas last year, (but managed to leave at her Auntie's house this weekend), so I thought I would buy one to replace it.  She tried it when I got home and seems to work quite well too.  Result.
Finally, this weekend, when visiting relatives I was offered a Pimms on my arrival.  I assumed it was the branded drink, but later in conversation I was surprised to find that the drink I'd been drinking had been this.
It is called Jeeves and it is available from Lidl for £5.99 as opposed to the branded version at £18 per bottle.  With fruit and lemonade added, in all honesty, I couldn't taste any significant difference, so when shopping in Lidl again this week I treated us to a bottle as we seem to have finished the bottle of Pimms I bought a few weeks ago!!
So if you have a penchant for Pimms, but can't afford the price tag maybe you could give this a try too.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

School Holidays Are Coming

It's not long now.  Today is the last day of school and the Summer Holidays will be upon us.  I know that many schools have broken up already, but Little Bird's finishes today and  I haven't really done any planning for them this year as yet.  I will probably have a look at the websites of some of our favourite museums and libraries see what activities are being organised, and make a note of any events or workshops that sound interesting. 

When Little Bird was younger I used to take a much more regimented approach and plan the whole six weeks more or less, but these days I'm a lot more relaxed and go with the flow a bit more.  To be honest, a bit of boredom never did anyone any harm.  I can remember feeling bored sometimes during the school holidays and actually looking forward to going back to school by the end of them.   I used to spend most of the holidays going a play scheme at our local school every day and making new friends and doing different activities, as both my parents worked full time.  It is a great shame that more is not available at affordable prices in this regard these days, particularly for working parents.  I guess we are lucky in that it is not necessary for her to attend these and as a consequence she is a little reluctant to, but I always enjoyed them myself.

This year if all goes to plan I think my daughter is having some friends for a sleep over on the last night of school which will be a fun end to the school term for her.  I may take all of them for a swim  the following day.  For the rest of the week we'll probably spend some time at home and walking the dog in the park.  Nothing too onerous. 

Quite often families head out of London for most of the 6 weeks of the summer holidays to holiday homes, on holiday or to visit family elsewhere in the country, so there is no guarantee that Little Bird will see many of her friends in the holidays.  She is used to this by now and we make the most of it by spending lots of time together doing different things.

The first few days are always about winding down from the school year just passed, so I don't tend to plan anything and we just allow ourselves to enjoy the freedom of having no routine.  It's great to just please yourself for the first few days and relax.  We have tickets to an event in the newly re-opened Olympic Park for the first Saturday of the holidays so that should be good fun.

By the first full week I start to add a few planned outings into the week.  Maybe one outing to a museum or the local library with activities going on, a swim together at the sports centre or a trip to the shops to get a pre-holiday haircut or do a last minute bit of holiday shopping. There are often workshops or activities going on in local parks which I try to look out for.  We may visit a fruit farm which is an hour's drive out of London, which we enjoy.  I do tend to do this later in the holidays though when the sweetcorn is ready and we pick lots of cobs as well as fruits which I freeze and use over the autumn/winter when they becomes much more expensive and tend to be imported from far afield.

We also start to get ourselves ready for our holidays and clothes washing, ironing and packing, etc. will be an on going theme when at home.  I can sometimes persuade Little Bird to come to the allotment with me on our bikes, but this is a rare occurrence I'm afraid.  If the weather is bad we may  have an impromptu baking session where I will lightly oversee her making some buns and decorating them or a craft session.  If I have enough money and there is a good film on at the cinema we may do a cinema trip too, but we tend to take our own homemade popcorn, drinks and treats, to cut down on the expense.

With having a full membership at the gym and it being inexpensive for children to swim during the holidays, swimming is often a cheap option and sometimes she will sit and watch my exercise class and then we will go for a swim together afterwards, followed by some time in the park nearby.  She has in the past taken part in holiday courses for a week in different sports at the leisure centre, but as she does quite a lot of activities in term time, it is quite good for her to have a break from these in the holidays, so I don't insist on it.  It can be quite expensive too, especially if you have more than one child, so might not be an option depending on finances and quite often they get booked up early.  We may all go down to the tennis courts in the park some days and play for a while, which costs nothing.  This year we have our puppy and hopefully she will get lots of walks during the summer holidays to get us out of the house.

We're going away for a couple of weeks this year and then when we return it will be a case of getting ready to go back to school whilst still enjoying the freedom of the holidays.  There may be a long weekend staying in Yorkshire visiting family and friends, before starting to get whatever we still need for the new school term.  I quite like the countdown to the new school year beginning, I used to enjoy it as a child too, and loved to shop for my new bag, pencil case, etc. so I was ready for the new term.  It is a bit sad when the holidays end as I do love having Little Bird at home, but it is also nice to get back to having time to do my own thing once again and for her to see all her friends again.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Getting to the Month End

It's that  time of the month again, when money in the bank starts to dwindle and I have to start taking slightly more frugal measures in the shopping and cooking department.  I have been looking around the kitchen, in the cupboards, fridge and freezer today to see what there is and see what I can use up instead of spending money.  There's quite a bit of meat in the freezer, well some mince, chicken breasts, chicken drumsticks, sausage meat, quorn mince and frozen fish - so quite a lot really I guess.  Likewise, the cupboards have lots of dry or tinned goods in them that can be used, so really it's only fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy and bakery products that need to be bought for the remaining 10 days of this month.

After doing most of the weekly shop yesterday morning, I decided to write a meal plan to guide me carefully through the next week or so and facilitate using up as much as I can from the freezer.  With holiday time approaching, I don't like to leave the freezer full of food as sometimes we have had power cuts and all meats have been rendered inedible, so I like to leave as empty a fridge and freezer as I can before we head off on our holidays.  I might even manage to clear it enough to defrost it before I go too, which would be a bonus.

I've more or less given up on the Fasting diet, finding it too awkward to cook something different for myself on my fasting days, so without this restriction it does make life slightly easier in terms of meal planning and cooking.

So far, I'm planning on a Sweet and Sour Pork with Rice, Bacon and Bean Casserole with dumplings, Shepherd's Pie,  Chicken Tikka Masala with Rice and naan bread, Quorn Bolognese with pasta, Baked fish with New Potatoes and vegetables, Roasted chicken drumsticks with roast potatoes, Yorkshire Puddings and vegetables, Baked New Potatoes with baked beans and cheese and Omlettes with salad, which should  hopefully see us through to the month end.  I will have to cook alternatives for my daughter in the case of some of these meals though.  Lunches will be salads and sandwiches most days and puddings will be fruit, ice lollies, yoghurt or small individual homemade rhubarb crumbles with custard.

With the meal planning sorted, I needed to think about what I still need to buy and where's best to buy it from.  Fortunately,  I happen to have several vouchers at the moment to use at a couple of the big supermarkets, namely Tesco and Morrisons.  These can be a life saver at this time of the month.

The trouble is, the Tesco vouchers are offering £4 off £40 spent, but I'm hoping not to spend as much as that, so I think it will have to be Morrisons, who are offering £3 off £20 spent, which sounds ideal.  With no packed lunches from the middle of this week certain things can be left off the list saving more money.  By shopping carefully and using vouchers I think that I should just about manage and still be able to buy a couple of bits of school uniform from the school before they close for the summer holidays, although the first week of the summer holidays will have to consist of very inexpensive activities.  I'll do a post on my take on this in the very near future.

Although I don't like to feel like I've got little money to spend at the end of the month, it does make me think a bit more creatively about outings and meals and utilise the things in my cupboard and freezer that I might not otherwise. 

Monday, 22 July 2013

Business Matters

Last week was really been all about working hard on the small business that I run from home and trying to make it more profitable.  I've been neglecting it far too much of late and treating it far too much like a hobby which has had it's consequences.  Well no more.   I've even started thinking  ahead to Christmas this year and starting to prepare for the busy time that usually occurs in the lead up.

I figured if I could order my stock, materials and stationary requirements now, this will help me to hit the ground running when things start to get busy after the summer holidays.  This will also allow me to fully capitalise on the run up to Christmas, which I failed to do as well as I could have done last year.  So, I've had a busy week ordering stock and stationery, whilst paying more attention to the business as it operates on a daily basis and trying to capitalise on daily/weekly sales too.  I must admit that it seems to be paying off already after just a few days of effort, and I am really pleased, yet annoyed at myself for getting distracted by other things in the last couple of months. I have even managed to research some new lines and marketing strategies for them, which is quite exciting.

All of this has meant some expenditure, of course, but I have tried to keep this to a minimum and hopefully it will be recouped over the next few months.  In addition, from September, my business bank account is going to have a monthly charge levied of £5, which although does not sound much, does make a difference to outgoings.  It is an extra £60 per year that I will have to pay out that I didn't previously.  As we all know everything is going up in price all of the time i.e. stock, postage, etc. and this has to be passed on to customers, otherwise profits diminish even more or become none existent.

I am fortunate in working from home that I don't have the overheads of people who work from a rented office, shop or market stall.  It must be hard to survive out there at times like this and remain competitive when many people are watching every penny.  I must admit that I try not to charge silly prices for the items I sell and try to give good value for money, whilst still making a small profit.  I am not greedy and  aim to provide a good service too of course.  Hopefully I'm getting back on track.  I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Allotment Corner

On a lovely hot Thursday evening this week, all three of us headed off to the allotment.  Me to harvest and water, and OH and Little Bird to walk the dog in the park nearby.

To be honest there wasn't much new to report from the allotment save that we are growing our first (of many I hope) courgette of the season.  Here it is.

Only a tiddler at the moment but will probably be ready to harvest next week.
The sweetcorn are looking stronger everytime I see them.  Much healthier than the pitiful things I planted a while back.
On the floral front this singular Nigella had a corner all to itself.
There were lots more hollyhocks flowering.
In varying shades of pink.  Talking of pink, these nasturtiums were gorgeous.  They looked like pink velvet.  I don't think I've ever seen any that colour before.  Far too pretty to eat.
I harvested a few potatoes to take to Yorkshire with us this weekend.  We're going to a family christening in Bradford.
Next week I really must spend some time here and start thinking about what to sow next to fill the gaps that are starting to appear.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Currently Reading...

At the moment I am reading this book from the pile beside my bed.  I think I bought it for £1 at a charity shop and it is proving well worth the money.

As is usually the case, any book I read needs to be easy to pick up and put down, as I only tend to read in small spurts of 15-30 minutes when I wake up or before going to sleep.  This book is perfect from that point of view.
It is an anthology of shopping as it has featured in literature throughout the ages with exerts from many hundreds of books and letters which have mentioned the subject.  From Jane Austen to Sophie Kinsella it offers you an insight into the shopping habits and thoughts of many famous names and fictional characters over the centuries.  It is quite fascinating in some respects.  It is made up of chapters on Impulse and Indulgence, Shopping Hell, Markets and Pedlars, Filling the Larder, plus many more. 
I'm a bit of a sucker for historical detail and particularly liked the story of a pedlar woman living and working in London in the 17th and 18th Century, who sold Mercery, Hoisery and Haberdashery, (silk, silk gloves and silk stockings amongst other things) and who at the age of 83 left over £9,000 to her Quaker friends after her death, which must have been an enormous sum in those days. More than was probably left by many men after a lifetime's toil I suspect. (Taken from Margaret H Spufford's  'The Great Reclothing of Rural England', Hambledon Press, 1984.)
Another interesting story was from a book by Justine Picardie, a fashion writer for Vogue, Marie Claire and the Daily Telegraph, who retold the tale told to her by a friend who had had a ghostly experience when trying on an item of Biba clothing in a second hand shop in London. Looking in the mirror, she had seen the reflection a young woman looking back at her.  She didn't buy the item of clothing as you might expect, which she came to believe was worn by a young woman who sadly died of an overdose.  (Taken from My Mother's Wedding Dress, Picador, 2005).
 I do sometimes wonder how some of the things I've bought in charity shops have actually found their way there, but I can't say I've had any such supernatural experiences.
 Anyway, I love to shop (as you might have guessed from some of my posts), but sometimes funds just do not allow for it, so reading about it can be the next best thing.   Literary shopping therapy without any expenditure! 

A Quick Pizza Post

The other evening we had pizza made using the following product and because it was so nice I thought I would share it with anyone interested.

I'm not really great at making pizza dough and sometimes supermarket pizzas seem very expensive and don't look particularly appetising so when I saw this product with a yellow ticket and a longish best before date (1 month) I thought I would give it a try.

It comes in a cardboard roll/tin which you open up by pulling the tab and unroll the two pizza bases, before adding the tomato sauce provided and whatever toppings you prefer or have in your fridge.

I made ours together with Little Bird and she had ham and tomato with a little chorizo and Iberico cheese, whilst we (the adults that is) had Iberico cheese, chorizo, tomato and red onion.

Although it says that each pizza serves 4 we ate two between us as I doubled over the dough as it seemed so thin.  It would probably have puffed up nicely though had I used it as was intended.

The pizzas themselves were fantastic and really tasty.  We like thin crust pizzas as they are lower in calories and more like the wood fired pizzas we have eaten in Italy.

Although home made pizza is probably best if you can make it,  as you know exactly what is in it, but I would highly recommend this product to anyone who like me doesn't make their own dough, but wants to semi-make their own pizza and at £2.65 (full price at Tesco, although I paid £1.99) it is quite a reasonable price for a meal even after toppings have been taken into consideration.

Please note, however, that unlike some other dough products this one must NOT be frozen and should be refridgerated.

I'm afraid I didn't take a photo of our pizzas as Slummy mummy slightly overcooked them.   (But they were still delicious and still looked fab in spite of this too).

Please also note that this is NOT a sponsored post, just my honest opinion of a product I have used.  (But if the manufacturers are reading this I'm quite happy for them to send me a few free packs!)

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A Trip to the Market

London is a great place for street markets and although I don't always go to them every week I do like to have a mooch around from time to time.  One of my favourites is a proper East End street market with stalls from one end of the high street to the other, selling all manner of things from fruit and vegetables, fabric, hardware, trimmings, clothes, underwear, books and many other things besides.

The reason I love this market is that you can always bag a bargain, and it is not yet gentrified with prices to match.  Today was no exception.  I often come here as there is a multitude of fabric shops that I like to have a look around, as well as a Wilkinson's store plus lots of other shops.  Today, however, I had a limited amount of time as OH needed the car and so I had to get back, but I had an hour or so to look around the market and a couple of shops.

As soon as I come out of the car park there is a stall that I cannot ignore and like to look over as it sells very cheap new books, both paperback and hardback.  I have bought some great books here in the past and today I bought this one. 

Although I'm currently trying to stick to the 5/2 fasting diet I am struggling to manage two fasting days per week, so this one looked interesting and at only £1 I was happy to give it a try.  I also found a cycling book for OH for Christmas too, but I won't post a photo here as he sometimes takes a look.

Moving up the market I came across a stall selling vests, also at £1 each.  I was wearing one today I'd bought on a previous visit in dark grey and I really like it.  It shows just enough chest at the front so that I don't feel over exposed, is a nice fit and is made of a good quality t-shirt material so doesn't look cheap.   I bought a few more in various colours, a few striped and a few plain.  They will be great in this heat and for our forthcoming holiday to wear with shorts and skirts.

I did pop into one fabric shop and these fabrics caught my eye.  I subsequently bought a metre of each at only £1.65 per metre which didn't exactly break the bank.  I'm hoping to make both into skirts to wear this summer or on our holiday.  I'll keep you posted on how I get on with that project.  I liked the ruffles as they are quite feminine and floaty and it is stretchy so will hopefully be nice and clingy.  It might be a bit tricky to work with though.  I've made my daughter a loose fitting dress before now using similar fabric.  It's hard to tell from the photo but the top one is chartreuse green and the bottom one a dark grey.

The fruit and veg stalls at the market are amazing.  You can buy everything by the bowl for £1 each and it must work out far cheaper than the supermarkets.  I bought a bowl of large Jaffa oranges (5) for £1 and 6 small ripeish avocados for £1 too.  Cheaper than Lidl even.  I always think I must come more often and do my fruit and veg shopping here, but always forget what good value it is.  I really must make the effort to come just for this reason.  Sometimes, however, you seem to get so much it is virtually impossible to use it all before it goes off, unless you cook it up and freeze it.

My final purchase was this nightdress from a market stall.  It's an M & S one, probably a second or old stock I suspect, but I really liked it and it is nice and light for hot summer nights.  It cost £5.

So I spent a few pounds, but everything was very good quality and value for money, proof that bargains can still be found.  I could have spent much more if I had had more money with me or enough arms to carry everything back to the car, but it's probably as well that I didn't.  I just really enjoyed the outing, especially in the sunshine, it was just a great place to be on a hot summer morning.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Charity Shop Tales 10

A couple of weeks ago now, I posted about finding an ottoman in our local antique/vintage shop and how I hadn't gone out looking for it, but had stumbled upon it whilst looking for a travel guide in our local charity shop.  I didn't include in the post what I actually bought from said charity shop, plus a couple of others I visited the same day, so I thought I'd create a separate post.

As mentioned, I was initially looking for a travel guide, but as always various other things managed to catch my eye, including this lovely travel journal which will be perfect for recording the highlights of our summer trip and saving any tickets, etc. in the cute pockets/envelopes contained within it.  It is unused and cost just £1.60.  I have seen similar journals for £5 or more in our local gift shop so was quite happy to pay the asking price.  The campervan on the front is very cute and quite pertinent too.

I  found this lovely green wooden polka dot bangle for £1 which will jazz up any outfit,
and some lovely dangly earrings for £1.50.
I also bought this cotton sateen fabric for £1 which I'm hoping to use in a future patchwork project
 and a grey zip for 20p which will be useful for making a cushion cover at some point in the near future.
Finally, in the very last charity shop I visited, I found the travel guide I had been looking for and paid 50p for it.  It's pretty old, but will still be useful and will help us decide which parts of the sprawling city of Los Angeles we want to visit whilst there.  In addition, if I hadn't been looking for it I would never have found my ottoman, as the antique shop was just across the road.
So now you know the destination of our special holiday this year.  I will be posting soon about our plans.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Having An Audio/Visual Clearout ( Part 1)

One night last week, I was in the mood for a bit of a clear out.  I was inspired by the need to find space to store some CD's that are currently cluttering up the bedroom.  Most of the CD's we own are downstairs in a cupboard, so I took a look in there and decided that the cupboard itself could do with a clear out and set about doing just that.  I figured that if I could make enough room, I could fit everything in this one cupboard, which would be very useful.

I started with the videos as these rarely get played, although we do still have a player.  I more than halved what was there after getting Little Bird's permission to get rid of a whole heap of her childhood videos.  The DVD's got the same treatment.  We rarely watch them more than once, save for School of Rock with Jack Black, which is so funny we've watched it time and again.  Little Bird wanted to keep a few others and I must admit I kept a few favourites too.  This more than doubled the space left on the shelf.  Spurred on I then sorted through the Wii games and DS games and a few got put on the OUT pile.   Now I've just got to decide what to do with them all.

I checked out listings on eBay of DVD's and as there were so many I decided that I would rather not bother to list them, so they can go to the charity shop.   The Wii games and DS games may get traded in at Game if they will accept them, as there is a game that Little Bird is currently keen to get her hands on, or otherwise they may get listed on eBay.   I don't think the charity shop takes videos anymore, so they will need to go to the rubbish dump along with a few old cassettes and a broken CD storage case.

Talking of CD storage, I found an old solid oak Habitat bathroom shelf under the sofa in the dining room, where I'd tucked it out of sight.  I didn't want to throw it away as I like it and it was quite expensive when we bought it, but it doesn't fit into our current bathroom.  Here's a picture.

I tried CD's in it for size and it was perfect for CD storage so I am going to sand it down and oil it and use it for storing my favourite CD's in my workroom.  I have already used a matching bathroom cabinet (minus the door) for display in there, so it should fit in well.  I figure that if I put my favourite CD's in it this will encourage me to play them whilst I'm working on projects, as opposed to them being left in the cupboard and forgotten about.  I just need a small CD player now!  Maybe I'll put this on my Christmas or Birthday list as I can never think of things I want when asked. 

You might have gathered that I am not an iPod, laptop or phone user when it comes to listening to music, although I do own an iPod.  I may rethink the above and save myself some money by transferring them all onto my iPod or laptop, or maybe I won't.  Anyway, I've already listened to one which was a Salsa CD.  I put it on in the car on the way to Zumba and it was wonderful to listen to, especially on a hot summer's evening, it really got me in the mood for my class.  Another thought, maybe I should just buy a small CD case and listen to them in the car whilst driving - another inexpensive option.  I'll give it some more thought before making a decision.

Anyway, I digress, still in the mood for clearing out, I also took a look on my shelves of books in the dining room (we're very partisan when it comes to some things) and managed to pull out quite a few books that could go to the charity shop.  The shelves looked a lot tidier once I'd done it, although there are still a lot I can't bear to part with.  I'll have to get OH to do the same with his shelves.  By this time it was getting quite late, so I called it a day.

The following day the clear out resumed once again, and CD's were sifted through and the cupboard rearranged a little to create quite a bit of space for the CD's in the bedroom currently needing a new home.  I'm leaving the job of sifting through these to OH as they are his CD's.  Hopefully, he'll be as ruthless as he was when he tackled the shelves.  Here's a picture of the collated pile of things to be given away, thrown away or sold so far.

It feels good to get rid of so many unused  and outgrown things. Here's a picture of the cupboard as it looks now.  A vast improvement with room to spare for the other CD's we have. (Please excuse the blurriness of these photos).

In part two of this post, I will post a photo of the cupboard once everything has been sorted and re homed (I forgot to take a before shot, as often happens when I get a bee in my bonnet so to speak), as well as the CD shelf once it's been cleaned up, filled and put in place.  Is anyone else out there in the throes of chucking out the clutter in their home?

Monday, 15 July 2013

Simple Tasks and Simple Pleasures

Sunday this weekend was another pretty quiet day really.  To be honest we don't always venture out on a weekend in London as traffic can be a nightmare and we love to stay home and catch up on jobs and just relax doing things we enjoy.

I had to be up early to take Little Bird to her gymnastics club for 8.30am and although I had booked an aerobics class, I had to cancel as OH was unable to take her swimming whilst I did it, because of his knee.  Once back home I took the dog out for a walk, read the Sunday newspaper, washed and blanched some vegetables from the allotment and had my favourite weekend lunch of a bacon sandwich with some salad.

After lunch I finally decided to partake of a bit of sunshine whilst we still have it, by doing some jobs in the garden.  I hung out some washing and then proceeded to wash all the dirty plant pots that had been piling up under the potting table.  I wanted to get them done now whilst it is still warm and sunny as by the time the weather gets cold in the autumn I don't enjoy standing outside washing them quite so much and they often get left from one season to the next.  Once washed I packed them all in an old recycling box and stored them away for the duration.  I may still need to wash a few more in the autumn, but very few in comparison to the amount I had to wash this spring, after 2 years or more of leaving them to fester.

Finally, I had a good sweep around the decking and when finished, as a reward, I made a large jug of Pimms and some squash for Little Bird and we all sat out under the parasol for a little while playing Monopoly.   It was like being on holiday in our back garden.  (Please note mismatched chairs and parasol.  We don't really do picture perfect here I'm afraid, we like to keep things until they fall apart, but never mind.)

Sometimes the simplest things are the most enjoyable.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Keeping Cool and Allotment Corner

I must admit that I didn't take advantage of the heat on Saturday and  go out in the garden.  Little Bird went out with some friends and their mum for a bike ride in the morning, whilst I stayed in the house, kept cool and did lots of things that needed doing online.   I spent most of the day working away on the computer, in the morning doing some work for my business and in the afternoon doing some computer housekeeping by removing lots of old photographs from my picture folders.  It's one of those jobs that only gets done every few years, so takes ages when I do get around to it.  I'm almost done, just a few months worth to sort through at some point, which is very satisfying and my computer might hopefully work a little better as I've been having a few problems with it of late.

OH had a bit of an accident on a dog walk this morning and hurt his knee, so couldn't go anywhere, and I hadn't booked my Zumba class this week,  two more reasons we stayed home.  An inexpensive day as a consequence.  I did venture out later to walk the dog and then after dinner I went out to the allotment to harvest and water.   I deliberately waited until the heat had died down in the evening, so that the plants could benefit the most from the watering.  Whilst I was there OH got the hosepipe out and watered everything in the garden at home which was helpful.

When I got to the allotment the first thing I noticed was that a few flowers had started blooming which is always a bonus; hollyhocks, English marigolds and nasturtium.  They brighten things up a little at least.

The sweetcorn was looking much healthier, although still small.
There were quite a few jobs to do.  Firstly I cut down and harvested the remainder of the broad beans.  Then I harvested the few remaining strawberries and cut back the strawberry patch as the plants had finished producing fruit.  This can prevent disease and also I may get a second harvest if I'm lucky.  It looked a bit bare afterwards.
I dug up a few potato plants, harvesting quite a few to keep us going.  I'm going to have to get imaginative in the kitchen to get us eating all of these up more quickly.  There's still lots left and some of them are big enough to bake now.  I also pulled up the remaining garlic bulbs and the last two lettuce and some spinach, although I did spy a few small lettuce hiding in amongst the potato plants that might just tide us over until we go on holiday.
Finally I spent a while cutting back the comfrey which was starting to get invasive again, before watering everything that needed it and heading home.  It was 9pm when I left and when I got home OH said he was beginning to worry and thinking about coming out to look for me.  Sweet.  It didn't help that I'd forgotten to take my phone.  Silly girl.